It is remarkable to notice how prevalent this mode of divination or second-sight has been in all ages. Traces of the same procedure have been found in Egypt, Persia, China, India, Greece, and Rome, and notably in Europe generally, from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries. A lady who withholds her name from the public, but who is perfectly well known to Mr. Myers, of the Society for Psychical Research, and who chooses to be known as Miss X., has been at great pains to collect curious information upon this subject and has added her own very interesting experience in crystal-gazing. She writes, "It is interesting to observe the close resemblance in the various methods of employing the mirror, and in the mystic symbolism which surrounds it, not only in different ages, but in different countries. From the time of the Assyrian monarch represented on the walls of the northwest palace of Nimrod down to the seventeenth century, when Dr. Dee placed his 'Shew Stone' on a cushioned table in the goodly little chapel next his chamber in the college of which he was warden at Manchester, the seer has surrounded himself with the ceremonials of worship, whether to propitiate Pan or Osiris, or to disconcert Ahriman or the Prince of Darkness."
The early Jewish Scriptures abound in indications of the same practice. When the patriarch Joseph put his silver cup in the mouth of his young brother Benjamin's sack, in order that he might have a pretext for recalling his brethren after he had sent them away, his steward, in accusing them of theft, uses this language: "Is not this the cup in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth?" Showing the same use of the cup for purposes of divination as that indicated on the walls of the Assyrian Palace.
The Urim and Thummim, as their names indicate, were doubtless stones of unusual splendor set in the high-priest's "breast-plate of judgment," and they were made use of to "inquire of the Lord."
When Joshua was to be set apart as a leader of the people, he was brought to Eleazar the priest, who should lay his hands on him and "ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the Lord." In the last days of Saul's career as King of Israel he desired to "inquire of the Lord" regarding his future fortunes, but "the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets; and it is not uninteresting to note that Saul in his strait directly sought the Witch of Endor, from whom he obtained what proved to be true information regarding the disasters which were to overwhelm him.
In a Persian romance it is noted that "if a mirror be covered with ink and placed in front of any one it will indicate whatever he wishes to know."
The Greeks had a variety of methods of divination by crystal-gazing. Sometimes it was by the mirror placed so as to reflect light upon the surface of a fountain of clear water, sometimes by mirrors alone; sometimes they made use of glass vessels filled with water and surrounded with torches, sometimes of natural crystals, and sometimes even of a child's "nails covered with oil and soot," so as to reflect the rays of the sun.
The Romans made special use of crystals and mirrors, and children were particularly employed for mirror-reading when consulting regarding important events; thus in a manner taking the place of the early oracles. From Jewish and Pagan practices as a means of divination, clairvoyance and prophecy, the art of the crystal seer seems to have passed to early Christian times without material change except in ceremonials. These seers are mentioned in the counsels of the Church as specularii, children often acting as the seers, and although in some quarters they were looked upon with suspicion as heretics, and were under the ban of the Church, yet they had an extensive following.
Thomas Aquinas, speaking of the peculiar power of seeing visions possessed by children, says it is not to be ascribed to any virtue or innocence of theirs, nor any power of nature, but that it is the work of the devil.
In Wagner's beautiful opera of Parsifal, based upon the legend of the Holy Grail, reference to the same custom is more than once evident. The second act opens with a scene representing the enchanted castle of Klingsor; the magician himself is seen gazing into a bright metallic mirror, in which he sees Parsifal approaching and recognizes and fears him as the promised guiltless one - the true king and guardian of the Grail - an office to which he himself had once aspired. In fact the Grail itself, in its earliest mythical and traditional form, as well as in its later development as a distinctly Christian symbol, was an in-strument of divination and prophecy. The Druids had their basin, sometimes filled with aromatic herbs, sometimes with the blood of the sacrificed victim; but in either case it was potent for securing the proper psychic condition in the officiating priest or soothsayer; and while Arabic and Indian myths present the same idea, sometimes as a cup of divination, and sometimes as a brilliant stone, the British Islands were the main source of the traditions which eventually culminated in the legends of the Holy Grail, with its full store of beautiful and touching incidents, prophecies, and forms of worship. In each the special guardians and knights of the Grail appear, with Parsifal, the simple-minded, pure and pitiful knight as its restorer and king when lost or in unworthy hands.
In the German version of the twelfth century as given by Wolfram, in his Parzival, the Grail is a beautiful, sacred stone, enshrined in the magnificent temple at Montsalvat, guarded by the consecrated knights and the sick and erring, but repentant, King Amfortas. While the unhappy king was worshipping with gaze intent upon the Sacred Emblem, suddenly letters of fire surrounded it and he read the cheering prophecy:
"In the loving soul of a guiltless one Put thy faith - Him have I chosen."