The technical term for gazing into a shiny reflective surface to obtain new information or predicting the future is called “scrying.”
Medieval Times was a period when omens and superstitions abounded. A time when people endeavored to learn their futures by studying the world around them and by divination or looking into the mystical. A leader might seek, through magic, to know if his enemies were within or without. Would his own brother fight to depose him from his throne? Would he be successful conquering a neighboring kingdom? He believed that magic might tell him many things if they could tap into it. Fortune telling was an occupation looked down upon in the Middle Ages, but it was available. Some fortune tellers ‘guessed’ right more than they were wrong and became rich. Others were not so good at guessing and were poor. You could tell them apart by the clothing they wore. The rich wore costly robes of purple and red, the poor costumed like other villagers.
Religious leaders throughout the world considered crystal gazing and scrying a forbidden occult. The Old Testament in the Holy Bible forbids divination, saying “for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this. (Deuteronomy 18:14).
The Koran forbids the pagan practice of El-Meysar, a method of magic and divination in Ancient Palestine and Syria. The Catechism of the Catholic Church warns against Spiritualism, using divination or magical practices. In the book “The City of God,” St. Augustine said scrying was “entangled in the deceptive rites of demons who masquerade under the names of angels.” DON’T BE FOOLED.
Being forbidden may have given them a definite allure and certain practices became popular. The balls could be quite beautiful made of quartz crystal. The largest-known true crystal ball is now in the Smithsonian Institution. It weighs 106.75 lbs. Most globes are the size of grapefruits.
One of the most famous crystal balls is the Wicked Witch’s crystal ball from the movie “The Wizard of Oz” which is made of handblown glass. It sold at auction for $129,000.
The above picture is entitled The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse dated 1902. This crystal gazer must have been a successful one since she seems to be very well dressed. Or, perhaps, she was attached to the house of someone important. The Victorian Era ended in 1901, but this picture is reminiscent of that period.
Since the 13th Century, gazing globes have been a very important part of gardens, both spiritually and aesthetically. Many felt that the globe could ward off bad things like disease, evil spirits, attackers and even ghosts. It is known in some legends to keep the witches away.
In our time, we are most familiar with mediums who supposedly connect with the spirit world, calling upon those who have passed from this life to the next to send back information to the living relatives.
Or, there are fortune tellers available in their tents in any carnival, gazing into their “fake” crystal balls. Good news can be yours for a price.
Modern globes in modern gardens no longer have superstitions attached to them, but they continue to grace the landscapes. Gardens now have gazing balls, mostly made of glass and placed on a pedestal. Deep blue and brilliant green seem to be the favorite colors; however, some are made with a mirror-like finish to mimic the original quartz crystal.
In the book, The Patchwork Princess, the Adventures of Ra-me the Traveling Troubadour Book 1, by Connie S. Arnold, King Lister would have had a gazing ball in the garden in the castle’s courtyard. Perhaps, he used it to divine where his kidnapped daughter had been taken.