25 June 2009

Vampire Reflections

A circulating rumor claims that a vampire casts no reflection or shadow. While this creates startling imagery in movies, it is completely untrue. Really, have you ever met a vampire without a reflection...or shadow? I have not.

First, let's talk about where this idea originated:
"Once again, Bram Stoker has much to answer for, as it was he who conceived the idea of the vampire having no reflection. Jonathan Harker witnessed Dracula hurling his shaving mirror out the window, the vicious Count angered by his lack of reflection, a cruel reminder of his abhorrent, undead state" (Gregory 125). "The traditional vampire's lack of reflection implies the absence of soul" and "exemplifies the void he finds at the core of his identity" (Heldreth 121).

The power of mirrors is not limited to revealing a vampire. "In China it has been believed, "that mirrors can repel evil forces"...and in Nigeria the Ibo trick "evil spirits seeking to attack the souls of men...into fighting the 'soul' reflected in glass" (Gregory 125). According to these legends, mirrors reflect the soul and repel evil forces or energy. Along these lines of ration, a vampire should have no reflection.

Why this is problematic:
The idea of a physical vampire not casting a reflection is "problematic from a physics standpoint. All material objects should have a reflection, because all matter interacts in some way with light" (Ouellette 15). If nothing else, a vampire is material. If the creature were immaterial (and therefore not obligated to cast a reflection), the being would also not be able to interact with other material objects--like humans. Vampires are not spirits--they are physical beings and will therefore cast a reflection and a shadow. Soulful or soulless, a vampire sees himself in the mirror.

K'an ben sini,

Heldreth, Leonard G. and Mary Pharr. In the Blood is the Life: Vampires in Literature

Gregory, Constantine & Craig Glenday. Vampire Watcher's Handbook.

Ouellette, Jennifer. The physics of the Buffyverse.


  1. I have another scientific question for you. Is there any frequency of light that is detectable by the human eye, but is not reflected by silver (or other reflective metal)? I just finished The Strain, in which it is not mirrors in general, but only silver ones that offer a different image (not no image) of vampires. If for some reason vampire biology causes some sort of glow (dare I say "sparkle") that humans can see, but that is absorbed and not reflected by silver mirrors, it might give the impression that the mirror "cannot contain their image" as is often the phrasing in folklore. Thoughts?

  2. Thanks for your question. I am not a physicist, and I would love to hear the thoughts of someone who is truly knowledgeable on the subject of light reflection. I can say, that I have never met a vampire without a reflection. Reflections occur when light bounces off the subject and then bounces off of the reflective material. Silver mirrors are a relatively accurate reflective surface--they reflect color.

    Vampires are physical. You can see them. If the human eye can see a vampire, then a mirror should reflect the image. I don't see how a "sparkle" (I'm only letting that term slide because I like you) or "glow" could cloak that which is absolutely visible in a way that it would appear invisible within a mirror.

    I'd love to see evidence that refutes my understanding of reflections. I like to learn. Nevertheless, vampires have reflections. I have a reflection...and a shadow too.

  3. Only a year or so too late on this, but here's a shot at answering the question.

    The human eye is sensitive to light with wavelengths between 390 billionths of a meter (nanometers) and 750 nanometers. The percentage of light reflected from silver is shown here and goes to zero at around 310 nanometers, which is just outside the range we can see, in the ultraviolet. (The silver curve on the graph is marked Ag.) So the answer is no for silver. I don't have data for all other metals to check them one by one, but of the other metals shown, including gold and aluminum, the answer is no for them too.

  4. One other thing -- this quote is slightly incorrect, from some recent developments in physics:

    "All material objects should have a reflection, because all matter interacts in some way with light"

    All matter does interact with light, but a great deal of recent research has shown that invisibility is theoretically possible by using specially designed materials called metamaterials to redirect light around an object. J.B. Pendry and his group have done this experimentally using microwaves, and many other people have done work in the field since then. It seems likely that someone will eventually make this work with visible light.

    Obviously an invisible person would not be reflected in a mirror.