Scrying and the Troxler Effect

6th November 2021. Reading Time: 10 minutes General, Paranormal Investigation, Stuff paranormal investigators need to know. 1571 page views. 0 comments.

Scrying is a form of divination that has become a method paranormal investigators use as a form of spirit communication. The Troxler Effect is an optical illusion that causes our surroundings to disappear and distort when we focus on something for a prolonged period of time. So what does this mean for staring at ourselves in the mirror?

Scrying is a form of divination that has become a method paranormal investigators use as a form of spirit communication.  The Troxler Effect is an optical illusion that causes our surroundings to disappear and distort when we focus on something for a prolonged period of time.  So what does this mean for staring at ourselves in the mirror?  First we need to understand what scrying is all about.

What is the history behind scrying?

The word scrying comes from the old English word 'descry' which means 'to make out dimly' or 'to reveal'. It uses what we call our second sight. It is not one of our 5 senses but allows us to see things that we cannot normally see. It is used as a form of divination and self-reflection. The first documented accounts of scrying date back to 3000 BC in China. Villagers would use cracked eggs by gazing into the yolk. During the medieval and Renaissance period, there was a big interest in magical philosophy. This is where scrying became popular and different cultures each had different methods they used in which they would scry. Ancient Egyptians would use a vessel filled with oil and would have a young boy gaze into the oil while invoking the name of one of their gods. Other cultures used crystals such as obsidian or smooth reflective rocks. Some would go into dark caves and stare into the darkness, others would simply use a lake or even the clouds in the sky. Some would use mirrors.

One of the most famous scryers would be Michel De Nostradamus or as he is more known as 'Nostradamus'. His 'magic mirror' was a bowl of water with herbs in it where he would meditate and record his visions. In a letter he wrote to King Henry II of France he wrote "Much as, if looking into a burning mirror we see, as with darkened vision the great events".

Mirrors are a very intriguing thing. While we use them every day to make ourselves look pretty (don't pretend you don't look at yourself when you pass a mirror), they have other superstitious meanings. Traditionally in some cultures, when someone dies, they will cover up the mirror so their soul is not trapped inside the mirror. If you break a mirror, it is said that you will have 7 years of bad luck. Others believe that if you look into a broken mirror, it means your soul is broken and that you may die. Some say that a child should never be shown its own reflection before 1 year of age as it is bad luck. Vampires in stories were notorious for not being able to see their reflection in a mirror. Some use mirrors as a form of protection against spirits and some even go as far as banishing and trapping a negative spirit inside a mirror. The list goes on. The common theme here is that there seems to be a connection between the mirror and the soul. This is where scrying comes in. Ultimately, it is a reflection of oneself both literally and figuratively.

What is the Troxler effect?

Also referred to as Troxler's fading, it is a form of optical illusion that occurs when a person stares exclusively at a focal point for more than 20 seconds.  Our brain tends to fade out or blend visual stimuli which it feels isn't relevant.  Here is an example your can try.


Fixate, without moving, at the centre dot and the blue annulus will seem to disappear;
Licence: Martinez-Conde, S., Macknik, S. L. & Hubel, D. H. (2004) 'The Role of Fixational Eye-Movements In Visual Perception', Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 5: 229-240;

The Troxler Effect was coined by Swiss physician and philosopher Ignaz Paul Vital Troxler.  In 1804 he made the discovery that by fixating on a particular subject for a prolonged period of time, your visual field slowly causes the surroundings in your visual field to disappear.  They are replaced with what is described as an 'experience'.

The Troxler effect illustrates the importance of saccades, the involuntary movements of the eye which occur even while one’s gaze is apparently settled. If we could perfectly fixate on some point in our visual field by suppressing saccadic movement, a static scene would slowly fade from view after a few seconds due to the local neural adaptation of the rods, cones and ganglion cells in the retina. In brief, any constant light stimulus will cause an individual neuron to become desensitized to that stimulus, and hence reduce the strength of its signal to the brain.

When we attempt to fix our gaze on an object, the eye undergoes extremely rapid and relatively large-scale sudden movements called microsaccades, in contrast to saccadic drifts or small oscillations. Microsaccades cause the pattern of activity which forms the retinal image to shift across hundreds of photoreceptors at a time, providing a constant “refreshing” of the image (Martinez-Conde 2010). The Troxler effect occurs with any stationary stimulus, but it is particularly fast-acting and noticeable with low-contrast stimuli (so note the persistence of the cat’s grin, which is of higher contrast than the rest of the image). Such stimuli fail to trigger certain retinal mechanisms such as centre-surround ganglion cells which generate increased signal strength 

Illusions index

A Troxler Effect-inducing Cheshire Cat: A low-contrast depiction of a grinning Chesire Cat against a grey ground, with a central black cross as a target.  Source: Illusions Index

Scrying and paranormal investigating

Paranormal investigators often try to use different techniques to communicate with the spirit world. Scrying is considered a tool of self-reflection. It is a form of psychoanalysis where you are creating a direct connection with your subconscious by suppressing your identity and ego. It is thought by investigators that by unlocking the subconscious mind you are opening up the possibility to have a psychic vision or perhaps spirit communication, much like in the way a spirit can connect with a medium. It could come in the form of seeing your face change or morph into something else (perhaps that of a spirit). It could be that you begin to see a vision in your mind's eye. You could even see something over your shoulder that no one else can see. It would seem that those more sensitive to the paranormal are possibly more likely to have some sort of success as their subconscious is already quite open.  

There are a lot of different ways in which you can scry. There is no right or wrong way as it is something very personal to the person involved. An important thing to remember is that you are opening yourself up for something to come and communicate with you. If you believe in doing paranormal protection, it is something you should do before your session. If you don't believe in doing protection or you want to wait until after, again each to their own it is a personal thing.

Ideally, it is something that can be done at night or in a very dark room as it will help you to focus. It needs to be a quiet space as really it is almost a form of meditation. In fact, some people like to meditate beforehand or play a relaxation track to put them in the right mental state before they proceed. You need to be able to clear your mind and I of all people know that can be a difficult thing to do.

If you have control over where you can place your mirror, try to place it in a way where you don't have anything distracting behind you that you might look at during your session. Light a candle, and place it out of your line of sight. To the side is probably the best choice as if you put it behind you, you may see it in the mirror and it could distract you. Ideally again if you can sit, it is great to get comfortable but if it is a fixed mirror, standing is OK as well. You will need someone to keep time. You need to allow enough time for your mind to switch off and it can take a little bit of time. 15 minutes seems to be a good starting point. Don't start a timer as if you are in the middle of a session, you don't want it to abruptly end or lose focus waiting for the timer to finish. The timekeeper can gauge if you are ready to stop or even if the session needs to be stopped earlier. Again like the Ganzfeld experiment, whether you are receiving messages, visions, or hallucinating, some people may become distressed especially if they see their physical appearance change which can be quite common in scrying. This is why it can be helpful for the person who is scrying to describe what is happening as they see it. Some people go into a trance-like state like they do when meditating and may not remember the things they are saying so it is always good for the person monitoring to take note of the things being said.

Turn the lights off, light your candle and you are ready to go. When you look at the mirror, you want to almost look right through it. Don't look at yourself, try to look past yourself. Try to keep your eyes focused on one spot. Let blinking come naturally. You have to blink, you can't keep your eyes open for 15 minutes so it will take a little bit of adjustment to stop thinking about blinking. Go with the flow. If an image or vision pops into your head go with it. If you start to see yourself changing in the mirror, again go with it and see what message is coming across. Verbalize what you are seeing. When your session is finished, write down what you have seen, felt, heard. Again it is something that is very personal and it may not make sense to anyone else but you. It may not even make sense to you initially, but it may give you a light bulb moment later on where suddenly you have some clarity.

One of the biggest reasons for a paranormal investigator to 'scry' is so that they can see or experience their face or surroundings changing as they believe it is potentially a form of spirit communication.

So what does the Troxler effect mean for scrying?

Should one elect to gaze at a mirror, into their own eyes, for a significant period of time, it is possible that other areas of their face might begin to dissipate and blend into the mirror. Your face can suddenly look terrifying when, for example, your forehead starts to fade away or your cheeks morph into one large, brooding mouth. In time, your entire face can become distorted and transformed into this terrifyingly mangled monstrosity. Worse, our brains like to fill in things that they cannot recognize with things that they can recognize- never mind if those things are scary. Your incomprehensibly distorted face might morph into a monster you had once seen on television, locked deep within the synaptic catacombs of memory.

Psychology Today

So when a person starts to see their face change, is it a spirit trying to show them something within their subconscious or is it our brains once again tricking us?  I can't tell you the answer to that question, that is up to each person to decide.  Scrying is based on personal experience. It is something different to try and is more something just for yourself. It can be done during an investigation and you don't need any expensive equipment to give it a try. If it is something you want to do on a regular basis, start a journal. You don't have to use a mirror. You can use water like our ancestors did or even use a crystal or a dark room. If you want to be cliche, you can even use a crystal ball. Again it is a personal process so you may do it a different way to someone else or use a different tool. The ultimate goal is the same. It is to look past your physical body and delve deep into your subconscious. You never know what you might find in there!  

The question becomes however, is it paranormal or just a normal function of the brain?


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