Scrying (also called crystal gazing, crystal seeing, seeing, or peeping) is a magic practice that involves seeing things psychically in a medium, usually for purposes of obtaining spiritual visions and more rarely for purposes of divination or fortune-telling. The media used are most commonly reflective, translucent, or luminescent substances such as crystals, stones, glass, mirrors, water, fire, or smoke. Scrying has been used in many cultures as a means of divining the past, present, or future. Depending on the culture and practice, the visions that come when one stares into the media are thought to come from God, spirits, the psychic mind, the devil, or the subconscious.
Although scrying is most commonly done with a crystal ball, it may also be performed using any smooth surface, such as a bowl of liquid, a pond, or a crystal.
Scrying is actively used by many cultures and belief systems and is not limited to one tradition or ideology. As of 2009, the Ganzfeld experiment, a sensory deprivation experiment inspired by scrying, provides the best known evidence for psi abilities in the laboratory. Nevertheless, like other aspects of divination and parapsychology, scrying is not supported by mainstream science as a method of predicting the future or otherwise seeing events that are not physically observable.
The visions that scryers say they see may come from variations in the medium. If the medium is water (hydromancy), then the visions may come from the color, ebb and flow, or ripples produced by pebbles dropped in a pool. If the medium is a crystal ball, the visions may come from the tiny inclusions, web-like faults, or the cloudy glow within the ball under low light (e.g. candlelight).
One method of scrying using a crystal ball involves a self-induced trance. Initially, the medium serves as a focus for the attention, removing unwanted thoughts from the mind in the same way as a mantra. Once this stage is achieved, the scryer begins a free association with the perceived images suggested. The technique of deliberately looking for and declaring these initial images aloud, however trivial or irrelevant they may seem to the conscious mind, is done with the intent of deepening the trance state, wherein the scryer hears their own disassociated voice affirming what is seen within the concentrated state in a kind of feedback loop. This process culminates in the achievement of a final and desired end stage in which rich visual images and dramatic stories seem to be projected within the medium itself, or directly within the mind's eye of the scryer, like an inner movie. This overall process reputedly allows the scryer to "see" relevant events or images within the chosen medium.
The Shahnameh, a historical epic work written in the late 10th century, gives a description of what was called the Cup of Jamshid or Jaam-e Jam, used in pre-Islamic Persia, which was used by wizards and practitioners of the esoteric sciences for observing all the seven layers of the universe. The cup contained an elixir of immortality.
Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint movement, used magical stones (referred to in Mormonism as "seer stones") for various purposes. Scrying through magical stones was a common practice in Smith's early 19th century New England, and was practiced by several respected leaders at the time. During his life he had at least three separate stones that were obtained through various means (one of which he recovered by looking into a neighbor's seer stone and seeing the location). These stones were initially used in various treasure digging endeavors. Later, Smith used two stones called the Urim and Thummim, two clear stones in a bow that resembled spectacles, in his 1829 translation of the Book of Mormon from the Golden Plates (although much of the translation was actually done using one of the stones that he obtained earlier in life).
Though Smith initially used his stones to see hidden things, their use later evolved into a revelatory catalyst. Smith and others claimed that God communicated to them through these stones. Two stones, believed to be Urim and Thummims but referred to as "interpreters" are mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Smith claimed to have discovered these ancient stones by aid of an angel along with the Golden Plates.
Modern Mormons believe in the validity of Smith's claimed ability to have been able to use seer stones, along with the divine revelations that Smith claimed to have received through them.
Rituals that involve many of the same acts as scrying in ceremonial magic are also preserved in folklore form. A formerly widespread tradition held that young women, gazing into a mirror in a darkened room (often on Hallowe'en) could catch a glimpse of their future husband's face in the mirror — or a skull personifying Death, if their fate was to die before they married.
Another form of the tale, involving the same actions of gazing into a mirror in a darkened room, is used as a supernatural dare in the tale of "Bloody Mary". Here, the motive is usually to test the adolescent gazers' mettle against a malevolent witch or ghost, in a ritual designed to allow the scryers' easy escape if the visions summoned prove too frightening.
While as with any sort of folklore the details may vary, this particular tale (Bloody Mary) encouraged young women to walk up a flight of stairs backwards, holding a candle and a hand mirror, in a darkened house. As they gazed into the mirror, they were supposed to be able to catch a view of their future husband's face. There was, however, a chance that they would see the skull-face of the Grim Reaper instead; this meant, of course, that they were destined to die before they married.