History and Lore of the Gazing Ball

Daisy Ratnasari

I have always been fascinated by gazing balls – that shinning, reflective colorful orb usually perched on a stand. As I discovered, their history is as colorful and varied as they are! This decorative garden ornament is just full of history(basically boring), lore and legend(fun facts).

First we have to travel back in time to the 13th century (now that is time travel). Skilled glass blowers from Venice crafted the shiny beautiful spheres. Personally, they were most likely using up odd bits and having a little fun, but that is just my opinion! Then we move forward to the early 1600’s, an Italian priest and chemist referred to them as “spheres of light”. In the same era another famous individual – Francis Bacon stated that “a proper garden should have rounded color balls for the sun to play upon”. Gazing balls gained widespread popularity during the Victorian era – used both outside and in the home. Also in the 19th century King Ludwig of Bavaria had the balls laced through out his garden at the castle Herrenchiemsse (try saying that 3 times fast) so the popularity continued. Like I mentioned, basically boring!

Legend and lore have some fun facts. A gazing ball is said to bring happiness, good luck and prosperity to those who owned it. The globe was known to ward off evil spirits and bad luck. Lore has it that a witch would not be able to stop looking at herself or the other version is she could not bear to look at her image – either way she stays away from you! Balls made of colored glass as opposed to the mirrored kind are believed to attract and trap evil spirits. The Victorians found a practical use for them, hence the name “butler ball”. Strategically placed the servant could monitor the need of the guests without having to stare at them, yet arrive magically to assist the visitor. The South picked up on this and placed them at the front gate so they could see who was coming and have time to hide or prepare a glass of tea (that is the early version of screening calls). Let’s not forget the wedding gift, to bring the bride happiness to her new home.

Fast forward to today… gazing balls are used today for garden decoration. They can enhance the overall look of your garden. Whatever your theme, there is a globe to match in blown glass, stainless steel, copper or ceramic. The reflecting orb allows the garden flowers, sky and structures to be viewed in a single glance. Not only among the flowers but they can be placed in the pond, bird bath or hung in trees.

A word of caution – the seal at the neck of the ball should never be loosened or removed. Moisture inside the ball will cause the reflective materials to peel (ugh). Gazing globes should be taken in during cold months to keep from freezing or cracking. Rain will not harm the ball but a violent storm can send branches flying and crack the glass.

Gazing balls are used in famous gardens around the world why not let one reflect your personality and bring that eye catching appeal to your yard. Besides a little luck never hurt anyone!

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