Yard GlobesA gazing ball is easily confused with a crystal ball. That's not surprising given the name, however a gazing ball is a decorative garden ornament rather than a psychic device. Whereas a crystal is designed to be looked into, a gazing ball is highly reflective. Alternative names include gazing globe, mirror sphere and yard globe along with numerous variations.
What Is A Gazing Ball?A gazing ball is a highly polished sphere, originally made of glass but now commonly from metals such as stainless steel, copper and chrome. They are usually used as garden ornaments and frequently mounted on special stands (though they are sometimes simply placed directly on the ground, for example in the middle of the lawn).
So why would anyone buy one? Because the highly polished sphere gives an unusual and interesting reflection of the garden with a distorted view reminiscent of a fisheye lens. As such it can make an unusual decoration and talking point. Photographers also sometimes like to take pictures of the surface of the sphere.
Some modern globes you can buy are illuminated, perhaps using solar power and/or fibre optics.
HistoryThe origin of the gazing ball is unclear. Many researchers trace them back to 13th century Venice, however there have been suggestions that similar orbs were used outdoors long before this.
A variety of folklore exists around gazing balls, including the ideas that they can bring luck and prosperity as well as ward off witches. The latter belief is probably connected with the use of witch balls which were hung in the windows of 18th century cottages to ward off evil.
Some sources say that gazing balls were also known as butler balls because the servants could observe what was going on in the garden without committing the cardinal sin of staring. By keeping an eye on the reflection they could tell when their presence was required and appear accordingly in true Jeeves style. In that sense the ball probably did give them some appearance of being unusually intuitive or possibly even psychic!