Gazing balls or gazing globes have been used to decorate gardens for centuries. These iridescent glass orbs, often perched atop a pedestal or wrought iron base, were originally believed to ward off evil and bring good luck. Today they are merely decorative objects peeking out among plants and reflecting the garden.
Gazing balls were first used in the 13th century for spiritual and aesthetic reasons. These first globes were handmade by Italian artisans in Venice and often graced palace gardens. European kings believed these mouth-blown glass spheres held magical, mystical powers and brought good luck to the monarch and his family.
The first gazing balls were beautiful and imbued with meaning. They were believed to ward off evil spirits, ghosts, disease and malicious intruders. In some circles, they were thought to protect the property owner from witches. Supposedly, if a garden globe was placed near the door, the witch would see her reflection and be frightened away before casting an evil spell.
The balls, which often had a reflective surface, also provided a spot for quiet meditation in the garden. Some believed that staring into the ball made the gazer become one with the universe. A gazer could get lost in the globe's central point of light and reflect on the mysteries of life.
In Victorian England, gazing globes were standard fare in gardens, where they were sometimes believed to attract fairies. They also often appeared on the dining table as butler balls. Butlers used them to peer over the hostess's shoulder and check on guests' dinner plates and drinks.
In early 20th century America, garden globes were placed in gardens as a symbol of status, wealth and success. The earlier superstitions and meanings were lost over time, and today the balls are used merely as a garden accent. If placed properly, the gazing globe should reflect the entire garden and the sky above it. Some are solar powered and light up at night.