The Legend Of Bloody Mary
Woman staring in the mirror. Source: (Youtube)
From urban legend to horror movie trope, the Legend of Bloody Mary has been terrifying teenagers for years. But is any of it real? With most legends, there is at least some element of truth, some historical account which was twisted in the retelling. However, there are so many variations of the Bloody Mary legend that the element of truth may be buried too deeply to uncover.
Origins of the Myth
Many believe the legend to be connected to various rituals, one of which was mentioned in a footnote to Robert Burns’s 1786 poem Halloween, performed by unmarried girls in order to see the face of their future husbands. These rituals varied somewhat, with some requiring the girls to eat an apple or comb their hair in front of a mirror while others required them to stare in a mirror as they walk backward up the stairs. If the face in the mirror was a skull or the grim reaper, it meant that the girl would die before getting married. However, like the Bloody Mary legend, the origin of these mirror rituals is difficult to pin down.
Mirrors have long been connected with superstition, with many believing them to be portals between worlds. Before funeral homes, the recently deceased would be kept in the parlor of their home until burial, which could be several days. During this time, the mirrors would be covered because it was believed that if the dead person saw his reflection then his spirit would become trapped in the house. During the 19th century, it was believed that the devil would appear in the mirror if a person stared at it for too long. However, the ritual of summoning Bloody Mary is thought to have arisen in the United States after World War II. The first academic writing on the legend was an essay published by folklorist Janet Langlois in 1978.
Who is the ghost in the Mirror?
While the ritual itself appears to be rooted in superstition, many believe the identity of Bloody Mary to be based on a real person. A popular choice is Queen Mary I, who was in fact nicknamed “Bloody Mary.” The nickname was earned after she executed hundreds of protestants in her efforts to return England to Catholicism. However, a lesser-known fact about Mary I is that she suffered not one, but two, phantom pregnancies before dying childless. This fact is important as one variation of the ritual has the young girls chanting, “Mary, I killed your baby.” A second choice for the identity of the ghost is Mary, Queen of Scots, who was involved in the murder of her husband, but that doesn’t quite seem bloody enough to connect her to the legend. A more likely candidate is Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian countess nicknamed the “Blood Countess,” who was rumored to torture and murder young girls and to bathe in their blood to maintain her youth.
However, in addition to these historical figures, there are various other identities of the ghost with no historical documentation. Even the names change, with many versions of the legend referring to her as Mary Worth, Mary Whales, Mary Johnson, and Black Agnes, just to name a few. She has also been connected to the Bell Witch of Tennessee and La Llorona of Hispanic folklore. Her backstory also varies. She was either a witch who was executed, a beautiful woman mutilated in a car accident, or a mother whose children were murdered.
Most versions of the story involve pre-teen girls standing in front of the bathroom mirror chanting “Bloody Mary” only to have the ghost appear and violently murder them. In some versions, they say “I believe in Mary Worth” or the aforementioned “Mary, I killed your baby.” Almost all versions involve standing in a dimly lit room in front of a mirror, often holding a single lit candle. In some cases, the girls are required to spin in circles as they chant. The results of the ritual also vary, though they all end badly for the summoner. She may be murdered, have her face scratched up or eyes scratched out, or she may be dragged into the mirror. Best case scenario, Bloody Mary just gives the summoner an evil stare.
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