Saturday, April 7, 2007

Bloody Mary

In folklore and children's street culture, "Bloody Mary" is the name of a children's game in which a ghost or witch of the same name (or sometimes other names, such as "Mary Worth") is said to appear in a mirror when summoned. One of the more common ways participants attempt to make her appear is to stand before a mirror in the dark (most commonly in a bathroom) and repeat her name three times, though there are many variations. Some include chanting a hundred times, chanting at midnight, spinning around, rubbing one's eyes, or chanting her name thirteen times with a lit candle. Most of these are meant to disorient people. In some versions of the legend, the summoner must say, "Bloody Mary, I killed your son!" or "I killed your baby." In these variants, Bloody Mary is often believed to be the spirit of a mother (often a widow) who murdered her children, or a woman who was murdered shortly before or after her wedding. In stories where Mary is supposed to have been wrongly accused of killing her children, the querent might say "I believe in Mary Worth." This is similar to another game involving the summoning of the Bell Witch in a mirror at midnight. Similar rituals are also used to summon spirits in the movies Beetlejuice (1988) and Candyman (1992). The game is often a test of courage, as it is said that if Bloody Mary is summoned, she would proceed to kill the summoner in an extremely violent way, such as ripping his or her face off. Other variations say that the querent must not look directly at her, but at her image in the mirror; she will then reveal the querent's future, particularly concerning marriage and children.

Bloody Mary Worth is typically described as a child-murderer who lived in the locality where the legend has taken root years ago. There is often a specific local graveyard or tombstone that becomes attached to the legend.

On the other hand, various people have surmised that the lore about taunting Bloody Mary about her baby may relate her tenuously to folklore about Queen Mary I. The queen's life was marked by a number of miscarriages or false pregnancies. Had Mary I successfully borne a child, this would have established a Roman Catholic succession and threatened the continuance of her religious persecutions after her death. Speculation exists that the miscarriages were deliberately induced. As a result, some retellings of the tale make Bloody Mary the queen driven to madness by the loss of her children. It is likely, however, that Queen Mary I provided only her nickname to the Bloody Mary of folklore. She is also confused in some tellings of the story with Mary Queen of Scots. Bloody Mary is sometimes said to have bathed in the blood of her child victims (or more commonly the blood of virgins) in order to retain a youthful complexion; this would appear to confound her with Elizabeth Báthory.

The mirror ritual by which Bloody Mary is summoned may also relate to a form of divination involving mirrors and darkness that was once performed on Halloween. While as with any sort of folklore the details may vary, this particular tale 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.

The appearance of a ghostly figure in the mirror could be explained quite easily for the more complex rituals, for example spinning around whilst summoning Bloody Mary in front of a mirror lit by candles. The combination of dizziness, rapid movement and flickering lighting could easily fool the eye into seeing someone, especially when the idea has already been implanted. The participant may think that they have seen a spirit, it is, however, most likely a trick of the eye brought upon by the combination of darkness, fear and disorientation.