From one generation to the next, thrill-seeking boys and girls have passed down the legend of Bloody Mary. Perhaps you even took on the hair-raising challenge as an adolescent—chanting “Bloody Mary” in the mirror of a darkened bathroom three times, only to run out screaming before the evil spirit appeared. Some claim the bloodied woman merely appears in the reflective surface, while others purport she’ll claw at your face, haunt you for life, or even kill you.
Long before this malevolent woman came to haunt the living, the original ritual held roots in a young woman’s coming of age. Hundreds of years ago, pubescent girls curious about their destined true love would walk backward up a flight of stairs, then peer into a mirror in darkened room while holding a candle. This was said to reveal the face of their future husband. Sometimes, however, a skull materialized, signifying death before getting the chance to marry.
A scientific explanation for such visions highlights the hallucinations that inevitably set in after prolonged periods of gazing into a mirror under poor lighting. Often these images appear to contort or melt away.
It’s no wonder, then, that the matrimonial mirror ritual eventually took a turn for the sinister. As time passed, the dark legend of Bloody Mary replaced the adolescent search for true love. It transformed into a test of fear for boys and girls, a party game with dire consequences.
The identity of the actual woman known as Bloody Mary is difficult to pinpoint. There are several women through the ages that have been associated with the legend. The most famous is Mary Queen of England, a Roman Catholic ruler from the 16th century who was feared throughout the land for her persecution of Protestants, often burning them at the stake for the crime of their religion. A variation on the ritual involved chanting, “I stole your baby, Bloody Mary” in reference to the queen’s failed attempts at bearing an heir.
Another Bloody Mary was the vampiric Elizabeth Bathory a.k.a. The Blood Countess. In 16th century Hungary, Elizabeth tortured, mutilated, and murdered young virgins, and even drank their blood in a maniac quest to stay youthful.
A more recent iteration of Bloody Mary belongs to a dark moment in American history. The Salem witch trial hysteria of the 17th century stoked fear and superstition throughout New England. Children of the era chanted “I believe in Mary Worth” in reference to a supposed practitioner of the dark arts who was burned alive for being a witch.
Little, if any, proof exists to confirm Mary Worth’s existence. In fact, her backstory received an update during the 20th century. Many will now tell you that Mary Worth was a beautiful woman who died in a car accident, her face severely disfigured and bloodied. When summoned she appears to the conjurer dressed in all white, with blood dripping down her face.
Hollywood also grabbed hold of the legend and turned it into a male character for the 1992 film Candyman. Chanting his name into a mirror summed the sinister spirit who would rip you to pieces with his hook hand.
Clearly, the ritual of Bloody Mary refuses to die. We’re waiting with bated breath to see what modern-day apparition will next appear from the other side of the mirror.