Friday, November 14, 2008
I actually got my first exposure to the Bloody Mary legend during a game of Truth or Dare in my best friend's basement when I was 13. The dare was to go in the bathroom, turn off the light, and say Bloody Mary's name three times. When you turned the light back on, you were supposed to briefly see a bloody female face in the bathroom mirror behind you. I don't think I saw anything, and in all brutal honesty, for those who have, it probably has something to do with the quick shift in lighting playing tricks on the retina or something like that. Still, it's all in good fun. Can't really remember the legend behind it, other than that she was a girl who was somehow murdered for whatever reason.
Much more recently, I was shocked to find the legend alive and well when my 7-year-old daughter came home from school telling me all about how her best friend told her about it in class. She's since gotten so terrified by the whole thing that she's made me take down the full-length mirror we had hung beside her bed! Good urban legends never die, I suppose...
The Vault of Horror
I first heard the story when I was in fourth grade. It was going all around the classroom and one girl had scratches on her arm to prove that she had done it and had seen her! Of course I -- still believing in the Easter bunny and Santa Claus and also loving anything scary -- just had to try it.
I went home from school that night, scared and giddy, ready to give it a go. I went into my dad's room which had a large mirror in it and closed the door and turned out the lights. Then I did the little ritual you were supposed to do (at least as it was told to me) - you were supposed to stand before a mirror in a dark room and spin around saying "Bloody Mary" seven times, then as you stopped and looked into the mirror she would be standing behind you and she would reach out and scratch you.
I did it and of course, nothing happened and I felt silly. :)
Absinthe's Gloomy Sunday
Although I never tried the Bloody Mary challenge, the Candyman series which had a similar test in it, gave me and my daughter a real scare. I don't expect anyone to believe the story, but it happened. When my daughter was about 11, she had seen some of my Candyman video as I watched it. She and I were alone in the house one evening, I was in the living room and she was in her bedroom. My wife was out that night. Suddenly I heard a door slam very loudly and with extreme force, and my daughter screamed.
She was pale as a ghost and ran into the living room asking if I had slammed her door shut. I told her I had not, and she said it had slammed shut by itself. She had been trying out the Candyman mirror thing, and as soon as she had finished, the door to her room slammed shut.
I thought at first she was playing a game on me, but she seemed so shaken that I believed her as she begged me to tell her if I had actually done it, perhaps to scare her. We went into her room, and while there, a loud pounding came down the side of the outside wall.
The sound of heavy footsteps seemed to run up the back porch, and then a pounding on the wall continued on beyond the porch railing and down the rest of the outside wall... all at porch level, which was about four feet higher than the ground. I rushed out the back door and there was no-one around.
No-one could have hit the siding at that level after leaving the porch even if there had been someone running up on it. After that she promised never to try it again, and to this day refuses to watch it.
I reassured her that the character was only fictional, but I do believe that something listening did use her chanting of the mirror invocation to frighten her, and me also. Something that was in that house, which I was glad to leave behind when we moved. We two know it happened, if no-one else believes it.
She was coming to get your blood, because she supposedly bathed in the blood of young girls to stay beautiful.
As the urban legend experts at Snopes.com point out, this aspect of the mirror witch was based on a real person, Elizabeth Bathory, the so-called Blood Countess.
A Hungarian noblewoman who lived from 1560 to 1614, she was arrested for torturing and killing dozens of women in order to bathe in their blood. There is evidence that she killed more than 600 victims in all, using hot pokers, an iron maiden, pins, blades, and freezing water. Katherine Ramsland's account of the Bathory legend -- in all its gruesome detail -- is here. Bathory was walled alive in Cachtice, her castle located in what is now Slovakia.
"The Bloody Countess lived sealed in the tomb for three and a half years," according to a travel guide for Slovakia. "Her only company was her victims’ ghosts and the bats that flew in through the lone hole high up on the wall to sleep hanging from the curtains...
All that remains today of Báthory is her legend and her crumbling castle ruin above the village Višòové. Among these ruins is a certain room. It is circular and dug deep into the soil. There are no doorways, no designed entries whatsoever. But high up on the wall is a slit, a lone window which would have permitted a single thin band of light to penetrate the Bloody Countess’s prison.
(12/10/2010 UPDATE: There is a similar legend in France which I have written about here. Enjoy.)
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
In the Spring 1998 issue of Western Folklore, Dundes wrote a fascinating article about the ritual. According to Dundes, because this game might be some kind of "anticipatory ritual" to mark the fear and excitement that occur when girls begin menstruating. Sorry to put it this way, but Bloody Mary is really Aunt Flo.
Dundes points to several signs:
1. Although boys do play the game, it's usually played by girls on the cusp of puberty.
2. It's often played in the bathroom.
3. The blood, of course, which combined with the use of the mirror might reflect anxiety about one's appearance. Some versions of the legend say there is a danger of receiving a scratch and coming out of the bathroom showing blood.
4. Some versions of the game involve looking into the water of the toilet, flushing the toilet, or the water itself turning red.
5. Dundes collected euphemisms for menstruation, which actually included the term "Bloody Mary."
But why Mary? According to Dundes, all the versions of the lady's name -- Hell Mary, Bloody Mary, Mary Worth -- contained that name. He thinks it could be connected to two reasons:
There could be an allusion to the Virgin Mary here-the ritual does occur frequently in Catholic elementary schools. Virginity is still an issue for young girls, especially when the risk of pregnancy is understood as a concomitant feature of pubescence. In addition, the vowel in the name "Mary" as pronounced in some American dialects of English is the same vowel as in the verb "marry." Part of the culturally defined transition from girlhood to womanhood entails the expectation that one day marriage might occur.
He goes further, getting a little freaky in the process. A reason that Bloody Mary often appears headless could be to refer to "the loss of a "maiden head" as a symbol of lost virginity..." I don't know if I buy that. But Helder's blog and the article by Dundes are both fascinating reads, and a testament to the depth and complexity of this little party game.