Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Page 180: Bloody Mary

With just a little bit of folk magic, you too can conjure a vengeful spirit right into your bathroom! All it takes is a mirror, darkness, and perhaps a few lit candles. Stare into the mirror—if you dare—and chant her name: Bloody Mary. Or Mary Worth, Mary Johnson, Mary Lou, etc. After you say the name the appropriate number of times (three, thirteen, etc.), she will spring forth from the mirror and attack you. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

The details of this popular sleepover game vary, including the name of the spirit, what words must be chanted, the requisite number of repetitions, the paraphernalia necessary for the evocation, and what fate befalls the unfortunate person who deems to summon her. But generally speaking, if done right, not only is the spirit supposed to appear, but it will reach out and scratch you or otherwise draw blood.

Alan Dundes offers a Freudian take on this rite of passage for young teens. He asserts that it symbolizes the life-changing event of menarche: the game is usually played by girls, it involves blood, and is invariably set in a bathroom…you can see where this is going. The mirror represents a kind of self-identification with Bloody Mary.

The idea of chanting a name to cause a spirit to appear is hardly new. The phrase “speak of the devil” testifies to this, as does the corpus of the medieval grimoire tradition in Western ceremonial magic. There’s also the Bloody Mary spin-off game, “Baby Blue.” More recently, this trope has appeared in movies from Beetlejuice (1988) to Candyman (1992). And if things get too scary, you can always click your heels together and say three times, “There’s no place like home.”

FOR FURTHER READING

Anonymous. “Bloody Mary.” October 27, 2005. Snopes.com.

Jan Harold Brunvand. “I Believe in Mary Worth.” In Encyclopedia of Urban Legends (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2001), 205–6.

Francisco Vaz Da Silva. “Review: Bloody Mary in the Mirror.” Journal of American Folklore 2004, 117(464): 216–7.

Alan Dundes. “Bloody Mary in the Mirror: A Ritual Reflection of Pre-Pubescent Anxiety.” Western Folklore 1998, 57(2/3): 119–35.

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