This is a popular legend that you may remember from your childhood. The Mary Worth story–also known by such names as Bloody Mary and Mary Margaret–is popular at sleepovers. As the story goes, a beautiful young girl named Mary Worth suffered some sort of terrible, disfiguring accident (or occasionally the wounds are inflicted purposely by a jealous party). From then on, other people shun her due to her ugly face. In some versions she becomes a witch.
Now for the scary part. Supposedly if you say Mary Worth’s name three (or five, or ten… it varies) times while looking into the mirror, Mary Worth will appear and scratch your face off or kill you. She is exacting a hideous revenge on the undeformed people who made fun of her in life.
The great Clive Barker movie Candyman is based on this sort of legend.
Following are comments I have received from readers over the years.
Bloody Mary (1)
From: Alejandro Gonzalez (email@example.com)
Subject: Bloody Mary, Veronica and the Scarlet Woman
Date: Mon, 06 Oct 1997 01:55:03 +0100
When I first saw the movie _Candyman_ I was struck by the urban legend who was the leit-motif of the plot: if you say “Candyman” three times in front of a mirror, then Candyman will come and get you. The protagonist, a young lady who’s doing her D.Th. on urban legends, goes too far in her investigation and ends on the other side of the liminal surface as Candyman’s bride.
Surfing some time later some newsgroups on Usenet, I discovered the script was based on a short story by Clive Baker (the one who did _Hellraiser_); but his story was, in turn, a development of an older urban folk legend, concerning Mary Worth or Bloody Mary.
I became interested then in that urban legend, and read a lot of personal testimonies of people who did the test (or who faked; who can tell?) in their teen years. Trying to stablish which the main trait swere of the multiformous thread (the name of the phantom varied from one version to another, including variants as Lady Donkey or Mary Willarth), I isolated several elements which I found meaningful:
# The people who tried to cross the border (the mirror) were always teenagers, so people who were really crossing a critical boundary in their lives.
# The purpose for doing the test was, at best, blurred. Some extremely interesting versions said that Bloody Mary was the Virgin Mary, and so the experience could be termed as mystical; other said she was the daughter of the devil. Others, still, stated that the experience could end in extreme bliss or in gory death, though the way to choose one or another ending wasn’t clear. Anyway, most of the testimonies gave no reason at all to do the test, but showing one’s courage.
# There was a tendence that people trying were female, more than male, teenagers.
So, a Freudian reading of the story could perhaps suggest that Bloody Mary and unexpected occurrence of menstruation to small ladies were close enough to stablish a firm link (though I have not read this interpretation, it struck me as obvious at one level). Elaborating this, one could say that Bloody Mary is some kind of innocent character who represents girls’ innocence lost forever after menstrual blood appears: the inmaculate white of Virgin Mary is stained by the unavoidable agreement with daemonic forces that menstruation implies.
The theme is not exhausted by that level of interpretation, though. The idea of potencial bliss associated to the scary experience may be seen as a archetypal form of initiation, rites de passage: in fact, in a society without stablished initiatory rites, the Bloody Mary story may be seen as a psychical ersatz of that need. By the traumatic experience of shedding blood, the girl access to a world of bliss and pleasure: sexual natural high. This is the same as death, as orgasm is a petit mort, and sex is always a bloody/chthonic drive.
In that way, Bloody Mary would be near to what Spanish culture names ‘la Virgen Puta’, or what Crowley named the Scarlet Woman: in fact, the classical ambivalence of numen and ‘sacred’ as contamminating and purificatory, largely ignored in secularized Christian religion, resurfaces in this way from the collective unconscious.
I had already leave all the thing forgotten when, asking my students about the etymology of their names, we came to Veronica. Saint Veronica was the woman who gave Christ a piece of cloth to dry his sweat and blood when he was going to be crucified; this piece of cloth became later known as vera icon > veronica, ‘true image’, and so did the nice woman too
One of the children in the class mumbled almost for herself: ‘oh yes, and Veronica the one of the ouija’. I asked her what she meant, and she told me the story; many of children (15-6 years old) nodded as she told me Veronica was a girl who played with the ouija board, using scissors to point out the letters. She was driven mad by spirits and killed herself burying the scissors down her throat.
But she is not gone; if you play with the ouija board without taking the issue seriously (or if you play with it at all, maybe) she will come and kill you with her scissors. And if you say her name in front of the mirror three times at midnight you will see her in the glass, with the scissors still in her neck.
I was struck once again by the paralelism with the Bloody Mary plot, and also by the fact that I had heard of Veronica and scissors when I was a child, though I couldn’t remember anything clear of the story.
The kids asked me: ‘but this is all bogus, isn’t it?’. I told them: ‘if you ask me if this is true, I’ll tell you it’s not; if you ask the people who told you the story, they’ll tell you it is. I haven’t ever made such a test myself, and the people who told you the story surely haven’t either. So, who knows? Why should you believe me?’. This was the least manicheistic answer that came to me at that moment, though certainly insufficient. Then I added:
‘If you ask yourself if it is true, you’ll say it’s not. Yet, if you have to do the test, you’ll find one or another excuse, you’ll persuade yourself it’s ridiculous or nonsense, and you’ll give up. And if you finally do, you’ll see you have to overcome a strong resistance inside yourself, and your heart will beat fast, though nothing will happen outside. I have no answer as why it is so, and surely neither do you. End of the class’.
End of the post. Any clue, magickal or historical or folkloristic, will be welcomed as necessary. Good night by now.
Bloody Mary (2)
From: “Kilt Thief” (KiltThief@cox.net)
Subject: Re: Bloody Mary, Veronica, and the Scarlet Woman
Date: Monday, March 01, 2004 3:29 AM
When I was very young, I heard of the legend of Bloody Mary. I asked my mother about it, and she told me this version:
Mary Tudor, Queen of England, had several miscarriages, and suffered the pain of the bereaved mother. She still, however, wishes to be reunited with her dead children. If you stand in a darkened room, in front of a mirror, and repeat “Bloody Mary, I have your children” five times (five being the number of her dead children), she will come out of the mirror to attack you, in revenge for teasing her.
My mother, with a slight smile, explained to me that it was just a story, and that if I wished to try it, I shouldn’t allow myself to be too disappointed. So, of course, I tried it. And nothing happened. I came to the somewhat regretful conclusion that the story must be entirely fake. It didn’t even occur to me that I wasn’t doing it right – after all, at that age, I knew with all certainty that my mother was the original fountain of all wisdom and knowledge. (Oh, ok, I still believe she was.) I was prepubescent at the time. During my teen years, I attempted the experiment more than once, with a variety of giggling, anxious friends. Female friends, always. I have no idea if Mary Tudor did suffer miscarriages, and if she did, was it only five. It wasn’t an important detail at the time.
Many years later, as a grown woman, two 13 year old girls came to me with the story of Bloody Mary, asking me what it was all about, and if I’d ever done it. I told them what my mother had told me and that it hadn’t worked; they told me the version they’d heard. Their story went along the lines of “Polly heard it from Megan who heard that her cousin tried it and something bad happened to her, but Megan’s mom wouldn’t tell her what.” They wanted to know every detail of my own attempt, so instead of explaining it over again, I volunteered to try it with them. We stood in my bathroom with the lights turned off and facing the over-sized mirror – I was elected spokeswoman by default, as the two girls immediately tried to make themselves disappear behind me. Trying not to laugh, I dramatically intoned “Bloody Mary, I have your children” five times, waited a heartbeat – and in an age-old instinct, spread my arms out in front of the girls to make of myself the target of any repercussions, at the same time experiencing a deep and momentary longing that I had never done such a stupid thing. After a few moments of nervous tremblings and giggling bravado, the two girls regretfully concluded that I must have been right – nothing would ever happen and the story must be false. I have no idea if either of them ever tried the experiment again, with other girls.
After reading Alejandro Gonzalez’ article in your website, I remembered these instances from my own experience and it struck me as odd that both times, relief and regret were the girls’ dominant responses. Shouldn’t it be odd that, despite the fact that harm might come of such a reckless taunting of fate, one might feel regret that nothing happened, even disappointment? It seems almost psychotic to me.
I, personally, feel that it has nothing at all to do with menstruation, or sex, or the loss of innocence in the passage to womanhood. It might, however, be a rite of passage. It seems true, that I cannot recall any males who have spoken of trying the “Bloody Mary” test. Yet I know many boys who were once upon a time, dared to sleep overnight in the local haunted house, or dared to ride their bicycle through the graveyard at night, or otherwise dared to a variety of stupid stunts designed to test their manhood. To answer Freud, if sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, then sometimes a dare is just a dare.
Mr. Gonzalez wrote, “If you ask yourself if it is true, you’ll say it’s not. Yet, if you have to do the test, you’ll find one or another excuse, you’ll persuade yourself it’s ridiculous or nonsense, and you’ll give up. And if you finally do, you’ll see you have to overcome a strong resistance inside yourself, and your heart will beat fast, though nothing will happen outside. I have no answer as why it is so, and surely neither do you. End of the class.”
I tend to call this the What if reaction. It comes hand-in-hand with the fear of the unknown. We have these legends and myths that terrify us, yet even though we are adults who tell ourselves, “No, it isn’t true,” there is some deep part of us asking, “But what if it is true?” Even I, a grown woman, knowing from experience that nothing would come of the challenge, responded blindly to the need to protect “my” children from any consequences I might have provoked. I knew nothing would happen – but I was afraid of the possibility that something might.
I very much suspect that this is part of why we, as human beings, continue to terrorize ourselves with horror movies, ghost stories around the campfire, the passing of urban legends, and the fear of things that go bump in the night. Most often, it’s likely the cat that is knocking something over downstairs, or sleep paralysis that prevents us from moving even when we’re awake.
But what if it’s not?
Bloody Mary (3)
Subject: Bloody Mary, literally.
Date: Thursday, January 27, 2005 10:17 PM
This story was told to me by one of my best friends, named Ashley. I’m not positively sure this story is true, because Ashley didn’t have any actual proof… although she is not a liar, and by the way she was telling the story, (with shock) I could tell that she was most likely telling the absolute truth.
Well, here it goes…
Ashley went to a church in Myrtle Beach, S.C. At her church there was a little playground surounded by a short fence. Across the street from Ashley’s church, there was a small neighborhood, and beside the neighborhood, there was a broken down house with a mud-covered, old pick-up truck that was rammed into a huge weeping willow tree, crushing the front part of the truck.
Everyone at her church was making up rumors about how an old, creepy woman lived at the house. They would say that the truck belonged to her husband. One night, when her husband was coming home from work, and when he was about to park his truck in the drive way, a squirrel jumped up onto the hood of the car. He didn’t know what it was… for all he knew, it could of been a simple leave. So, not knowing what it was, he swerved his truck to side to side, until the squarrel jumped in the truck through the open window, crawled down through the guy’s pants, and bit him on the ankle, (causing a horrible pain) his foot felt paralyzed. He couldn’t get his foot off of the gas pedal… and he ran right smack dab into the tree. A few hours later, he died. When the wife found out, she went crazy. First, she tore up her house, making it look like a horrible, haunted house. The she tried to kill herself, so she started to cut herself with one of the biggest knives she could find in her kitchen. Although she didn’t die from all of those cuts, she never washed the blood off, because she was too sad and lonely to do anything. That’s how she got her name: Bloody Mary. She can’t even cook for herself. All she eats is the dirt and dust surrounding her rocking chair that she would sit in all day and night long rocking away… “screeeeech, screeeeech,” is the only thing you could hear.
(Remember, that’s only the made-up rumor, and no one knew if it was the true story, or not.)
Ashley was at church one day, when one of the baddest kids there decided to hop the playground fence, and go knock on the door of “Bloody Mary.” So he did.
Everyone watched as he knocked at the door. No one could clearly see who it was, but someone answered. The next thing they saw the boy, (named Billy) go into the house.
He stayed in there for quite some time. Then, finally, he came out of the house smiling the biggest smile I have ever seen!
He crossed the street, not even bothering to look if any cars were coming, and hopped back over the fence. From that day on, Billy never spoke one single word for the rest of his life. Not to his mom. Not to his dad. Not to his brothers, sisters, teachers, family. Not to anyone.
I don’t know what or who did whatever they did do to Billy, but it must of been a mighty big something.
About three years later…
…Billy still was a non-talker, and people say he will never talk again.
One night, right before the the sky turned dark, Billy was walking along the side of the church road, when “Bloody Mary” called him, or did something to catch his attention, and sure enough, Billy went over to her, and into her house. No one knew how or why, but the next morning, the builders, (who, by the way, was about to make a new building there) found Billy sitting in “Bloody Mary’s” Lap. Both of them were dead. The builders found “Bloody Mary” and Billy in a certain pose. “Bloody Mary” was holding Billy like a baby, and she was kissing his forehead, and Billy was holding “Bloody Mary’s” neck.
………………………………………..What a Happy Ending………………………………………..
Sorry for that spine-tingling story being too long. 🙂
Bloody Mary (4)
From: “Bernice” firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: own bloody mary experience
Date: Saturday, May 15, 2004 2:55 AM
I’m now 16 yrs old and will be entering 4th year HS. This story I will tell you is true and is witnessed not only by me.
When I was in 2nd year HS, I was then 14 yrs old, I read of a version of the bloody mary legend. It said that when a girl repeats the name “bloody mary” in front of a full-body mirror, mary will appear in the mirror and will either scratch your face or kill you.
It was already nearing our vacation, around March, so it’s nearing summer and the weather was sunny and perfect. No winds or dark clouds whatsoever. We just had our lunchbreak and I told my classmates about the bloody mary legend. Out of curiosity we tried it in the ladies comfort room where a full body mirror is on the wall. There were about 10 of us there. At first, my friend tried the chant. Nothing. Second, another friend. Nothing again. Maybe because we weren’t serious enough. So I myself tried it and chanted for about 12x. We were quiet then. Suddenly we all heard a thunder. We all ran out of the comfort room.
This event didn’t actually scare me, but it’s weird. There’s a storeroom above the comfort room but nobody was there. And we’re very certain that it was thunder. We even closed the door so that no other sound can be heard, and no one can enter. That’s me story. Feel free to give your comments. Email me at email@example.com. Thanks for reading my story.
One Reply to “Bloody Mary”
I would respond to the questions raised from a sociological perspective rather than supernatural.
Aside from the morality-safety-scared straight component of folktales and urban legends of this type there are at least two other considerations:
(1) the curiosity of youth and the fear of the future, consequences of choices, and the uncertainties of ones developing identity. So the participation in rites, dares, and other “limit” tests. These fears and curiosities combine with boredom to be expressed through stepping outside the comfort zone.
(2) establishing a “pecking order” and social ranking by demonstrating strength, courage, skills i.e. whatever is culturally considered cool. The effects of these “tests” and pass or fail among peers can be life changing and directing. Even traumatic as self image and status within a group is established.
In some cases the “testing of others” even the storyteller may use this behavior to manipulate, influence, bully others so to establish dominance. This behavior can be damaging to children that may find the need for a lifetime therapy for anxiety, depression or worse based on feelings of fault, inadequacy, failure, cowardice or weakness. A budding sociopath may use these urban-legend tests for dominance and a controlling will for self entertainment. A high IQ even sympathy may be present but empathy lacking. Such an individual may also use this influence to establish self importance to boost a poorly developed sense of self or to cover internal psychology conflict and fears.
As for the supernatural? All is in the Hands of Heaven
Is there a problem with ghosts? Not as much as the people who make them.