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Bloody Mary Unmirrored

Origins

If there is anything that can be ranked among the most mysterious of folklore, it is ritual-based legends, especially those involving the summoning of a spirit of some kind. The plausibility of such tales has been the subject of much deconstruction, but ultimately will remain unknown.

The legends of Bloody Mary have been around for a while, and they tend to get confusing when analyzed from a historical perspective. For those new to the legend, one of many common interpretations involve summoning the vengeful spirit of a witch nicknamed “Bloody Mary” in a dark bathroom by applying two basic items: a mirror, and a candle.

The actual depth of this urban legend is very nuanced and messy, as the supposed “origin point” of the legend lies in multiple places. Arguably the most popular instance traces back to 16th Century England (1501-1599), during the time of Queen Mary, England’s first female monarch at the time. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, and the only child to survive past infancy - Catherine had suffered several miscarriages prior to Mary I of England. This first case is notable because “Bloody Mary” was actually the popular nickname given to the British queen as she was recorded as having condemned hundreds of Protestants to death for heresy. The primary method of execution was burning at the stake, which was considered the standard at the time.

Another possible origin point lies in Hungary. Some versions of the legend say that Queen Mary had also tortured and killed young virgin women, bathing in their blood, believing that it was the secret to achieving eternal youth, but this is one of many common mix-ups; that aspect of the story better ties to the Hungarian countess, Elizabeth Báthory, who was originally rumored to have tortured and killed young virgin women, bathing in their blood to preserve her youth; the number of murders has been estimated as over 600. Some rumors even extend as far as the countess having vampiric tendencies, it may be reasonable to question how much of the story is heavily exaggerated.

The third candidate for the legend traces their roots in the United States, and unlike the others, this one is more ambiguous, and yields an umbrella of potential sources. One figure goes by the name of Mary Worth, a supposed malevolent witch who resided in Wadsworth, Illinois in the mid-1800s, who captured runaway slaves to use them in her occult practices in her barn, and was consequently apprehended and executed by the townspeople via burning at the stake. There is a huge connection to be made to the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts (1692-93); however, burning witches at the stake was not standard practice in that area, but rather those condemned to death were hung and/or stoned. There is also no “Mary Worth” in the accused listings as far as I could find, but there is a Mary Eastey and a Mary Parker.

Modern Interpretations

So we have looked at several possible origins of the urban legend: 16th Century England, Hungary, and North America, and there are likely more out there. Now comes the in-depth look into the more modern culture surrounding this supernatural figure.

Chances are if you have heard the story before, it may have involved some variation of the classic slumber party, and a suburban setting, where typically it was a group of teenage girls who initiated a dare, in which one person goes into a dark bathroom with a candle at midnight, and chants “Bloody Mary” either three or thirteen times, or state a phrase along the lines of: “I believe in Mary Worth”. In some variations, the time could be Halloween night - preferably at midnight or at 3:00 a.m., also known as “Witching Hour”.

The consequences are typically described as very dire, as it is said that if the ritual is successful, the ghost of Bloody Mary would appear in the mirror and either kill the summoner in grotesque ways - all of which seem to involve mutilation on some level, or she would simply pull them into the mirror with her, to be trapped inside for eternity. In the instance that nothing actually happens, and the player doesn’t immediately run out of the bathroom upon the last chant, the reward was essentially popularity points for being the “bravest” of the entire group.

More tame instances of the legend involve less maiming and eye-gouging and more old-fashioned divination. In these cases, Bloody Mary, as opposed to being a malevolent spirit, is a more benign figure that one would summon if they wished to predict what the future would hold for them. The procedure was to walk a flight of stairs backwards with a mirror and candle in hand, and the face of their future marriage partner was supposed to appear at their shoulder; however, there was a chance of seeing a skull appear in the mirror instead, which would signify that the partaker was destined to die before they could marry. It seems very likely that the Bloody Mary game as it is known today, was meant to be a scrying ritual.

For perspective, scrying falls under the art of divination, which can be defined as the process of seeking out information of the unknown - especially of the future, through supernatural means. In this case, the process of scrying is to seek out information of the unknown through the use of reflective mediums such as mirrors, crystal balls, and sometimes even water. When visualizing the scrying process, one could imagine a psychic gazing into their crystal ball to foretell the future, or the wicked Queen Grimhilde communicating with the Magic Mirror in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Considering that the vast majority of variations involve summoning this entity through the use of a mirror, there is a likelihood that the ancient practice of scrying has heavily influenced the urban legend.


Scientific Explanations

In the past, modern science has also given it’s analysis of the Bloody Mary legend. The potential explanations mostly involve phenomena such as optical illusions and basic human psychology. Granted it’s the scientific explanation given to most paranormal phenomena so while a fair amount of these deconstructions are recent, they aren’t really that new. The first explanation involves what is called the “Troxler effect”, named after Swiss physician Ignaz Paul Vital Troxler, where when you fixate on a particular point, such as a dot in the middle of a blend of colors, the imagery out of your focus seems to actually fade out into grey or something of that nature.

Apophenia is also said to play a huge potential role in people allegedly seeing the face of Bloody Mary or some other entity in mirrors. Apophenia is basically the perception of patterns and meanings from seemingly random information. From suspicion of bad luck drawn from a series of unfortunate events, to the illusion of faces where none should exist, such as a “grinning face” in a car’s headlights and bumper, or perhaps even a distorted face in the mirror - which may already sound familiar. This phenomenon is known as “pareidolia”, and in this case it would seem to act as a warning signal of sorts, to catch the tiny signs of potential danger as a supplement to peripheral vision which works to detect any signs of movement just at the edge of your field of vision.

From a personal perspective it makes a lot of sense, because when you perform the Bloody Mary ritual, you would be doing so, likely having already anticipated a threat or potential threat, and so while you’re going through the supposed summoning processes, your mind at the same time would use past and present imagery to basically put the puzzle pieces together in the background, and as a result it ends up playing tricks on you in the form of these aforementioned distorted faces, combined with those senses of skepticism, curiosity, hesitation, and unease that may have been taking place until that point.


Plausibility

The ultimate question we have about the urban legend is: is it real? I think the more interesting question is: how real is it? Out of morbid curiosity - and foolishness - I actually did experiment with the most well-known procedures: in a candlelit bathroom I tried chanted "Bloody Mary" thirteen times when my clock struck midnight - I lost count the first time. After that, I chanted the same name three times while spinning around.

Finally I attempted the same chant exactly thirteen times again and waited until what was probably around 12:05 a.m. Nothing of substance happened, with the exception of some sense of dread. Moreover, I didn't seem to experience any optical illusions during the process. After finishing, I made a line of salt against the wall on which the mirror hung, just in case.

So how real is Bloody Mary? In my opinion there's a far greater chance that she isn't real, but depending on your beliefs, the story does yield a lot of unfortunate implications. The most I can say is that discretion is advised if you really want to go that route, and you may want to refrain from trying any of the mentioned rituals and games at home if you are already susceptible to paranoia, or have an intense fear of ghosts and the supernatural in general.

References

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 NimaiRaphael

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