Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (AH).
CB: “Can you tell me about Bloody Mary?”
AH: “Yes! So I learned about Bloody Mary when I was pretty little. I think that it was one of my friends in elementary school that taught me about it, but I don’t really remember honestly. But, uhhh…. The superstition was that if you went into the bathroom at night, traditionally you’re supposed to do it at midnight. But you go in and you flick the lights on and off again three times, and you say ‘Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary’ and she’s supposed to appear to you and kill you.
CB: “So what does Bloody Mary mean to you?”
AH: “Bloody Mary was the very first folklore that I remember. I used to be scared shitless of Mary, whoever the fuck she was…. Oh! No! She wouldn’t kill you right away, her bloody severed head would appear in the mirror, and there would be blood in the sink, and then she would kill one of your family members the next night. That’s what it was!!”
CB: “But why do you think that piece of folklore is important?”
AH: “I just always thought it was kinda a way to keep kids out of the bathroom at night. I don’t know.”
Bloody Mary is a very popular tale or game that many of my friends and I have heard growing up. My informant and I discussed how the game seems to only ever be played by girls, and is very heavily associated with elementary school bathrooms. We compared versions of the story that we grew up with, and laughed at our fears. I had heard that the ghost was based on Mary Queen of Scots, and that she would haunt young girls because she was killed at a young age.
My informant called me with stories prepared after hearing that I had been interviewing other members of our family for folklore. We had a fun and casual conversation, exchanging versions of stories that we had heard growing up.
Bloody Mary is a really common childhood game because it reflects young girls’ universal apprehension about blood and bathrooms. The fears associated with the game also reflect modern social portrayals of bathrooms as a dangerous space. Girls are taught from a very young age not to go to the bathroom alone. I grew up hearing stories about men hiding in women’s bathrooms to kidnap, rape, or murder the women who go in their. Because of this, girls begin to internalize this fear of bathrooms, particularly public bathrooms, at a very young age. This game reveals is a way for girls to channel and address their fears associated with a public school bathroom, often with the protection of their friends.
For another interpretation of Bloody Mary see “The Psychology of Extraordinary Beliefs” published by The Ohio State University. https://u.osu.edu/vanzandt/2019/04/17/bloody-mary-from-the-bathroom-to-the-laboratory/