Text: “I don’t know, I think I was like eight or something and my brothers and sisters are older than me so they would try to scare me and stuff–so my brother was like ‘oh, I dare you to do this,’ and as a kid that’s whatever. And so I went into the bathroom, and usually the whole thing is like ‘oh say Bloody Mary three times and it’ll pop up.’ I did it, nothing happened, and then I wasn’t as scared of it after that. I guess it’s just a legend.”
Context: My informant, KB, relayed this experience to me during allotted class time to share folklore. She explained that she heard the legend from her siblings when she was about eight years old, an era in which she was especially prone to being manipulated by her older siblings. It does not appear that she thought too deeply into the legend of Bloody Mary itself, but was instead more occupied with the pressure of the dare. She harbored more fear for Bloody Mary before her experience in the mirror, and walked away as less of a believer, perhaps initiating her transition from target audience to active bearer.
Analysis: I interpret this legend of Bloody Mary as a test of courage for youth–until you work up the courage to face Bloody Mary in the mirror and find out that it is not real, you have not come of the age to actively bear the folklore and scare the next generation. Thus I view it as a rite of passage and bit of children’s folklore, passed down by older children to younger children in a practical joke format as a means of initiation (van Gennep). Within this scope, I believe my informant relayed a classic experience of youth in which she bore the burden of being a younger child in an older group and was forced to take a risk in order to obtain something the group desired, in this case knowledge. Ultimately, legends offer insights to how a certain group views the world–I see KB’s experience with this legend as an expression of her childhood, in which legends such as Bloody Mary can easily generate fear and are often forced upon the powerless or youngest in the group to explore. Her experience also connects to a child’s inexperience with the physical world, which could result in false beliefs about the feasibility of something like Bloody Mary being real. Further, paralleling Oring’s take on children’s folklore, the legend and its associated actions reflect the childhood urge to explore the forbidden, occult, or taboo, especially in rebellious sentiment. KB’s experience features this drive as well as the power dynamics of young children.