Informant: “You’d have to close your eyes and do the Bloody Mary which was just like ‘Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary.’ While you were closing your eyes, spinning around in circles in the bathroom and then when you stopped like after you did it ten times you were supposed to see bloody Mary in the mirror staring at you.”
The informant never performed the ritual herself as she was too afraid. However, she watched many of her peers perform it.
Collector: Why did your friends do this chant and spin? What was it for?
Informant: I think it was all for the buildup of intensity. Spinning and chanting just made everything feel really cinematic.
Collector: How would you describe the situations when your friends did this?
Informant: It usually came out of some kind of boredom or stasis when hanging out or having sleepovers. It would usually start with someone suggesting it and then we’d turn off all the lights to get into the mood.
Collector: Did your friends who did this have a common background or religious upbringing?
Informant: I think loosely. But nothing too intense…most of my friends had a protestant or catholic background. At the time, I think most of the people I did this with had Catholic backgrounds.
Collector: What did bloody Mary look like? Anything particular about her?
Informant: I think that it was kind of up to the individual. But I think for the most part, she was expected to have a plain face, in her Virgin Mary headdress, covered in blood.
Collector: Do you have any ideas about the origins of this chant?
Informant: No idea. Maybe some frustrated Catholic school kids who wanted to scare each other.
In this case, bloody Mary refers to the Virgin Mary. The informant says she was expected to appear in her headdress drenched in blood.
In my own experience of this piece of folklore, bloody Mary referred to Mary, Queen of Scots. The change from Mary, Queen of Scots to the Virgin Mary is an interesting one. Mary, Queen of Scots is nicknamed Bloody Mary for her ordered murder of many people but the Virgin Mary is always described as the personification of purity and innocence.
The informant explained that while it was very clear that Bloody Mary referred to the Virgin Mary, she still detached that reference of the Virgin Mary from the biblical one. This ritual did not impact the informant’s religious stance at all.
It’s possible that like many other children’s chants and rituals (i.e. ring around the rosie and London Bridge), Bloody Mary originated from a historical aspect. In the cases of Bloody Mary being based off of Mary, Queen of Scots, it’s even more likely as the Queen was literally nicknamed Bloody Mary for her perceived brutal nature.
Apart from their names and their historical status, each Mary seems to be as opposite from the other as possible. I would speculate that the change from one Mary to the other was a situation of lost in translation.
This ritual is an example of how children love to scare themselves and others. It also coincides with the desire to prove oneself. By creating a ritual that has a scary consequence, it allows children to step up and be brave by performing it.