Bloody Mary – American Urban Legend

1. Text

When asked for a folk narrative, the informant shared the below legend:

“When I was a kid there was scariest thing you could dare someone to do was turn out the lights of the bathroom and dare them to go in and say “Bloody Mary” three times in front of the mirror. Legend has it that if you did this, she would appear in the mirror and try to kill you. Naturally, it was very popular at pre-teen slumber parties. At the time, no one really knew (or cared) who Bloody Mary was – all we did know was that the chances of a ghost appearing in the mirror with always low (but never zero, which was what induced the fear in us all). For context, this was most popular when I was in the fifth grade or so (so about circa 2013). Apparently, she might be based on the historical Mary(s) at the time; the most popular being Mary I of England, who famously had the nickname Bloody Mary for her horrible deeds as ruler.”

2. Context

The informant is Filipino American and grew up in the US. They learned this urban legend in fifth grade from other kids her age at school. The informant believed a little bit that Bloody Mary might appear when she was younger.

The informant interprets the urban legend as a “slumber party dare” therefore views it more as a fun group activity among pre-teens.

3. Analysis

As someone who was completely unfamiliar with the “Bloody Mary” myth, it is interesting that the concept of “Bloody Mary”, takes the name of the Virgin Mary, who is thought of as a pure maiden that gave birth to Jesus in Christianity. “Bloody” suggests that this is an “evil” version of Mary that is different from the Virgin Mary. This name therefore contrasts the holiness of “Mary” with the disturbing imagery from the word “bloody” to make for a scary name for a ghost. However, as the informant points out, the Bloody Mary is apparently based on a ruler of England who did horrible things, therefore not linked to the Virgin Mary. This may hint at the relationship between the US and England where England may be viewed as a country that the US broke away from and became independent. Therefore the horrible ruler Bloody Mary can be exaggerated and made into a ghost that spook children. Reflected surfaces such as mirrors are often where people think ghosts may appear. This may be largely due to the influence of media portrayal of ghosts. This could point to how pop culture in the US greatly influences folklore and vice versa. In addition, the act of “taunting” the ghost and testing the limits by trying to summon the ghost seems specific to the US. In comparison in Asian cultures, children usually do not try to summon ghosts since they are afraid of them. However, there is a similarity between these cultures in that in both cultures children like to test their limits and act brave by going to abandoned or ghost mansions. This trend is a way in which children rebel against the accepted norm that one should not go into a ghost house and add excitement to their lives through their imagination and group activities.