B: So when I was in kindergarten or first grade, during recess my friends and I would play four-square. So, I was- there’s a line and I was waiting in the line to play. And I heard two boys talking about Bloody Mary. They said you have to say “bloody mary” three times into a mirror, and then she comes out or something.
Me: Could you do this in any mirror or did you have to go in a specific room?
B: You had to do it in the bathroom. But I tried it and nothing happened (laughs the kind of laugh you do when you try something silly).
Me: Why do you think kids tell each other this story?
B: I think part of the reason is because they want to scare each other. And I feel like part of it is also that, they got told it and they got scared, and they want other people to know because they want them to be aware or something.
Me: What thoughts did you have when you tried this?
B: I didn’t have any thoughts, I was like, I’m gonna do this, and I went in the bathroom and turned off the lights and shut the door, and then I started saying it? And then I was like, “this is fake,” and went back out.
My informant is my cousin’s 10-year-old son, who is in the fourth grade. He lives in a suburban neighborhood near Des Moines, which is the capital of Iowa. He goes to a public elementary school in his district, where he heard this story. He then tested the theory in the bathroom at his own house. He insinuates that he was never fearful of this story nor did he believe it, and carries this tone throughout his telling of it.
This is a transcript of our conversation over the phone. Lately, he has been telling me stories about what goes on during school, though this conversation was prompted specifically for this collection project. I was curious about whether his generation still knew about bloody mary.
I was pretty surprised that “Bloody Mary” is still an ongoing tradition/ritual for kids in my informant’s generation. In class, we learned about Dundes’ theory on Bloody Mary’s connection to fears about menstruation in young girls, which explained why so many of my female classmates also knew about this ritual, and how they learned of it when they were in elementary or middle school. Thus, I was slightly surprised that my cousin’s son also knew about Bloody Mary, and that he learned about it from other boys. In this instance, the story of Bloody Mary doesn’t seem to attest to girls’ fears about menstruation, which is a potentially scary and traumatic first experience if not well-prepared for it, but rather, a sort of test of courage for boys. My informant’s commentary on the reason the story is told, which is that the relayer was scared themselves, suggests that some fear may be alleviated when the story is passed onto another person. The act of trying it, then, tests your courage to face this alleged horrifying sight of a bloody woman, which fully alleviates your fear when nothing happens.
For Dundes’ work on Bloody Mary, see:
Dundes, Alan. Bloody Mary in the Mirror: Essays in Psychoanalytic Folkloristics. University Press of Mississippi, 2002. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvfn2. Accessed 1 May 2021.