Childhood Game – Bloody Mary

My little sister, who is almost 14 years old and in the eighth grade, told me her version of the Bloody Mary game and legend. Her story is as follows: “I first heard about Bloody Mary when I was in like sixth grade, or maybe last year…anyway…some older girls were volunteering in the class and told us that if you go in the bathroom, turn the lights off, spin around clockwise three times while saying ‘Bloody Mary,’ and then look in the mirror, she will appear and kill you. It’s kind of like a dare for someone…but only girls, I don’t think guys have ever done it…and there is a story to go with it. Bloody Mary was a girl who was killed in a bathroom, and now she tries to get revenge and waits for someone to call her name…but I wouldn’t do it, well I kinda did, but didn’t spin around all three time…it’s CREEPY!”

While there are numerous variations, the fundamental idea is that a young girl looks into a mirror and says whomeverÂ’s name (usually a Mary) for x amount of times, and they will appear in the mirror. The Bloody Mary game derives from a legend with the motif E 332.3.3.1, about a woman named Mary Worth/Whales who disappears and leaves a spot of blood (Dundes 1998). While my sister is probably right in that it is creepy and just a fun game similar to cemetery excursions or haunted house break-ins at midnight, there is another aspect entirely. It is that of coping with the life cycle, the transition from childhood to reproductive ability. The clockwise spinning symbolizes moving ahead in time, going forward into the future, and the “bloody” woman seen in the mirror is a reflection of the girl’s self in this future and her menstrual cycle. This explains why only girls, typically, play the game, as well as the ages during which it is played/performed. It becomes an unconscious way of speaking to and addressing that which may not be comfortably discussed in a public context, yet is a critical time in a young girl’s development. Alan Dundes produced a great book on the topic, calling the ritual one of “pre-pubescent anxiety.” The following is the source:

Dundes, Alan. “Bloody Mary in the Mirror: A Ritual Reflection of Pre-Pubescent Anxiety.” Western Folklore 57, no. 2 (1998): 119-135.