Most of the time the kids are too scared to actually complete the ritual. And who can blame them, based upon the things
that supposedly could happen.
The most common end result in the stories is that you'll see Bloody Mary's face in the mirror, and she'll try to hurt you
The attack could be scratching you with her fingernails or claws, tearing your face off with her teeth (some tales say
she was a cannibal), attacking you with a knife, chopping off your head (this element appears when Bloody Mary is linked to
British royalty), pulling you into the mirror so you'll never escape, cutting out your eyeballs and stealing them (in these
versions she no longer has any eyes herself), forcing you to cut your own throat, scaring you so badly that you die of fear
or relentlessly haunting you in any reflected surface from that point on.
Sometimes the end result is supposed to be much less threatening. Maybe you'll just see what she looks like in the mirror.
Once in a while you can ask her questions that she will be compelled to answer for you. Sometimes nobody shows up and the
water in the bathtub will turn into blood, or you'll see scars on your body that aren't there, or you can see into the future,
or sometimes you'll even get toys or candy.
On the occasions when a group does finish the ritual, usually nothing out of the ordinary happens. Sometimes, out of fearful
confusion or pure mischief, the participants will say they actually saw something in the mirror. Some kids, while telling
the story to others later, like to display a normal scratch or scar and say that Bloody Mary did it.
While some think the story may have originally been inspired by a person who actually existed at some point, it just doesn't
seem likely. For one thing, the vast majority of legends with a reputed historical basis have fewer and fewer facts behind
them the closer you look, even in cases where the different versions of the tales agree with each other to a large degree
on many key points. Then compare that to the Bloody Mary figure.There isn't much even a majority of people can agree on --
not her name, not how she died, not how she became associated with mirrors, and not even if she is covered in blood or not.
Without finding some new evidence we will have to give up the idea of locating a true-life Bloody Mary.
Faced then with sorting through the folklore for answers, we can dispense with the obvious dead ends first.
Two of the 100 tales I collected for this analysis featured the dead spirit of a man called the Candyman. Clive Barker's
movie of the same name, about a killer with a hook for a hand who is summoned in much the same way as our witch in the mirror, was adapted from
his short story "The Forbidden," which was included as part of the British versions of his Books of Blood series but
sold in a book called In The Flesh in the United States. Both the story and the movie are based upon reworkings of urban legends, not the other way around.
It is a testimony to the author's skill that so many people now think there really was a Candyman, much like some believe
in the historical existence of H.P. Lovecraft's fictional Necronomicon.
One of the more amusing anecdotes of the bunch was about Mary Wolf. The story evidently was spawned from a confused retelling
of the Mary Worth story. This was the only version that featured an animal jumping out of the mirror, biting and clawing anyone
in its path.
Kids in San Antonio had a version with someone called the Donkey Lady, who was supposed to be half human and half donkey.
This story reportedly was famous enough in the city that someone set up a phone number you could call to listen to her voice
cackle "heeee hawww" at you.
Deer Woman, judging by the name at least, could have been from the same branch of stories. In this case, you would summon
up the spirit of Deer Woman by shouting her name three times near a particular bridge. She supposedly appears as a ball of
blinding light (a feature of Native American shapeshifting legends) and then attacks all who dared to call her.
The Green Man exists farthest along this path away from the core story. By name alone it seems like it could be some offshoot
of European fairies and pagan gods with the same name. It was probably only meant to refer to the fact that he was green colored.
Supposedly the Green Man--in this story a wild hermit, ghost or strange unidentified creature--glowed in the dark like phosphorescence
and would appear at night to curious teenagers who parked along a certain lonely stretch of road. I almost didn't include
this story among those collected for this comparison because I didn't recognize it as a Bloody Mary tale. But the fact that
it was an entity that young people would go looking for even though they were warned against it as well as the ties to the
Deer Woman story seem to suggest some sort of (admittedly tenuous) relationship.
Each of these variants are, in my opinion, clearly away from the central identity of Bloody Mary. I don't think that animal
forms, nature or strange hermits had much to do with the legend's origin.
A few versions of the story talk about a figure known only as Maria, who differs from the more typical figure in a couple
of ways. You would say "I hate Maria" three times in the mirror and she would come to kill you that midnight if you were asleep
or sometimes the next night. Her face was half that of a beautiful woman and half bare skull. It may just be a coincidence,
but death deities in Mexico and Central America sometimes had the half skull appearance. If these tales came from near that
region it could indicate a mixing of two traditions. On the other hand, those sorts of details are not all that complex and
could have been created spontaneously as well.
Some Bloody Mary versions, specifically the ones in which she kills her children and comes hunting for them, bear a striking
resemblance to the Weeping Woman legend of Mexico and the surrounding area. Tales of female spirits who come to harm other
people's babies and children because they no longer have their own can be traced back to the Aztecs and appeared in many other
cultures as well. The Greek Lamia and Jewish Lilith figures are just two of the more widely known examples. None of these
stories seem to have too much to do with mirrors or summoning someone's image, so appear to be another case of two separate
folklore branches influencing each other.
Some of those who use Ouija boards to try to contact spirits of the dead talk about a girl named Veronica, who went mad
from the process and killed herself with a pair of scissors. It is said that she sometimes comes to kill those who don't take
the board seriously, or perhaps sometimes if you use it the wrong way. As a kind of an afterthought some also say that if
you call for Veronica three times while in front of a mirror at midnight, you will see her there, with the scissors still
sticking into her neck.
The story of Veronica, even without the mirror aspect, is obviously very similar to Bloody Mary. In both stories a female
spirit appears and usually attempts to harm those foolish enough to try magic spells or summonings of some sort. Assuming
that Bloody Mary is intended to scare children away from some occult practice, our culture has mostly forgotten what it was
we were supposed to be afraid of in the first place.
Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall
Mirrors and reflections in general have always been held in fear and awe, and consequently been linked to the supernatural
(for more on this topic, see the article titled The Soul as a Reflection). Mirrors, like small bowls of water or crystal balls, were thought to be able to reveal the future or give a vision of distant
locations, including at times the land of the dead, if used with the proper rituals.
More recently, young females (typically, although occasionally a male would perform a similar incantation) would attempt certain
spells that were intended to reveal the identity of the person they would marry. Sometimes the girl would eat a red apple
and brush her hair at midnight in front of a mirror and be rewarded with the image of her future husband. Other ritual actions
include brushing one's hair, looking back over one's shoulder, spinning in circles, using a knife to cut an apple or many
Some of these spells did not include the use of a mirror, and would reveal the potential spouse either by name somehow
or in person at the end of the ritual. Examples include reciting the alphabet while twisting the stem of an apple so it snaps
when you've reached the first letter of the person's name or simply pulling petals off of a flower while saying, "She love
me... she loves me not."
While most of these spells are either forgotten or not practiced, you will run into them occasionally in popular culture.
The flower petals superstition is still practiced but not usually taken seriously. Both the mirror and the apple, although
modified in use, can be seen in many versions of the Snow White fairy tales, including Disney's animated movie.
Some people believe the Bloody Mary legend and all of its offshoots are mutated versions of these mirror rituals. Some
of the modern stories even include aspects of the earlier traditions. A number of tales said you could use a small bowl of
water instead of a mirror. Some versions claimed that you could call up the ghosts of any dead person by reciting their name
the required number of times in the mirror. One person even mentioned that the reason for summoning Bloody Mary was so she
could answer questions with her vast otherworldly knowledge, and that the most popular question was who you were going to
marry. Another said calling Mary Worth in a mirror for some reason would show you an image of your future husband, though
she could not explain why this might be other than Mary Worth was supposed to have been a witch who could cast spells for
you of this kind.
One of the versions of the chant was simply, "Bloody mirror, bloody mirror, bloody mirror." This, and the idea that you
were supposed to find out who you were going to marry, may have been all that was necessary to create the name Bloody Mary
as the person you were summoning. Other aspects of the tales as well as related folklore both point to an even more complex