Say "Bloody Mary" 3 Times

It was a hot summer day between the 8th and 9th grade when my best friend, Heidi, and I decided to play a little game. Heidi lived in a sprawling two-story house, full of charm and comfort. Her home, which I frequented so often I could have lived there, remains one of my coziest childhood memories.

The object of our game was simple: stand in the bathroom with the door closed, face the mirror, and say "Bloody Mary" three times. According to legend, "Mary" should then appear in the mirror and...? Well, I wasn't sure what the outcome was supposed to be exactly, but the outcome wasn't the point—being brave enough to actually go through with it was.

This particular bathroom was hidden beneath a staircase, its perimeters restrictive and oddly shaped. There stood a substantial round mirror on the wall upon entering, with a stool off to the left. If a ghost so chose to join me, there wouldn't be a lot of room for anyone else.

Like most fears, I found it easiest to face this one head-on. Though I vividly recall having a racing heart and shaking limbs, I also recall marching into that bathroom with purpose, ready to face my fate. I stood before the mirror, large enough to encompass the upper half of my frame, looked dead into its center, and chanted, "Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary."

Upon pronunciation of the last syllable, I became immersed in total darkness, and unable to open the door.

If you've ever had the privilege of hearing me scream, it's something. Growing up, my mother often joked that she didn't have to worry about me getting kidnapped because the assailant would let me go as soon as I opened my mouth. I've got a set of lungs on me all right, especially if there's the possibility that a ghost is going to pop out of a mirror and stab me or strangle me or whatever was reported to happen.

So there I was, crumpled over the vanity of that tiny, tucked-in bathroom, screaming and crying interchangeably as I awaited death's unyielding embrace.

Except there was no death for me that day. There was merely a mischievous friend who thought it delightful to turn up the fun by turning out the lights and pulling at the door handle from the outside. As soon as I realized what had actually happened, my sobs swiftly shifted to laughter.

After all, this was just a game, and the whole point was to have fun. Which I did—eventually. But what made my adolescent mind think that this was fun? And how the hell did such hijinx start?

Urban Legends are "too good to be true" stories that travel by word of mouth, by print or the internet and are attributed to an FOAF: friend of a friend. "Urban Legends," Brunvand says, "have a persistent hold on the imagination because they have an element of suspense or humor, they are plausible and they have a moral."

"Jan Harold Brunvand" | Wikipedia

"Excitation Transfer": When scared, the body undergoes spikes in heart rate, breathing rate and muscle tension, among other involuntary responses. And that kind of arousal is not necessarily pleasant.

But when the extreme sense of excitement wears off, it is replaced by an equally intense sense of relief, and those positive feelings are stronger than they would have been otherwise. A sense of mastery can also come from enduring a frightening situation and emerging triumphant.

"People may remember a haunted house at Halloween or a scary movie and they think, 'I really felt good after that,'" Sparks said. "They're remembering the intense positive emotions they had afterwards, not necessarily that the enjoyed the feeling of fear at all. There was something about the experience they remember as good, even though they know there were negative things, too."

"Why is Fear Fun?" | By Emily Sohn | Discovery News | October 25, 2012

The roller coaster metaphor crops up frequently in talk among fear followers, who look upon the amusement park attraction as the definition of sensation-seeking. In January, Professor Otto and a colleague worked with a dozen terrified customers at Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Fla., to get them to overcome their fear and ride the Incredible Hulk roller coaster at the park. By the end of the day—and after a pleasant stay in a warm-up room called the Comfort Zone—everybody rode the Hulk. 

''I'm struck by the role of family pressure in riding a roller coaster,'' Dr. Otto said. ''People who have no desire to experience fear end up getting on a ride they don't want to, just because everyone else is. So ridership may be up, but that doesn't mean more people are enjoying the sensation of fear they're getting.''

"Embracing Fear as Fun To Practice for Reality; Why People Like to Terrify Themselves" | By David Blum | The New York Times | October 30, 1999

A long time ago there was a little girl named Mary. She grew very ill and fell into a deep coma. The local doctor was old and feeble and without knowing any better, he believed she was dead. He informed the family and they had a funeral and laid the girl to rest. No one realized that they had buried the poor girl alive! 

Mary’s family lived very close to the graveyard where she was laid to rest. The first night, Mary’s mother thought that she heard a scream coming from Mary’s grave, but no one believed her. 

Days later, Mary’s mother convinced the family to dig up her grave. When they did, they found Mary dead, but they also saw scratches on the top of the coffin and Mary’s fingernails were bloody from her efforts to escape the grave. 

Now if you follow these instructions, you may be able to see Mary for yourself. At midnight on Friday the 13th, turn off all the lights in your house. Go to the bathroom and turn on the water in the shower and the sink. Flush the toilet, look into the mirror and say “Bloody Mary” 5 times. She will appear in mirror. You need to hurry and turn on the light or she will stab you in the back.

"Bloody Mary" |

As you can see, this version of the "Bloody Mary" myth differs greatly from the version I had come to believe as a teenager. While this take requires action on the part of the individual for mayhem to manifest, not all versions of the legend are quite so harmless.

You are now cursed. You must send this on or you will be killed. Tonight at 12:00am, by Bloody Mary. This is no joke. So don't think you can quickly get out of it and delete it now because Bloody Mary will come to you if you do not send this on. She will slit your throat and your wrists and pull your eyeballs out with a fork. And then hang your dead corpse in your bedroom cupboard or put you under your bed. What's your parents going to do when they find you dead? Won't be funny then, will it? Don't think this is a fake and it's all put on to scare you because your wrong, so very wrong. Want to hear of some of the sad, sad people who lost their lives or have been seriously hurt by this email?

CASE ONE - Annalise [Surname Removed] he got this email. Rubbish she thought. She deleted it. And now, Annalise dead.

CASE TWO - Louise [Surname Removed]: She sent this to only 4 people and when she woke up in the morning her wrists had deep lacerations on each. Luckily there was no pain felt, though she is scarred for life.

CASE THREE - Tommy [Surname Removed]: He sent this to 5 people. Big mistake. The night Thomas was lying in his bed watching T.V. The clock shows '12:01am'. The T.V mysteriously flickered off and Thomas's bedroom lamp flashed on and off several times. It went pitch black, Thomas looked to the left of him and there she was, Bloody Mary standing in white rags. Blood everywhere with a knife in her hand then disappeared. The biggest fright of Thomas's life.

Warning... NEVER look in a mirror and repeat - 'Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary.' Bloody Mary... I KILLED YOUR SON' Is it the end for you tonight! YOU ARE NOW CURSED

We strongly advise you to send this email on. It is seriously NO JOKE. We don't want to see another life wasted. ITS YOUR CHOICE... WANNA DIE TONIGHT? If you send this email to...

NO PEOPLE - You're going to die.
1-5 PEOPLE - You're going to either get hurt or get the biggest fright of your life.
5-15 PEOPLE - You will bring your family bad luck and someone close to you will die.
15 OR MORE PEOPLE - You are safe from Bloody Mary

"Bloody Mary in the Mirror" | By David Emery, Urban Legends Expert |

Mary is said to be a witch who was executed a hundred years ago for plying the black arts, or a woman of more modern times who died in a local car accident in which her face was hideously mutilated. 

Some confuse the mirror witch with Mary I of England, whom history remembers as "Bloody Mary." An expanded version of that confusion has it that this murdering British queen killed young girls so she could bathe in their blood to preserve her youthful appearance. (That legend more properly attaches to Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian countess who lived from 1560 to 1614.) 

"Bloody Mary" |

Staring into a mirror in a dimly-lit room may eventually cause one to hallucinate. Facial features may appear to "melt" or disappear, and other hallucinations (such as faces) may appear. This phenomenon, known as the Caputo Effect, is believed to be a consequence of sensory deprivation—causing the brain's facial-recognition system to misfire.

"Bloody Mary (folklore)" | Wikipedia

Tales of the supernatural may be especially appealing since they are “minimally counter-intuitive”, combining both the familiar and the bizarre. “They depart from what's expected and as a result push us to process the information more deeply,” says Ara Norenzayan at the University of British Columbia, “so we remember more and are more likely to retell them.” Counter-intuitive elements could include a talking animal, or a pumpkin that turns into a chariot—but it’s not so much the nature, as the number of these narrative devices that seems to be crucial. Norenzayan’s analysis of Grimm’s fairy tales found that the most popular stories—as measured by the number of times they have been cited online—only have two or three supernatural surprises. Our brains, it seems, have only so much room for the bizarre before it becomes too confusing to be enjoyable.

Tehrani recently examined the evolution of the Bloody Mary myth—that if you chant an incantation into the mirror, a mutilated face will appear before you. There are many different variants involving different characters and events, but, as with Grimm’s tales, the most popular almost always contained just two or three unsettling events.

"What Makes an Urban Legend?" | By David Robson | BBC | January, 26 2015

Folklore as a socially sanctioned outlet to permit individuals to do what is normally not permitted by society, superego, conscience, normative morality, and the like often needs the guise or disguise of fantasy. This is why it is so often taboo topics which inspire the creation and perpetuation of folklore. 

– "Bloody Mary in the Mirror: A Ritual Reflection of Pre-Pubescent Anxiety" | By Alan Dundes | Western Folklore, Vol. 57, No. 2/3 (Spring - Summer, 1998), pp. 119-135

It should be abundantly clear that this girls' ritual has something to do with the onset of the first menses. The dramatic change from girlhood to womanhood is signaled physiologically by this catamenial condition. No one has stated this any more succinctly than anthropologist Margaret Mead: "The girl's first menstruation marks a dividing-line between childhood and womanhood. Whatever any given culture may have done in patterning this event, no recorded culture has ever patterned it out of existence."

A good portion of the discussion of menstruation folklore tends to concentrate on the diverse rituals and customs connected with this event. In American culture, there is no such formal ritual, but I suggest that the "Bloody Mary" ritual serves an analogous function for pre-pubescent American girls. One study of attitudes found among premenarchal girls reported that "the most frequent response was that of menstruation being exciting since it is related to growing up". Certainly the Bloody Mary ritual evokes feelings of excitement on the part of participants, excitement tinged with fear and apprehension as well.

– "Bloody Mary in the Mirror: A Ritual Reflection of Pre-Pubescent Anxiety" | By Alan Dundes | Western Folklore, Vol. 57, No. 2/3 (Spring - Summer, 1998), pp. 119-135

“Rumors had their own classic epidemiology. Each started with a single germinating event. Information spread from that point, mutating and interbreeding—a conical mass of threads, expanding into the future from the apex of their common birthplace. Eventually, of course, they'd wither and die; the cone would simply dissipate at its wide end, its permutations senescent and exhausted.

There were exceptions, of course. Every now and then a single thread persisted, grew thick and gnarled and unkillable: conspiracy theories and urban legends, the hooks embedded in popular songs, the comforting Easter-bunny lies of religious doctrine. These were the memes: viral concepts, infections of conscious thought. Some flared and died like mayflies. Others lasted a thousand years or more, tricked billions into the endless propagation of parasitic half-truths.” 

― Peter WattsMaelstrom |

The basic issue in this age-old chicken-and-egg debate is whether ritual derives from myth or whether myth stems from initial ritual. Neither possibility is really satisfactory in terms of explaining ultimate origins. If myth comes from ritual, where did the ritual come from? And if ritual derives from myth, where did the original myth come from?

In any case, Langlois interviewed no fewer than eighty students at Holy Angels, an experimental Catholic elementary school for African-American children in northwest Indianapolis. Of these eighty informants, approximately twenty knew the "Mary Whales thing" and about half of that number had actively participated in the "legend/game." Not surprisingly, Langlois reluctantly concluded that "neither the legend nor the game is primary for this particular group" and that "it is not possible to establish in which direction the transformation goes."

Although Langlois may have failed in her primary goal of trying to resolve or at least illuminate the myth-ritual controversy, she did make a valuable observation about the ritual. It has to do with the importance of the mirror. Speaking of the function of the mirror, Langlois remarks that "it literally reflects the identification of the participants with the revenant. In normal situations, when any of the girls looks in the mirror, she sees herself; in reports of the game-playing, she sees Mary Whales, or at least, expects to. In a sense, then Mary Whales becomes the girl's own reflection."

"Bloody Mary in the Mirror: A Ritual Reflection of Pre-Pubescent Anxiety" | By Alan Dundes | Western Folklore, Vol. 57, No. 2/3 (Spring - Summer, 1998), pp. 119-135

Story-telling is, after all, a craft like any other, evolving with tools and technology. Our entertainment has already seen monumental changes in literature and cinema. But perhaps those transformations are trickling down to the myths and legends we tell each other too—the humble stories that form a substantial, though neglected, contribution to our culture. It is an intriguing thought that the elements forged by storytellers from across the millennia are now being cast into a very different folk tale—the beginning of a tradition that our descendants may be reading and sharing on their tablets in centuries to come.

— "What Makes an Urban Legend?" | By David Robson | BBC | January, 26 2015

Several weeks ago, I wrote a series of blog posts which discussed the debunked myth of Satanic Ritual Abuse. While I come from a strict religious upbringing, it was not the religious element of the phenomenon which fascinated me. I was awestruck that something whose roots were woven in fallacy could suddenly become renown truth. And all without any substantial proof.

What is it exactly that makes us believe certain things? And with what degree of sincerity do we believe them?

For a long time, I "believed" that Sasquatch existed because I was tempted by the romantic notion of some primal beast out there, technology be damned, making it. I longed, desperately, to know that that kind of purity could exist somewhere in this fucked-up world, and it was just easier to project that idyllic philosophy onto something seemingly tangible rather than summon the poetry to profess it myself. After all, not all of us are writers.

While my current views on Bigfoot are pretty much I'll believe it when someone shows me a body, "nearly three-in-ten Americans (29 percent) and one-in-five Canadians (21 percent) think Bigfoot is 'definitely' or 'probably' real" (LiveScience). Wow.

I think it's important to note that just because two people claim to believe the same thing doesn't mean that they believe it to the same extent (reference the use of 'definitely' versus 'probably' in the previous paragraph). It's the individuals who are the most willing to believe without evidence who spread rampant rumors to other individuals who are also eager to believe unsubstantiated claims. Before long, all those identical mindsets have formed a crowd with a rather boisterous voice. They might be wrong, but they will not be ignored.

Does that mean I think everyone should be as cynical as yours truly? Well, God, what a boring world would that be? I think we all have our place in the grand scheme of things, whatever that happens to be. That being said, a little bit of healthy skepticism never hurt anyone.

Or has it?

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

― Joseph Campbell | The Power of Myth |



Michael Jackson
Man in the Mirror

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change