The history of Bloody Mary is a mysterious one: no researcher can prove conclusively exactly where and when the creepy Bloody Mary legend began. Nor can anyone pinpoint who Bloody Mary was, but there are quite a few theories. As with all legends, things change as they are passed down and vary by region to make the tale more applicable to the cultural group sharing it at the time. This is why there are different versions of the "game" and different beliefs about what will happen if she is successfully summoned.
Folklorists have been able to trace these various tales back to the 1960s, but the legend of Bloody Mary and the accompanying creepy adolescent sleepover ritual could be much older than that. In fact, the elements involved in the folklore date back to much older ritualistic practices like mirror-gazing and self-hypnosis. This list explores some variations of the lore, the ritual, and the possible identities of the infamous Bloody Mary.
All You Need to Summon Bloody Mary Is a Mirror, a Candle, and Courage
The instructions for summoning the spirit of Bloody Mary have been tweaked in various regions, but the basic ingredients remain the same. You’ll always need a dark bathroom, at least one lit candle, a mirror, and equal parts bravery and stupidity. What happens after you’ve gathered these ingredients can vary.
Some versions of the game say once you’ve turned off the bathroom light and lit the candle, you stare into the mirror and slowly chant "Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary" three times. Other versions claim it takes calling her five times to rouse her. Some variations even suggest spinning anywhere between three and thirteen times before chanting, like a paranormal piñata, and then blowing out the candle to summon her in the dark.
The Consequences for Disturbing Bloody Mary's Slumber Are Dire
Summoning this bloody witch of legend can result in many things, none of them good. The tamest consequence is simply seeing Bloody Mary appear in the mirror - or the mirror itself will start bleeding. From there it escalates to mysterious claw marks appearing all over your face and/or body. Some say she will reach through the mirror and rip the summoner's eyes out. Others claim she will drive anyone in the bathroom with her insane, and some say summoners will suffer instant death.
The Legend of Mary Worth Claims Bloody Mary Is the Ghost of a Murdered Witch
One version of the Bloody Mary legend states that she is the ghost of a witch named Mary Worth. Mary Worth dabbled in the dark arts, kidnapping runaway slaves and keeping them chained up for ritualistic sacrifices inside a barn on her land. Eventually, around the time of the Civil War, locals discovered there was a witch in their midst and took matters into their own hands. Mary was dragged out and burned at the stake. Many believe her body was buried on her own farmland and now the land is cursed.
Decades later, a farmer and his wife bought Mary’s land and while clearing it out for their oat farm, the farmer found a stone (possibly Mary’s grave marker) and he moved it up by the house. A flood of violent paranormal activity soon washed over them. The farmer put two and two together and attempted to put the gravestone back but couldn’t remember exactly where it belonged. The ghost plagued the couple for years before the house burned to the ground in 1986. Several attempts to rebuild on the land have resulted in more fires.
Somewhere along the line, Mary Worth made her way into the mirror universe and comes whenever pre-teens call for her at slumber parties. The game for this variation involves locking yourself in a dark bathroom with a candle (since she’s so fond of fire) and standing in front of the mirror whispering ”I believe in Mary Worth" three times so she’ll manifest.
Queen Mary I Was the Real-Life Bloody Mary
While the origins of Bloody Mary varies from region to region, the most popular theory is that she is Mary I, Queen of England, who ruled during the Tudor period. The Catholic queen was actually nicknamed Bloody Mary during her lifetime because she seemed to be surrounded by blood. She had an unusual amount of miscarriages, and she was also quick to order executions during her five-year reign, especially when it came to Protestants.
The history of Mary Tudor’s multiple miscarriages and two phantom pregnancies is where the “I stole your baby” variation of the game comes from. In this version, chanters call for Bloody Mary three times as usual but add the taunt “I stole your baby” or “I killed your baby” at the end. Pretty harsh way to summon an already intense ghost.
Mary Worthing Killed Herself Out of Vanity and Now Haunts the Mirror
Another origin story for this blood-soaked mystery woman is that she is really the ghost of a beautiful but terribly vain woman by the name of Mary Worthing. According to legend, a terrible accident left her disfigured and she couldn’t bear to live without her former beauty so she killed herself back in the 1960s. This origin story is a popular one in many areas and it makes sense to mix the vanity aspect in with mirror magic.
Hanako-san, the Japanese Version of Bloody Mary, Haunts School Bathrooms
Many cultures have their own lore about entities that can be summoned from a bathroom. Hanako-san or Toire no Hanako-san (which translates to "Hanako of the toilet") is the Japanese version of Bloody Mary.
Hanako-san is that she is the spirit of a World War II–era girl who haunts school bathrooms. According to the legend, if one goes up to the third stall of a girl’s restroom on the third floor of a school, then knocks three times and asks,"Are you there, Hanako-san?” she will answer, "I'm here." Allegedly, if you choose to enter the stall, there will be a small girl with bobbed hair in a red skirt waiting for you.
Some say, after summoning her, Hanako-san’s white, blood-stained hand will emerge from under the door. Some regions even claim entering the stall after Hanako-san responds will result in being eaten by a three-headed lizard.
Hanako-san is a widespread urban legend all throughout Japan and much as in the western world, the game is often played by kids as a rite of passage to prove their bravery to one another.
Before Bloody Mary, Girls Gazed Into a Mirror to See Their Future Husbands
Mirrors have always been considered gateways into the spirit world and using mirrors to see into the future and communicate with that world dates back to ancient times. It became immensely popular throughout the 1700s in the British Isles for young girls to perform a ritual with a candle and mirror to find out who their future husbands would be. Girl would sit in front of a mirror with a candle, brush their hair while gazing into it, and then take a bite out of an apple. Apparently, the face of their husband-to-be would appear over their shoulder in the mirror. If the face of a skeleton appeared instead, that meant the girl would die before getting married.
This example from the Poems of Robert Burns was published in 1787:
Take a candle, and go alone to a looking glass; eat an apple before it, and some traditions say, you should comb your hair all the time; the face of your conjugal companion, to be, will be seen in the glass, as if peeping over your shoulder.
The Bloody Mary Legend Has Made Its Way Into Popular Culture
From television’s Ghost Whisperer, Charmed, and Supernatural to full-length feature films and video games, the legend of Bloody Mary has made quite a few appearances in pop culture. The most hilarious re-imagining would have to be South Park’s parody, where the boys all dare each other to chant “Biggie Smalls” in the mirror three times. Of course, when Butters chants, the ghost of Biggie Smalls appears and starts shooting up the bathroom.