The history of Bloody Mary is a mysterious one: no researcher can prove conclusively or exactly where and when the creepy Bloody Mary legend began, nor can anyone pinpoint who Bloody Mary was. Several theories have circulated, however, about who Mary truly was and how her morose legend came to be. As with all legends, plot points change as they are passed down and vary by region to make the tale more applicable to whatever cultural group is involved at the time. For this reason, there are different versions of the "game" and different beliefs about what will happen if Bloody Mary 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.
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" three times. Other versions claim chanting her name five times will rouse her. Some variations even suggest spinning anywhere between three and thirteen times before chanting, and then blowing out the candle to summon her in the dark.
Summoning this bloody witch of legend can produce multiple results, 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, the consequences escalate to mysterious claw marks appearing all over your face and body.
Some say Mary will reach through the mirror and rip out the summoner's eyes. Others claim she will drive anyone in her presence insane, and some say summoners will suffer instant death.
One version of the Bloody Mary legend states that she is the ghost of a witch named Mary Worth who dabbled in the dark arts, abducting young girls and harnessing their youth to maintain her own beauty. 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 outside, tied to a stake, and burned. Many believe her body was buried on her own farmland, and that, because of this, the land is now cursed.
Eventually – and mysteriously – Mary Worth's spirit was absorbed into a mirror, and it is now summoned whenever pre-teens gather for a slumber party. The game for this variation involves locking yourself in a dark bathroom with a candle (which represents the fire of her demise) and standing in front of the mirror whispering "I believe in Mary Worth" three times.
While the origins of Bloody Mary vary from depending on region, the most popular theory contests that, historically, this enigmatic figure was Mary I, Queen of England, who ruled during the Tudor period. The Catholic queen was nicknamed Bloody Mary during her lifetime because of her unusual amount of miscarriages, as well as her penchant for ordering frequent executions – especially for Protestants – during her five-year reign.
The history of Mary Tudor’s multiple miscarriages and two phantom pregnancies resulted in the “I stole your baby” variation of the game. In this version, chanters call for Bloody Mary three times as usual but then add the taunt “I stole your baby” afterwards.