Bloody Mary (folklore)

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Divination rituals such as the one depicted on this early 20th century Halloween greeting card, where a woman stares into a mirror in a darkened room to catch a glimpse of the face of her future husband, while a witch lurks in the shadows, may be one origin of the Bloody Mary legend.

Bloody Mary is a folklore legend consisting of a ghost or spirit conjured to reveal the future. She is said to appear in a mirror when her name is called multiple times. The Bloody Mary apparition may be benign or malevolent, depending on historic variations of the legend. The Bloody Mary appearances are mostly "witnessed" in group participation games.


Historically, the ritual encouraged young women to walk up a flight of stairs backwards while holding a candle and a hand mirror, in a darkened house. As they gazed into the mirror, they were supposed to be able to catch a view of their future husband's face.[1] There was, however, a chance that they would see a skull (or the face of the Grim Reaper) instead, indicating that they were destined to die before they married.[1][2]

In the ritual of today, Bloody Mary allegedly appears to individuals or groups (usually teenagers) who ritualistically invoke her name, usually by repeatedly chanting her name in a mirror placed in a dimly lit room. The Bloody Mary apparition allegedly appears as a corpse, a witch or ghost; can be friendly or evil; and is sometimes "seen" covered in blood. The lore surrounding the ritual (if she is summoned properly) states that participants may endure the apparition screaming at them, cursing them, strangling them, stealing their soul, drinking their blood,[3] or scratching their eyes out.[4]

A modern addition of taunting Bloody Mary regarding her baby indicates the legendary figure's tenuous connection to Queen Mary I, also known as "Bloody Mary", whose life was marked by a number of miscarriages or false pregnancies.[5]

Phenomenon explained[edit]

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 is believed to be a consequence of sensory deprivation—causing our brain's facial-recognition system to misfire.[6] Troxler's fading,[7] self-hypnosis, and the Caputo Effect have been posited as explanations for the Bloody Mary phenomena.[8]

In popular culture[edit]

The legend of Bloody Mary has served as inspiration for a number of movies and television shows dealing with the supernatural.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ellis, Bill (2004). Lucifer Ascending: The Occult in Folklore and Popular Culture. University of Kentucky Press. ISBN 0-8131-2289-9. 
  2. ^ Hutton, Ronald (2001). Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-285448-8. 
  3. ^ Bloody Mary at Urban Legends
  4. ^ Bloody Mary; www.Halloween–; accessed .
  5. ^ a b "Urban Legends Reference Pages: Bloody Mary". Snopes. 
  6. ^ The Strange Face in the Mirror Illusion; referencing Caputo's October 18, 2012 "Perception Magazine" article; Mindhacks; accessed December 2013.
  7. ^ An Optical Illusion that Explains the Origins of Imaginary Monsters; accessed December 2013.
  8. ^ Note: The Caputo Effect is the perceived deformation of one's own face in poorly and unevenly lit environments when observed over time in a mirror. Caputo, Giovanni B (2010). "Strange-face-in-the-mirror illusion". Perception Magazine (Pion) 39 (7): 1007–1008. doi:10.1068/p6466. Retrieved October 18, 2012. 

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