Bloody Mary: Origins and Theories on the Urban Legend

“Bloody Mary….bloooody Mary….. BLOODY MARY!”  Chances are, you or someone you know muttered this phrase whilst staring into a mirror, usually in the dark.  Perhaps you had a candle or maybe just a flashlight (kids these days probably just took their damn cell phones) and you may have taken in your buddy for safety.  While you giggled afterward (presuming you made it out alive), I’d be willing to bet that your heart pounded loudly in your ears and you may have hesitated at the last installment because what if?

Urban legend has it that if you speak the name “Bloody Mary” three times into a mirror, in a darkened room you will conjure the spirit with the same name.  But who is Bloody Mary? And what would happen if she did appear?

Some folks say she’ll steal your soul while others say she appears looking for a long lost infant.  A second rendition of the legend says that if you claim “Bloody Mary I have your baby” you will agitate her into showing you her face…and possibly her vengeance.

It’s generally agreed upon that there are three options for the real Bloody Mary, each one more disturbing a story than the last.  Let’s begin with the most common assumption: Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry the VIII and queen (for a brief period) of England.

Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII 

Mary Tudor was the only living child of Henry and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.  From a young age, she was bred to be refined: educated, poised, and proper.  She knew very well, however, that her father desired a son.  He made it no secret that Catherine’s inability to provide a male heir infuriated him.  His frustrations eventually led to his divorce of Catherine and Mary lost her standing as a legitimate heir in the royal family.  Henry’s daughter from his second wife, Anne Boleyn, became first in line for the crown.

That is, until, Henry had Anne beheaded and married Jane Seymour.  Seymour gave birth to a baby boy—Edward.

Edward ascended to the throne but died at the age of 15.  Mary gained the throne and became queen.  She marries Prince Phillip of Spain with the intentions of reinstating Catholicism as the nation’s religion.  England had been torn between Protestant and Catholic for quite some time and Mary wanted a unified country.

She persecuted many Protestants during her brief reign, earning her the nickname—wait for it—Bloody Mary.  Queen Mary tried her best to produce an heir to carry on her Catholic legacy and did appear to be pregnant not long into the marriage.  However, no baby was ever produced and it’s questioned whether or not Mary may have suffered from a tumor or perhaps even a phantom pregnancy.  She died with no children and her half-sister, Elizabeth, took the throne.

How terrible it must’ve been to know that the only saving grace you have, your womanhood, is also your damnation.  Maybe this is why she continues to seek her child when called upon.

Our second option is a tad darker.  There are those who believe that Bloody Mary is referring to Mary Worth.  Mary Worth was (supposedly) a spinster who lived at the edge of the wood in early America.  With the religious hysteria coming out of New England during the 17th and 18th centuries, this was not a safe identity to have.

Whether or not she was a witch, we may never know.  Many innocent women (and men!) were burned at the stake due to any slight accusation.  Some legends say that Mary Worth was indeed evil and was caught luring the town’s children to her at night.  When the townsfolk figured out where their children were disappearing to, Worth was burned on the spot.  Others claim that Mary was killed simply for being an old woman who lived alone and had some knowledge of local herbs and such.

While her existence is the most difficult to prove, summoning a witch in a mirror definitely seems the most terrifying.  It’s said that when she’s called in the mirror, she leaves scratches on those present.

Finally, our third option for the true identity behind Bloody Mary: Elisabeth Bathory, otherwise known as The Blood Countess.  True, she’s no “Mary”, but her actions certainly envelope the name.  In fact, she’s sometimes referred to as the most prolific female serial killer of all time, possibly claiming anywhere from 30 to 650 lives (mostly young girls).

Bathory was born in the mid 1500’s to a family who basically ruled Transylvania.  She had every advantage money could buy: clothes, education, and social status.  She married young to a Hungarian man who was often away at war.  Elisabeth ran the household, maintaining the estates and the servants.  Rumors of her sadistic nature started to spread: reportedly, Elisabeth enjoyed tormenting her servant girls, sometimes biting, cutting, and burning them.  Even darker, that she would force her servants to eat severed bits of their own flesh.  Some claimed she drank their blood to stay youthful, while her most famous act was of bathing in the blood of her victims.

Bathory was eventually tried and found guilty when some of the noble families in the area complained that their daughters weren’t returning home.  See, she had killed so many of the servants and poverty stricken that she turned to the upper class to feed her addiction.  She was sentenced to isolation in the tower and died after three years.

While these three women most definitely have the history to be our Bloody Mary, there is another option as well.


Mirrors have been associated with the paranormal for quite some time.  Older superstitions say to hang a sheet over every mirror in the house when someone passes so their spirit doesn’t get lost.  Other legends say never to sleep with a mirror facing you or your doppelgänger will sneak into this world and switch places with you while you sleep.  Yes, mirrors have frightened us for a while now and we shouldn’t neglect to mention them with the Bloody Mary story.

During the Victorian era, at the height of the séance fad, mirrors were often looked at as doorways to the other side.  Some exorcisms use mirrors to “trap” demons and draw them out of the victim.  In almost every culture, we see a connection between mirrors and the paranormal.

Is it possible that the Bloody Mary game isn’t about calling a specific entity but about knocking on that forbidden door? Maybe there is no Mary haunting the bathroom mirrors of pre-teens for decades.  Instead, while we stand in that darkened room, with our candle flickering and our hearts pounding, we are inviting anyone (or anything) in for a glimpse.

That idea frightens me more than the thought of meeting Mary Tudor, Mary Worth, or Elisabeth Bathory.

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