Is Bloody Mary Or Mary Worth Real?(long)?
About 100 years ago or so there was a woman named Mary. One day she had a terrible accident and her face was scratched so badly that she bled to death. But her spirit could not rest. Bloody Mary roams the world as an evil ghost. If you stand in front of a mirror in the dark and say her name three times, you will see her horribly mangled face appear. If you don't turn on the light and run away as fast as you can she will try to scratch your face off.
The story of the ghost who appears in a mirror when summoned has been told many times in countless variations. Children, following the directions provided in the version they heard, have been trying to contact Bloody Mary for at least 30 years now, perhaps for much longer than that. There's something about the story that makes it almost a tradition at slumber parties and summer camp, or basically anywhere a group of youngsters get together away from the watchful eyes of adults.
How many different versions of the story are there? Why are there so many? Is there any way to know what the original story was? Why do some people believe they have actually seen Bloody Mary? And what is the fascination in actually trying to summon up an evil spirit?
In an attempt to answer some of these questions, I have compared 100 different versions of the legend and others that seemed closely related. The stories were collected personally from individuals who were raised in various parts of the United States and also from postings in Internet newsgroups over the last six years. The newsgroup postings were written by people of various ages from across the country and also Great Britain. I do not think any one geographic area or age has been over represented, except for the fact that the stories are overwhelmingly from an English-speaking background within the last 30 years.
There was a wide range of rituals used to summon the spirit, as well as vast differences in opinion on who she was and why she appeared. About the only constant element was that a mirror was used in the ritual, and even that was not present in all the versions. Of course, without the mirror, it becomes difficult to know if a story is related to the Bloody Mary legend or not, except in cases where the name or some other identifying element was included.
Who is She?
Folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand, best known for popularizing the term "urban legend," titled this story "I Believe in Mary Worth" and included it in his 1986 book The Mexican Pet. Folklorist Janet Langlois interviewied Catholic school students about the spirit they called Mary Whales for an essay first published in the journal Indiana Folklore in 1978 and reprinted in the 1980 collection Indiana Folklore: A Reader.
Of the 100 versions I collected, the name Bloody Mary was by far the most prevalent, appearing about 50 percent of the time (47 of the accounts). Of course, "Bloody Mary" is more of a description than a name, so it's possible that the term could have been chanted in the ritual to summon the ghost while believing her real name to be something else.
The name Bloody Mary was linked to a number of different people, including a historical Bloody Mary (Queen Mary Tudor of England), Mary Queen of Scots (probably mostly due to confusion with the other queen), the Virgin Mary (in these cases she generally does not display any menacing qualities), Mary Magdalene, a witch burned at the stake, an axe murderer, a child killer and "the crazy woman who lived down the street," among others.
Mary Worth was the name mentioned 13 percent of the time. That is almost 75 percent less frequently than Bloody Mary, which makes it a distant second place. It is significantly more common than any other reference, however. I don't know if that is due to actually being a common version told from person to person or if Brunvand's books artificially increased the popularity of the name in peoples' recollections. It may also be related to the comic strip character who had the same name but a completely different temperament.
The third most common entity mentioned as being summoned in a mirror by a ritual was the Devil himself, in five of the stories. Interestingly, in three of the stories in which the spirit's name was Bloody Mary she was specifically described as being a close relative of Satan (wife, sister or daughter), which might indicate an overlapping of the two different traditions.
In fourth place with only three instances were confused references to the Bell Witch of Tennessee, which belongs to an entirely different legend.
In another 25 of the accounts -- an amazing one out of every four of all the stories -- a name was given that either appeared in only one other story or just that once. Clearly this is a legend with a large number of variati