The Origin of the Bloody Mary Legend: Who Is This Spirit?

Bloody Mary legend

Have you ever gazed into a mirror in a darkened bathroom and uttered the words "Bloody Mary" over and over at your reflection? If so, you're not alone! The Bloody Mary legend has been thrilling and terrifying 'tweens and teens at slumber parties and summer camps for generations. But how did it get started? In fact, the origin of Bloody Mary extends back to a real Mary--Queen Mary 1 of England (Mary Tudor) with probable influences from a few other "bloody" women throughout history.

Queen Mary I and Her Bloody Reign

The Bloody Mary legend folklore tale is often attributed to a historical monarch, Mary Tudor, queen of England (1553-1558).

Mary was the first child of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. When her father divorced her mother, married Anne Boleyn, and left the Catholic church, Mary was no longer considered a legitimate child or heir to the throne. This led to great family difficulty between Mary and her stepmother and father, who was the head of the new Church of England. After Anne's execution, Mary was welcomed back into the royal fold, although she was still an ardent supporter of the Catholic Church.

When Henry VIII died, a younger step-brother ascended to the throne as a Protestant Reformer. On his death, Mary forcibly took the throne in an uprising against her step-brother's planned successor. She was the first Queen to ascend to the English Crown as a right of birth as opposed to being married to a King.

Her primary goal as Queen was to return England to Catholicism. In her attempt to restore her country back to the Catholic religion, Queen Mary ordered more than 280 religious protestants who opposed her agenda burned alive at the stake in what became known as The Marian Persecutions.

It is through these acts she was dubbed Bloody Mary in spite of the fact that her reign was not much bloodier than any of the Kings who had reigned before her. After her death, Queen Mary's younger sister, Queen Elizabeth I, took the throne.

Queen Mary I of England

Elizabeth Báthory, Queen of Blood

Another legendary evil noble was Hungarian Elizabeth Báthory (1560-1614), dubbed Queen of Blood for murdering nearly 300 young girls. In fact, she was named "the most prolific female murderer and the most prolific murderer of the western world" by Guinness World Records.

According to the testimony of over 300 witnesses, Bathory killed the girls and used their blood for her ritualistic blood baths in her pursuit of eternal youth and beauty. In 1610, she was convicted and sealed inside her castle. She died in 1614. The folk legends of vampires, especially in Hungary, were fueled by Elizabeth Báthory's sadistic murder spree.

By today's standards, she was a serial killer. She imprisoned young girls because they were virgins. The authorities found hundreds of girls' mutilated bodies, as well as girls chained and imprisoned.

Elizabeth Bathory, Queen of Blood

Mary Worth, Salem Witch

Another Bloody Mary origin story claims a woman named Mary Worth was a witch convicted in the Salem Witch Trials. However, the History of Massachusetts Organization's blog showcases an official list of all the accused witches, and Mary Worth isn't listed. However, there are 20 women named Mary on the list. While it is unlikely, it is also a possible origin of the Bloody Mary legend.

History of the Bloody Mary Ritual

So, Bloody Mary of legend may link back to any of these three women or be an amalgamation of all three. Early motivations for the Bloody Mary ritual weren't about summoning a specter. Instead, there were intended to reveal a girl's future husband. In the ritual, girls would darken the house. Each held a lit candle in one hand and a mirror in the other as they walked up a staircase backwards, chanting "Bloody Mary" while looking in the mirror. The hope was the image of the future husband would appear there, but not every girl got a peek of her future spouse. Some claimed they didn't see a man in the mirror. Instead, they said they saw death in the form of the Grim Reaper, a skeleton, or skull. When a girl saw this, it meant she would die before she could marry.

Today's Bloody Mary Ritual

There are a few modern versions of summoning Bloody Mary. This is done as a party game or game of dare. In this modern version of Bloody Mary, young teenage girls summon the evil spirit by repeating her name in unison either three or thirteen times. The urban legend depicts Bloody Mary appearing in the mirror and terrorizing those who summon her.

Truth Behind the Legend

As is often the case with urban legends and folklore, there's a kernel of truth that inspires it. In this case, the true history of Queen Mary I and Elizabeth Báthory, as well as stories of a Salem witch named Mary, transformed across history to become a spooky slumber party game.

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The Origin of the Bloody Mary Legend: Who Is This Spirit?