It’s just before midnight. A deafening silence fills the tiny room, punctuated by the occasional nervous giggle stifled behind a hand. A small flame bursts to life at the end of a match and is carefully transferred to a candle. The participants’ faces, lit from below by the dancing flame, appear ghoulish in the pale light. Their shadows loom large on the walls as they jostle into position for a better view of the ritual that’s about to take place.
The chant begins.
Quietly at first.
A more defiant tone creeps slowly into the participants’ voices, daring the ritual to work.
“Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary.”
On and on. Thirteen times. Thirteen is always the magic number, isn’t it?
The final time, the name is invoked much more apprehensively. Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe the participants have decided they don’t want the ritual to work after all.
The door flies open and the participants spill into the hallway, crying, laughing, shaking, terrified, and exhilarated.
Someone retrieves the candle and extinguishes it, and the ritual is complete. Isn’t it?
The Bloody Mary ritual is a rite of passage for many children. It’s said that when performed correctly, Mary will be summoned and compelled to show herself in the mirror. But what then? Some say she’ll answer questions about your future. Or that she’ll reach out and try to drag you into the mirror. Others say you’ll be driven mad, be haunted forever, or die instantly, among a multitude of other horrible outcomes.
Much like the results, the actual steps involved vary from person to person. In some versions of the ritual, you only need to chant her name three times, while in others it’s thirteen, or as many times as it takes for her to finally appear. In other versions, you must have the sound of running water, spin around three times, put your hands and/or face against the mirror, be immersed in complete darkness, have only a candle for light, have only a flashlight for light, be alone in the room, be with at least one other person in the room, and so on. As you can see, there’s really no one way to perform the Bloody Mary ritual. Just use what you have and what you’re comfortable with.
Even though there’s no real consensus on the details of the ritual, they all pretty much share the basics:
A dark room
A small dim light source of some kind
Chanting her name
Waiting for her to appear
But who exactly is Bloody Mary? This is another area where there’s no solid answer, but the list of suspects is short:
Queen Mary I of England
Queen Mary I is a figure very commonly associated with Bloody Mary because she had hundreds of Protestants burned at the stake. While she’s far from the only monarch to execute people based on their faith, John Foxe’s 1563 book The Actes and Monuments focused primarily on the people executed under Mary’s reign. This book was hugely popular and served to demonize Mary I, a Catholic, in a primarily Protestant country.
Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary Stuart, who would later come to be called Mary, Queen of Scots, was a Scottish queen who led a life fraught with wars, marriages, murders, imprisonments, and escapes, and ultimately ended in her grisly execution. On February 8th, 1587, Mary was led to the executioner’s block to be beheaded. However, things didn't go as planned, and it took the executioner at least three strikes to finish the job, creating a horrific and bloody scene.
Erzsébet Báthory (Elizabeth Báthory)
While not named Mary, the Hungarian countess’s reputation does seem to make her a good candidate for Bloody Mary. It’s said that Elizabeth lured young women from the nearby village with the promise of a well-paying job at her castle. Once there, these women were reportedly murdered by the countess, who then bathed in their blood in an attempt to retain a youthful appearance. There are many who say Elizabeth was the victim of a smear campaign and didn’t perform any of these heinous acts, but the legend of the Bloody Countess persists to this day.
One of the most common beliefs is that Bloody Mary was a woman whose real name was Mary Worth. And, depending on which account you read, Mary Worth was either a woman who murdered slaves escaping through the Underground Railroad, a woman executed for witchcraft sometime between 1400-1782 in England, or an accused witch executed in the Salem Witch Trials. Not much evidence for any version of this person exists, though she’s probably based on an actual person or two. In some versions of the Bloody Mary ritual, participants chant, “Mary Worth, I have your baby,” because there’s also apparently a baby somewhere in the Mary Worth legends.
Whichever legend you subscribe to, it’s clear that Bloody Mary is intended to be seen as an evil and bloodthirsty demon-ghost-witch-thing. Here at the Castle, we believe there is no one person on which the Bloody Mary legend is based. But that doesn’t mean it was made up out of the blue. Versions of this legend and ritual go back centuries and have roots all over the world! Let’s look at a few of those.
A similar divination ritual was performed in Victorian times by single women. The woman would hold a lit candle and walk backwards up a flight of stairs in a darkened house. She would either be gazing through a hand mirror or walking into a room where a mirror already stood. Either way, once she looked into the mirror, she would be confronted by the face of her future husband—if she was lucky. If she was unlucky, she’d see a skull, meaning that she was destined to die before she could marry.
In Japan, there’s the legend of Toire no Hanako-san, or Hanako of the toilet. While this legend doesn’t rely on a mirror, it does take place in a bathroom—in specific, the girls’ bathroom of a school. The legend goes that a girl named Hanako was hiding in the girls’ bathroom at her school during an air raid in WWII. When her school was bombed, she was killed, leaving her ghost to haunt the third stall of all girls’ bathrooms in schools throughout Japan. Knocking three times on the door of the third stall and asking, “Hanako, are you there?” will immediately result in the querent being grabbed and dragged under the stall door to keep Hanako company for eternity.
In ancient Greece, catoptromancy was a popular form of divination that involved lowering a mirror into a fountain at the Temple of Ceres by a sick person. Gazing into the mirror from this perspective, the sick person would see their face either healthy and recovered or ghastly and near death, telling them exactly which direction their illness was to take them.
Mirror legends are so numerous and varied. In some, you must cover a mirror when someone dies to prevent their soul from becoming trapped inside the mirror (perhaps this is what happened to Bloody Mary!?). Other mirror legends have people placing bits of broken mirror over doorways to keep evil out. And it’s even believed that two or more mirrors facing each other will create a portal through which spirits can move and potentially be let into our world.
So, all of that aside, does the Bloody Mary ritual actually work? Will she show up? Well, as it turns out, the answer is yes. Kind of. It’s believed that the effect of seeing a face in the mirror that’s not your own is the result of a phenomenon called Troxler fading. By focusing your eyes on a fixed point for long enough, elements around that fixed point start to fade from your vision.
Here at the Castle, we believe this is where another phenomenon comes to play that makes things really weird. It’s called pareidolia. This is when your brain interprets a pattern, meaning, or shape that isn’t there. This is the phenomenon that explains seeing a face on a slice of toast, the shape of a bear in the clouds…or an evil face in a candlelit mirror. As the elements of your face start to fade while staring at yourself in the mirror, your brain may be trying to fill in the blanks at the same time, which could be what leads to a very strange, warped, even terrifying face looking back at you. Science is creepy… But, as we are fond of saying in the Castle, just because there’s a scientific explanation doesn’t mean it’s not also paranormal! In other words, just because you see a warped face due to Troxler fading and pareidolia doesn’t mean that the warped face isn’t that of Bloody Mary. Is she really going to reach through the mirror and grab you? Perhaps there’s only one way to find out.
So, let’s get to Bloody Marying, yeah? Here’s a simple version of the ritual that you can try, as well as some cleansing and precautionary measures. Ya know. Just in case.
You will need:
A candle or a small, dim flashlight (some websites tell you to perform the ritual in complete darkness, but how are you going to know if it works if you can’t see anything?)
A bathroom or other room that is very dark and contains a mirror
Performing the ritual
Go into the room you’ve chosen. You can do it at night (any time of night will work) or during the day, as long as you can make the room quite dark.
Light your candle or turn on your flashlight. Position it between yourself and the mirror.
Sit or stand as close to the mirror as you comfortably can. Ideally, your face should be about 18-24 inches from the mirror.
Make direct eye contact with yourself, and don’t look away. It’s the direct eye contact that makes the effect work.
Use your chant of choice, whether that’s “Bloody Mary” three or more times, “I believe in Mary Worth,” or “Mary Worth, I have your baby.” You can even make up your own!
When you’re done chanting, continue to maintain direct eye contact. The effect should take place pretty quickly.
When you’re done, break eye contact, extinguish your flame, and leave the room. Possibly screaming if you want to freak out your friends. That’s it! You’ve successfully “summoned” Bloody Mary!
If you’d like to give yourself just a little extra protection (better safe than Bloody Mary’s victim, as the saying goes!), here are some things you can try.
Before the ritual, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Picture yourself surrounded by protective white light.
Take some sea salt and sprinkle it in a circle around where you’ll be standing/sitting.
Place a piece of clear quartz, selenite, or black obsidian (or all three!) nearby.
Use a black or white candle, as both are traditionally used for protection.
When you’re finished, before blowing out the candle, say something out loud that lets any spirits around know that you’re finished with the ritual and they’re not welcome to hang around. The exact words don’t matter so much. Just be sure to be respectful.
Light some sage or incense and bring it into the room with the mirror. This helps clear away any negative spiritual energy.
Did you have an experience with Bloody Mary? We would love to hear about it! Submit your story HERE!