Also known as "Mary Worth," "I Believe in Mary Worth," "Mary Worthington," "Mary Jane," "I Believe in Mary Whales," "Mary White," "Hell Mary," etc.

Example #1:
As told on the Internet, Dec. 21, 1997:

Some of my friends, five of us, cramped ourselves into a small bathroom in my friend Cathryn's House. We ended up saying Bloody Mary (more like chanting it) about 20 times or so for anything to appear. When we did finally see something it started out as a green glow then the darkened portrait of a face became more visible, by that time half of us were screaming so we knocked each other down trying to get out of the bathroom and then I flipped on the light. It was a welcome relief.

Example #2:
As told on the Internet, Feb. 16, 1994:

When I was about 9 years old, I went to a friend's for a birthday/slumber party. There were about 10 other girls there. About midnight, we decided to play Mary Worth. Some of us had never heard of this so one of the girls told the story.

Mary Worth lived a long time ago. She was a very beautiful young girl. One day she had a terrible accident that left her face so disfigured that nobody would look at her. She had not been allowed to see her own reflection after this accident for fear that she would lose her mind. Before this, she had spent long hours admiring her beauty in her bedroom mirror.

One night, after everyone had gone to bed, unable to fight the curiousity any longer, she crept into a room that had a mirror. As soon as she saw her face, she broke down into terrible screams and sobs. It was at this moment that she was so heartbroken and wanted her old reflection back, that she walked into the mirror to find it, vowing to disfigure anybody that came looking for her in the mirror.

After hearing this story, which was told very scarily, we decided to turn out all of the lights and try it. We all huddled around the mirror and starting repeating "Mary Worth, Mary Worth, I believe in Mary Worth". About the seventh time we said it one of the girls that was in front of the mirror started screaming and trying to push her way back away from the mirror. She was screaming so loud that my friends mom came running into the room. She quickly turned on the lights and found this girl huddled in the corner screaming. She turned her around to see what the problem and saw these long fingernail scratches running down her right cheek. I will never forget her face as long as I live!!

Analysis: The Bloody Mary legend and its several variants date from the 1960s. Like so many folk rituals and traditional tales, its exact origin is impossible to pin down with any specificity. Folklorists didn't begin collecting examples of the text until 1970 or so.

That said, there is a body of myth and superstition attributing magical and/or divinatory properties to mirrors dating back to ancient times. Such beliefs typically contain elements of danger and foreboding. The most familiar of these lingering into modernity is the centuries-old superstition that breaking a mirror brings bad luck. The idea that one can foretell the future by peering into a mirror is even older, described in the Bible (I Corinthians 13) as "see[ing] through a glass, darkly." There are mentions of looking-glass divination in Chaucer's Squire's Tale (c. 1390), Spenser's The Faerie Queen (1590), and Shakespeare's Macbeth (1606), among other early literary sources.

Summoning visions

A particular form of divination associated with Halloween in the British Isles entailed gazing into a mirror and performing a nonverbal ritual to summon a vision of one's future betrothed. This example is from the Poems of Robert Burns, published in 1787:

Take a candle, and go alone to a looking glass; eat an apple before it, and some traditions say, you should comb your hair all the time; the face of your conjugal companion, to be, will be seen in the glass, as if peeping over your shoulder.
Another example of mirror divination, in this case accompanied by ritual chanting, appears in the fairy tale "Snow White," as told by the Brothers Grimm in 1857 (trans. by D.L. Ashliman):

She was a beautiful woman, but she was proud and arrogant, and she could not stand it if anyone might surpass her in beauty. She had a magic mirror. Every morning she stood before it, looked at herself, and said:
Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?

To this the mirror answered:

You, my queen, are fairest of all.

As everyone who grew up reading "Snow White" (or watching the animated Disney version) knows, the mirror-obsessed queen was ultimately destroyed by her own vanity, and it is in this and similar cautionary tales that we see basic elements of the Bloody Mary ritual emerge.


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