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Bloody Mary or Krvavá Máří? Globalization and Czech Children´s Folklore.



An expressive cultural practice of invoking a ghostly female figure, most often called Bloody Mary, an important part of the folklore of children and adolescents in the West, represents a unique amalgamation of ritual practices, folk beliefs, and demonological narratives. This phenomenon, extensively studied by Western folklorists since the 1970s, is closely connected to a wider discourse of children and youth ghostlore, and interpreted as a girls’ ritual reflecting prepubescent menstrual anxiety, reflexion of process of ontological psychological development devoted to mastering emotion of fear of schoolchildren, or, in later adolescence, a reflexion of archetypal self-development processes in a Jungian sense. The paper, using data documented during longitudinal field research of Czech contemporary folklore, presents the growing popularity of this expressive practice in a Czech setting in the last fifteen years, starting with the late 1990s. Comparing the Czech situation with similar cultural processes analyzed in Sweden, Spain, and especially Russia, the paper describes the diffusion of this practice by global popular culture and its glocalization to suit peculiar Czech youth ghostlore inspired by historical personages. Reflecting global, ever-shifting contemporary culture flows, especially changes in local realities of “ethnoscapes”, “mediascapes” and “ideoscapes”during the 1990s, the practice of invoking Krvavá Máří seem to be both parallel and the transformation of local practices such as schoolchildren’s spiritism and horror stories of the 1970s and 1980s.
PhDr. Petr Janeček, Ph.D., Institute of Ethnology, Faculty of Arts, Charles University in
Prague, Náměstí Jana Palacha 2, 116 38 Praha 1, Czech Republic,
An expressive cultural practice of invoking a ghostly female figure, most often called
Bloody Mary, an important part of the folklore of children and adolescents in the
West, represents a unique amalgamation of ritual practices, folk beliefs, and demono-
logical narratives. This phenomenon, extensively studied by Western folklorists since
the 1970s, is closely connected to a wider discourse of children and youth ghostlore,
and interpreted as a girls’ ritual reflecting prepubescent menstrual anxiety, reflexion
of process of ontological psychological development devoted to mastering emotion
of fear of schoolchildren, or, in later adolescence, a reflexion of archetypal self-de-
velopment processes in a Jungian sense. The paper, using data documented during
longitudinal field research of Czech contemporary folklore, presents the growing
popularity of this expressive practice in a Czech setting in the last fifteen years, starting
with the late 1990s. Comparing the Czech situation with similar cultural processes
analyzed in Sweden, Spain, and especially Russia, the paper describes the diffusion
of this practice by global popular culture and its glocalization to suit peculiar Czech
youth ghostlore inspired by historical personages. Reflecting global, ever-shifting
contemporary culture flows, especially changes in local realities of “ethnoscapes”,
“mediascapes” and “ideoscapes”during the 1990s, the practice of invoking Krvavá
Mary seem to be both parallel and the transformation of local practices such as school-
children’s spiritism and horror stories of the 1970s and 1980s.
Key words: Bloody Mary, children’s folklore, contemporary folklore, contemporary
legend, globalization, Czech Republic
2 62 • 2014
1 The submitted study is based on data documented by the author and students of his university courses
in oral tradition and non-oral transmission in the Internet, within longitudinal folkloristic field research,
during which, between 2004 and 2014, more than 800 texts of contemporary folklore acquired from
more than 600 respondents were recorded in the territory of the Czech Republic. More than 200 texts
concern children’s demonological folklore, whereby 39 texts explicitly mention the figure of Krvavá
Mary, Máří or Máry. I would like in particular to thank all anonymized respondents and my students
Nikola Černá, Pavlína Fišerová, Veronika Frňková, Markéta Hlaváčková, Eva Horáčková, Hana Málková,
Ondřej Taker, Nikol Vodičková and Katsiaryna Zayats. Let me express my special thanks to Marina Bay-
duzh from the Institute of Northern Development, Russian Academy of Sciences, Siberian Branch, Tyu-
men, Russian Federation for making her valuable and hitherto not published study available, and Dr
Claudia Schwabe from the Department of Languages, Philosophy and Communication Studies, College
of Humanities and Social Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, U.S.A for her valuable advice.
I won’t cry for you
I won’t crucify the things you do
I won’t cry for you, see
When you're gone I’ll still be Bloody Mary
(Lady Gaga: Bloody Mary. Born This Way 2011)
The theme of globalization became more essential in ethnological sciences only af-
ter the disintegration of the bipolar world in the 1990s. Theoretically-based innova-
tive approaches to this phenomenon accentuated the multi-layered nature of global
cultural processes that are typical for downgrading the locally specific “cultures”,
that was caused by global, mutually interconnected redeployment of people, fi-
nances, technologies, ideas and media texts (Appadurai, 1990, 1996).
The theme of globalization quite soon drew the attention of folklorists who started
devoting themselves in particular to the analysis of a typically global folklore phenom-
enon – the electronic folklore (Csaszi, 2003; Krawczyk-Wasilewska, 2006; Blank, 2009;
Burszta, Pomieciński, 2012; Hajduk-Nijakowska, 2012).2The influence of globalization
processes on the folklore repertoire both in its electronic and oral forms was soon re-
flected – both theoretically and based on field data – in Slovak folkloristics (Hlôšková,
2001; Krekovičová, Panczová, Bužeková, 2005; Panczová, 2005, 2013). Czech folkloris-
tics documented the same rather by material-based even if quite extensive collections
of children’s folklore (Pospíšilová, 2003; Votruba, 2008) as well as by contemporary
legends and rumours collected from oral tradition and in the Internet (Janeček, 2006,
2007, 2008).
This case study examines the influence of globalization processes on social con-
struction of the contemporary and relatively widespread form of children’s folklore
that appeared in the Czech Republic in connection with political and social changes
caused by opening the political and media boundaries after 1989. It tries to show the
parallel impact of several globalization aspects that have influenced an informally
transmitted collective practice (as well as related texts) in which a demonic female
figure, mostly called Krvavá Mary, is invoked. Besides the critical assessment of pre-
vious research into this syncretic phenomenon, which is internationally one of the
most thoroughly studied expressions of children’s folklore, the study focuses on its
national and international historical parallels, comparison with similar development
in Russia and some European countries, and especially on contemporary “glocal”
Czech form of this practice that only at first sight seems to be globally unified. It also
put great emphasis on cultural and adaptive strategies supporting the current popu-
larity of this practice in the Czech Republic.
Without the help of these two researchers, the submitted study could never have come into being. I also
thank both anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments concerning the content of the study,
which have led to its improved quality.
2 K. Sree Ramesh in his presentation at the conference Folklore and Globalization, held on 27 February
2013 in Mysore, India introduced seven basic themes of contemporary folklore studies, which the
modern folkloristics should focus on while it is trying to overcome the paradigm constructing just the
“authentic”, i.e. rustic/tribal/subaltern folklore: folklore in the postcolonial context, impact of global-
isation on folklore, folklore and social change, folklore and ecology, commodification of folklore, folk-
lore of the contemporary society, and urban folklore (National Seminar on Globalization and Folklore,
Petr Janeček
Buřka told us about Bloody Mary – that if you go with a candle to a mirror
and you chant three times Bloody Mary into it, you will wake up in the
morning covered with bloody scratches. Your nose should be bleeding too.
(L. P., female, born 1991, university student, Vidochov, referring to situa-
tion around 2000).3
The cultural practice of summoning a sinister and potentially dangerous female
figure from the mirror by chanting her name repeatedly (1 – 1000 times) or by a stereo -
typed magic formula constitutes a unique blend of ritual behaviour, incantation, folk
belief and demonological legend. The female figure called Bloody Mary (or Mary
Worth, Mary Whales, or Mary Lou)4is a significant phenomenon of children and ado-
lescents’ folklore in the USA. This quite widespread practice most often performed by
several school-age girls (6 – 14 years old) in a darkened room, which is a part of wider
discourse of children and youth’s ghostlore, has been intensively documented by
folklorists since the end of the 1970s (Knapp-Knapp, 1976; Langlois, 1978; Brunvand,
1986: 80-82). Along with the many versions of practice documented by fieldwork, nu-
merous accompanying narratives explain the origin of this mysterious apparition.
Sometimes these correspond to characters known from popular legends such as The
Vanishing Hitchhiker or La Llorona (a ghost of a girl who died in a car crash, or that
of a woman who killed or lost her children). Their social function and cultural impor-
tance are interpreted as well. Alan Dundes in his pioneering psychoanalytical study
(Dundes, 1998) interprets this practice as an adolescent girls’ ritual reflecting the un-
ease and fear but also the joyous anticipation of the first coming menstruation, result-
ing from a prepubescent fantasy about menarche. Dundes interprets the bleeding
face in the mirror as an “upward displacement with blood issuing from the head in-
stead of from the urogenital area” (Dundes, 1998: 129-132, 2001). This Freudian inter-
pretation is based on a systematic concurrence of the basic elements of this practice
(it is done by girls at the age before the first menstruation, it takes place in a bath-
room, and often involves a bloody self-image, it may conclude with flushing a toilet).
Dundes’ analysis is seen by many reviewers as one of the most serious interpretations
of a folklore text by this doyen of American folkloristics (Fine, 2002; Paul, 2003).
Texts inciting to psychoanalytical interpretations of the above type can be found in
a Czech setting too:
3 Text documented by Nikola Vodičková, student of “Introduction to Study of Folklore” course at the
Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Arts, West Bohemian University in Pilsen in 2013 from her
colleague in student dormitory in Pilsen. It was told spontaneously before going to bed. The narrator
heard the story from her friend in her village, when they attended the first stage of elementary school.
4 Barbara Mikkelson mentions other alternative designations of this demonic being documented in the
USA (without mentioning the frequency of their occurrence) Bloody Bones, Hell Mary, Mary Wor-
thington, Mary Johnson, Mary Jane, Sally, Kathy, Agnes, Black Agnes, Aggie (Mikkelson, 1999). Spe-
cific is the name La Llorona, documenting syncresis of this practice with the cycle of demonological
legends about La Llorona (The Weeping Woman), widespread in Mexico and some USA states, espe-
cially among Hispanic Americans (Brunvand, 2001: 233).
I was frightened by my schoolmates having told me if I repeated 9x “Bloody Mary”
while staring into the mirror, I would see myself upside down, my face would be cov-
ered in blood and every time I would stare into the mirror Bloody Mary would ap-
pear to me. This will be me!
(I. Š., female, born 1991, university student, Domažlice)5
However, as Linda Dégh shows in her book Legend and Belief. Dialectics of a Folklore
Genre, this ritual practice is connected neither solely with girls nor with school-age
children (Dégh, 2001: 243-244). Dégh says: “The key in this legend is believing and
trusting. The daring diviner must repeat many times (from 10 to 1000) the phrase “I be-
lieve in Mary Worth” to persuade the unfortunate ghost to show herself. She exists because
someone believes in her” (Dégh, 2001: 244). It was the folklorist Elizabeth Tucker who
continued Dégh’s work and who – inspired by analytical psychology of Carl Gustav
Jung – interpreted the relative narratives and practices widespread among a different
generational group of American first-year university students, as a reflexion of arche-
types that occur during the process of awakening the ego connected with late adoles-
cence (Tucker, 2005).
Yet the undisputable fact remains that school-age girls usually constitute the ma-
jority of persons taking part in this practice in its narrative and ritual forms. However,
within this group defined by gender and generation, this practice is just one of those
possible; the same author put the Bloody Mary invocation into the context of other
predominantly girl’s liminal practices, such as “levitation” and “trance session”, doc-
umented in the USA between 1976 and 1984. When performing these practices,
preadolescent girls are experimenting with their own power to regulate the intriguing,
sometimes threatening awareness of their own development” (Tucker, 1984: 133;
2012). Bill Ellis puts this practice into even wider cultural context: he interprets it as
a part of demonological discourse shared by most American children and adolescents
of both genders. This discourse includes invocation of ghosts by means of ouija
board,ritual practices with mirrors, legend tripping and narrations about Satanic ac-
tivities (Ellis, 2000; 2003; 2004). He also emphasizes a certain formality of the ritual
with Bloody Mary invocation. Adolescents know very well that physical hazard is just
apparent with this practice because the ritual can be interrupted at any time, and
from the liminal space of contact with the supernatural, they can go back to the ordi-
nary, safe world (Ellis, 2004).
In his analysis of similar ritual texts at British elementary schools, Marc Armitage
offered an alternative psychological explanation. In the analysis, he emphasized the
role these texts play in children’s ontogenetic psychological development, namely in
how school-age children can conquer their fear: “Rather than being a mechanism for
dealing with real, malicious and possibly life-threatening situations, they may be more
about dealing with irrational fears triggered within children at a particular stage in
their development. These stories, therefore, may actually be an outward manifestation
of the developing human mind itself.” (Armitage, 2006: 22), i.e. This is the approach
of developmental psychology that also has been applied on children’s folklore, specif-
ically on children’s rhymes, also in the Czech Republic (Pospíšilová, Uhlíková, 2011).
5 Text documented by Ondřej Taker, student of “Introduction to Study of Folklore” course at the Depart-
ment of Anthropology, Faculty of Arts, West Bohemian University in Pilsen in 2013. The text was doc-
umented on 11 December 2013 between 11 and 12 p. m. from his colleague student residing in Pilsen.
Told after the conversation had been brought round to the spiritual themes.
Petr Janeček
I grew up in Swedenand when I was nearly eight, we were summoning Svarta
Madame – Black Madame very often there. She was a female that killed about ten
babies; she flew to the rocks and died there then. We always had to invoke in the
dark – we closed the eyes and chanted her name ten times in a row – after that she
suddenly appeared.
(A. Š, female, born 1986, university student, Prague, referring to situation around
1994; Janeček, 2008: 313)
As early as in the 1980s, initial studies noticed that this practice had spread outside
the Anglo-Saxon world and syncretised with local traditions of children’s folklore. In
his study from 1988, the Swedish folklorist Bengt af Klintberg pointed out the tradition
of invoking a female figure with an English name (Mary, Bloody Mary, Black Molly)
from the mirror. This tradition has been noted since the 1970s in Sweden and – in his
opinion – imported from the Anglo-Saxon world, most probably from the USA. In Swe-
den, it adapted itself to local language and culture: “The Swedish name Svarta Madame
(Black Madame) appeared on the scene, it spread quickly, and is now the completely
dominant form” (Klintberg, 1988: 159). This local language version proved to be fully
dominating and it influenced even the later Swedish names of this being, which can be
translated as Bloody Black Madame, White Madame, Dirty Madame and Creepy
Among children, mostly girls between 9 and 13 years, this figure used to be con-
nected not only with negative but also with positive abilities; invoking her name
could bring not only bad luck but also happiness; her often bizarre visual appearance
varied in a similar way. In contradiction to American children, this being was not un-
derstood so seriously, which – in Klintberg’s opinion – was caused by the tendency of
Swedish children’s folklore to disparage the role of ghosts in general. This may have
been caused by the dominant approach to the supernatural within the Swedish soci-
ety that was different from the traditional Anglo-Saxon interest in ghostlore (Klint-
berg, 1988: 166). Lee Virtanen noticed a similar not very serious vivid interest of chil-
dren in invocation of ghosts, especially Satan, in Finland (Virtanen, 1978).
The practice of invocation a ghost from the mirror in a linguistically close English
setting shows a specific form. During the field research conducted in the second half
of the 1990s at 120 elementary schools in England, Marc Armitage documented the
knowledge of this practice at more than 65 % of them; the invocation of a demonic fe-
male was mostly connected with a specific place in girls’ bathrooms, most often a toi-
let cubicle, whereby the ritual was often accompanied by repeated chanting in verses,
for example:“White Lady, White Lady, we killed your black baby” (Armitage, 2006: 5).
75% of respondents called the being as White Lady, other names were Green Lady and
Grey Lady (Armitage, 2006: 2).
As to the author, the English practice of White Lady invocation as well as the relating
narratives continues English traditional ghost stories and demonological folklore in which
this figure played a significant role. The contribution of Armitage’s study also consists
of accentuating the specific spatial and social context of this practice, which includes el-
ementary schools, namely the bathrooms – that means one of few places where adults
do not keep watch over school-age children for a certain time. Therefore, he also proposes
the generic name of the invoked being to be Toilet Ghost (Armitage, 2006: 1).
In Continental Western Europe, similarly to Sweden and England, this originally
American phenomenon was “ecotypified”, i.e. adapted to local linguistic, cultural,
and social peculiarities. In Spain, as the study by Alejandro A. González Terriza
proves, the female figure invoked by children from the mirror is known as Verónica.
Spanish versions speaking about this connection of ritual practices and legends share
some identical features: motif of premature death of a young woman, and intercon-
nection of physically close spaces that are incoherent under usual circumstances (es-
pecially the world of the living and the dead) through a mirror (González Terriza,
2001-2002). In the second part of his study, the author presents five variants of the rit-
ual concerned: simple uttering of the ghost’s name; invocation using scissors and
a book (usually the Bible); using a mirror; using scissors and a mirror; using scissors,
book, and mirror. He defines the whole folklore complex, sharing Alan Dundes’s
interpretation partially, as being connected with the first expressions of sexuality;
his opinion Verónica is a symbol of the passage from childhood to adolescence
through the menarche and the first sexual experience (González Terriza, 2003-2004:
In contemporary Germany, local children and adolescents use both the original
English name Bloody Mary and local name Heilige Blutige Maria (Holy Bloody Mary).
In the German-written Internet, three basic versions circulate how to do the ritual cor-
rectly (for example to repeat her name 20 times or 40 times), including plenty of seri-
ous and parodying videos on YouTube.com6. As to Marc Armitage, similar practices
are also known in other countries in Western Europe, such as the Netherlands (De
Witte Dame) and France (La Dame Blanche); from further destinations let us mention
Canada, Australia or Japan (famous and perhaps not related Hanako-san Little
Flower Girl) and Thailand in Asia (Armitage, 2006: 3).
However, the most interesting process of adapting the global practice of summon-
ing a female ghost by means of a mirror to local cultural conditions was documented
in the Russian Federation. In the 1990s in local children’s folklore, Bloody Mary met
a local established “competitor”, namely The Queen of Spades (Pikovaya dama). As to
Marina Bayduzh, the unique Queen of Spades appeared in Russian children’s folklore
in the 1970s when it found inspiration in the story by Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin
of the same name. The motif from this story written in 1834 was secondarily support-
ed by products of popular culture that showed similar themes (Bayduzh, 2014;
Toporkov, 1998). Through the connection of literary and pop-cultural texts perceived
by means of school education and mass media, the figure was originally included – as
an animated card first – in the abstract genre of children’s folklore called strashilky
(“thrillers” – Kōiva,1996; 1997). The ritual of calling the name of The Queen of Spades,
first by means of a corresponding card, later through a mirror used for divining the fu-
ture occurred in the 1980s. The latter was influenced by pop-cultural adaptations of
the texts for children and youth, that contained a motif of beings living in the world
behind the mirror (mainly the Soviet cartoon inspired by Lewis Caroll’s works Alice
in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There directed by
Ephram Pruzhansky from 1981-1982). The ritualistic invoking The Queen of Spades
was booming in 1980 – 1990 when this tradition occurred in Estonia (Bayduzh, 2014)
and Bulgaria where it has survived, known by its local name of Damapika until now
6 For instance Niemz, D. (2013). Ritual der „bloody mary“ selbst test. Other information Dr Claudia
Schwabe, March 10th 2014, personal communication.
Petr Janeček
(Petrakiev, 2011). The initially positive if ambivalent figure of The Queen of Spades
became more negative at that time, which brought it formally closer to Bloody Mary.
Bloody Mary reached Russia in the 1990s, alongside mass media and Hollywood-
movies. “Her” presence together with the affinity of rituals and characteristics of both
demonic figures synergically speeded up The Queen of Spades to have been estab-
lished as a peculiar negative being understood as Bloody Mary’s “older sister”. In the
contemporary folklore of Russian children, they coexist (Bayduzh, 2014). While The
Queen of Spades kept her traditional features that came into use in the 1980s (e. g. the
abstract guise of light or dot, an ambivalent position of a figure that tells the future,
or the use of candles or perfume to summon her), Bloody Mary is strongly connected
with historical figures of Mary I. Tudor (1516-1558), and Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots
Krvavá Mary legend tells about a face that appears in the mirror in a darkened room
if you chant three times Krvavá Mary into the mirror. After you repeat the name,
a face appears that can hurt you in various ways, or even kill in the worst case. She
can scratch our face, endanger you with a knife or eat our face. Different versions
are rumoured, sometimes even that Mary was a cannibal with a disfigured face and
that’s why she wants to eat or disfigure ours. If Mary comes, it is difficult to get rid
of her. Prayer might be the most time-proven method. (L. H., male, born 1987, qual-
ity controller, Pilsen)7
How this globally widespread practice manifests itself in today’s Czech Republi-
cand how has it been adapted to local children’s folklore? Czech children, unlike the
American or Russian ones, historically might not have had available such distinctive
figures, as Bloody Mary or The Queen of Spades, who could become a principal object
of children “occultism”. On the contrary, local children’s demonology distinguished
itself by significant plurality; popular invocation of ghosts, i.e. pseudo-occultist
séances documented in retrospect among 6 – 13 year old girls since the end of the
1970s, most widely in the 1980s, focused most often on “real” , i.e. historical figures.
Since the 1980s, the Czech writer Božena Němcová (1820-1862) has been one of the
most popular persons. She is understood as the founder of modern Czech prose, thus
ironically she can hardly be connected with numinosum. Children’s emic explana-
tions giving the reason for her demonization compiled her alternative life story ac-
cording to which “her children were killed and therefore she hates children and wants
to kill them.8A more widespread native explanation applied the principle of ethic in-
version, according to which people who were “kind” during their lives (such as Bože-
na Němcová or Antonín Benjamin Svojsík [1876-1938], the founder of the Czech Boy
7 Text collected by Nikola Černá, student of „Introduction to Study of Folklore“ course at the Depart-
ment of Anthropology, Faculty of Arts, West Bohemian University in Pilsen on December 12th 2013,
8:00-8:25 p. m. Told with enthusiasm at a friendly get-together in the evening. The narrator remem-
bers the story from his childhood, it was told among children of the same age.
8 According to some respondents, the popularity of Božena Němcová could be caused by certain “con-
tra-cultural” rebellious expressions of school children responding to plethora of her adoration or to
depiction of her dramatic fortunes, especially the life in poverty, during classes.
Scout movement, or Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk [1850-1937], the first President of
Czechoslovakia) became “wicked” and potentially dangerous as ghosts:
One day in the mountains with Scouts, we were bored and somebody said we could
summon the ghosts. Immediately a discussion began how this should be done. An
older girl Scout started patronizing us and warning us, we should never attempt to
summon Božena Němcová. There’s rumour going around that if somebody thinks
about whose ghost shall be invoked, to most people Božena Němcová occurs. All per-
sons who were kind during their lives are terribly bad as ghosts. Němcová’s ghost is
said to be awfully wicked, it destroys things and can even kill. She told us once,
maybe 15 years ago, a group attempted to do this; nobody knows what exactly hap-
pened but none of them could speak for a week, they did not have a good perception
and they were covered with bruises and scratches.9
In accordance with this principle, it is, for instance, fully safe to call Adolf Hitler or
even Satan himself (Janeček, 2008: 313-316). It was the “Non-Holy Trinity” of Adolf
Hitler, Satan and Božena Němcová that probably belonged to the most often sum-
moned ghosts in the 1980s. These figures were continuously supplemented by “suit-
able” historical figures known for their presumed or real cruelty, mainly Countess
Elizabeth Bathory [1560-1614] who was popular especially in Slovakia, but also in
Russia (Ellis, 2007; Bayduzh, 2014), or with Francis Drake (1540-1596). In contrast to
American girl slumber parties (Dégh, 2001) and English elementary school bath-
rooms (Armitage, 2006), it was Pioneer and other summer camps that constituted the
most popular setting for calling the ghosts, similarly to Russia (Bayduzh, 2014). The
girls summoned here ghosts in their leisure time, after lights-out, in tents or cottages.
Ghost calling was accompanied by close liminal activities, first of all by talking horory
– (“horrors”, an equivalent of Russian genre strashilky) – scary stories inspired by
oral tradition and popular culture (Janeček, 2007: 287-309; Janeček, 2008: 300-312).
After all, this is the current practice in children’s summer camps even today:
Well, frightening stories… They are rather told by girls, age 9 – 13. They are mostly
based on a book (for example The Steps of Horror) or a movie.10
Another popular setting for summoning the ghosts was the leisure time at summer
open-air schools and winter skiing trips, or visits to friends’ flats, i.e. always places
without the direct control by adults – teachers or parents. Summoning the ghosts dis-
tinguished itself by high plurality not only in selecting the apparitions but even in the
way of practical summoning – the most used paraphernalia were candles (the pres-
ence of a ghost showed itself by glimmering or extinguished flame) and hand-written
boards or papers with letters or digits (socialist bricolage which replaced the not
available ouija board used in the West) to which the ghost pointed by moving a glass
or another thing. Also known were forks intricately wrapped in paper napkins, a ring
swinging on a chain, running water from water tap, or using a reading book or the
9 The narration retrospectively recorded by Ondřej Taker, male, born 1989, university student, Nové
Strašecí. See also note Nr. 5.
10 Text documented from a friend, experienced summer camp counselor, by Pavlína Fišerová, student of
“Introduction to Oral Narratives” course at the Faculty of Humanities, Charles University in Prague on
July the 1st 2010 (personal communication).
Petr Janeček
Bible wrapped in black paper; although, significantly, almost never a mirror was used
(Janeček, 2008: 315-316). As to the number of figures and the ways of calling them,
children’s practices of summoning the ghosts in the 1980s can be described as
a broadly widespread pluralistic tradition, in contrast to the Anglo-Saxon world and –
to a large extent – Russian setting. This local tradition can be characterized as a “real-
istic” and “historical” one – the most frequently summoned ghosts were historical fig-
ures known from school lessons of history or literature, related to the national or
world history. Even though figures from traditional demonological legends, such as
Bílá paní (The White Lady) that was extremely popular in the Czech Republic and of-
ten used for artistic and pop-cultural works for children, were well known, they were
not summoned as they were in England. Similarly, the documented existence of ab-
stract figures from children’s horory, such as Black Hand, Black Dot, Yellow Curtains,
Black Train, summoned by children in Russia (Bayduzh, 2014) and Estonia (Kōiva,
1996, 1997), did not bring the attempts in the Czech Republic to invoke them
(Janeček, 2007: 290-298; Janeček, 2008: 308-311). The boundary between the orally
narrated text and the ritual followed in the Czech “culture of historicism” the same
line as the boundary between the fictive folklore figures from traditional legends and
children thrillers and the historical personalities did.
After the social changes in 1989 in the Czech Republic, the first texts appeared that
substantiated progressive upset in this historicizing model. In addition to historical
figures known from school lessons, figures relating to popular culture, mainly music
(John Lennon, Jim Morrisson, later on Kurt Cobain) and film (Marylin Monroe) be-
came more important. To be adopted among more often called ghosts, they have to
enjoy society-wide popularity and especially to die tragically, early or under mysteri-
ous circumstances. These figures became a part of children’s repertoire thanks to
mass media, especially television, and popular culture, especially film – cultural in-
spirations that expanded in the 1990s, pushing out school lessons and reading that
dominating before.
In the sixth year, we went for a two-day trip with our school for the first time. The
teachers strained to tire us out but to no effect. So we gathered in the evening and
were telling scary stories. One of them was the story about Krvavá Mary. If you say in
front of a mirror at midnight – Krvavá Mary, Krvavá Mary, Krvavá Mary – Mary will
come out the mirror and scratch your eyes out.
Of course, I know that’s a load of rubbish; but to tell the truth I have not tried it so
(E. H., female, born 1988, university student, Jihlava, referring to situation around
Bloody Mary who spread to Western and Central Europe and Russia some time ago
presents the most significant figure among these ghosts inspired by popular culture.
The Czech setting seems to have distinguished itself by a certain cultural resistance
11 Text documented retrospectively from her own memories by Eva Horáčková, student of “Introduction
to Oral Narratives” course at the Faculty of Humanities, Charles University in Prague, in 2010.
within the former socialistic bloc because the first narrations of this type occurred
only at the very end of the 1990s, most significantly after the year 2000. A certain role
might have been played by the fact that dominating inspirational media for these
practices, i.e. frequently perceived Hollywood and partially Japanese movies with
this theme (e. g. Candyman, 1992, Gakkou no Kaidan, 1995, Urban Legends, 1998, Ur-
ban Legends: Bloody Mary, 2005) and American television series (X-Files, 1996) were
produced mostly only in the second half of the 1990s.
In this time, the invocation of Bloody Mary adapted itself organically to the social
practise which existed more-than-20-years whereby Czech children are summoning
the ghosts within “traditional” space-time continuum of open-air schools and sum-
mer camps. It has mostly a form of a mere allusion to the ritual, without performing
it in reality:
„…I think the story about Krvavá Mary we were telling at night and in the room. We
were a group of about 10 children. Because we were – with 3 exceptions – a girls’class
so girls must have formed the majority of those present.We were telling the story
about Krvavá Mary just as a scary story on our school trip where we wanted to
frighten ourselves a little bit. I was impressed by it then. 12
Nevertheless, if a real invocation takes place occasionally, it rather takes the “tra-
ditional” shape of Czech children’s occultism, including the key principle of ethic in-
version, whereby ghosts are summoned by means of candles and a board with letters,
without a mirror:
To girls occurred nothing better than to call somebody wicked because it might hap-
pen that those who were bad in their lives are nice after their death and vice versa.
At that time, Bloody Mary was very popular or a man whose name begins with “H”
and who was not nice in his life, especially in his relation to Jews. We called both of
them and wished at least one to come. At school they overheard an incantation that
might have sounded like: “We are calling you, the spirit of Bloody Mary; ghost, ap-
pear and if you are here in the room let us know about you in any way”. We were
summoning in a darkened room, only with a candle light, the candle stood beside
a wooden board and while the incantation was being told, all of us were holding
hands and our eyes were closed. After we had stopped summoning, we released our
grips and everybody was sitting in the circle around a wooden board. Hands of that
person who wished to ask a question were put onto a horseshoe and the person con-
cerned pronounced the question he wished to put to the ghost.
(M. H., born 1991, female, university student, Prague)13
Some oldest recorded versions preferred the apparition to be designated in English
as Bloody Mary.14 Later on, this was translated partially to Krvavá Mary, which doubt-
less is a dominating form today (Mary in this compound word sounds as a foreign-
12 See note Nr 11.
13 Part of long annotated text documented retrospectively from her own memories and with help of her
cousin by Markéta Hlaváčková, student of “Introduction to Oral Narratives” course at the Faculty of
Humanities, Charles University in Prague, in 2013.
14 Similarly to Russia (Bayduzh, 2014), Czech setting also most often understands under the term Bloody
Mary a kind of alcoholic drink; quite popular also was the radical feminist Internet magazine Bloody
Mary riot grrrlzin, published between 2005 and 2011 (Bloody Mary riot grrrlzin, 2014).
Petr Janeček
language name that implicates Anglo-Saxon environment; the correct Czech transla-
tion should be Krvavá Marie). Similarly to Russia, this foreign name leads to chil-
dren’s tendency to understand this figure as a spirit of a foreigner who died abroad.
This tendency primarily results in connecting the ghost from the mirror with histori-
cal figures of the English Queen Mary I. Tudor (1516-58) and Mary Stuart, Queen of
Scots (1542-1587), as is the case in the West and even more widely in Russia. Recent-
ly, this process of historicization has become more popular especially thanks to blogs
and other texts published in the Internet and written by children or adolescents.15
A typical example can be offered by the article Bloody Mary written by user Liz on
15thApril 2009 at a blog that is devoted to Guardians of Time Trilogy, the literary series
for youth, by Marianne Curley. This article explicitly combines the texts borrowed
from literature, the Internet, and oral tradition with school history:
Who was and who is Bloody Mary? It is not easy to answer this question because
about 50 different stories are narrated. One story says Bloody Mary is a witch; an-
other one says she is a disfigured bride. However, Bloody Mary is called by other
names too: Bloody Bones, Hell Mary, Mary Worthington, or Mary Jane. Some leg-
ends even go as far as to say that she is the Virgin Mary. On the contrary, different
legends say she is Satan’s sister, daughter, or wife! Ritual ceremonies that can sum-
mon Bloody Mary differ from each other as well. However, the most common ele-
ments used in the rituals are a mirror, a darkened room, and repeated chanting of
a certain spell. Some versions say Mary can be called only on certain days. Other
versions describe that water must drip onto the mirror, or that you have to hold, for
example, a knife in your hand etc. On the other hand, some legends say that you at-
tempt to summon Bloody Mary whenever you go around a mirror in the dark,
whether you like it or not. Nevertheless, in most legends a ritual must be performed.
A certain incantation must be chanted beside the mirror, too. Moreover, even these
incantations do not agree with each other. There are many versions saying which in-
cantation shall be used. For instance: Bloody Mary, I believe in Mary Worth, Bloody
Mary, I have your baby, or the Lord’s Prayer told backwards… Some rituals often in-
clude sitting in a circle, holding each other hands and lots of lit candles.
Well, I also hassled almost everybody with this as I did with Mary and this I was told
by Isabela...x)
As to one story, she was a little girl with pustules covering all her body and bleeding,
and children jeered at her. Then she died and so did the children.
According to others, she was a blind girl who killed somebody and they hung her.
She might gouge out the eyes and break mirrors into small pieces.16
The following comments taken over from the discussion about the above article
present an apt summarization of native, emic understanding of this practice by Czech
children and adolescents. At the same time, they document its ambivalent status be-
tween reality and fiction, which is typical for dialogical genre of legends in general
whose “truthfulness” is continuously constructed within the process of social com-
munication (Dégh, 2001), in this case by means of the Internet communication:
15 The most informative Czech blog written by children and adolescents devoted solely to the Bloody
Mary phenomenon is called Krvavá Mery (Bloody Mery), started by an 11-year old girl in 2011 (Krvavá
Mery 2014).
16 Krvavá Mary (2014).
otherwise this is an interesting article, it is told by us that if you want to call Bloody
Mary you must get in front of a mirror at midnight and repeat 3-times in a row:
“Bloody Mary”… I have heard that friends of my schoolmates did this and their
faces were scratched…... nwm, nom.. 
(Oroniel15, 19th April 2009, 17:43)
good heavens, no Mary exists and especially a bloody one
(Bubu, 10th February 2010, 22:27)
Sure, she exists. When I was about 12, with a friend of mine we chanted 3-times into
the mirror “bloody Mary”. We made a joke of it and went to bed. However, in the
morning, I had a finely scratched letter “M” on my forehead and my friend had the
same on her forearm. So I believe in her and I have respect until now. By the way,
I am 20 now.
(Ingrid, 7th March 2010, 17:09)
It may be true indeed it’s a legend so something is true and something not but one
thing is sure bloody Mary existed and I don’t know the other things about her
(Leon, 4th May 2010, 10:45)17
To a large extent, the growth in popularity of Krvavá Mary in the Czech Republic
corresponds – with regard to time – to the period after 2005 when fairly mass Internet
access was created for Czech households – at that time, more than half of all house-
holds had access to the Internet (Czech Statistical Office, 2012). Today, the Czech-
language Internet documents plenty of texts and audio-visual information dealing
with this figure. Recently, her growing popularity has been influenced mostly by so-
cial networks, especially Facebook and YouTube, which complete the pop-cultural,
mainly film inspirations that dominated at the turn of the millennium. The Internet
with its interactive nature has an advantage over pop-cultural inspirations. Thanks to
this, the Internet constitutes a vital platform to discuss this issue; it can supplement
the oral tradition functioning in a similar way. This fact is supported by the discus-
sion about the video-clip Krvavá Mary, accompanied by Lady Gaga’s song Bloody
Mary in the “corresponding style”. The video-clip was made by user Skarletei on 26
January 2012 on YouTube. This document gives a peculiar witness to growing plural-
ity in local folk knowledge about this practice that intricately combines the school
and the “Internet” history with the products of global popular culture, which are pro-
duced within the discourse of contemporary cultural literacy based mainly on mass
mmm except for a few minor mistakes and some things which were not correct, it
was quite OK :) and chosen lady gaga :) well done except that it did not have to be
just Marie the first or a witch but this also could concern the virgin Mary :) by the
way where did you find out that brutal death is waiting immediately after the first
invocation??? as to my sources I think only after the third one :)
(Sui Sykes)
17 All three comments can be found online at Krvavá Mary (2014).
Petr Janeček
A ghost can appear anywhere you just have to know how to call him.
You don’t have to, I have read either it can be done in the dark or if you have a can-
dle. Isn’t it all the same? Still and all, you can call her.
You stand in front of a mirror (in the dark!), you say 3times Bloody Mary
Some comments refer to emergent local peculiarities that might be based on local
oral tradition combining the globally widespread motifs with a traditional folklore
motif of a spurned bride:
I believe in her. Because a lot is rumoured about her but I wouldn’t like to call her.
I don’t know if she is a witch or Queen Mary I. However, I know she could be a bride
if this is the case. She is the talk of ours we think she is a bride, who was at the altar
and her bridegroom left her. If this is true, so she began to kill people when she
killed her bridegroom who ran away from the wedding altar. I just know that some-
thing like this is in existence and it is among us 
(Zina Ťoková)19
Other localization strategies relate this practice to particular events in medieval or
modern Czech history mediated by school lessons or mass media:
Krvavá Máry… She was a witch who was burned to death as John Huss was, some-
time in those days… When you call her, you wake up on the next day with bleeding
letters KM on your hand…20
They (schoolmates – note by P. J.) say that it is the spirit of the lady from Kuřim
with a knife who killed her children and her sister last year...21
At some elementary schools, Krvavá Mary gets involved in completely new con-
texts and she is called by alternative names too, again inspired by works of popular
culture (horror movie Ring):
If Samara or Bloody Mary cuts with her knife a pupil in primary third year (the cut
cannot be seen so the victim does not know about it), then he or she dies in the 8th
or 9th year.
(T. Ř., born 2003, female, schoolchild, Brno)22
The secondary consequence of Krvavá Mary’s popularity in the Internet and on tel-
evision consists – in contrast to dominating “confirmation” of her existence by these
“reliable” sources, in a certain distance and its involvement into the fictive worlds,
18 All three comments can be found at Skarletei (2014). For folkloristical approach to comments on leg-
end-related performances on YouTube videos, see Tucker 2011.
19 Skarletei (2014).
20 A. K., born 1999, female, schoolchild, Prague, collected in 2009 in family setting.
21 N. F., born 1996, female, schoolchild, Brno, collected in 2008 in family setting.
22 Text documented by Veronika Frňková, student of “Introduction to Study of Folklore” course at the In-
stitute of European Ethnology, Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University in Brno, in 2013.
made by a group of children. However, this fictitiousness is mostly not reflected in re-
al social practice. Many respondents feel respect for this demonic figure even in their
adulthood, as documented by interpretations of interviews with respondents con-
ducted by student researchers:
The narrated story was not considered to be true, perhaps because it is well known
and adapted for screen in more versions. Yet the narrator would not do the particu-
lar act.23
The narrator heard the narration from her friends when she was child. She under-
stands the narration as a non-sense but she would not perform the ritual. The nar-
rator does not perceive the superstition as a definitely truthful one but her supersti-
tiousness and belief do not allow her to perform this ritual. It can be said that
instinctively she considers it to be true.24
He understands the story as truthfully anchored in the past. He takes the same view
thereof even today. Interpretation: the narrator considers the story to be funny and
full of adrenaline. On the other side, he admits that he believed and had a great re-
spect, too; he confesses he believes until now.25
Paradoxically, frequent absence of social routine in real summoning the demonic
figure from a mirror confirms its existence and cultural relevance: although on a ver-
bal level Krvavá Mary is often disparaged and considered to be a mere “superstition”,
on a behavioural level even a large group of adults does not set about summoning her.
Therefore, contemporary cultural practice of the invocation of Bloody Mary is
strongly localized; during this localization, not only her name has been changed
(from international Bloody Mary to Czech Krvavá Mary), also her position within do-
mestic cultural tradition of children’s “historical occultism” has evolved. This type of
occultism requires the invoked figures to have historical, pseudo-historical (in the
case no historical figure is available), or at least pop-cultural models provided with an
accompanying etiological narrative. The Czech Krvavá Mary (or even right archaic
names Máří or Máry) presents a vital amalgam of oral and customary tradition whose
cultural relevance is secondarily confirmed by “real” historical precedents mediated
by school lessons and reading, popular culture, mass media and more often by Inter-
net communication of children and youth. The terrifying visual impression is not on-
ly confirmed in this way but – as pointed out by Bill Ellis – when naming and provid-
ing it with a particular history, children and youth win control over it (Ellis, 2003:
There is talk among little children at open-air schools and summer camps that if
you stand in front of a mirror in a darkened room at midnight, you look in it and
call “Bloody Mary” three-times, Mary appears in the mirror. One girl wanted to at-
23 Interpretation of Nikol Vodičková. See note Nr. 3.
24 Interpretation of Ondřej Taker. See note Nr. 5.
25 Interpretation of Nikola Černá. See note Nr. 7.
Petr Janeček
tempt this because she didn’t believe anybody and to prove this is not true. Nothing
happened first but after a while, a strange bloody figure appeared and scratched her
face. She had to recall it, otherwise it would have killed her.
According to the children, this superstition originates in a real story that happened
in the 19th century in America. A certain woman with her children and husband
lived a satisfied life there. One day, however, civil war broke out and Mary’s hus-
band had to enter the army. The war lasted many years and the husband had not
come back yet. Moreover, in the region where Mary and her children lived, famine
and droughts occurred. People began suspecting Mary of witchcraft, they avoided
her and threw the blame for their poverty on her. Mary shut herself with her children
off from the outside world in her house and stopped going out. In despair, she killed
her children, for whom she was not able to support, and she went insane. She used
to go round the town with bloody hands and people began nicknaming her Bloody
Mary. However, when her husband came back home from the war after many years,
he could not recognize his wife in the disfigured beggar woman roaming around the
house and on the assumption that she was a thief he killed her. After he had found
out who she was, he became dismayed and killed himself by jumping off a rock.
Since that time if somebody chants three-times in a row Bloody Mary, Mary appears
and kills him or her because she understands this address as a defamation of char-
Where to search for the roots of this ritual practice of children and youth? Which
way does it relate to traditional folklore of the Czech-speaking space? At present, we
have no reliable documents about the existence of this practice in the West before the
1970s, namely before 1972, available (Langlois, 1978). The only documented evidence
is grounded in a mention of a single respondent of Marc Armitage who postulates
a similar practice existed in Great Britain as early as the 1950s (Armitage, 2006: 8).
However, some authors noticed its affinity, of form and partially content, with
prophetic rituals performed by young girls in Anglo-Saxon lands in front of water sur-
faces or mirrors on the eve of the All Saints´ Day to see their future sweethearts. These
rituals originated in Pan-European widespread prophetic practices with mirrors (Klint-
berg, 1988: 162-164). The folklorist Jiří Polívka in his thorough study documented
plenty of examples of such practices and relating folklore texts within a wide geographic
and time scope (Polívka, 1917-1918). The most known domestic example consists in
the literary adaptation of this motif in the ballad Christmas Eve by the notable Czech
poet and folklorist Karel Jaromír Erben (1811-1870) published in his collection Kytice
[A Bouquet] from 1853 and 1861 (Erben, 2012). At the same time, the hardworking field
collector Václav Krolmus documented a specific use of a mirror with the aim to see
a demonic female figure, namely a witch, in a Czech setting, in the text relating to cel-
ebrations of Sts. Philip and James Night (Walpurgis Night) on 1 May: “Many of them
bring mirrors with them, put them facing the fire and stare into them in order to better
recognize the witches who are standing or kneeling, going or sitting round the fire.”
Nevertheless, as he adds afterwards, this is not a description of a ritual practice, but
a folklore text: “Czech folk tales and superstitions give witness thereof. Do not think,
you simple soul, that this happens in our days; this happened when pagans were here
and when they converted to Christianity in many places that were so holy for pagans in
26 Anonymous respondent, archive of Petr Janeček.
Bohemia. (Krolmus, 2013: 314). After all, a mirror was one of traditional attributes of
St. Walpurga, considered to be a patroness against magic and witchcraft, as Josef Virgil
Grohmann documents in the oldest scientific German-written collection of Czech su-
perstitions Die Sagen aus Böhmen [Legends of Bohemia].According to his mythological
theory, Grohmann understands Walpurga as one of Weisse Jungfrauen, i.e. White Vir-
gins, a reflection of pre-Christian pagan goddesses, who, besides other things, tell pairs
of lovers their common future (Grohmann, 1863: 32-34, 44-46). In his work Aberglauben
und Gebräuche aus Böhmen [Superstitions and Customs of Bohemia] from 1864, devoted
to Czech superstitions and customs that he acquired through oral tradition and found
in written sources, Grohmann mentions plenty of folk beliefs that explicitly connect
mirror with night apparitions of demonic beings, or with the evocation of negative
states, for instance:
The one who wants to see a devil shall look into a mirror at night.
(Grohmann, 1864: 27)
A sick person should not look out of the window; otherwise his sickness will get
(Grohmann, 1864: 151)
If a person looks into a mirror and can see another face beside his own face, this is
a bad sign announcing near death.
(Grohmann, 1864: 220)
The one who looks into a mirror at night can see a devil in it.
(Grohmann, 1864: 224)
If a person looks into a mirror in the evening, he will go down with hepatitis or he
will see his death in the mirror.
(Grohmann, 1864: 225)
The texts of legends and memorates about the use of mirrors to reveal witches by
wise women are documented by Antonín Tomíček at the turn of the 19th and 20th cen-
turies. In his work Víra v duchy na Litomyšlsku [Belief in Ghosts in the Region of Lito-
myšlsko] he wrote: “Well, there lives an old woman in that village Sezemice and she
might know more than just eating the bread. She shows the witch in a mirror and she can
punish her however anybody might wish” (Tomíček, 1926: 38); as to the legend, the ex-
ecutioner from the town of Litomyšl might have had similar skill (Tomíček, 1926: 48).
Such folk beliefs potentially form a folk discourse that explicitly combined mirrors,
night, prophetic practices and negative figures (witches, Devil, Death) appearing there-
in. Almost one hundred years later, this led to an easier acceptance of the Bloody Mary
ritual practice in the Czech lands.27 However, serious documents are missing. According
27 The theme of a mirror in Czech folk culture is summarized by the corresponding entry in Národopisná
encyklopedie Čech, Moravy a Slezska [Ethnographical Encyclopaedia of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia]
(Kafka, 2007), within legend tradition then by Katalog českých démonologických pověstí [Catalogue of
Czech demonological legends] (Luffer, 2014). In Central-European tradition, besides witches, a mirror
is more often connected with devil, demonic figures of vampire type (Trudenspiegel) and basilisk.
Alexandra Navrátilová mentions traditional practice of covering the mirrors in the house after a family
member had died “so that the dead could not choose somebody to follow him” (Navrátilová, 2005: 116).
Petr Janeček
to currently available data, children’s occultism in the 1970s and 1980s did not work
with mirrors as a matter of principle. This means for communication with the behind
world was documented in a Czech setting around the year 2000. At that time, mirrors
were also used, probably under the influence of global tradition on Bloody Mary, to
summon “traditional” Czech ghosts like Božena Němcová in a partially international
setting, perhaps not a coincidence. The following example demonstrates how this
global form of children’s folklore has gradually become an “A-text” in the Czech culture
in the Yuri Lotman’s sense; thus a “valuable” text transformed into the own cultural
system with the intention of being safeguarded and reproduced (Lozoviuk, 2005: 69):
When I was about 10, my parents left my 2-year-older friend and me at home alone
to watch each other. My friend told me then what she had heard at school about
summoning the spirit of Božena Němcová. She might have scratched out one girl’s
eyes after she was summoned, so we decided to attempt if this works.
We made small paper stairs from half of A4 format sheet; we moved the stairs to the
mirror so that Božena Němcová could get out of the mirror and enter the room. We
lit a candle, put the stairs to the mirror, locked in the bathroom, and started calling
her. Nothing happened, yet we were pretty scared and we turned on all the lights in
the flat to be on the safe side.
Note: Until now, I have not understood why exactly Božena Němcová should be
a wicked ghost and scratch the eyes out. Somebody told me once, she lived a hard life
and she desires to take vengeance, but still and all, it doesn’t make much sense.28
Similar documents supporting the combination of folk prophetic rituals and nega-
tive figures can be found in the Anglo-Saxon world where love prophetic rituals with
mirrors used to relate to the figure of a witch in popular culture (e. g. postcards) at the
beginning of the 20th century. They could influence the next development of this chil-
dren’s practice (Ellis, 2000; 2004). Even based on such “incoherent” data, the tradi-
tional ethnographical approaches perhaps could create an anachronistic short link
between the Czech folk divination and superstitions, and the contemporary practice
of summoning Krvavá Mary. However, as pointed out by Carl von Sydow in his study
criticizing Wilhelm Mannhardt’s theories, folkloristic studies in their interpretations
should keep realizing the “importance of starting not from preconceived mythological
reality, but from contact with living reality.” (Sydow, 1934: 308).
Therefore, taking into account the present absence of more recent data supporting
similar practices from the 20th century, it is suitable not to embark on unsubstantiated
historical speculations and consider the contemporary Czech invocation of Krvavá
Mary to be a product of diffusion from the West during the last fifteen years.29 Exactly
the approaches of neo-diffusionism and neo-migrationism, that have been revived in
folkloristics alongside the study of contemporary folklore (Pels, 1992) in the last
The ambivalent nature of mirrors, including the mentions about Czech forms of the ritual with Bloody
Mary calling has recently been emphasized by Jan Lukavec in his “cultural history” of mirrors
(Lukavec, 2010: 45-47).
28 Text documented by Katsiaryna Zayats, student of “Introduction to Oral Narratives” course at the
Faculty of Humanities, Charles University in Prague, in 2013.
29 A single usage of the name Máry (Černá Máry – Black Mary) in Czech children’s folklore of previous
periods can be found in a counting-out rhyme that was recorded at the beginning of the 1980s: Černá
Máry, skoč do jámy. Kdo tam je? Čert tam je. Co tam dělá? Vaří kaši. Čím ji mastí? Kolomastí. Čím ji jí?
Lopatou. Má palici chlupatou (Votruba, Horáková, Kadlecová, Maxová, Pleskotová, 2010: 88). The pos-
sibility of polygenetic development of identical elemental imaginations must be taken into account as
decades, can help to explain mechanisms of how folklore texts of the past were wan-
dering, in case these approaches are applied on the circulation of contemporary texts.
Arjun Appadurai’s theoretical model postulates that contemporary social imaginary,
working with five aspects or dimensions of global cultural flow acting in parallel (eth-
nospaces, technoscapes, financescapes, mediascapes, ideoscapes) that in his opinion
best describes the constant “fluidity” of the contemporary world, it proves to us this
practice in a fully new light (Appadurai, 1990; 1996). Its appearance in the Czech Re-
public at the turn of millennium was not just a mere mechanical transfer of a folklore
text from point A to point B by concrete people, but a process functioning on more
levels simultaneously. A certain role (even if a smaller one than traditional folklore mi-
gration would emphasize) was played by the transformations in ethnoscapes, in par-
ticular by the return of Czech expatriates and their families after the fall of the Iron
Curtain in 1989 who brought with them Western practices of summoning a ghost from
a mirror (as documented by one of our examples from Czech expatriates from Sweden),
but also by later influx of tourists, foreign workers and after that also expats. The flow
of ethnoscapes to a certain extent influenced by the flow of financescapes,was supple-
mented by mutually interconnected transformations in technoscapes, mediascapes
andideoscapes, which are crucial for constructing these local cultural expressions. It
was exactly the popular culture, penetrating through these dimensions and relating to
transformations and easy-to-reach film and telecommunication technologies that gave
rise to local Czech practices of Bloody Mary invocation. The impact of popular culture
was synergistically supported by the fast creation of the Internet access in the early
2000s. Thanks to local changes in social imaginary, a unique amalgam developed here
of pop-cultural products spread by mass media, negotiating of the cultural meanings
in the Internet, ritual practices, folk beliefs, and orally widespread texts. These can
hardly be designated according to traditional folkloristic terminology as a “mere” local
folklore oicotype (Sydow, 1932). Its fundamentally multi-media nature is heading, in
agreement with Waldemar Kuligowski, towards understanding it as a specific form of
popular culture in which a mythic vision of the world, typical for folklore before, is im-
plemented (Kuligowski, 2010). Not only a mirror but also a TV screen can become
a window to another world (Klintberg, 1988: 162-164). Today it is mainly a computer
screen, perhaps even more significant means in the case of Czech Krvavá Mary.
Children’s legends are true mirrors of the society. Their actors, actions, language, man-
nerisms, and paraphernalia originate in everyday living. Children did not invent witch-
es, bogeymen, vampires, werewolves, Bigfoot, or the Hookman, rather they learned
well, as documented by the following personal experience narrative: Helena has two older sister who
sometimes got up to mischief, scared her or ran away from her as happens in all families. When she was
a child, she was afraid of going to the bathroom alone because she had to pass a darkened hall. There-
fore, she always woke one of the sisters to come with her. The sisters did not want her to wake them up
every night, so they gave her a torch that she always shined in order not to be scared. After some time,
they made fun of her and told her that if she shined the torch on a mirror at midnight and she looked
in it, she would die. There was, of course, a mirror in the hall, so everything repeated from the begin-
ning and the sisters had to come with her to the bathroom because she was again afraid, even with the
torch..“ H. B., female, born 1989, clerk, Česká Lípa – Svárov. Text documented by Hana Málková, stu-
dent of “Introduction to Oral Narratives” course at the Faculty of Humanities, Charles University in
Prague, in 2012.
Petr Janeček
about them in media the same way they learned everything else prescribed by both pri-
vate and public education. In script and in custom, the canon of legendary characters,
heroes, and antiheroes is continually rewritten and updated to stay contemporary.
(Dégh, 2001: 246)
Since 2007, a Bloody Mary stuffed toy produced by the American company Toy Vault
is available for purchase on the Internet everywhere in the world (including the Czech
Republic). The company depicts this ephemeral being coming from the other side of
a mirror as a terrifyingly real black-haired woman dressed in white, with bloody hands,
face showing large witch nose, and empty eyes. The serial product from Nightmares;
Fact or Fiction line commodifies the folklore figure for the needs of toy industry besides
Mothman, Voodoo Doll, and Chupacabra, other American folklore phenomena that are
on the boundary between the real and the fictive. Similarly to children’s narrations
(and their folkloristic explanations), it garnishes Bloody Mary with a marketing mixture
consisting of allegedly real history, folklore, and causal explanation of murderous ap-
parition’s motivation: “The legend of Bloody Mary has been a figure of American myth
for decades. However, many people don’t realize Bloody Mary was a real person. Mary
Worth, a beautiful, vain, young woman, was killed violently in a car accident in the
early 1960’s. Her face was horribly disfigured in the accident, thus the legend began.
Mary was so angry over her mutilation, she swore to destroy all who called to her through
the thing she loved the most … a mirror. Are the abundant mirrors of the world simple
sheets of glass? Or does Mary wait patiently behind the reflective surface...”30
Like this toy, also Czech Krvavá Mary and Máří constitute a rather significant cul-
tural import, a phenomenon which originated on the other side of the Atlantic. Con-
temporary however, Czech cultural practices of summoning the terrifying ghost from
a mirror demonstrate the fruits of globalization that is far away from the serial prod-
uct of consumer culture. Similarly to Russia and other countries of the former social-
istic bloc, the invasion of Bloody Mary in the 1990s did not mean a mere “American-
ization”, “Westernization” or passive “globalization” of local children’s folklore. On
the contrary - instead of cultural homogenization, in all these countries the global
was syncretically combined with the local. In Russia, there came to the symbiosis
with the local tradition of The Queen of Spades invocation and to the formation of her
“kinship” to Bloody Mary; in the Czech Republic, she was included in local context of
relative demonological practices of children and youth, mainly those of ghost invoca-
tion. Contemporary folklore expressions of this type might be one of few cultural
phenomena that can be designated as hybrid, syncretic products of globalization, far
away from pessimistic reading this process as cultural and social homogenization
(Bauman 1998). While summoning Krvavá Mary, or talking about it, Czech children
form minimum liminal social spaces the structure and form of which correspond to
globally widespread spaces formed by American, Russian or German children. How-
ever, they fill these spaces with locally specific, Czech historical content.
The contemporary practices of Krvavá Mary or Máří invocation are rather a result
of glocalization construed as an intersection of the global and the local when construct-
ing the cultural phenomena; after all, one of the main mechanisms of glocalization in-
cludes the adaptation of global universal forms to local contents (Robertson, 1992).
30 Toy Vault (2014).
According to this conception, the global cultural forms do not force out and exclude
the local ones – on the contrary, they create them to a certain extent – the local form of
Czech Bloody Mary would have never come into being without globalization. Especially
thanks to it, or more precisely to the globally distributed products of popular culture,
this element of Anglo-Saxon children’s folklore could overcome significant time and
space boundaries to become assimilated in Czech folklore and to influence the con-
temporary appearance of children’s demonological practices. It followed plenty of folk-
lore phenomena that were transferred to the Czech-speaking space from abroad by
means of elite, scholar, artificial, semi-popular, or popular culture in the past and that
are viewed by us as “traditional” or “local” – folktales, legends, jokes or children’s
games. Was it belles letters, exempla, chapbooks, TV series, movies or Internet com-
munication that acted as media to transfer these phenomena, in all the cases locally vi-
able and authentically viewed tradition developed that is able to absorb various kinds
of local impulses and that – to a large extent – lives its own independent life.
This article is published as part of the Charles University Research Development
Programme No. 09: Literature and Arts in Intercultural Contexts, Sub-programme:
Formula Fiction: ‘Trivial’ and ‘Pulp’ Genres in the Context of Historical Development
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PETR JANEČEK (*1978) – Assistant Professor at the Institute of Ethnology, Faculty
of Arts, Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic (2012) and external lecturer
at Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Arts, West Bohemian University in
Pilsen and other Czech universities. His professional interests include contempo-
rary collective forms of expressive culture (especially prosaic folklore) and theory,
methodology and history of folklore studies. He also worked as the Head of the
Ethnographical Department of the Historical Museum of the National Museum in
Prague, Czech Republic (2008–2012). His main publications include a series of
three annotated collections of Czech contemporary legends and rumours titled
Černá sanitka (2006; 2007; 2008) and various articles on contemporary folklore. He
is also editor of the collective monograph Folklor atomového věku. Kolektivně
sdílené prvky expresivní kultury v současné české společnosti (2011) and, with Eliza -
beth Tucker and Elissa R. Henken, of collection of abstracts titled Perspectives on
Contemporary Legend. International Society for Contemporary Legend Research 32nd
International Conference. Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague. Prague,
Czech Republic. Tuesday 3—Sunday 8 June, 2014. Conference Abstracts (2014).
The study follows the trajectory of a group of re-emigrants who took an active part in the partisan (antifascist, or Communist) resistance movement during the Second World War in Yugoslavia and who established their own partisan unit, the Czechoslovak Brigade of Jan Žižka. After the war, partisans with Czechoslovak citizenship decided to answer the call from Czechoslovakia, and they and their families settled the areas from which the old German residents had been expelled. After their arrival, the state welcomed them as antifascist heroes (freedom fighters), but at the local level, they were accepted as undesired “outlanders”, “other Czechs”, or “Yugoslavians”. After Cominform issued its first resolution, the regime of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia stigmatized them as being “unreliable for the state”. After the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, they found themselves in a position of memory bearers, a position that did not correspond to the contemporary hegemonic anti-Communist narrative. Due to this fact, the second generation of re-emigrants in particular feels that their ancestors have been unjustifiably erased from history, their legacy and imagined family honour unrecognized. At their own commemorative meetings, they clearly demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the contemporary exclusion of their partisan ancestors from the post-Communist national narrative. I argue in the text that the perceived non-ethnic otherness in the past alongside their historical experience and the contemporary post- Communist politics of memory led the re-emigrants to the formation of their own memory community (and thus identity).
Full-text available
Publication presents an annotated collection of contemporary legends (urban legends) and rumors currently circulating in oral tradition of the Czech Republic. The book contains over 130 legends and rumors in full literal versions. Texts were collected with help of over 100 informants of various age, gender, education and profession backgrounds mostly in region of Prague. Besides majority of oral texts there are also some electronical texts, collected from electronic discussion board, chat and e-mail sources. All texts are supplemented with details about informants, as well as with explanation of origin, international parallels and meanings of selected legends and rumors. The book also contains list of international parallels of legends, list of informants, selected bibliography and epilogue describing international and Czech research on contemporary folklore. The book is divided into thirteen chapters according to prevalent theme of the contemporary legends included. The first chapter, Murderers, Deviants and Spectres deals with horror and criminal legends, second chapter, Treacherous Aliens contains rumors about aliens and ethnic minorities, third chapter, Unexpected Ingredients deals with rumors about ethnic restaurants and fast foods. Fauna and Flora contains legends about dreadful contaminations and unfortunate pets, Sex and Erotic deals with legends about sexual affairs and embarassing situations, Alcohol and Drugs contains contemporary druglore and party stories. Injuries, Accidents and Mistakes describes popular narratives about hilarious accidents, Automobile contains legends about cars and driving, Public City Transit and Railway deals with stories localized in trams, buses and trains. Elementary School and Children Camp contains children folklore and superstitions, High School and University describes student and academic folklore, For Witnesses contains narratives connected to personalities and places of the 1980s – last years of rule of Communist regime. Last chapter, Offices and Bureaus, deals with contemporary office folklore. Majority of Czech contemporary legends and rumors seem to have international parallels across Europe and other continents; genesis of some can be traced at least to the 1960s. One of the most popular Czech legends seems to be The Black Ambulance. This story about mysterious car kidnapping children was widespread mainly in the 1980s. Other legends and rumors popular in the Czech Republic are stories about hilarious accidents and recent bussiness folklore about supermarkets and ethnic restaurants.
Full-text available
Although there are many discrepancies in definitions of contemporary legends as a folklore genre, one characteristic seems beyond dispute: the goal of the plot is to excite the interest of the audience through an uncommon (unbelievable) story which is told as if it were true. The expected impacts of such stories are feelings of shock, amusement or fear. It is interesting that in the same genre two such different emotional impacts are dominant, and furthermore they are very often present as parts of the same narrative situation or even in the same story. The aim of this paper is to describe two theories which attempt to explain the common principles of the poetics of horror and humour. They were developed by authors exploring the field of the philosophy or theory of art, but in the view of this author they could be inspiring and useful also in folklore studies.
Full-text available
The study presents an overview of folkloristic research of children’s games and play activities conducted on the territory of the Czech Republic since half of the 1800s. After brief presentation of historical folkloristic and ethnological approaches, which played an essential role in shaping general interest in games and playing in academical discourse, it presents three main thematical fields which Czech game and playing research should possibly follow. Folkloristics and ethnology can contribute to the academical study of games and playing in a significant way even today when also other humanities and social sciences, such as psychology and pedagogy, deal with that theme. The first field is developing useful classification and possibly even index of children’s formalized games; this task is well prepared because of many historical classification systems and newer contributions, such as proposal for Type-index of Children’s Games by Gareth Whittaker (2012). The second field is documentation, analysis and interpretation of contemporary children’s formalized games, which are far from being extinct, and – last, but not least – the documentation, analysis and interpretation of contemporary syncretical games such as computer and console games, RPGs and LARPs, including the research of their relation to the entertainment and gaming industry and the popular and mass culture.
The article deals with problems of globalization in relation to mass und popular culture, and in particular to electronic folklore. Emphasis is put on phenomena such as terrorism and online dating. The author quotes jokes, riddles, stories and other genres circulated on the Internet through e-mails and by mobile phones. She also discusses visual folklore (photomontages, etc.). Collected in Poland, the material belongs to global folklore in electronic circulation.