DIANA: Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary…
How many times did you have to say it before you saw her? She’s just an urban legend, so why do we still get creeped out when we are alone at night, in the dark, and we can’t hold our own gaze in the mirror?
Even though many of us summoned her as tweens, egged on by the daring or mean girls in our group, she never actually popped out of the mirror to get us…
What if Bloody Mary does exist, within the neuroanatomy of our very own brains?
Join us as we learn about how our brains manifest and reveal the monster within, today, on the H-files, brought to you by Homespun Haints!
BECKY: hello, everybody, welcome to Homespun Haints! I’m Becky….
DIANA: And I’m Diana…
BECKY: I like the little shimmy you just did!
DIANA: that’s exclusively for your benefit because I know we’re not on a video.
BECKY: right? Right. I can see you, but nobody else can,
DIANA: Just making it more exciting for you, Becky.
BECKY: So we should, we should tell people what we’re doing.
DIANA: What we’re doing? Oh yeah. I guess you’re all here to listen to an episode…
BECKY: tell us about the mini series. We’ll let you…
DIANA: okay. Yes. This is the first episode of a mini series that we like to call. The H Files; a special limited edition Halloween mini series by homespun hints about various aspects of folk lore. Since Becky has a sociology and anthropology and archeology background, she’s going to be specializing in the folklore related to various locales and the spooky stories therein told. And since I have a neuroscience background, I’m going to be focusing on the various physiological aspects of various folklore phenomena.
BECKY: Also, before we get started, Diana, we have another patron to give a shout out to!
DIANA: Yayyyy! Another patron who is also a fellow podcaster!
BECKY: Yes, that is the greatest honor ever when another podcaster becomes a patron…do you want to know who it is?
DIANA: I want to know, who is it? Who is it? Tell me tell me tell me…
BECKY: Have you heard of the podcast Lady Teals’ Curios?
DIANA: I have!
BECKY: Yes. Oh, I love this podcast. Well, anyways, Lady Teal herself has become a patron of the show, and if you haven’t checked out her podcast, please do: Lady Teals’ Curios. I recently listened to a really cool episode where she interviewed somebody who studies sheep brains. And then she’ll also do a wacky Wednesday where she finds something that you may not know very much about and just talks about it. Her most recent one was on random Nautica. Check out Lady Teals’ Curios, and thank you, Lady Teal.
DIANA: Thank you, milady!
BECKY: Diana, let’s proceed with our very first H files episode.
DIANA: So today I’m going to delve deep into…mirrors.
BECKY: Ooo, mirrors are scary.
DIANA: I know, I’m counting on you to bring the terror to this episode, Becky. ‘Cause I know you know a lot more than I do about…
BECKY: Well, I don’t know if I know a lot. I just have my own superstitions and it’s not like they’re as scary as clowns or anything or dolls…but you know…
DIANA: So, if you were looking in a mirror and a clown appeared….
BECKY: …in the mirror behind me and there wasn’t a clown behind me.
DIANA: Or even if there was! I mean, either way, it’d be a little scary.
BECKY: Hmm. Yeah. Well…
DIANA: I mean, what is that clown doing behind you?
BECKY: …if I turned around and the clown wasn’t there, I would get the fuck out of wherever I was.
BECKY: That would be a solid bucket of nope.
DIANA: Solid bucket of nope, understood. When I think about paranormal activity and mirrors, there’s one name that comes to mind, and that would be (since I’m from North America)…
DIANA: Pennywise? Not exactly. No. I was thinking of Bloody Mary.
BECKY: Oh, I was thinking of John Wayne Gacy. Sorry. We’re not true crime….you said clowns…
DIANA: Okay, this is getting weird. So, uh, let’s, let’s talk about things other than clowns for the rest of the night.
BECKY: Okay. Sounds good. Well, first before we get into it, what are you drinking?
DIANA: Oh, I am drinking red wine. Of course.
BECKY: You’re so classy.
DIANA: Aren’t I? Out of a little plastic cup with a little finger notch to hold it by.
BECKY: Pfft aww, so you don’t drop it? But at least it’s a wine glass.
DIANA: It’s from Halter Ranch Vineyard in Paso Robles.
BECKY: Oh, that’s so cute.
DIANA: I got it while I was living in a van, ‘cause plastic glasses…wonderful for living in a van. And you are…?
BECKY: I’m drinking, apparently, what’s called a “pink panty.”
DIANA: Just “pink panty?”
BECKY: So I looked it up, but I’m not going to pull it up again because, um, it caused you to freeze and we had to restart the recording, but I thought it was like a “pink panty pull down” or something. And, apparently that’s when you add beer to it, which sounds utterly disgusting.
DIANA: Eww! So that’s vodka pink, lemonade and beer?!
BECKY: Yeah, that’s a thing.
BECKY: This is actually carbonated pink lemonade from Trader Joe’s and then vodka. And my husband eyed me strangely as I walked into the kitchen, carrying two liters of vodka, with a big smile on my face.
DIANA: And yet, he knows you so well.
BECKY: So, unlike other podcasts that provide these exotic drinks and recipes and all that…sorry, folks, we give you wine in a plastic cup, and a pink panty.
DIANA: It’s a plastic wine glass, darn it. And a pink panty. Oh dear. Yep. That’s our drink recipe for the night. Choose one or the other. Aaaaand…on that note, let’s talk about Bloody Mary. So, first of all, let’s start really basic: have you ever heard of Bloody Mary?
BECKY: Yes, of course; I was once 14…or 12…or 6.
DIANA: I have heard of Bloody Mary and I don’t remember whether or not as a kid I ever played it or experienced it firsthand, but it’s the kind of thing I would have done as a kid. So I imagined that I probably did. The type of experience that I’m thinking of from my history and my folklore that I grew up with was basically the idea that Bloody Mary was a ghost whom you could summon by looking in the mirror in a darkened bathroom and chanting as you stared at your eyes: “Bloody Mary, Bloody, Mary Bloody Mary” three times, and upon summoning the ghost, you would be able to suddenly see her. She would take the place of your reflection, and then she would leap out of the mirror and possess you.
BECKY: Oh, I thought she left that on the mirror and killed you with an axe…
DIANA: Well, this is interesting…
BECKY: …that’s why she’s bloody…
DIANA: Yes, exactly. This is a children’s folklore tale that gets chain lettered along and telephoned into various iterations. But I’ve, I’ve seen with my research, I’ve seen so many different variations of this game. There’s that basic version that I played as a kid. And then there’s another one called hell Mary. Where you say, hell Mary seven times in front of a mirror in a dark room…not hail Mary, just hell Mary…
BECKY: What if you’re saying hail Mary, but you have an accent?
DIANA: What kind of accent would that be?
BECKY: Hail Mary…hail Mary…Hill..where I grew up, you would like…well, I don’t know. It’d be more like “hay’ll.”
DIANA: Hay’ll! Where I grew up, it would be H-E-double hockey sticks Mary. So yes, if you say hell Mary in a mirror, seven times, you will then see Satan in the mirror.
BECKY: Cause Satan’s got nothing better to do…
DIANA: Right? “What do you want?!”
BECKY: “Damn kids, I’ll show them…”
DIANA: So, you know, it’s working because after three times saying it, the mirror should turn red. And then…
BECKY: And then you just keep saying it? Like, who does that?
DIANA: Yeah. I mean, just, uh, kids, um, but you just, you say it and then the mirror turns red and then you say hell Mary a couple more times and then indistinct blurring of the face in the mirror appears…and then you say it seven times and Satan appears. Or, there’s also the iteration where you can chant until you’re screaming the name and spinning at a maximum rate while doing a ballet spot into the mirror every time you spin around.
BECKY: A what?
DIANA:A ballet spot. So you’re spotting with your eyes looking in the mirror every time you spin around…
BECKY: Okay. I didn’t know that was what you called that.
DIANA: Trying not to experience saccadic motions, let’s say…
BECKY: Oh, okay.
DIANA: Yes, very clear now. And then, you can also prick your finger to draw a drop of blood. And when two or more girls in the bathroom, the darkened bathroom, press the droplets of blood on their fingers together and say, we believe in Bloody Mary, 10 times their eyes shut that will also summon melody, Mary. There’s several narratives occurring across the nation about having to flush the toilet as part of the Bloody Mary ritual, which I found interesting because you know, the, the running water association with hauntings and paranormal activity…
BECKY: Okay. So that dates back to the 1500’s, I’m sure.
DIANA: Well, perhaps, because..
BECKY: No I’m kidding!
DIANA: As far as I can tell…
BECKY: What do you do, like, pour the chamber pot?
DIANA: Pour from one chamber pot into the other, so there’s constantly flowing urine in the background of your chant. Hey, you can only hope it’s urine. But basically, the first written account of this urban legend or child folklore was in 1977, I believe, so that was the first modern written account that I know of, by folklorist Janet Langlois, in the essay “Mary Wales, I Believe In You: Myth and Ritual Subdued,” 1978, actually.
So there are so many versions of this. This is just generally thought of as a North American phenomenon, but the avenging spirit will go by the names Bloody Mary, Bloody Bones, hell Mary, Mary Worth, Mary Worthington, Mary Weathersby, Mary Wales, Mary Johnson, Mary Lou, Mary Jane, Sally, Kathy, Agnes.
BECKY: Mary Jane! Heh heh…sorry.
DIANA: …Svarte Madame…
BECKY: Svarte Madame? What does svarte mean? Okay. Is that Russian?
DIANA: Я не знаю.
BECKY: Yeah, okay. Is that Russian?
BECKY: You just said “I don’t know” in Russian…
DIANA: svarte…it sounds like Russian to me, but maybe not? Madame is definitely not Russian, is it?
DIANA: Okay. So anyways, this Svarte Madame also had a brother named Bloody Paul, by some accounts…
BECKY: Interesting that these are all highly biblical names.
DIANA: Isn’t it though. And apparently in Catholic schools, the rumor goes around that [playing] “Bloody Mary” is actually going to summon the Virgin Mary, who cries Bloody tears.
BECKY: Oh, then why is she scary? And why does she kill you with an axe?
DIANA: I guess in that version, she doesn’t kill you with an axe, because, I mean, there were also several versions of the summiting ritual obviously, and what you chant, including “Bloody Mary,” “Bloody Mary I killed your baby,” “Kathy, come out” and “I believe in Mary Worth…”
BECKY: Oh, Kathy? Oh, really? Kathy?
DIANA: Kathy. Yeah. With a K.
BECKY: Geez, that’s a different one.
DIANA: I don’t know. So it’s, it’s very varied, what the potential results could be, based on the legend. You could either, in subjective order, in my opinion, from bad to worse…when she appears, she may merely peer malevolently out through the mirror at you. She might scream at you, drink your blood, drive you mad, fiercely scratch your face or eyes, strangle you, strike you dead, steal your soul, or drag you through the mirror to stay with her forever. So in very few accounts, did I hear about axe murders, but I did hear a lot about scratching…scratching you. And apparently it’s especially powerful if you tell her “I killed your baby.”
BECKY: Poor Mary…stuck in a mirror…
DIANA: I know, right? According to the folklore, Mary is said to be either a witch who was executed a hundred years ago, or maybe in the 17th century Salem witch trials, or even a more modern woman who died in a local car accident in which her face was hideously mutilated, somehow connected with an African cult, a woman murdered by a jealous lover, a woman who survived, some kind of tragedy that disfigured her and therefore she now is determined to harm other beautiful young women. It’s funny, but it seems like folklorists can’t decide where the legend actually comes from or started. Because like I said, the first paper was written in the late seventies, and most people who went to school before the late seventies do not report doing this…in North America, at least. If you don’t do very deep seeking into this, you just kind of assume it’s Bloody Mary/Mary the First/Mary Tudor of England; Queen of England from 1553-on (five years), daughter of Henry VIII, right? So, she was named Bloody Mary because she was trying to murder as many Protestants as possible to convert the country back to Catholocism. And there’s no real historical evidence that that’s true.
BECKY: That she was trying to kill the Protestants?
DIANA: No, no, no. That’s very true. She did indeed kill a whole lot of Protestants. Like, she was trying to save their immortal souls, which at the time, you know, 1553 was like, so much more important than their lives. Yeah, folklorists are not convinced this is the real origin of Bloody Mary. Some people say the Countess Elizabeth Bathory, you know, the one that bathed in children’s blood?
BECKY: Oh, yeah, the Hungarian chick? Oh my gosh, she’s such a freaky-deaky figure!
DIANA: Isn’t she the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula as well?
BECKY: She’s one of them.
BECKY: I mean, Vlad the Impaler was the big one.
DIANA: Oh, yeah, of course.
BECKY: Yeah. But she, I mean, she was just, like, oh God…and didn’t they end up, like, locking her in a tower for the rest of her life?
DIANA: …but she looked young and beautiful while she was rotting away in that tower…maybe…
BECKY: Well, I mean, it was all delusional. She thought that the blood of virgins was making her skin less wrinkly, but…
DIANA: …blood has a lot of…collagen (j/k, no it doesn’t.)…right…I mean…maybe…I don’t know…
BECKY: It’s just a disgusting story. I mean, can you imagine? Well, apparently she stank, cause she would like, dip her whole body in it.
BECKY: Anyway, keep going. Sorry.
DIANA: So that’s also not the real source, according to historians and folklorists.
BECKY: That one I could believe.
BECKY: I mean, there’s been plenty of Kings and Queens that have just killed people for purposes that, in their hearts, they thought were noble…
DIANA: ...but remember, this is children’s folklore. So it’s passed around amongst people who have no real concept of history.
BECKY: That’s true.
DIANA: …then again, you know, sometimes they call her Mary Worth and Mary Worth is a long-running comic strip in the Sunday paper in the United States, but no apparent relationship, even though Mary Worth is apparently immortal, ‘cause she’s run for over eighty years. Side note: I really hate soap opera style cartoon funnies in the paper. I would always roll my eyes, when I saw those…
BECKY: It’s like, every Sunday you get four frames…that really doesn’t progress very fast.
DIANA: What a life. Well, that’s why it’s lasted 80 years. It’s been 80 years just telling one story, I’m sure. Another side note, no relation whatsoever to Bloody Mary, but just another Mary Worth that’s unrelated. Um, some folklorists assume, and they seem to be mostly men, that it has to do with menses and the onset of puberty…Bloody Mary, always done in bathrooms…usually girls…
BECKY: Is it always girls, though?
DIANA: Yeah, well, it used to be, in the 1970s apparently this was a pretty strictly female phenomenon, not so much anymore. But it was traditionally (in the 1970s) started as a girls’ bathroom ritual where they’d initiate or haze younger girls into the inner circle of arcane knowledge that is how to summon Bloody Mary and what she represents, and somebody’s cousin’s cousin who had a friend who saw her and got murdered with an axe…
BECKY: Well, yeah, well, where I grew up, it was always…maybe it just got mixed with Lizzie Borden or something. I don’t know. Which is interesting because where I grew up, this would have been early eighties, we would have been doing this. And that’s why I’m having a little hard time wrapping my head around the idea that this was a late seventies phenomenon because things took about 15, 20 years to reach my town, it was pretty isolated. She was gonna jump out of the mirror and kill you with an axe. Anybody out there from Tennessee, tell me if this is what you heard about Bloody Mary, when you were a kid.
DIANA: I definitely remember it being disfigure you somehow, not kill you, but it was somehow related to a horribly disfigured woman who would come out and disfigure you. But the thing I see most popular culture references citing is her coming out to steal you back into the mirror. So actually like, appearing to suck you into the mirror.
BECKY: Mm-hmm, which is something that I would add believe, considering how I feel about mirrors. So anyway, I digress, keep going, we’ll talk about me in a minute…
DIANA: Okay. We’ll talk about that in a second. It’s unlikely that the ritual has anything to do with vodka and tomato juice.
BECKY: Took me a minute. ‘Cause I’m drinking vodka and pink lemonade.
DIANA: Haha! “Mary’s panties, Mary’s panties, Mary’s panties…” no, uh, not the origin. So there was one folklorist named Wynne Summers who wrote an article called “Bloody Mary: When Ostension Becomes A Deadly And Destructive Teen Ritual” in 2000, she very confidently cites the origin as an elderly woman, Mary Partington, who lived in Nebraska countryside, who is the victim of teenage vandalism probably brought on by rumors that she was a ghost. She lived there in the 1960s, until she was quite elderly, but eventually the ongoing destruction where teens would be dared to approach her house and deface it, or break a window or steal a mailbox or something, forced her to move out in 1977, which culminated in local teenager, sitting in the house on fire and burning it down.
I don’t think that’s necessarily the source, but that, that is, you know, one historian’s very, very confident source. It’s very specific. But it sounds the type of specific that would be involved in a legend…like this is a local story about a certain woman who people think is a witch…I don’t know, perhaps, perhaps. Could also be a former student of the school that was killed by classmates and buried under the school, that is coincidentally…
BECKY: Which school?
DIANA: Well, I don’t know, but that was the story in the 2005 slasher film entitled Urban Legends, Bloody Mary.
BECKY: Oh, ok, missed that one.
DIANA: Yeah, I didn’t watch it, ‘cause I was trying to get this stuff together today, haha. I was thinking about it, but I spent like, four and a half hours trying to get through this master thesis that was very very long.
BECKY: Wouldn’t it be cool, if we could’ve done our master’s thesis on this?
DIANA: Oh, my gosh. I would go back to school just to do a master’s thesis on the origins and practice of Bloody Mary amongst kids. That’d be awesome.
BECKY: I told you, I wanted to do one of my masters thesis…theses…thesis-es haha on, local Appalachian ghost stories. And my advisor was like, no, that’s a solid, no, go find something else.
DIANA: I think the plural is “theeth” haha…That works too. That’s more more accurate…probably. My personal…
BECKY: know what? I’m going to change chairs, this chair’s too squeaky. Sorry.
DIANA: Okay. You just, you just have another chair just right there, ready for you? That’s impressive.
BECKY: Actually, Oh, I gotta show you this chair. Hang on. I mean, it’s got gunk in it, but…
BECKY: This is called a ghost chair.
DIANA: Oh, cool! That’s so sixties!
BECKY: Yeah, it is sixties. It’s a ghost chair and it’s made from pink acrylic.
DIANA: Of course it is! Nice. That’s beautiful. I actually made this chair myself…f you want to see it, it’s cute.
BECKY: I do.
DIANA: Ta da!
BECKY: Oh, my gosh! It’s adorbs! You’ve made that?
DIANA: I made it out of…
BECKY: You’re so skilled.
DIANA: …a scarf my mom left at her house when she moved, don’t tell her.
BECKY: Oh, my gosh. You’re like MacGuyver…”and here’s a chair I made out of a scarf…”
DIANA: Okay, well, it was in the garage for many years and it was kind of gross and falling apart. So I just took it apart and replaced all the soft bits. You’ve never made an adjustable office chair out of a scarf before, Becky?
BECKY: No. No.
DIANA: I have a friend who made a futon out of pallets. I slept on it, it was kind of comfortable.
BECKY: You can make anything out of a palette, they’re amazing.
DIANA: Yeah. Requires a lot of padding to hide the fact that it’s a bed made out of a palette.
BECKY: There wasn’t a mattress on it?
DIANA: Yes, there was a mattress. It was a futon mattress. That was, you know, thin.
BECKY: Yeah, that’s not really a mattress. That’s, like, a blanket.
DIANA: Yeah, I squish through mattresses pretty easily.
BECKY: You’re just sensitive. You’re like the princess and the pea.
DIANA: “I can still feel it! I can still feel the pea!”
BECKY: Anyway, sorry, we were talking about something…
DIANA: Yes. My personal belief about where the Bloody Mary legend came from…I’m just pulling this out of my ass…but my personal belief is that it’s from Halloween divination rituals. You know, the ritual where you…this is probably several hundred years old, but you stare into a mirror in the dark on Halloween Eve or on, what is it? Beltane Eve. And you gradually walk very slowly away from the mirror, you know, start out with your nose right up against it, and then gradually walk very slowly away. And if you stare hard enough, eventually your face will be replaced with the face of your future spouse.
BECKY: Oh, I’ve never heard of this!
DIANA: Yeah. So in eras bygone where women’s future was determined by who they married and virtually nothing else, that was a pretty popular pastime; young women would get together before they married and try to determine who their future spouse would be. And there are some really cute rituals that I’ve heard of like a dumb supper. Have you heard of a dumb supper?
BECKY: Please tell me what this is.
DIANA: So a dumb supper is a ritual where…I guess probably…mostly on nights where the veil is thin, like Halloween, you would, prepare a dinner while dumb; so nobody may talk or make any sound while you’re preparing the dinner. You prepare everything backwards. So the table set with like, this place has four forks. This place has two plates. This place has eight glasses. Everything’s wrong. The chairs are all turned around backwards. The food is served dessert first, and the women sit at the table and serve this supper…dessert…they eat dessert silently. Then they eat the dinner silently, and then they eat their soup silently. And once they’ve finished, they clear the plates away, sit back down at the table with an empty chair in between each of them, and at midnight the specter of one of their future husbands walks through the door, sits down next to the woman he’s going to marry. Sounds like a really boring way to pass the evening to me, but you know, this is, this is back when women didn’t really have too much to do with their lives, so, why not?
BECKY: If you think you’re going to see a ghost, even if it’s a future ghost, it’s kind of cool, I guess.
DIANA: Perhaps we should do that?
BECKY: Uh, no, I already know who I’m going to marry.
DIANA: No, I know, it’s like, all the mystery is gone. We’ll find some single friends and be like, “Hey, you want us to throw you a dumb supper? You can’t talk, you have to eat everything backwards while sitting backwards in your chair, and then you just have to sit there and stare at the door ‘til midnight, and maybe something will happen, you never know. Yeah, I don’t think we’ll be able to talk anybody into it, but if anybody listening to the podcast wants to do it, let us know, we’ll try and organize something.
BECKY: Or at least tag us and all the photos you take, just…you might have to take them backwards.
DIANA: Haha! Selfies only.
BECKY: They’re all upside down…
DIANA: So, we’ve been talking about Bloody Mary for quite a while, and this is all folklore, but I promised to talk about neuroscience. So, here’s what I find interesting about folklore is its basis in…all paranormal activity has some basis in…weird glitches in the way the human brain works. So I want to kind of talk that through…
DIANA: Yeah, “whatever,” right? This is fun. This is fun stuff. So, have you heard of mirror hallucinations?
BECKY: Only what you’ve told me…please, expound upon it.
DIANA: Okay. So basically, these mirror hallucinations, as far as I know, there’s not really an accepted scientific term for them, but it’s basically the shared phenomenon of, if you gaze into your own eyes in front of a mirror, your whole face will, over time, start to look strange or distorted. And this is something that almost all humans have experienced or can experience if put in the right situation, the right situation, being very dim lighting, sitting very, very, very still facing directly at a mirror, staring into your own eyes, preferably without blinking, don’t ever move your eyes from your own eyes, and you just stare…and most experimenters will perform this for about seven minutes on each subject…but almost universally people will report seeing some kind of distortion, everything from, just, an abnormal look to their own face, like they stop recognizing themselves, or they’ll see a monster, they’ll see a prototypical face, like an old woman or a young boy or something like that, they’ll see deceased relatives, or sometimes even animals, and this is kind of a cool phenomenon based on a visual phenomenon called the Troxler effect, which is, if you’ve ever had that experience of looking at an optical illusion where there’s something dark in the center of the field division, and then some blurry images around it, and you stare at the dark spot in the center of the image, the blurry images eventually blend together and become just a gray field. I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, but it’s very, very easy to experience it. I’ll attach some photos to the show notes for this, so everybody can scroll down real quick and take a look at the Troxler effect, but it’s basically the brain adapts to unchanging visual stimuli in the peripheral field. So not right in the center of focus, but around the center of focus, the brain will adapt and kind of blur it out, unfocus it, or almost delete it in some cases. So it’ll distort until you blink or look around again. And this occurs with any stationary stimulus, but it’s particularly fast in low-contrast stimuli. So like looking in a mirror in low light. Strangely, you can also trigger the stimuli by staring at another person who is also being extremely still and staring back at you as though they are mirroring you. Same thing happens; you start to see hallucinations, and…
DIANA: …monsters instead of their face…yeah, I know, right?
BECKY: Oh my gosh. Wow.
DIANA: Do you want to try it right now?
BECKY: Can we line up here and just stare at each other? We’ve got to wait for seven minutes…
DIANA: I don’t know, seven minutes would be a little long.
BECKY: We’ll do it another time.
DIANA: We’ll do it next time we’re in the same room. ‘Cause I don’t think we can actually make eye contact in this scenario…
DIANA: Stupid Zoom.
BECKY: Stupid COVID! You’d be here probably.
DIANA: I would be there, living in your driveway! But yeah, so, next time I see you: Staring contest, Bloody Mary…
BECKY: Let’s do it in a cemetery.
DIANA: …Troxler effect, in the cemetery, at night. I love it.
BECKY: Well, dim light…
DIANA: Let’s do it.
BECKY: All right, we’ll do it. I’m kind of scared.
DIANA: Haha, I know, right? So, the other half of this phenomenon…of course, as you stare into one spot, the Troxler effect makes everything around that one spot that you’re staring at into a kind of messy, blurry, distorted image. But there’s also another phenomenon that comes up called pareidolia, which is, as you know well, the ability to recognize faces in things that don’t actually have faces, like “drunken octopus wants to fight,” you know, various things that don’t actually have faces. Humans have facial recognition neurons that just scream at you telling you that there’s a face there when there’s no face.
BECKY: That’s why you see faces in the snow of the television, or in a popcorn ceiling, or the brickwork on the side of the building…yep.
DIANA: Yes, right. It’s not necessarily ghosts. It could be pareidolia. But everybody’s had it, right? I mean, it’s actually something that automobile manufacturers consider when they’re considering the grill and headlights design of the front of cars.
BECKY: Mm hmm, I thought so, they always look like faces.
DIANA: Right? So they have a team dedicated to making the face look like they want their image to come across.
BECKY: To reflect the brand?
DIANA: Yeah, exactly.
BECKY: Interesting…tough, happy, mean…
DIANA: I mean, maybe it’s not always a friendly face. Exactly. Some trucks do look mean…that’s why a grill can be intimidating, right?
BECKY: Sure, heh heh.
DIANA: So, there’s a story from 2004 where a Florida woman sold a grilled cheese sandwich with the face of the Virgin Mary burnt into it for $28,000.
BECKY: I remember that.
DIANA: We were in-
DIANA: at the time almost, I guess I moved there in ‘06.
BECKY: Wait, when was it again?
DIANA: This was 2004 that she sold the sandwich.
BECKY: Oh yeah. We moved there in ‘06. But I definitely heard about it all the way up in Illinois.
DIANA: Yup. That was famous. I mean, she sold a sandwich for $28,000 and there was a frickin bite out of it!
BECKY: I wonder how well that preserved.
DIANA: This wasn’t even a fresh sandwich; apparently she prayed to it for several weeks before selling it.
BECKY: Wait, did she see the…I don’t remember, like, did she notice the Virgin in it after she took the bite, or did she like, “I’m gonna…” Is that like eating the body of Christ? You know, like in Communion? Like, “I’ll take a bite out of this.”
DIANA: “Ooh, the Virgin, Mary. I wonder what you taste like *sniffs* …cheese.” Okay. Haha!
BECKY: That’s probably very sacrilegious here, sorry. SORRY!
DIANA: I think it’s hilarious. It’s well-proven that both paranormal and religious believers are more prone to pareidolia than skeptics and nonbelievers. So this is why you see so many Holy apparitions, rather than “this is Elvis” or whatever, less common.
BECKY: “He’s alive!”
DIANA: That would sell for $28,000, for sure. And apparently newborn babies display more interest in cartoon faces with the features arranged like a human face, as opposed to the same eyes, nose, mouth in a kind of distorted pattern. Um, so that’s, that’s present from birth on basically…and women see faces more often than men do. Oh, and Rhesus monkeys, Rhesus monkeys also recognize faces in things that are not faces, but it’s not really known whether any other species do. Interestingly in 2011, two Canadian urologists actually published a paper citing that they found “the image of the face of a man, contorted in a silent scream as though suffering” in the scrotal ultrasound image of a man with severe testicular pain.
BECKY: Okay, are you frozen, or are you just staring…
DIANA: No, I’m just dumbfounded.
BECKY: Wow, oh my goodness!
DIANA: That’s amazing. So, yeah. So The Screamer…The Scream, in a testicle…
BECKY: Interesting. Okay, that is…man, I’m going to have to think on that one.
DIANA: I tried so hard to hack into the journal to get access to that article. I’m not really willing to pay for it, but, I want to see that picture…
BECKY: I would pay for that! Well, what’s the name of the article? I’ll look it up and I’ll include a link.
DIANA: I’ll send you a link when we’re done. So apparently there are some states that affect these phenomena (the mirror gazing and the facial recognition and the faces and everything hallucinations). I always have to bring up prosopagnosia, because I have it, and it sucks…
BECKY: Um, yeah, being face blind?
DIANA: Yeah, exactly.
BECKY: Same. This is why we do audio format.
DIANA: Exactly! So in case you’re not familiar, prosopagnosia is facial blindness in the absence of other visual or cognitive impairments, there’s nothing wrong with you. Technically you just can’t recognize people and sometimes you can’t even recognize yourself. It depends on how severe it is. Basically the way you can describe it is most people read people’s faces automatically, like a barcode reader reads a barcode, from top to bottom, you see the information immediately, your brain goes, “Oh, I recognize that person. That’s Becky.” With prosopagnosia, it’s like reading the numbers under the barcode and then having to memorize those numbers, and then see them and immediately try to match the number with the face you’re seeing…”who is that?”
BECKY: Oh, my gosh. When you cut your hair and change it a different color, it’s like, woah! ‘Cause like 5 digits are gone.
DIANA: Exactly. No, exactly. And that’s why I change my hair so often: I’m like, “Oh, I look like a whole new person!” And then I run into somebody who’s like, “I knew you when you were five years old.” And I’m like, “how the frick did you recognize me? My hair is short. I don’t understand. I’m also not five. What? How do you do that?”
BECKY: It sucks. Yeah, man. Especially being a teacher, it really sucked. But, the thing that I kind of…so I’ve heard, when somebody walks toward us and they recognize us, we instantly can tell that they recognize us. So, if somebody you know…you know that you know them and you know they know you, you can tell if they don’t recognize you and you can kind of be put off by that. So I’m sure I put off a lot of people.
DIANA: This is why I don’t have any friends. Yep. Man, cell phones that popped up like the name…I was like, I wish I could do that in real life. Like, every time I run into somebody in the hallway, it just pops up, like, “Becky’s calling”
BECKY: I know…it’s like a Black Mirror episode.
DIANA: But a happy one, not a bad one!
BECKY: Right, right. Oh, I’m sure. They’d find a way to twist it into something horrible and grim that gives you nightmares for weeks.
DIANA: Probably, yeah. Facial recognition software, I don’t know. Yeah. Yeah. Conspiracies. Anyway, so, that’s a thing that can affect your ability to stare into a mirror and, and see other faces. So, if you want to, and I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you want to experience prosopagnosia and you don’t have prosopagnosia and you can recognize faces and you never forgot a face in your life…so would you like to know how to induce prosopagnosia-like symptoms?
BECKY: Okay, sure. Maybe this will teach me how to get rid of them.
DIANA: Uh, no. Because this will have no effect on you if you suffer from prosopagnosia. It’s perhaps a good diagnostic tool, if you have no idea if you have prosopagnosia or not, though hopefully, you know that you can’t recognize faces…it’s pretty freakin’ obvious to me, but I kind of thought it was literally everybody on the planet couldn’t do it until I was older,
BECKY: I know! Yeah, same. Until I learned that it was like, something that was built into you and I was like, “not ME!”
DIANA: I was listening to people who say, “I never forget a face.” And I was like, “do I have a mole that’s really conspicuous? Or do I have like one weird eyeball that. Is higher than the…I mean, what’s wrong with my face that you can’t forget it. What?” ‘Cause I can only remember really weird faces.
BECKY: I remember names.
BECKY: Even then I struggle.
DIANA: You know, you develop coping mechanisms and you start to recognize various things, like the alignment of the eyebrows and the alignment of the tragus, and eventually you start to give yourself little memory clues. But again, it’s just memorizing those numbers under the barcode, you can’t actually scan the barcode.
BECKY: That is such a great analogy. That is such a great way to describe it. Yeah, because it is. And you have like a list list in your head, like, “okay, brown hair, brown eyes…” Anyway, how do we induce this terrible disease upon ourselves?
DIANA: That’s why I hate black and white movies. ‘Cause all the men look exactly the same. They’re all white men with dark hair, and I’m like, “that’s Cary Grant…maybe?”
BECKY: Heheh “no, that’s Jimmy Stewart. They look the same,” right? Same person, just with a different accent..
DIANA: Dammit, same person, just different hat. Yes, exactly. Or the same hat, for fuck’s sake. Men all wore the same thing in those eras.
BECKY: Right. Well, they all look the same in black and white, the same color, the same gray…anyway…
DIANA: Exactly. And there were no men of color. There were no men with long hair. There were no men with facial hair. It was just the same white man with dark hair over and over again. You saw a blonde man, and you were like, *gasp* “is this Jesus Christ? He’s so unique!” Yeah, hate, hate black and white movies. Anyway, if you would like to induce this horrible, horrible condition on yourself (temporarily), take some unrecognizable, like, unfamiliar photos of people that you know, but not great. Like, you know, your cousin or classmates from school and have someone show them to you upside down. Because there’s a facial inversion effect that mimics prosopagnosia. So when you look at somebody’s face upside down, you have to actually run through the numbers of the barcode to recognize that face, you can’t just automatically scan it. And this is true for almost all people. So if you look at unfamiliar photos, it can’t be a family photo that you’ve seen a million times and you just turned it upside down, that won’t work. You have to have somebody show you a photo of somebody that you know, but it’s an unfamiliar photo upside down and that’ll…that feeling that you get-try it now-that feeling that you get, that’s how we feel all the time. Anyway, this can definitely be a hindrance in the ability to conjure images in the mirror, because you’re actually going to see distortions less in a face that you don’t recognize to begin with as your own! So it depends on your level of prosopagnosia, but this is why I didn’t freak out when I tried Bloody Mary before. It just didn’t freak me out because it was like, “what? I never recognized that face.” It’s just kind of like, “I know it’s me because there it is in the mirror, and I know how mirrors work.”
BECKY: Yeah, so when the other girls were like, “There she is! There she is!” And I said “no, she’s not,” maybe they actually saw her? ‘Cause I thought they were just making it up.
DIANA: That’s the thing is…I’m sure that the effect ticks in for one person in the room. If you’ve got a bunch of people looking in the mirror at the same time, staring at their own eyes, it’s going to kick in for one person much faster than everybody else. So there’s always going to be that one person who goes, “aaah there she is!” and runs out of the room, and everybody gets distracted and stops staring, and then the effect diminishes when you stop staring. That’s where the bullying aspect of the legend comes in, ‘cause it’s often a hazing event. In the lives of young women that they will be told by the older girls, the younger girls will be scared and forced into the bathroom, locked in, in the dark, and forced to do Bloody Mary before they come out. This is a common bullying event across North America.
BECKY: I don’t know, we just did it ‘cause we were weird, and into paranormal shit.
DIANA: Exactly right? Like, this is something I would do by myself, in my house, with nobody else around, just to see what would happen. You know, some girls are forced into this shit and they’re scared as hell. So, yeah.
BECKY: So mirrors. Okay. So basically you’re saying that if you see something in a mirror that’s not supposed to be there, it’s usually your imagination?
DIANA: If you see something in a mirror that’s not supposed to be there, that means you are psychologically quote unquote “normal.” Haha. If you don’t go see your psychiatrist or psychologist for a diagnosis…
BECKY: All right. So next time…Yeah. So go home, stare at a mirror, and if you don’t see a monster, call your doctor.
DIANA: You have to do it unblinkingly in low light for several minutes for this to take effect. It won’t just happen when you’re just brushing your teeth or something. You have to be completely still, no blinking, just staring.
BECKY: I couldn’t do it.
DIANA: I tried! My eyes dry out, I blink a lot! I like, genetically blink a lot. I watch my dad talk and he blinks three times as often as I do. And I’m just like, “I am like that, but not that bad…”
BECKY: Well, I can’t do it cause I’m just…I am terrified of being in a darkened room with a mirror.
DIANA: Oooh, tell me why.
BECKY: My whole life, I’ve had this fear that it is sort of a portal into another dimension or something. Even when I was just a young child, I was terrified that I would see something in the mirror that wasn’t supposed to be there, because it was something trying to come through…and then, I actually had a pretty terrible nightmare when I was five about a mirror. Yeah, I guess I’ll share it. Why not? I still remember it.
Yeah. So the nightmare was, I dreamt…because, you know, I grew up in a pretty strict Christian area of the country and, staying out late and drinking and partying were no-no’s. And I still don’t know where my little five-year-old brain came up with this, but I had a nightmare that, I went to a party. And everyone stayed up late and they were drinking and doing other things, which later I figured out must have been drugs. Again, I have no idea where this came from, because I didn’t know what drugs were. I didn’t even know what alcohol was, and my parents sure as hell didn’t let me watch things. Like, they were very strict about what I watched. It’s not like I saw this on Sesame Street, but anyway…so I’m in this dream and this older woman comes in the room and says, “you all should go to bed, bad things happen if you stay up late,” you know, the whole “you’re going to turn into a pumpkin” thing. And a part of me was like, “Oh, I should really leave, but I’m having so much fun.” And then as it got later and later, I noticed everyone around me starting to, basically, uh, turn into corpses and die. And I thought, “well, I’m young, I’m only five. So I’ve got a long way to go before that happens to me.” And slowly, like, as time progressed, I was just surrounded by skeletons, like just their flesh was rotting off…um, yeah, so that’s why I remember this years later. And I remember telling my parents about this dream the next day, and I think they just didn’t know what to make of it. I think they were like, “okay, that’s nice, Honey, go play.” So then I went into the bathroom. ‘Cause I was like, “well, I better check on myself and make sure this isn’t happening to me.” So, I went into the bathroom and I watched myself age in the mirror. And of course, first I became a teenager. I got breasts, my hair got longer. And then I became this beautiful woman in my twenties with long brown hair. And I was like, okay, that’s not so bad. And it just kept going and going until my skin shriveled up, wrinkled, my hair went white, my skin started to fall off of my face, my hair fell out in clumps, then I just saw muscles, and then a skull underneath. It was kind of like that scene in Poltergeist, you know, when he starts ripping off his face in the mirror…but I’d never seen Poltergeist. Yeah. And, uh, after I stood [staring] at myself, grinning in the mirror as a skeleton, I woke up…and I’ve had problems staying late at parties ever since.
DIANA: That’s terrifying. How did you even have the ability to conjure these images at age five?
BECKY: Right. Like what the fuck?
DIANA: Where did you see skeletons and rotting corpses at age five?
BECKY: I have no clue. I mean, this is why, like, I don’t know that I buy into past lives, but I’m like, maybe? Or maybe some sort of collective unconscious thing, tapping into something…I don’t know. But that was like, the whole staring at myself in a mirror and watching myself transform unto death. So, that coupled with this like, fear that there’s something otherworldly about mirrors. We just put a mirror in our bedroom, maybe three or four years ago, up until then I wouldn’t have one, never would have one in my bedroom when I lived alone. Closed my eyes when I went in the bathroom, would avoid looking into the mirror. Just can’t do it. I’m terrified of mirrors.
DIANA: That’s crazy. No, I don’t blame you after that dream. That’s…
BECKY: Yeah, I want to know…
DIANA: …gotta tinge your lifetime…
BECKY: So please, anybody tell me, have you had that dream, too? And…
DIANA: …and especially at age five, that’s insane!
BECKY: …and what does it mean?
DIANA: That dream was scary as fuck. I’m so terrified for five-year-old Becky.
BECKY: Do children dream of dying? Maybe that’s a thing. I don’t know.
DIANA: I don’t know. I didn’t really, when I was a kid. So I can’t comment, I guess, but that’s such a crazy, crazy dream. So yeah, I start to get it now, why you’re afraid of mirrors.
BECKY: …but I’m not alone in the world in my fear of mirrors, many experts in spiritualism will tell you that mirrors are portals into other dimensions. You should never have two mirrors facing each other because things will come out and not know how to get back in; they’ll be trapped in our realm.
DIANA: See that’s my favorite thing is having two mirrors facing each other. That’s that’s my favorite thing, because I can see the back of my hair while I cut it.
BECKY: See, I hate it because then it goes on forever…and then there’s that distortion: it just kind of like, goes around a corner, you know? And I’m like, “what’s around the corner?”
DIANA: If you have them perfectly aligned, it doesn’t go on forever. You see one face. It’s not like…
BECKY: Yeah, well, every hair salon I’ve been in, they weren’t aligned right.
DIANA: If they’re not aligned, yeah, it’s crazy. I mean, you get this crazy repeating image. I used to live in a building with an elevator that I had to take up to my floor that had mirrors around the entire elevator, but the mirrors were angled in, in a way that made them not perfectly aligned. And so when you looked at yourself, you saw 5000 versions of yourself, front and back.
BECKY: Not every day. No, I could not have handled that.
DIANA: I only lasted one month in that place. I had to move out.
BECKY: Yeah. It’s the elevator. The elevator. Yeah.
DIANA: I couldn’t do it…that elevator was crazy.
BECKY: But no, it’s not, it’s not just, um, also some faiths, some very deep religious faiths have theories about mirrors. So for instance, in Christianity, when somebody dies-and this isn’t universal, but it was definitely a big tradition here in Georgia, 00 years ago, and I heard that it had origins in Catholicism, but if it was big here in Georgia it was obviously a Protestant thing too. But I think it has some Irish roots as well, which where I grew up was very Irish. So who knows, maybe that trickled into my stratosphere. I don’t know, whatever. Anyway, when somebody died, first of all, they would have the coffin such that the feet were pointed toward the door, so that the person could…they would go the right way out the door and not stay in the house…
DIANA: Just Nosferatu up out of the coffin…
BECKY: Yeah, yeah. With the feet pointing towards the door.
DIANA: …and goose-step towards the door…okay.
BECKY: And then also they would cover the mirrors…I’ve heard several different things, I think it’s so that they wouldn’t become trapped…
DIANA: Yes! Because you have the wake in your house that, I mean, I think this is a Victorian thing, but you have the corpse in your house, in your parlor and you’re watching over it, I mean, think of yourself in that situation of having a loved one’s dead body in your living room for several days after they died…in a box.
Good gracious. You just become superstitious. Trying to tiptoe around that shit. So, it makes perfect sense to me that they, they wanted to take certain superstitious precautions. But yeah, what I’ve heard is that the ghost of the loved one would get stuck staring at itself in the mirrors and not be able to leave the house.
BECKY: Right, right. Or the soul would, Yeah.
DIANA: That ghost would be stuck there in your house.
BECKY: I’ve heard also that, so you have the feet facing the door so they can walk out. so they never look at their own body, but if you have a mirror there, then they see their body, So that’s another reason. And then also, with being trapped, I think that comes from like confusion. You get confused if you see yourself in the mirror. And then there’s also the belief that like, I believe, you know, other souls could come in or something. You’re just making sure that. Nobody else tries to come in.
DIANA: “Hey, it looks like a dead man’s party. I’m here. Let’s go!”
BECKY: right? Yeah. You wouldn’t want anybody possessing the body. I don’t know if that’s a thing. Hm, Hm. Now, you’re probably also familiar that in Jewish customs, you also cover the mirrors for about a week after somebody dies.
It has nothing to do with the soul getting trapped. It’s all to do with, you’re supposed to be in a period of mourning.
DIANA: So you avoid vanity.
BECKY: you avoid looking at yourself. You avoid vanity.
DIANA: makes sense. I like that. If I were to die, I would want my spouse to not wear makeup and coiff their hair for a while.
BECKY: Well, It’s also kind of considered bad form. If you look really put together at your spouse’s funeral.
DIANA: Every culture is different. “She looks like she’s already on the prowl again.” I don’t know what that means. Maybe that’s anti-feminist. I have no idea. It’s just a cultural thing I think.
BECKY: Yeah. Probably.
DIANA: I mean, looking all sexy at a funeral is probably something that you don’t want to do if you are close to the deceased. If you go to funerals to meet like potential dating partners, I mean, I’m okay with that. I’m kind of goth. So that’s…
BECKY: Yeah, exactly. Right. I’m such a weirdo. The best photos I have of my kids are from funerals…people are like, “Oh, do you have a good photo of your kid?” I was like, Oh, snap, snap, snap. “You guys are all dressed up for the funeral. Let’s take some photos!”
DIANA: Well, yeah, but they look adorable next to those headstones…and their tiny tuxedos.
BECKY: I know, they do. I think we’ve hit every notch on that bed post. That was a terrible analogy. Every time I think of that, I remember when I was growing up when we used to drive to Asheville, my grandparents who are now deceased, lived there.
And, we would drive from Kingsport, my hometown in Tennessee there, but there was no highway back then. So it was all back country roads. So what is now a 45 minute drive was like two and a half hours. So it was like a weekend trip. You stayed the night. And I remember we’d pass by the shed all the time.
And it was this guy with…it was a shed, and he had a fence out front and he had squirrel skins, like nailed to them, was like, you know, it was like his notches on the bedpost, but like every time he killed another one, he skinned it and nailed it to the fence…
DIANA: I can see my father doing that. That’s horrible.
BECKY: I know. I know.
DIANA: I can see maybe trophy heads or something.
BECKY: that would have been more Louisiana. This is like very Tennessee, I think
BECKY: on that note, I need to go to sleep before I see all the mirrors in my house.
Thank God I have that face blindness.
DIANA: Well, that’s even worse. Cause it might not be yours, in your reflection.
BECKY: Well, if I see something because I’m face blind and I can’t have that optical illusion.
DIANA: You can, it’s just less common. I’m still trying to induce it. I’ll do it tonight and report back.
BECKY: Let me know what you see.
DIANA: It’s pretty dark right now. I’ll know if my future husband will be a clown. No doubt.
BECKY: with an axe! “Bloody Lizzy, Bloody Lizzy…”
DIANA: All right. Well, thank you for talking about Bloody Mary and bizarre hallucinations and mirrors with me.
BECKY: Yes. And I have to say, I’m surprised neither of us drank a Bloody Mary tonight, but maybe next time.
DIANA: I like the taste, but I drink Virgin Bloody marys.
BECKY: I can’t stand them
DIANA: I don’t drink vodka.
BECKY: the vodka is the only good part of them. All right. Anyway, before we get into an argument over the qualities of tomato juice with vodka, Diana, It was great talking to you. Thank you everybody. For joining us on our new mini series! Please be sure to follow us at Homespun Haints on Facebook and at homespun Haints on Instagram. And we also have a Facebook group, just go to facebook.com/groups/homespunaints and find us that way. And we’ll also have a Pinterest account, By the time this airs…Uh, we’ll see, we’ll see. It’s a mystery.
DIANA: Thank you, Becky. I hope you have a very spooky night.