An urban legend is a story rooted in a genre of folklore that blurs the lines between fact and fiction with people not knowing what to believe. The internet created a World where urban legends could thrive where these tales were often created and circulated in internet forums. Even stories that started out as openingly as fiction, have made their way into the minds of many questioning if the tales are true.
In order to play, you would put yourself in a dark bathroom with a candle. Stare into the mirror and slowly chant ‘Bloody Mary’ three times and spin around at the same time. If you don’t see anything appear in the mirror, blow out the candle and leave the bathroom. The things that supposedly can happen if you are successful in contacting ‘Bloody Mary’ are:
Janet Langlois was one of the first to write academically about the Bloody Mary tale in the 1970's connecting the story to a local legend of Mary Whales.
My first adventures as a legend hunter began in 1972 when I was a graduate student at the Folklore Institute, Indiana University, taking a legend seminar with Linda Dégh who had brought European concepts of the genre to the U.S. when she had emigrated from Hungary in 1964 (Dégh, 1995: 9-29; Dégh, 2001: 9-22; Tucker and Langlois, 2005: 129-140). Upon her urging, I drove up with several other students from the Bloomington, Indiana campus to Indianapolis to attend a Psychic Fair there one fall day in October. Although I did not interview any psychic healers then, I did strike up a conversation with a young African-American woman, Gia, then 12 years old, who was also attending. She told me that she and a number of her friends at her elementary school in Indianapolis regularly called a spirit back in a mirror in the girls’ bathroom during recess and lunch breaks, and that the spirit they called back was that of a young woman they called Mary Whales who had been killed while hitchhiking on a major street near their school.
Recognizing a version of “the Vanishing Hitchhiker” legend when I heard it, I arranged with Gia’s school staff to work with students during a weekly two-hour period in which community members could come to the school and interact with students in an experimental program. I see now how many factors came together so that I could do this research. At the time, however, doing a broad survey of 80 students with questionnaires and focus groups, interviewing and audio-taping selected students (10 young women in particular with Gia their leader), spending several nights at school-sponsored slumber parties as a participant-observer, and observing re-enactments of the “ritual” of calling Mary Whales who they expected would emerge from the mirror to scratch them (a.k.a. “Bloody Mary”) were all that I could manage
Some (male) folklore experts have even gone as far as to suggest that it is a metaphor for a girl going through changes in puberty as the game itself was popular amongst teenage girls. The rituals of spinning and chanting and the use of mirrors as a form of divination are in fact nothing new. It can be considered no different to a young girl looking into a mirror to see the face of her future husband which was also a popular game. By the time the 1990s came around, chain letters were huge. They have now evolved into email and now annoying direct Facebook messages that tell you that if you don't pass it on to 5 people within an hour bad things will happen to you!
You will be pleased to know that Mary still terrifies kids of today with my own children under the age of 10 reporting they played 'Bloody Mary' at School camp.
For more, see my article: The legend of Bloody Mary
In 2015, a new urban legend seemed to appear out of nowhere. Thanks to the internet and platforms like Twitter and YouTube, the hashtag #charliecharlie trended and suddenly there were YouTube videos and even many paranormal investigators suddenly jumping on the Charlie Charlie bandwagon.
To play Charlie Charlie, draw a cross on a piece of paper. Label two sections with YES and two with NO. Place two pencils overlapping each other on the axis of the grid so they cross in the middle. Then ask "Charlie Charlie are you there? and then ask your question. When the pencil moves, it is supposedly Charlie answering you (or physics and gravity).
It was also rumoured the Charlie Charlie demonic pencil challenge became viral in a smart marketing campaign to promote the 2015 movie 'The Gallows'. There is debate as to whether they created the online craze as a marketing ploy or that they just tacked onto something popular at the time. Suddenly, kids in schoolyards all over the World started to play (much like how I used to play with hand-drawn Ouija Boards on the school oval. at lunch). The game itself is a modernised version of the Spanish game Juego de la Lapicera otherwise known as the pencil game which had been played in schoolyards for decards prior. In the previous version, 4 pencils were used with two participants each holding 2 pencils at the end so it is shaped like a square. You then call upon 'Charlie' or whoever it is to answer the question. Much like a cross between dowsing rods and an ouija board.
It has gone by previous names in the past, however, Charlie seems to be the popular 'western' interpretation as Charlie is not really a Mexican name. Another similar game is the Martha game also known as La Martita and there is even Sara Sarita. The instructions for each differ, but the concept is the same. They are calling upon what is described as a demon to answer the question and thus terrifying people all over the World.
In hindsight, it seems Charlie Charlie went viral in English speaking countries at a very convenient time was actually to promote the 2015 'The Gallows'. There is debate as to whether they created the online craze as a marketing ploy or that they just tacked onto something popular at the time, but the fact remains it worked! #charliecharliecharlie was a hashtag used by millions in a game to summon a Mexican demon called Charlie. It preyed on the stigma and fear associated with Ouija boards and is a game people still ask me about today. For the record, it has been confirmed by many that there is no Mexican demon that people know of called Charlie.
The practice of hype has evolved over time and studios are trying to find ways to get you to buy into the hype.
Check out my article Hollywood horror stunts to promote movies
In 2009, Eric Knudsen (also known as Victor Surge) posted in a thread on the Something Awful Internet Forum in a thread called ‘create paranormal photos’. It was a thread created to challenge people to edit everyday photos to appear paranormal. While there were many submissions, it was Knudsen’s that made the most waves. Using his alias Victor Surge, he posted two photos featuring a thin, very tall, and slender man who had no face and wore a black suit that was added amongst a picture of children.
Setting his pictures in the past like they were almost out of some 1980’s horror movie about a summer camp gone wrong, they seemed real and the quotes which accompanied the photos helped to tell the story inducing both fear and intrigue to the reader. It was here that the legend of Slenderman was born.
Original Slender Man Photo edited by Eric Knudsen on Something Awful
“One of two recovered photographs from the Stirling City Library blaze. Notable for being taken the day which fourteen children vanished and for what is referred to as “The Slender Man”. Deformities cited as film defects by officials. Fire at library occurred one week later. Actual photograph confiscated as evidence. – 1986, photographer Mary Thomas, missing since June 13th 1986”
Many continued with their own submissions on the thread and some become intrigued and commended Knudsen for subtly injecting the tall figure with the accompanying story which had some proclaiming they would not be sleeping that night. Knudsen kept up with the story and said he would look into the owners of the photographs. Further down in the thread, Knudsen commented that he had found further information connected with these photographs and story continued and evolved. People were hanging to every word in posts to the thread which have now been removed. Some created their own versions and added their own take to the fake figure. The legend of Slenderman had now truly evolved.
Slenderman soon found its way to YouTube and other forums including Creepypasta – a famous website where users write scary paranormal related or horror short stories for the enjoyment of readers.
For more about Slenderman, check out my article Slenderman a blurred line between fiction and reality
The first known account with Black Eyed kids was said to be from the Summer of 1982 by a woman who was walking near Cannock Chase in Birches Valley, England. She never gave her name to the media but reported hearing a female child calling for help to the police. She ran in the direction of the cries but was unable to find the child. When she turned around she then saw a young girl covering her eyes. She asked the young girl if she was in trouble. She didn't answer. She then lowered her hands to reveal her black eyes. The woman ran away in fear. When she turned around, the little girl was gone. Police reports reportedly state that the police were then looking for the girl who was not found. The most famous account was published online in 1998 by an American journalist called Brian Bethel and the legend of the Black-Eyed Children soon went viral.
Bethel described his experience happening on a warm night in 1996. He needed to pay his internet bill and was writing a cheque in his car. Yes, this is what we used to do before Bpay and Tap and go. From his own account “There was a knock on my driver’s side window. Two young boys, somewhere between nine to 12 years old and dressed in hooded pullovers, stood outside. I cracked the window a bit, anticipating a speil for money, but I was immediately gripped by an incomprehensible, soul-wracking fear. I had no idea why. Both boys stared at me with coal-black eyes. The sort of eyes one sees these days on aliens or bargain basement vampires on late night television. Soulless orbs like two great swathes of starless night”. He said that they asked him for a ride because they were going to the movies, but had left their money at home. Overcome with a sense of fear, he rolled his window up. He said one of the boys started banging on his window and shouting “We can’t come in unless you tell us it’s OK. Let us in!”. He drove away. Since this time, there have been maybe hundreds of accounts worldwide where people have spoken of similar experiences where children with Black Eyes either knock on a window of a car or a door of a house asking for a ride or to be let in. Quite often they are wearing hoodies and are in groups of 2 or 3. They start to become aggressive and demand to be let in as they can’t come in unless invited.
Then there is also the story of an elderly couple in Vermont who was awoken late at night by 3 loud knocks on their front door. There stood a boy and a girl who asked if they could come inside to wait for their parents. They were invited inside where they sat on the couch. The husband asked some questions that they wouldn't answer while his wife made hot cocoa. She noticed that their pet Cat was distressed and hid under the couch away from the kids. They then asked to use the bathroom. She showed them the way and it was then that she noticed the colour of their eyes. Pitch black. She returned to her husband whose hand was covering his face and she asked him if he noticed the colour of their eyes. He then removed his hand to reveal he had a bloody nose. The power of the house went out and the wife went back to the bathroom to find the kids. She heard them at the end of the hallway as they yelled their parents had arrived. They walked out the front door leaving the door open. The wife noticed two big tall dark skinny men standing at the end of the driveway. She waved to them but received no response. They then all got in a car and drove off. The power to the house came on not long after. In the weeks that followed, three out of their four cats went missing while the fourth one was found dead in a pool of its own blood. The husband continued to get blood noses and a Dr then diagnosed him with aggressive skin cancer.
These are some of the many accounts you will find on the internet in forums, podcasts, books etc on this very popular subject. In fact, you have probably heard of at least one of these tales before. There is a lot of speculation as to what people believe Black-Eyed Children are. Some believe they are aliens disguised as children. Others believe they are demons (most likely due to Hollywood’s adaptation of demons having black eyes). Some say they are evil spirits. Others believe it is a overexaggerated myth created online much like Slenderman. A type of urban legend. I have even come across an explanation where people have argued that when you are on certain types of drugs, your pupils dilate and due to poor lighting a person’s eyes can appear to be black. Aggressive behaviour is also linked to drug use. Look back at popular Asian horror movies. In a lot of them, demonic entities are represented with black eyes. In Supernatural a demon is represented with Black Eyes. In Village of the damned, the children were represented with dark red eyes. The eyes are very powerful. It is also a pop culture reference. Is there where the myth was born? Did it exist before the internet? There are some people whose accounts date back to pre-internet, however, there is of course no way of proving these accounts are real.
Of course, these are just a small portion of the many urban legends and myths that exist all over the World across all different languages and belief systems. I will soon be exploring urban legends and the paranormal through the lens of pop culture as they all go hand in hand and offer an interesting look into the human mind. Don't we all love a good story to scare us at night?
Cover Image Photo by Ahmed Adly: https://www.pexels.com/photo/grayscale-photography-of-human-skull-1270184/
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