How Bloody Mary Inspired Two Gruesome Nursery Rhymes

Arkane Curiosities

Many early fairy tales and children’s songs have been sanitized over the years, their darker origins being submerged under the seeming nonsense of the verses. Yet if we dig deep enough, we can uncover the disturbing origin of nursery rhymes. Two gruesome nursery rhymes link directly back to Mary I of England.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

The homicidal Queen Mary I (1553 to 1558), a fanatical Catholic, executed hundreds of Protestants during her reign. Although the nursery rhyme did not appear till 200 years later (1744), Mary remained an unpopular monarch. 

The most common lyrics today are:

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row

Mary I was quite contrary, going against the grain of English Protestism. Yet how does she “grow” her kingdom? With the sprouting of gravestones from the 284 Protestants she burned at the stake. In this interpretation, the silver bells and cockle shells can refer to torture devices. 

The pretty maids in a row can refer to her attempts to create an heir. She knew she needed someone to rule after her, otherwise her sister, Elizabeth, would take control and revert the country back to Protestant beliefs. Mary was already 38 when married to Philip. She suffered from “phantom pregnancies” where she retained her menstrual fluid, causing her belly to swell. In the end, she suffered two such false pregnancies. 

Three Blind Mice

This rhyme dates much closer to Mary I, being published in 1609 by one Thomas Ravenscroft. The modern lyrics go like this:

Three blind mice. Three blind mice.
See how they run. See how they run.
They all ran after the farmer’s wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a sight in your life,
As three blind mice?

During Mary’s reign, three Protestant loyalists plotted against the queen. Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Radley, and The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer all conspired to overthrow the queen. They were never blinded, but perhaps they were “blind” to the truth of God. Instead of cutting off their tails, Mary had the “Oxford Martyrs” burned at the stake. 

The farmer’s wife in this tale refers to Mary and her husband, King Philip of Spain, who owned massive estates. 

So the next time you hum one of these little ditties, think about the pain and suffering that inspired them.

Tim Kane

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3 Weird Ways to Confuse a Vampire

Arkane Curiosities

If a vampire has you on their menu, you can reach for a stake or garlic. But another solution is to simply confuse the vampire. Through the years, people have surmised various weaknesses of these nocturnal bloodsuckers and come up with different ways to perplex them. A confused vampire is one that won’t be feasting on you.

Force the Vampire to Do Some Math

Many cultures contend that vampires are obsessive to the point of compulsion. They will count various objects, no matter how many, until the job is done. We can use this to our advantage.

Germans would scatter seeds (poppy, mustard, oat or carrot) around the grave of a suspected vampire. The undead was compelled to count all the seeds before leaving the grave to seek blood. Although this seems like a simple task, often the vampire found themselves delayed till daylight. The Kashubs of Poland believed a vampire could only count a single seed a year, thus keeping it busy for centuries. 

Knots could also delay a vampire. Nets were often buried with the deceased forcing the undead to untie all the knots.

A more macabre practice was to leave a dead cat or dog on your doorstep. In this case, the vampire must count all the hairs on the animal. Personally, I would opt for the seeds. 

Trick the Vampire with Poop

Never has the poop emoji been so powerful. No garlic or crucifix at hand? Just shove a bowl of excrement in the vampire’s face.

In Europe, vampires were thought to exit the grave through small holes (the size a serpent might make). In Bulgaria, they placed bowls of feces (or poison) right outside these holes. The vampire, it seems, is so famished that it will consume the first thing it comes across, devouring the bowl of excrement. 

Get the Vampire Drunk

A happy vampire is one that won’t invade your home. Sometimes a bottle of whiskey was left in the grave with the corpse. If the vampire became too drunk, it might not be able to find the home of its relatives, preventing it from feeding on you. 

In Romania, people would bury a bottle of wine with the corpse. After six weeks, they dug up the bottle and drank it, offering a form of protection from the strigoi (a Romanian vampire).

Tim Kane

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3 Weird Ways to Keep Vampires Away (Bread, Clocks, Salt)

Arkane Curiosities

We all know garlic is the go to deterrent for vampires. But the vampires know this too. What if you want a more offbeat or weird way to keep vampires away from your house.

There’s a history of smelly objects that repel the undead. The Saxon Neuntöter was afraid of the citrus strength of lemons. Likewise, the strong odor of tar would keep bloodsuckers away. People would smear it on their doors in the shape of a cross. 

Bake Some Blood Bread

The blood of the vampire is a potent liquid with many magical properties. A tradition in Poland is to bake bread using the blood of a suspected vampire. By eating this bread, you would be protected from vampire attacks. 

The Romanians took this practice to the extreme. They would chop up the whole vampire body, burn it to crisp, and mix the ashes with water or brandy. When the surviving family drank this liquid, it was supposed to keep them from succumbing to vampirism themselves. 

Think this is a forgotten tradition? The last documented case of corpse-ash drink was 2004!

Stop the Clock

The folklore of Germany and Great Britain command us to stop the clock when someone dies. This is in the days of mechanical clocks where the hands can be halted by halting the swing of the pendulum. 

The idea behind this tradition is to allow the soul of the deceased to move onto the next life. If the clock keeps ticking, you might invite the spirit to return to your house. Possibly as a ghost or even a blood sucking vampire. 

In Poland, the clocks are stopped to keep them from counting down the time for the deaths of the rest of the household. 

Use Plenty of Salt

During Medieval times, people used salt to preserve meats and the mineral took on magical properties. This started even before birth. 

Romanians believe that a woman who had a high salt diet will give birth to a healthy baby. On the other hand, women with low-salt intake were sure to produce a vampire. 

People would carry salt with them at night to ward off evil creatures. A bag of salt was even hung over a baby’s crib to protect it. And tossing salt over your shoulder…? That was so you can blind any creature trying to sneak up on you. 

Finally, you can sprinkle salt along your floorboard. In addition to the protective qualities of salt, a vampire would step in the salt and then leave a trail of the stuff back to its grave. 

Tim Kane

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3 Weird Ways to Stop a Vampire (Carpet, Hairpin, Lemon)

Arkane Curiosities

Vampires rise from the grave to bite our necks and gulp down our blood. Not a great situation if you’re on the punctured side of the equation. The best way to cope with these bloodsuckers is to make sure they never get out of their coffins in the first place.

Wrap the Vampire in a Carpet

In areas of Eastern Europe, people bound the knees (or sometimes even the whole body) of a suspected vampire with a rope. This prevented the corpse from clambering out of the grave. People would take this one step further, and wrap a rug around the bloodsucker to completely immobilize it. In Ireland, people would pile stones on the grave to keep the Dearg-dul (Irish vampire) from rising. 

In the case of the recently discovered vampire in Poland, the corpse had a padlock on her left big toe to symbolize that she would never rise again. Serbians took this one step further and cut off the toe of a Vlkoslak (a Serbian vampire).

Poke the Vampire with a Hairpin

Various sharp objects have been found in vampire graves, all meant to discourage the undead from leaving the grave. The discovery of a female skeleton buried with a sickle across her neck was not the first anti-vampire method. The idea with the sickle was to cut the head off if the vampire should rise.


Image credit: Miroslav Blicharski / Aleksander. Photograph:( Others )

Hairpins or thorns would also prevent a vampire from rising. These objects were inserted either under the tongue or in the navel. In Bulgaria they wrapped their version of a vampire (Krvoijac) with wild roses. The thorns of these were seen as a deterrent. 

When dug up, people noted that some corpses looked plumper than before (due to the swelling of the body after death). Pins or thorns were thought to keep the body from swelling.

Give the Vampire a Lemon

A certain German vampire called Neuntöter was afraid of lemons. Placing a lemon in its mouth when buried would keep the vampire in its grave (they would sometimes cut off the head between 11pm and midnight). 

The lemon has long been seen as a treatment for illness and poison. The ancient Romans used lemon juice to cure colds and fevers, while the Egyptians would drink the juice to protect against poison. Ancient Greeks claimed that eating lemons could help people survive being bitten by a poisonous snake.

Tim Kane

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