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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Origin of Undyne from Undertale

Arcane Curiosities

The game Undertale, released September 15, 2015, has legions of devoted followers. You play as a human who falls into the Underground, filled with monsters. The most determined being Undyne the Undying. She is the head of the royal guard in the Underground. Her task, eliminate any and all humans. But what exactly is the origin of Undyne?

From Nymph to Royal Guard

Undyne’s name derives from the word Undyne (also spelled Ondine), a mythical water nymph. The undine is an elemental spirit representing water. The Swiss alchemist, Paracelsus, invented the name in his book “A Book on Nymphs, Sylphs, Pygmies, and Salamanders, and on the Other Spirits” from 1566. The Latin root for undine is unda or “wave”.

No such fate would befall Undyne, her name a play on the word undying. She is committed to eliminating humans and stealing your soul — the last one needed to allow the monsters to escape from the underground. 

“Seven. Seven human souls, and King Asgore will become a god. Six. That’s how many we have collected thus far. Understand? Through your seventh and final soul, this world will be transformed.”

Undyne

A Determined Piranha

One theory about Undyne’s appearance is that she is a humanoid version of a piranha fish (specifically Serrasalmus Rhombeus).

Serrasalmus Rhombeus

Undyne is a fish-like monster with blue scales and a protruding maw of teeth. This matched the toothy grin of a piranha. Additionally, the Serrasalmus Rhombeus has red finned gills, matching Undyne’s red ponytail. Finally, piranhas have eyes with vertical slits, much the same as Undyne.

These fish also share Undyne’s personality, a ferocious determination to attack. However, piranha work in packs. Undyne needs no other help.

“Deep, deep in my soul. There’s a burning feeling I can’t describe. A burning feeling that WON’T let me die.”

Undyne

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Tim Kane

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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