Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Bloody Mary, The Caputo Effect, The Lilac Chaser and Pop Culture

Bloody Mary! Bloody Mary! Bloody Mary!

Whether you participated in the Blood Mary game or not, she littered your childhood. I was definitely one of those kids sitting in the near dark, chanting to a mirror in hopes of seeing Mary for myself. I can't say that I ever personally witnessed her, but knew of childhood friends who claimed to. Is there possibly a rational explanation for this?

Also, little did most of us know much how Mary Tudor effected our childhoods.

It's no secret that Mother Goose's Nursery rhymes are busting at the seems with violent acts. Humpty falling off the wall. Rock-a-bye baby fell from the tree tops. Jack fell down and broke his crown. The old woman in the shoe beating the shit out of her many illegitimate children. Peter pumpkin eater holding his estranged wife hostage against her will.

But one lady makes a consistent appearance throughout some of these stories and many of us don't even know who she is. Let's take a look at her.

History of Queen Mary Tudor
Queen "Bloody" Mary I

Queen "Bloody" Mary Tudor I of England and Ireland, was one scary woman known for her execution of Protestants throughout the 16th Century. Mary reigned as queen July 1553 until her death on November 17th 1558. She was the only child of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. King Henry also had a son, Edward VI of England whom was born from his wife Jane Seymour.

Henry VIII of England

Edward VI of England

Without delving too deeply into Mary's tumultuous relationship with her father, because I've got alot to say, I'll give you a quick run down of events.

King Henry was known for his role in separating The Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. After his death his son Edward, a Protestant, was given the crown at the age of 9. Unfortunately Edward died at the young age of 15 from a lung infection. Before his death he named his cousin Lady Jane Grey as his successor in fear of his sister, Mary Tudor a Roman Catholic, becoming Queen. Edward feared the country would return to Catholicism after his Protestant reform.

Lady Jane Grey

Soon after his death, deals were put in motion to get Lady Jane Grey, a Protestant, onto the throne rather than King Henry's daughter, Mary. Long story short, Mary rallied her supporters and was able to convince Parliament to denounced Lady Grey only 9 days after becoming Queen. September 1553 Parliament declared Mary, whom felt herself the rightful Queen being the King's daughter, as queen and revoked Jane's proclamation as that of a usurper. Jane was immediately charged with high treason and taken away to stay in a tower. Her sentence was to "be burned alive on Tower Hill or beheaded as the Queen pleases".

Execution was set for February 9th but in a last effort by Mary to have Jane convert to Catholicism, execution was postponed for three days. The morning of February 12th Jane was beheaded. History says Lady Grey blindfolded herself but was unable to find the block to lay her head, and cried out, "What shall I do? Where is it?". She was assisted to the block by Sir Thomas Brydges, the Deputy Lieutenant of the Tower. Her last words, she quoted saying, "Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!" just before the axe dropped. Jane was said to only be 16 or 17 years old.

The execution of Lady Jane Grey

During Mary's reign as queen she was responsible for nearly 300 hundred cruel deaths of religious nonconformists through various forms of execution, including burning them at the stake or beheading them. Her tyranny was responsible for her nickname, "Bloody Mary"

Bloody Mary in Pop Culture and an Explanation for the Phenomena

The first and most obvious piece of pop culture is that of the urban legend, consisting of a ritual children do in an attempt to conjure Mary's malevolent spirit. They do this while looking into a mirror and saying "Bloody Mary" three times. This is supposed to invoke the spirit of Mary, who is supposed to appear covered in blood and can cause any level of trauma from staring at you to strangling you.

Why kids ever think this is a good idea goes to show children are sick little masochistic people. (You know you tried it). But at any rate, many people have claimed that Mary has in fact appeared to them. Of course Mary is never described to resemble Queen Mary Tudor at all, but more like something like this:

Modern depictions of Bloody Mary

An Explaination

In my opinion this may be because of one of a couple things.

One, they're making it up.

Two, it's caused by a phenomena called the Caputo Effect or possibly Troxler's fading.

Or of course three, Mary is actually out there ... in which case, I'm removing all mirrors from my home immediately.

Mirror divination dates back to the early 20th century. Many used this to supposedly see their future husband. If they saw a skull or a grim reaper, they would die before marriage, or miscarry their first born.

The Caputo Effect was coined by Italian psychologist Giovanni Caputo, The Caputo Effect is explained as a glitch in sensory processing due to dim lighting,causing facial recognition to occur.

In his experiment, out of 50 total participants, more than half reported deformations in their own faces. Others reported familiar faces, unfamiliar faces, animals or monstrous beings. 100% of participants experienced a dissociative identity effect which is a feeling of separation from their own reflections.

Another possibility is the Caputo Effect accompanied by another psychological phenomena called Troxler's fading. This is described as an optical illusion that affects visual perception. When someone fixates on a particular focal point, unchanging stimulus from that point can cause the surrounding areas to fade and disappear.

In this example taken from Wikipedia, the spots in the "lilac chaser" illusion fade away after several seconds when the black cross is stared at long enough. This leaves a grey background and the cross. Some viewers may notice that the moving space has faded into a moving blue-green spot, possibly with a short trail following it. Furthermore, moving one's eyes away from the image after a period of time may result in a brief, strong afterimage of a circle of green spots. (Credit to weird territory for some of this info)

Mix these phenomena with childhood imagination and presto! You have a very convincing urban legend sure to freak everyone out and talk about it till the end of time until it becomes "fact" to many gullible people.

Seriously, that's how these things start.

Mary and Family In Other Pop Culture

As I mentioned early in this article, nursery rhymes also include Mary. Several of our favorite Mother Goose tales are riddled with hints of her.

Mary Mary Quite Contrary

This popular 1744 nursery rhyme has been traced back to the bloody reign of Queen Mary Tudor. Known for torture of the Protestants, the popular nursery rhyme suggests something more sinsister than a merry garden. Mary was obviously not a very happy lady.

But how did her kingdom row? With Silver Bells (a contraption to crush fingertips), cockleshells (to crush male genitalia), and maids (or maidens, nickname for contraptions used to decapitate criminals) all in a row. 
A silver bell, a contraption purportedly used to crush fingertips, No pictures of cockleshells seem to exist, as far as I can see.

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 thing in your life,
As three blind mice?

It's reported that this seemingly misunderstood 1805 nursery rhyme represents the Queens enthusiasm for torture and execution. The three blind mice represent three Protestant bishops who conspired to overthrow her and were executed by burning at the stake for conspiring against the Queen. Blindness maybe in reference to their religion.

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone;
When she came there,
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none.

This 1805 nursery doesn't necessarily have much to do with Mary, but her father King Henry instead. This rhyme was written as a mockery of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey whom refused King Henry an annulment to Mary I's mother Catherine of Aragon, so he may marry Anne Boleyn, which led to political downfall.

"Off with their heads!"
And finally, just my own opinion and theory here. I believe Queen "Bloody" Mary I may have inspired the evil Queen of Hearts in the Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking-Glass". There are several references throughout the cartoons, as we all as the book that make me think this. Lewis Carroll described the Queen of Hearts as "a sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion - a blind and aimless Fury." 

Disney's 1951 adaptation of "Alice in Wonderland"

Many confuse the Queen of Hearts and the Red Queen with each other because later film adaptations such as 1951's Disney cartoon "Alice in Wonderland", combines the two into one character. The Queen of Hearts herself was an unforgiving, over zealous Queen that was notorious for her quote, "Off with their heads!" Queen Mary was also notorious for ordering beheading of anyone who crossed her or jeopardized her dynasty. While the cartoon Queen's style seemed to speak of Queen Elizabeth I, her persona was definitely all "Bloody" Mary.
Helena Bonham Carter's character The Queen of Hearts in Tim Burton's adaptation.
Another reason I believe Mary Tudor may have inspired the character was her insistence of painting all the roses in the kingdom red. Mary demonstrated the same essence through changing the dynamic of an entire country. She instilled fear by demanding everyone to convert to Catholicism. If they refused, they were executed. If you look at this metaphorically, the white rose can be a representation of Protestantism. The painting of the roses to red can represent both the overtaking of Roman Catholicism, as well as the blood Mary was known for. 

The Tudor Rose is the symbol of the original Tudor Dynasty, pre-Queen "Bloody" Mary. Princess Mary Rose Tudor (later to be the Queen of England) was the sister of Queen Mary Tudor I's father Henry VIII, as well as the maternal grandmother to Lady Jane Grey. Mary Rose was known for her beauty and was very loved by the people of England, unlike Mary I. The painting of the roses may represent the loss of innocence, the extinguishing of the old dynasty, and the bringing in of her own tyrannic bloody empire.

The Tudor Rose, symbol of the Tudor Dynasty. Note the white center?


While the urban legend and phenomena of "Bloody Mary" maybe rationalized by science, there is no disputing that well into the 21st century the same gory history of the 16th centuries still effect our culture today.

Of course if we forget, there's delicious ways to remember

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