Mary Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.
Nursery Rhymes are frequently based on unspeakable historical horrors. Children, I fear, may be essentially evil. They regularly and gleefully recite little rhymes filled with subject matter that would give pause to even the most graphic horror writer.
“Mary, Mary Quite Contrary” the familiar English rhyme is a choice example. The Mary alluded to in the rhyme, is Mary Tudor, or Bloody Mary. The daughter of Henry the VIII, Mary, was a staunch Catholic responsible for a repressive policy against practitioners of Protestant faith.
The ‘garden’ is a euphemism for the graveyards which, under her harsh supervision, filled up quickly with Protestant martyrs.
The silver bells and cockle shells are colloquialisms for instruments of torture. The ‘silver bells’ were thumbscrews. This simple vice with protruding studs or spikes on the interior surfaces was placed on the victim’s thumbs and slowly tightened until the victim gave a confession. The ‘cockleshells’ were supposedly instruments which were attached to the genitals and worked much the same way.
Beheading in Bloody Mary’s time was problematic. The one who was to be beheaded was often uncooperative and had to be chased around the scaffold. Often multiple blows were needed to sever the head. Simple executions turned into drawn out and complicated public spectacles. The guillotine solved these problems. The nickname for the the guillotine was the maiden. The pretty maids all in a row refers to the collection of guillotines used to get rid of troublesome Protestants.
Mary was indeed contrary. In spite of that, down through the ages children have embraced her and sung her praises. Doesn’t this seem suspicious? I suspect those cute little cherubs are actually monsters waiting for us to drop our vigilance for just one second.
You’ve been warned.
Thank you to Amanda Spaid for the use of her artwork. You can see more of her wonderful art here.
Kikimora (кики́мора) is a female house spirit in Slavic folklore. She looks just like a tiny hunch-backed Slavic woman wearing a dirty dress. Her flowing hair is the only thing that distinguishes her from an actual Slavic woman. (Slavic woman cover their hair and girls wear braids)
Kikimora usually lives behind the stove, or occasionally in the cellar. She’ll look after the chickens and help out with the housework, if the house she inhabits meets her standards. But if it’s a mess, she’ll tickle, whistle and whine to keep the children awake all night. Once she gets angry, the only way to appease her is to wash all the pots and pans in fern tea.
Kikimora enjoys spinning late at night. But if any household member is unlucky enough to see her, he or she will be the next to die.