Have you ever lay in bed in the early hours of the morning and heard bones rattling from your cupboard? You might have escaped an encounter with Bloody Bones and his friend, Rawhead.
Lost to Time
There’s a lot of conflicting information about Rawhead and Bloody Bones due to the fact that the original stories were not recorded. British author M. R. James uses Rawhead and Bloody Bones as the prime example of lost folklore in his 1925 book, An Evening’s Entertainment, and laments how the story has been lost even though the name lives on.
Some sources claim Rawhead and Bloody Bones are the same entity, or at least closely linked. Others suggest that Rawhead and Bloody bones are different names for the same creature, while others still tell stories of two separate entities that are usually spotted together. Theories as to what this creature/s actually is are even more varied.
Bloody Bones is supposedly a classic bogeyman. One of the more common depictions, reported in Ruth Tongue’s Somerset Folklore, is of a humanoid figure with blood running down its face. This legend states that if a child is brave enough to peek through the cracks in cupboard doors, they’ll see it crouching over a pile of raw bones. The bones once belonged to misbehaving children. Bloody Bones waits for these naughty children and spirits them away. If you dared to spy on it, it would take you too.
A completely different version of Bloody Bones describes the creature as a water-based demon that haunts the ocean and particularly deep ponds. This version of Bloody Bones would drag stray children into the depths like the grindylow.
More recent stories of Rawhead and Bloody Bones from southern American states present a very different image: Rawhead is a skinless skull that bites its victims and Bloody Bones is a headless skeleton that dances.
Tales of Rawhead and Bloody Bones are mostly commonly heard in the southern US states in this modern age, and a lot of people believe that’s where the stories came from. Many of the tales that were popularised before the American Civil War originated in the same way: they were stories that were brought to America with enslaved people and then became integrated into white culture. This is what happened with many of the stories now considered to be ingrained into the history of New Orleans, for example.
Rawhead and Bloody Bones is an interesting example where the reverse is true: the stories originated in England and were transferred from the white to the black community. Stories were particularly common in the north of England, though there was a similar tale in Cornwall about Old Bloody Bones.
The earliest written record of “Blooddybone”, as it was known, was in 1548 according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Bloody Bones and Rawhead have been used to terrify children for centuries: in 1693, John Locke recorded instances of “Raw-head” and “Bloody-Bones” being used to scare children into behaving.