(The Occult Museum) Nursery rhymes and fairy tales are fun fodder for children, but sometimes, when you get older, you start to realize not everything is as innocent as you’d hoped. In fact, some nursery rhymes come from downright diabolic sources. Whether they tell tales of Biblical sin or horrific events in history, some nursery rhymes and riddles are a little less child-friendly than one might imagine.
The dark origins of the following nursery rhymes might make you think twice the next time you sing one of these to your child.
Jack and Jill
This is probably the nursery rhyme that first comes to mind when you’re asked to recite one. Jack and Jill skipped up a hill for some water, right? Well, its origins just might be a little more sinister than you think. While many believe the rhyme is a reference to King Charles I and his tax on liquid measurements, some have traced the rhyme back to France’s King Louis XVI. The story, perhaps, actually tells a disturbingly innocent version of Louis and Marie Antoinette’s decapitation by guillotine during the French Revolution.
Goosey Goosey Gander
This one sounds silly, but it actually has a deeply political origin that flies over every kid’s (and even adult’s) heads. This Goosey Goosey Gander refers to the severe punishment of priests in the 18th century for practicing the Latin version of prayers and sermons (a time when Catholicism was forced on the run in several countries). In fact, one version of the rhyme depicts a priest being thrown down the stairs for his transgression. Not exactly feel-good nursery rhyme of the year.
Mary Mary Quite Contrary
This one seems harmless enough. It sounds like the exact little rhyme young girls might sing to each other while playing, right? Well, the identity of “Mary” in the song is actually pretty dark. It refers to Queen Mary I, who was the daughter and firstborn child of Henry VIII and a staunch Catholic, thanks to her Spanish mother Catherine of Aragon. She earned the moniker by viciously torturing and burning at the stake a large population of Protestants during her attempt to reinstate Catholicism in England during her short reign.
London Bridge is Falling Down
One of the more popular rhymes recited in schools across the Western world, is actually quite a bit darker than you might think and quite a bit older. Most people trace the origin of this story back to the invasion of Olaf II when he ran amok over England in a Viking conquest from his homeland of Norway. He destroyed the London Bridge, as referenced in the song, but there’s an even creepier allusion waiting underneath. Supposedly human sacrifice was used as a way to ensure the integrity of the bridge. However, there is no archaeological evidence of any human remains in the foundation of London Bridge.
Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush
The origin of this song just might be the freakiest so far. Most people trace this rhyme back to the cells of Wakefield prison in England. Though the exact date can’t be determined, the prison is over 400 years old and housed exclusively women prisoners during its duration. The song is a reference to the execution grounds in the prison being located by a Mulberry bush. Supposedly inmates would sing this song on their way to execution. This makes for a pretty ironic, and sickly cynical, little song for children to sing.
This is one of the first songs we’re ever sung to as infants, but its origin might be a little bit disturbing to parents when they find out where it comes from. Turns out, the song refers to the son of King James II of England and his wife Mary of Modena. The son in question, actually wasn’t their child at all, but an anonymous infant passed off to them as their baby to ensure a living heir existed after the death of their real child. Possibly every parent’s worst fear. Of course, it’s just a rumor in history…right?
Baa Baa Black Sheep
This is one of the cuter rhymes, told from the point of view of a small sheep offering up wool to a salesman. But the rhyme has a less fun origin, it refers to a tax on wool, specifically on dark colored wool. Further, things become even grim when you take into account that many people speculate that the language used in the song is referring to a slave, which has lead many public schools to ban the singing of the song in classrooms or hallways.
First of all, no one ever said Humpty Dumpty was an egg (though he’s often been depicted that way since it makes sense in the lyrics). So who did fall of the wall and break into pieces? Many believe the rhyme is referring to Richard III of England, often viewed as a hunchbacked villain in Tudor histories (the “Humpty” in Humpty Dumpty) and Shakespeare’s plays. The riddle refers to his defeat and loss of the throne at Bosworth Field in the 15th century, made famous in several fictionalized adaptations over the years.
Ring Around the Rosie
When you think of sinister nursery rhymes, this is probably the one that comes to mind for most people. This song, sung while holding hands and dancing in a circle, seems a little weird out of context, but in context, it’s downright dark. What is that context? Well, most academics agree, that the song refers to the symptoms of bubonic plague otherwise known as the Black Death, which arrived in England in 1348, and is estimated to have killed more than 7 million people. The song verses refer to the rashes, the smell of decay, and ultimately “we all fall down.” Pretty dark stuff.