Bloody Bones is a bogeyman figure feared by children and is sometimes called Rawhead, Tommy Rawhead, or Rawhead-and-Bloody-Bones.
The Oxford English Dictionary cites approximately 1548 as the earliest written appearance of “Blooddybone”. The term “Raw-Head and Bloody-Bones, and such other Names” was used “to awe children, and keep them in subjection”, as recorded by John Locke in 1693. Samuel Johnson in his Dictionary of the English Language (first published in 1755) defined “Rawhead” as “the name of a spectre, mentioned to fright children”. The stories originated in Great Britain where they were particularly common in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and spread to North America where the stories were common in the Southern United States.
Bloody Bones is sometimes regarded as a water demon haunting deep ponds and old marl pits (which often became filled with water to form ponds) where it dragged children into the depths, much like the Grindylow and Jenny Greenteeth. Children were told to “keep away from the marl-pit or rawhead and bloody bones will have you.”
Ruth Tongue said in Somerset Folklore that he “lived in a dark cupboard, usually under the stairs. If you were heroic enough to peep through a crack you would get a glimpse of the dreadful, crouching creature, with blood running down his face, seated waiting on a pile of raw bones that had belonged to children who told lies or said bad words. If you peeped through the keyhole he got you anyway.”
Old Bloody Bones is a Cornish version of Rawhead-and-Bloody-Bones according to F. W. Jones in Old Cornwall. Old Bloody Bones inhabited Knockers Hole near the village of Baldhu. There was said to have been a massacre in the area, and it is suggested that he was a ghost or evil spirit attracted by the carnage.
In the Southern United States, Rawhead and Bloody Bones are sometimes regarded as two individual creatures or two separate parts of the same monster. One is a skull stripped of skin that bites its victims (Rawhead) and its companion is a dancing headless skeleton (Bloody Bones). In one cautionary tale a gossip loses his head to the monster as punishment for his wicked tongue. Legends about Bloody Bones eventually made their way into African-American tradition as well as spreading to other parts of the United States.
In the opening of “An Evening’s Entertainment” (published 1925), English ghost story writer M. R. James mourns the loss of unrecorded folklore tales, citing “Rawhead and Bloody Bones” as an example of such a case where the name survives but the tale behind the name is lost. “We hear, indeed, of sheeted spectres with saucer eyes, and — still more intriguing — of ‘Rawhead and Bloody Bones’ (an expression which the Oxford Dictionary traces back to 1550), but the context of these striking images eludes us. Here, then, is a problem which has long obsessed me; but I see no means of solving it finally. The aged grandams are gone, and the collectors of folk-lore began their work in England too late to save most of the actual stories which the grandams told. Yet such things do not easily die quite out…”
In the novel Cold Days, in The Dresden Files series, a Rawhead is a creature native to the Never-Never. It appears as a large, skinless creature with a gaping many-jawed mouth. Its form is made from the discarded remains of pigs and cows, the bodies of children, and grown adults if it gets large enough to consume them.
The short story “Rawhead Rex” was first published in Clive Barker’s Books of Blood Vol. III. In the story Rawhead is accidentally awakened by the townsfolk of the rural town of Zeal, Kent. He goes on a murderous rampage killing and eating townspeople, including numerous children, and the Vicar of the town. He is a giant nine-foot-tall humanoid creature with a giant, sharp-toothed head. It is finally defeated by a talisman depicting a pregnant woman, the antithesis of the monster and the only thing it fears. The story was later turned into the movie Rawhead Rex (1986) which Barker has disowned, although he is the credited screenwriter.
In the television series Supernatural (Season 1, Episode 12 “Faith”), Dean and Sam rescue two children hiding in a cupboard in the basement of a house. Sam leaves with the children just before Dean is attacked by the Rawhead and thrown to the ground. Despite the fact that they are both in a puddle of water, Dean uses his taser to electrocute the Rawhead, killing it and severely injuring himself.
Siouxsie and the Banshees recorded a song called “Rawhead and Bloodybones” on their album Peepshow, which starts out, “Bad words or bad deeds/unpunished invite grief.”
Rawhead and Bloody Bones appear in a Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. story in England.
“Bloody bones gon’ get you” is repeated as the outro in Yelawolf’s 2017 song ‘Shadows’ (ft Josh Hadley, on the Trial By Fire album); sung by Nashville-based gospel quartet, the McCrary Sisters.
In Susanna Clarke’s 2004 novel, Johnathan Strange and Mr Norrell, the Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair refers to “raw head and bloody bones” as one of a number of shapes he might have to take in the event of magical combat, implying that this is a form which the Faeries take to achieve certain ends, rather than a distinct sort of creature from Faerie beings.