Are nursery rhymes evil? (Do nursery rhymes have a dark origin?)

As a parent, I love spending time with my children whenever I can, to strengthen our bond. A few weeks ago, my nursery-going child came home singing a new nursery rhyme.

She kept repeating the song and even requested me to join her in singing. As a good parent, I joined her but was interested in finding the meaning and origin of the new song.

I then decided to conduct extensive research to know the origins of nursery rhymes since none of them were gospel songs, which got me a little worried as a theologian.

During my research, I watched various historical documentaries on the origin of nursery rhymes and read multiple articles on them.

I consulted different theology professors on their views on nursery rhymes to link my findings to my knowledge as a theologian.

Last week, a member of my online forum wanted to know if nursery rhymes are evil. Another member also wanted to know the darkest nursery rhyme.

Since I had deep research on this topic, I took it upon myself to explain my findings. After the discussion on the forum ended, I saw it fit to come up with this article for those with similar questions.

So, are nursery rhymes evil?

Although no scripture in the bible answers whether nursery rhymes are evil, some people believe that nursery rhymes have a dark origin tied to them and might not be appropriate for children.

So, join me until the end as I explore more about this topic. I will discuss why most nursery rhymes have a dark origin, the darkest nursery rhyme and why most nursery rhymes depict sadness and tragedy, among other interesting topics.

Why do most of the nursery rhymes have a dark origin?

Most people have agreed that most nursery rhymes have a dark origin because of the time they were composed. It is believed that the earliest nursery rhymes were formed in the 14th century up to the 18th century.

It is believed that these songs were not written or composed to entertain children but were written regarding the historical, political and social events during those times.

It is believed that during these early centuries, many negative things were happening, including oppression, greed, cruelty, execution and even sickness.

People could then come up with songs related to the happenings for fear of addressing their issues publicly, which could lead to their killings.

What is the darkest nursery rhyme?

Are nursery rhymes evil?
What is the darkest nursery rhyme? Image source: Pixabay

While there are many dark nursery rhymes, I find two nursery rhymes that are the darkest. These nursery rhymes are connected as they sing about one person. These nursery rhymes are;

Three blind Mice

This nursery hymn is believed to tell a dark story about how the Catholics persecuted protestants during the reign of Queen Mary 1.

Mary 1 was the queen of England who served the country for almost five years. This queen is believed to have killed hundreds of protestants in her attempt to restore the Roman Catholic church property taken away by protestant monarchs who came before her.

The killings led to Queen Mary 1 being nicknamed the Bloody Mary. The three blind mice in the song are believed to be three protestant bishops, Nicholas Radley, Hugh Latimer Thomas Cranmer who had conspired to overthrow Queen Mary 1 and ended up being burned for heresy.

It is also believed that the mice are blind in this nursery rhyme because people were usually blindfolded before they were executed.

Mary, Mary quite contrary

This is also another nursery rhyme believed to have been sung regarding Queen Mary 1. The gardens in the song are believed to represent the graveyard or cemeteries where the protestants she killed were buried.

In the song, a line says, “How does your garden grow?” which has been suggested to be a question in which people questioned the queen on how she kept adding more corpses to the ones she had already buried.

The silver bells and the cockle shells mentioned in the song are believed to be the instruments that Queen Mary 1 used to torture the victims.

The song refers to her as contrary because she keeps killing people, yet she claims she is religious.

Why do most nursery rhymes depict sadness and tragedy?

It is believed that most nursery rhymes depict sadness and tragedy because these songs were formed to lament the different oppression and killings.

Many also believed that people who came up with these songs wrote and sang what they were going through. It is important to remember that during this time, common people were not free to speak about the ill practices that were happening.

So they resorted to saying them in songs to avoid going to jail or getting punished by those in authority. The people made these songs fun and playful so as not to attract any punishment.

Most nursery rhythms also depict sadness because they talk about diseases or plagues that took many lives, such as the “Ring Around the Rosie” song.

Four nursery rhymes with dark backstory

Do nursery rhymes have a dark origin?
Four nursery rhymes with dark backstory. Image source: Pixabay

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep

This famous nursery rhythm is believed to be about the great custom. This was a tax that had been imposed on people in 1275 concerning the black sheep’s wool.

People did not agree with the great custom, as it required every farmer to divide his wool bag into three. One part belonged to the king, the second to the church and the remaining his.

Farmers believed they were being oppressed by this custom and insinuated that they remained with nothing after paying the tax.

London Bridge is Falling Down

This is another famous nursery rhyme with multiple versions depending on countries. One theory suggests that the song originated due to the destruction of the London Bridge by the Vikings.

Another theory also suggests that the song refers to a child buried in London’s bridge foundation to stop the bridge from collapsing.

Rock-A-Bye Baby

Historians believe that this is another nursery rhyme with a dark story. This song is believed to be about King James II of England, who could not have a son on his own.

He then smuggled another man’s son into the birthing chamber so the throne could stay under the Roman Catholic church.

Another theory about this song suggests that it was written concerning the 17th-century ritual where stillborn babies were hung from trees, believing they would come back to life.

Ring Around the Rosy

This nursery rhythm was believed to be sung due to the bubonic plague that claimed a good number of London’s population.

It is believed that this plague consisted of a red rash that had a deadly ring shape on a person’s skin. People would fill their pouches and pockets with posies, sweet-smelling herbs to prevent themselves from contracting the plague, as it was believed it was transmitted through foul odours.

The line “We all fall down” emphasized how this plague killed many people.

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