In the spirit of Día de Muertos and Halloween, today we would like to share one of the most common horror folktales from Mexico: La Leyenda de la Llorona (The Weeping Woman)
Practically in every town of Mexico there are testimonies of a ghostly woman who roams the streets every night weeping for the loss of their children, screaming over and over “¡ay, mis hijos! (Oh, my children!)”. This folk tale is so popular and so ingrained in Mexican culture that it is not limited to one specific location and variations of this story can be found across all of Latin America. So, grab a blanket and turn the lights on to dive into this spooky story, and hope La Llorona does not pass your street!
There are innumerable variations of this legend, but the most known story tells of a beautiful woman named María. María met a handsome gentleman and fell deeply in love with him. After a while, they had three of the most beautiful children together. One night María learned that her beloved had betrayed her with another woman and, blind from rage, María takes his children to the river and drowns them. Seconds later, she realizes the horror that she has done and tries to bring them back to life, regrettably a little too late. Filled with pain, guilt and regret she cried with despair for her children with a chilling lament that could be heard all over town screaming “¡Ay, mis hijos! (Oh, my children!)” over and over again. After that night, María came back every night looking for her children until the day she passed. It is said that her spirit was condemned to roam the river in which she drowned them looking for them. However, those who encounter her will not find María, but the frightening spirit of her despair and she will take them with her. La Llorona is always there lamenting her actions, chasing after those who find her, especially children, deceitful men, and neglectful mothers.
In every Mexican town, there are different testimonies of her apparition, sometimes of a beautiful, long black haired woman wearing white, sometimes dressed in black, and sometimes of indigenous features. In fact, it is said that the reason no one knows exactly what she looks like is because no one has lived to tell the story, as La Llorona takes all who see her with her. What they all have in common, though, is that they all tell of a woman weeping after their children over and over again: ¡Ay, mis hijoooos!
The versions of this horror folk tale vary depending on the region and the area’s attributes, for example, in Mexico City alone, La Llorona is said to appear in Xochimilco floating the canals; in the city’s center roaming the streets and old buildings; in Coyoacán near a nursery where Magdalena river used to cross; and in Texcoco Lake, where historians trace the origin of this folk tale.
Where does this tale come from?
The original story of La Llorona is connected to Precolonial times, approximately a decade before the arrival of the Spanish, in 1521. Chronicles of Spanish conquerors (specifically Fray Diego Durán and Fray Bernardino de Sahagún) tell of Aztec people hearing the weeping and cries of a woman near Texcoco Lake (where Tenochtitlán was situated) lamenting for her children saying “my children, where shall I take you?” and other times “my children, we have to leave far away”. Her laments heard all over town at night indicating an omen about the massacre and tragedy that Spanish conquerors were bringing with them. These chronicles even indicate that this was a concern for emperor Moctezuma II, who had consistent dreams about the end of his ruling and who heard stories of other people about this woman and asked them to find out what she cried about, thinking that these could be related. Chronicles of the Florentine Codex/Fray Bernardino de Sahagun, specifically, narrate how Tenochtitlán inhabitants heard her laments and called her Cihuacóatl (the snake woman) or Tonantzin (our mother) (both very powerful mother archetypes in Mexican culture and indigenous knowledge, if we may note).
So, if we trace the origins of La Llorona, it would appear that it was the laments of a mother announcing, preventing, and lamenting the faith her children. What is interesting is to trace how the legend has been adapted and modified as time passes. After the Spanish conquest, tales of this weeping woman prevailed, but it was now of an indigenous woman that had three children with a Spanish soldier who was married to a high-class Spanish woman back in Spain. When she heard about this, she lost her mind and killed her children as a sign of revenge. The Catholic church later used this tale, too, to warn women of forbidden love and to establish traditional roles of motherhood.
Towards the XVIII century there are several different chronicles that identify this weeping woman as La Llorona, turning the tale of Cihuacóatl/Tonantzin closer to the tale we know today. From there, various stories start emerging of a woman, dressed in black or white, lamenting over her children, usually around bodies of water and at night.
Another meaning that this story takes is that this indigenous woman was, in fact, La Malinche, a Mayan woman (gifted as a child by her parents) who served as translator for Hernán Cortés in her trips to Tenochtitlán. Although challenged by many, including your writer, La Malinche in history is written as a woman who betrays her people by helping Hernán Cortés conquer us. It is said that La Malinche and Cortés were romantically involved and had one child together (though, many challenge the "romantic" aspect of this version in history because of the age and power-relations between la Malinche and Cortés). The way this is tied to La Llorona is to narratives of this child who Hernán Cortés took away from La Malinche, which drove her crazy in laments.
All of this put into context explains the origin and regional variations of the Legend of La Llorona which popularity is known across Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and many other Latin American countries, and nowadays testimonies place her in border towns in the United states.Its popularity is such that there are Hollywood productions that take this tale as inspiration.
La Llorona has become one of the most iconic tales of Mexican culture: all children in Mexico (and in some parts of Latin America) grew up with this tale, cautionary of La Llorona coming after them. One explanation that people give is that this legend comes after the sounds that rivers and canals make when there is wind. Others say that it is a tale made to scare children from staying near water and out late at night, but no Mexican will ever deny that La Llorona roams at night and some will even attest to hearing her at night.
So, what do you think? Will you be telling the story of La Llorona to children this time of the year? Was this a tale you knew about? If so, what is the story you know? Do you find the origin of this story interesting? What other folk tale would you like us to speak about? Remember, we love hearing from you and read all of your feedback with love and gratitude!
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