La Llorona

The weeping woman, La Llorona is a classic Mexican ghost story told for generations as a caution to children to remain inside at night.

The specter appears as a beautiful Latina woman in white or gray clothing, sobbing in anguish while always seeming to be looking for something. Most of the time she is found by a river or other body of water, and may appear to have recently been in the water. She may have cuffs on her wrists, symbols of her status as a spirit bound to the earth, and she will be instantly drawn to any children.

The La Llorona myth begins with a woman named Maria who falls in love with a prominent man who detests that Maria has two small children. Maria drowns the children in the local river to prove her love for the man, but discovers that he has abandoned her for a new, younger lover. Wracked with guilt over murdering her children, Maria returns to the river and drowns herself.

Maria’s spirit arrives in the afterlife only to discover that because of her sin she must return to earth, forever to walk the riverside as a specter searching for her dead children. Her wails are harbingers of death, similar to those of a banshee, and she will steal children who are not tucked safely into bed in the dark of the night. She cries “Aaaay, mis hijos!” (“Oh, my children!”) as she searches forever for the souls of her offspring.

While the story of Maria is said to be the origin of the Weeping Woman, there have been numerous other versions of this tale, leading to other women who become La Llorona after their death. Any woman who kills their children and then commits suicide may become one of these wailing, dangerous spirits.

Oddly enough, La Llorona may have its true origins not in Mexico or Spain, but rather in Germany. The story is very similar to that of the “white lady” myth that originated in the early 1400s in Germany. While not exactly the same, the stories do bear a striking similarity. La Llorona may also be a version of the Gaelic banshee, a woman wronged seeking her revenge.

Another possible origin for the story of La Llorona can be found in Aztec mythology. Aspects of the story of Maria and her children match those of the ancient goddess, Cihuacoatl, who abandoned her son, Mixcoatl. When she returned to look for her child, she found only a sacrificial knife, and wept thinking he may have been killed (he was not, and went on to become the god of the hunt). For a time, Cihuacoatl wandered the world searching for her child, taking any human child she found but quickly killing them when they turned out to not be her son.

A fourth origin, more grounded in history, may come from the conquest of Mexico by Cortéz in 1520. Cortéz had several slaves, one of which, known as La Malinche, acted as an interpreter and guide. She was a native Nahua, very familiar with the terrain and people of what would eventually become Mexico. She served as a trusted adviser to the Spanish and became Cortéz’s mistress, and bore him at least one child. Cortéz, however, would not marry her. She attempted to take her revenge in the old, Aztec style by killing her son, but did not go through with it. The story of her love and betrayal may have inspired the La Llorona legends.

La Llorona has appeared in several stories, movies, and television shows. Two movies revolve around the legend, The Weeping Woman and the more recent La Llorona. The vengeful ghost was featured on an episode of Supernatural where the heroes managed to defeat the ghost by bringing her into contact with the spirits of her dead children. The episode made it clear that this was not the original Maria, but a much more recent woman who had killed her children and had become a Weeping Woman because of her evil deeds. So prevalent is the idea of La Llorona that on March 5, 2017, protesters in Mexico took to the streets dressed as the Weeping Woman ghost to raise awareness about 43 missing students from a southern Mexican town.

There are many traditional folktales about La Llorona, and even a song sung to children to warn them about the ghost that might steal them away:

Don’t go down to the river, child,
Don’t go there alone;
For the sobbing woman, wet and wild,
Might claim you for her own.

She weeps when the sun is murky red;
She wails when the moon is old;
She cries for her babies, still and dead,
Who drowned in the water cold.

Abandoned by a faithless love,
Filled with fear and hate.
She flung them from a cliff above
And left them to their fate.

Day and night, she heard their screams,
Borne on the current’s crest;
Their tortured faces filled her dreams,
And gave her heart no rest.

Crazed by guilt and dazed by pain,
Weary from loss of sleep,
She leaped in the river, lashed by rain,
And drowned in the waters deep.

She seeks her children day and night,
Wandering, lost, and cold;
She weeps and moans in dark and light,
A tortured, restless soul.

Don’t go down to the river, child,
Don’t go there alone;
For the sobbing woman, wet and wild,
Might claim you for her own.

Wikipedia Entry: La Llorona
SFGate: Mexico’s legend of La Llorona continues to Terrify
Imagine Spirit: Chilling Legend of La Llorona

3 thoughts on “La Llorona

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  1. Apparently she has a horse head as well, but I don’t know how modern the horse-head appearance was added on. Either way, still a creepy story

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