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La Llorona

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La Llorona Copyright C.Wilkins

La Llorona is a popular ghost in Latine America folklore.


Contents

Legend

Basic story

Maria (La Llorona) is a beautiful woman married or the mistress of a rich and handsome man. She has three (sometimes two) children from her husband or a previous relationship. Then, Maria's beloved starts to work out of town. Then she is either deceived or left by her lover or she feels her children have become an obstacle to their union so she takes them to the river and drowns them. When she realizes what she has done, she starts to cry for her children and kills herself. The next morning, a traveler brought word to the villagers that a beautiful woman lay dead on the bank of the river. That is where they found Maria, and they laid her to rest where she had fallen. But the first night Maria was in the grave, the villagers heard the sound of crying down by the river. It was not the wind, it was La Llorona crying. "Where are my children?" And they saw a woman walking up and down the bank of the river, dressed in a long white robe, the way they had dressed Maria for burial. On many a dark night they saw her walk the river bank and cry for her children. And so they no longer spoke of her as Maria. They called her La Llorona, the weeping woman. And by that name she is known to this day. Children are warned not to go out in the dark, for, La Llorona might snatch them and never return them.

It is also said that when Maria reached the gates of heaven, the Lord asks her "Where are your children?" Maria answers "I don't know, my Lord." The Lord then says "You shall not enter these gates without your children." From that point on, Maria is doomed to roam the Earth in search of her children in the rivers and streams of the Americas.


United States

A version of the story in Kansas City is that of a beautiful young woman who attracts the attention of a wealthy man's son even though she is very poor. The lovers secretly marry and set up a household; they have several children. Unfortunately, a day comes when the young man's father announces that he has arranged a marriage for his son to a young woman within their social class. The young man tells his secret wife that he must leave her and that he will never see her again. She is driven mad by anger and a broken heart, and takes their children to a river, where she drowns them to spite her husband. When her husband finds out, he and several townspeople go to find her, but she kills herself before they can apprehend her. She goes to Heaven and faces the judgment of God. God asks her, "Where are your children?" to which she replies, "I do not know." God asks her three times and she replies with the same answer. God then damns her to walk the earth in search of her children. According to this tale, it is wise to avoid La Llorona, as she is known for drowning passers-by in an attempt to replace her dead children. Alternately, right after she drowns her children, La Llorona realizes what she has done and, consumed by grief, she wanders in the Kansas City Westside area dressed in black rags, taking children who disobey their parents or stay out too late to be her own. The same story is told near the US-Mexico border in Texas, but in that version, God gives her a horse's head in addition to her damnation.

Another popular version of the legend takes place sometime in the 19th century. A beautiful young woman with two small children was living in the poorest section of Kansas City, the town across the border from Kansas. She was madly in love with a very rich man. He felt the same way about her, but he, having no interest in children, refused to marry her. So late one night, the woman took her children to a bridge over the Missouri/Kansas river. In the dead of night, she stabbed her children and threw them in the river to drown. Still wearing her bloody nightgown, she went to her lover's home to show him the great lengths she had gone to to be with him. The man, seeing her blood-streaked nightgown, was horrified and rejected her. Then, finally realizing the horrible mistake she had made, she ran back to the river screaming, crying, and tearing at her hair, desperately trying to save her children. But it was too late. The woman stabbed and drowned herself in the same river. The legend has it that as punishment for her unspeakable sins she was given the head of a horse, and was to wander the banks of the river for all of eternity looking for her lost children

In yet another version of the story, La Llorona was a woman who had several children from a first marriage. Her husband died and she was left lonely. Soon she met a suitor who swept her off her feet. He promised her a wonderful life together, but only if she agreed to get rid of her children. After much soul-searching, the woman decided to follow the man in a new life together and drowned her children in the Missouri River. After a few months, the suitor grew tired of La Llorona and left her for another woman. Realizing that her selfish actions brought about the end of those who truly loved her, she died in grief with her soul eternally looking for her long-dead children.

In another variant, La Llorona is a naive but innocent woman forced into a shotgun wedding with the father of her child; in this case, it is La Llorona's father or her husband who kills the children. La Llorona attempts to stop the murders, and dies in the attempt.

In another variation from New Mexico, La Llorona is a middle-class woman. After having several children, she is widowed. She slowly loses her mind and one night takes a walk but leaves the stove on. The house catches on fire and all her children die. She tries to save them but can't and is severely burned. Consumed by grief, she wanders New Mexico dressed in black rags, taking children who disobey their parents or stay out too late to be her own.


Mexico

Another version of the story of La Llorona is told in Mexico. She lives in Zacatecas. She is told by a fortune teller that she is going to die, and so will her children. That same night, while they are sleeping, a big storm hits their village, causing the river to overflow its banks. The house is swept away by the flood, and her two children die. La Llorona then goes on a journey to find her children, following the river, but dies without ever seeing them again.

In Baja California, Mexico, they tell another version of the story that has a poor widowed woman who likes to go out to fiestas and party. She has three children whom she always neglects and beats. One day she grows tired of hearing her kids whine so she forces them in a sack which she carries down to a river. Her children beg for their mother to let them out. Instead, the mother throws the sack into the river and her children drown. The woman walks off happily. Later in life she dies. But when she goes to the Almighty God to hear his judgment against her, He said "You have sinned greatly upon your life, but you completed the ultimate sin by murdering your own children. So you will spend the rest of your eternal afterlife looking for the bodies of your children." The woman's spirit now roams the earth's rivers looking for her children's bodies, weeping.

Once there was a widow who wished to marry a rich nobleman. However, the nobleman did not want to raise another man's children and he dismissed her. The widow was determined to have the nobleman for her own, so she drowned her children to be free of them. When she told the nobleman what she had done, he was horrified and would have nothing more to do with her. As she left him, the widow was overcome by the terrible crime she had committed and went to the river, looking for her children. But they were gone. She drowned herself and her spirit was condemned to wander the waterways, weeping and searching for her children until the end of time.

Another version is more bloody. La Llorona is called Bloody Mary or the "Cry Baby." She is said to have lost her mind because of a drug overdose, and she brutally murders all ten of her children, one by one. She kills one, then puts their body parts in a bag and throws them in the river. Shortly after doing this, she regains her sanity and realizes what she has done. She cries, "My children, my children" over and over again, until she again loses her mind. Insane, she kills another of her children. This cycle continues until all of her children are dead. She is said to walk along the rivers where she threw their bodies and wail endlessly through the night.


Guatemala

In Guatemala, La Llorona's legend doesn't change much. It adds the scary trait that her wail, when heard as if from far off, announces the proximity of the ghost; when heard as if it's nearby, then the ghost is far away. This bears superficial resemblance to the sounds made by the kikik from Filipino folklore.

Some stories say that La Llorona was a criolla (one of unmixed Spanish descent) who was the wife of a wealthy Spaniard. In one of his trips, she falls in love with a poor mix-raced man and she becomes pregnant. She drowns her baby to hide the affair, and is damned for it.

Among the other attributes in these traditions are that she only materializes near a source of water, which may be a pond, lake, or even pila (laundry tank). It is primarily men who witness or encounter her ghostly figure; some have said that a man who encounters her goes insane or develops a critical mental trauma. Entire towns have supposedly heard her horrendous cry.

"La Llorona appears mostly in the mountains or in una poza (a place where people go wash their clothes)(or a well). They say that you hear her cry at night. One day my friend told me that she was sitting with her family in the kitchen eating supper and all of a sudden she heard a lady cry. Her family thought it was the neighbor Juan that had beaten his wife again and she was crying. But all of a sudden they heard it closer and it didn't sound like Juan's wife. The weeping was so horrible they covered their ears they started to pray, and moments, later it stopped. Then they figured out that it was La Llorona," says Marcella Rodriguez.

Another legend is that she will take the form of your wife, girlfriend, daughter or friend. You may only tell its her because of her long nails. If you find out she isn't your wife and scream she may scratch your eyes out. People do not let there children out past dark or she might snach them and dissapear with them


Honduras

The Weeping Woman has also been said to roam around rivers in Honduras. Although usually it's the same story of a woman crying for her drowned children, her reasons and intentions tend to vary. The alternate Honduran version is the story of a beautiful married woman who was abandoned by her husband. Now she roams near rivers, seducing men walking by. When the man gets too close, La Llorona changes into a horrible old lady, who drives them insane.

One of her popular cries is: "Toma mi teta, que soy tu nana" (Drink of my breast, for I am your mother).

In Honduras, she is known as La Sucia (The dirty woman) or Ciguanabana. This name is made up of Xihuatl (woman) and Nahuatl (Spirit): Spirit of a woman.


El Salvador

Stories of La Llorona from El Salvador are quite similar to those of Mexico, except that she is a young Indian who fell in love with a nobleman. He also loved her, but unfortunately, he did not love her children and refused to marry her unless she got rid of them. Driven mad by her lust for the nobleman, she took her children to a river and drowned them in a fit of hysteria. Upon realizing what she had done, she fled and stumbled, bashing her head against a rock. Hours passed, darkness fell and she regained consciousness. She attempted to make her way back to the town, but she became lost and died in the woods. Some say that she haunts nearby rivers wailing "Donde estan mis hijos?" (Where are my children?).


Panama

La Llorona is perhaps the most popular folktale in the country. The Panamanian version is called "La Tulivieja". According to the Panamanian legend, La Tulivieja was a beautiful young woman married to an important businessman. The couple had one small child. The husband prohibited his wife from going to parties and ordered her to stay home to care for their son. One weekend in a neighboring village, there was to be a big party. The woman took advantage of the fact that her husband was away on business and decided to go to the party. She took the baby with her, but left him under a tree near a river. She thought that it was a safe place to leave the baby while she was dancing. That night, a terrible storm hit the village. When she returned for her child, the baby was not under the tree. She began crying and looking for him, following the river. God was angry with the woman for her irresponsibility and turned her into an ugly woman with holes in her face, chicken feet and long hair that covered the front of her body. According to the legend, she appears in the towns or cities that are near rivers. In the Panamanian countryside, many people who live near rivers insist they have heard the cry of "La Tulivieja". Also, in the capital there are stories of people who claim to have seen the horrible woman, especially in the west.


Chile

Her legend is also important in Chile, where the tale is as significant as those of the La Calchona, La Vuida and La Condena. The legend is well-known throughout Chile.

The different legends about La Llorona vary from being very similar to the Mexican versions to being very particular to Chilean folklore. The Chilean versions define the ghost as the spirit of a woman looking for her son, and she is characterized as being a spirit with a special relationship with the dead. In most Chilean versions, La Llorona is called La Pucullén and is said to cry constantly for the son who died in her arms at an early age. She dresses in white and can only be seen by people about to die, those with special abilities (like the Machis or the kalkus), and animals with sharp senses, such as dogs, who howl pitifully in her presence.

She is the guide for the dead, as they follow her footprints and cries along the path that takes them from their earthly dwelling to the Beyond. It is said that she cries like a hired mourner for the relatives of the deceased so that they can promptly recover from the loss. By this she prevents the spirit of the dead from appearing to torment them for their lack of tears and for not showing enough sorrow.

With her abundant tears, which form a crystal-clear pool, she indicates the spot in a cemetery where the grave should be dug and the coffin deposited. It is said that if mourners have put the grave in the right place, they need to completely fill the grave with soil or one of the relatives of the deceased will die.

Other versions say that La Llorona makes the hearts of those who listen to her lamentations shudder and that she hypnotizes men who wander around before dawn and spends the night with them to comfort her for the loss of her child.

In some tales, if you rub your eyes with the tears of a dog, you can see her, though you must have a firm heart or the image will be a horrific one............


Venezuela

The story also exists in Venezuela, and has circulated through prose and song. In Venezuela, there is La Llorona and La Soyona, who has a different story. In Venezuela, La Llorona is seen as more cruel than sad.

The story goes that La Llorona is the spirit of a young woman who was in love with a soldier. She became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter. Then the soldier abandoned her, leaving her to raise the child. Not having any idea how to take care of her child, she killed it with her own hands out of distress. When she saw the horror she had committed, she began crying and screaming hysterically, drawing the attention of her family and neighbors. When they saw what she had done, they spoke to her angrily. She ran away towards the llanos and became a ghost. She is always crying, and when she comes across towns and/or populated areas, she screams/calls her daughter's name. She steals children that are alone, whether they're in their homes or near a river. She is thought to be heard especially around holy week.

Another version of the story is that she was a young woman living in a small village in the llanos in Venezuela. Every time she would bear a child, she'd kill it without pity. She confessed this to a priest in the village, but did not feel any remorse for her actions. The priest noticed she was pregnant again, and he told her to breast feed the child before she killed it. She gave the child her milk and then killed it, but when she did, her maternal instinct was activated, creating an enormous sense of guilt and sorrow within her. Since then she has been a vagabond wandering the llanos screaming and crying out in pain for her children. She searches for them and scares anyone who crosses her path.

She is represented as a beautiful woman, with long black hair and white skin, wearing a white gown and a black coat with a hood, holding a child in her arms. She screams, "My son, my son!"

At times, mothers chastise their children by telling them that if they misbehave, La Llorona will come and find them and scare them at night.

There is another version. Basically, her husband was upset with her and as a punishment, he killed their children. The young lady couldn't accept what happened, and started searching everywhere for them until she died. And when she died, she still kept looking for them, but being a spirit, she looks for their spirits. She does that by killing unbaptized children. Hence, this version is more of a lesson to adults to baptize their children.


Function of the story in society

Typically, the legend serves as a cautionary tale on several levels. Parents will warn their children that both bad behavior and being outside after dark will result in a visit from the spirit. The tale also warns teenage girls not to be enticed by status, wealth, material goods, or by men making declarations of love or any promises too good to be true. Some also believe that those who hear the screams of La Llorona are marked for death. Additionally, the tale is a Mexican and Central American cultural symbol that models negative and despised femininity, where La Llorona is the archetypal evil woman condemned to eternally suffer and weep for violating her role as a wife and a mother. She is a failed woman because she has failed at motherhood. The tale serves to control Mexican and Chicana women's conduct by prescribing an idealized version of motherhood.


See also

  • Similar to the La Llorona story is that of the Greek Medea, who likewise murdered her children after being abandoned by Jason, although Medea showed little remorse. Local Aztec folklore possibly influenced the legend; the goddess Cihuacoatl or Coatlicue was said to have appeared shortly prior to the invasion of Mexico by Hernán Cortés, weeping for her lost children, an omen of the fall of the Aztec empire.
  • La Llorona is also sometimes identified with La Malinche, the Native American woman who served as Cortés' interpreter and who some say betrayed Mexico to the Spanish conquistadors. In one folk story of La Malinche, she becomes Cortés' mistress and bears him a child, only to be abandoned so that he can marry a Spanish lady (though no evidence exists that La Malinche killed her children). Aztec pride drove La Malinche to acts of vengeance. In this context, the tale compares the Spanish invasion of Mexico and the demise of indigenous culture after the conquest with La Llorona's loss.
  • Folklore from wider Europe has also added to the legend. Tales of banshees and other female spirits whose wails presage death have influenced the story, and La Llorona's association with pools and rivers links her with water-nymphs like the Nix, Lorelei, the sirens and Melusine. European ghost lore is full of hauntings by women clad in white; they may be restless spirits seeking help for some wrong they have suffered or who are damned to a twilight existence reliving the tragedy of their lives. The European lore may have originated from ancient Teutonic myths of white-clad female elves and wise women ancestors (weisse frauen in Germany, witte wieven in Holland, and dames blanches in France). There are also similarities with the Biblical Massacre of the Innocents, which the Gospel of Matthew likens to "Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted."


Behavior

Children are warned not to go out in the dark, for La Llorona might snatch them, throwing them to their deaths in the flowing waters. The tales of her cruelty depends on the version of the legend you hear. Some say that she kills indiscriminately, taking men, women, and children -- whoever is foolish enough to get close enough to her.


Art/Fiction

  • The plot of Kilometer 31 (2006), a Mexican film directed by Rigoberto Castañeda, involves La Llorona.
  • La Llorona, or the woman in white, has recently been portrayed in The Cry(2008) and in the pilot episode of Supernatural (TV, 2005).