The Origins Of La Llorona: The Weeping Woman

CULTURE | November 16, 2019

A ghostly woman in a white gown stands near a lake. Source: (YouTube.com)

A dark-haired woman in a long white gown haunts rivers and lakes, searching for her drowned children. No one, especially children, dare go near her for fear she will drag them into the water and drown them. Her name is La Llorona and she is a well-known figure in Mexican folklore.

While the exact origin of the legend is unknown, many believe it dates back more than four centuries. The figure of La Llorona is thought to be one of the goddesses worshipped by the Aztecs. The goddess Cihuacōātl, which means “Snake Woman,” was said to dress in white and walk around at night crying. She was also considered to be an evil omen. La Llorona has also been connected to the Aztec goddess Chalchiuhtlicue, meaning “the Jade-skirted one,” who was the goddess of the waters and had a reputation for drowning people. The Aztecs gained favor with Chalchiuhtlicue by sacrificing children to her.  

Depiction of Chalchiuhtlicue. Source: (pinterest.com)

The La Llorona myth has also been connected to a real woman named La Malinche, who was the mistress of Hernán Cortés during his conquest of Mexico. According to legend, La Malinche was reviled by her people due to her connection to Cortés, who left her after she gave birth to his child. She responded to his desertion by murdering their child. While there is historical evidence that La Malinche did exist, there is no proof that she killed her children.  

“Medea” by Anselm Feuerbach. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

European legends of scorned women murdering their own children date back to ancient Greece, with the story of Medea who murdered her sons in response to her husband’s betrayal, so it is possible that the tale of La Llorona was imported from Europe. There are also similarities to be found among the banshees of Irish mythology who are known for their shrieking and are believed to be omens of death. Then there is the British cautionary tale of “Jenny Greenteeth,” who would allegedly drag children into the water and drown them. Parents used this tale to keep their children from getting too close to the water and falling in.   

Artist depiction of a banshee. Source: (Ancient Origins)

While there are multiple variations of the tale, the current legend states that La Llorona was once a beautiful woman named Maria. She was born into poverty but because of her beauty was able to acquire a wealthy husband. The couple had two children but eventually, the husband began to stray. After catching her husband with another woman, Maria flew into a rage and murdered her children by drowning them in a river. Some versions have Maria as merely negligent, rather than murderous, leaving her children home alone while she went out with various men. She comes home one day to find her children have drowned in her absence.

Weeping Woman, Supernatural. Source: (supernaturalwiki.com)

Maria is stricken with grief after the death of her children. In some versions, she immediately drowns herself. In others, she spends the rest of her life by the river, crying and searching for her children. She will not eat and eventually takes on a skeletal appearance, before eventually dying on the riverbank. However, this is not the end. Her spirit continues to wander along the river, weeping and wailing for her children. People begin to call her La Llorona and fear her as she is rumored to take people and throw them into the river. Some versions say she would only take children, but others say that she would take anyone who got near to her.

Like the legend, the details of the alleged sightings of La Llorona also vary. Some report that she appears as a warning to children who disrespect their parents. Others claim that she is a death omen for anyone who sees her. Reported sightings of the apparition have been made not only in Mexico but also among Hispanic communities in the United States. However, there are no documented reports of La Llorona dragging anyone to a river and drowning them.

Tags: Mexican folklore. | The Origins of La Llorona | The Weeping Woman

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