La Llorona

From Academic Kids

In folklore from the Spanish-speaking Americas, La Llorona is the ghost of a weeping woman, whose appearances are held by some to presage death.

The story

Missing image
Virginia Zurí as "La Malinche" in the 1933 Mexican film La Llorona

The origin of La Llorona is told with many variations. Many of them involve a beautiful young woman in Mexico or New Mexico, who either married, or was seduced by, a local man, by whom she had several children. The woman is sometimes given a Christian name; Sofia, Laura, and María are sometimes used. The man leaves her, sometimes for another woman, sometimes for reasons of employment, sometimes just to be away from La Llorona and her several children. At any rate, La Llorona chooses to murder her children, almost always by drowning, either to spare them a life of poverty, or for revenge against their absent or stray father. In Las Cruces, New Mexico, the folk tale goes that "La Llorona" for whatever reason didn't have sufficient means to support her several children; as a result she drowned them in the Rio Grande. On nights with a full-moon, you can hear La Llorona crying near the river. The tales vary mostly in the several motives they give to the mother and father for the murder.

In south Texas the story of La Llorona is that of a beautiful girl who is very poor. She attracts the attentions of a wealthy man's son. He woos her and they secretly marry and set up a household; they have several children. A day comes when the father of the young man announces that he has arranged a marriage for his son to a young woman within their social class. The young man goes and tells his secret wife that he must leave her and that he will never see her again. She is driven mad by anger and emotional hurt; she takes their children and drowns them in the river 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 judgement 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 to search for her children. La Llorona also is known for drowning people, especially 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.

Another version of the story of La Llorona is told in Mexico. According to this version, she lived in Tequila, Jalisco. She went to get her fortune told, and she was told that she was going to die, and so were her children. That same night, while they were sleeping, a big storm hit the village in which she lived. She lived near a river, which overflowed its banks, and the house was swept away by the flood, and all of her children died. Her husband lived in the USA. La Llorona went on a journey to find her children, following the river, and she died in that same river.

In any case, La Llorona's undead spirit becomes a sort of banshee. Her restless spirit walks abroad at night, crying "ˇO hijos mios!" or "ˇAy mis hijos!" (O my children!). Sometimes she is dressed all in white; at other times, in black. She is weeping, of course; in some tellings her eyes are empty sockets. Those unlucky enough to see or hear her are marked for death themselves. The New Mexican La Llorona hunts after children; some say that she drowns them in the river.

Comparisons to figures in other cultures

A number of motifs have been woven into the multiple sources of this complex legend. The Aztec 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 and the coming genocide. La Llorona is also identified by some with La Malinche, the Native American woman who served as Cortés' interpreter and who some say betrayed Mexico to the Spanish conquistadors. In some folk stories of her life, La Malinche becomes Cortés' mistress and bears him a child, only to be abandoned so that he could marry an aristocratic Spanish lady.

European folklore, also, seems to have been added to later versions of the legend. Tales of banshees and other female spirits whose wails presage death seem to have influenced the story. Like the banshee, the nixie, Lorelei, Melusine, and several other water-nymphs, La Llorona is said to dwell near rivers, swamps, and water-filled pits, where La Llorona drowned her children. European ghost lore is full of hauntings by women clad in white, whose restless spirits seek vengeance for some wrong they have suffered or who are damned to a twilight existence reliving the tragedy of their lives.

There are also European analogies in mythological tales such as that of Medea, who likewise murdered her own children, and for that matter to the Biblical tale of the Massacre of the Innocents, which the Gospel of Matthew links to "Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted."

The contemporary murderess Susan Smith, who drowned her children in a South Carolina pond, was likened in news reports to La Llorona.

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