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La Llorona: Multiple tales with no origin
Photo courtesy: Local Artist Rebecca Rozales/La Llorona

By Joshua Pilkington

She is a tall, thin woman with flowing black hair whose natural beauty is beyond compare. Wearing a white gown she wails into the night along rivers and creeks searching for children to drag into a watery grave.

Not the type of person you’d want to get to know better, let alone go looking for on Halloween night. Yet, there are those who venture to look for La Llorona.

“I don’t know if it’s told in every Latino home, but I don’t know of anyone that hasn’t heard of La Llorona,” said Denver native David Muñoz. “It’s just one of those stories your parents tell you so you don’t go out playing at night or playing near rivers or streams by yourself.”

Those who ventured to see a horror movie the past month may have witnessed the trailer for a film titled “The Curse of La Llorona” a film based on the Mexican folkloric tale of La Llorona. Despite some negative feedback regarding casting choices, the film hopes to be a hit with audiences by resurrecting the old, spine-tingling and mysterious tale.

“Because the tale has been around for so long, there are a variety of iterations,” said Jacob Cuevas, a pharmacist by day and overindulgent consumer of horror stories and folkloric tales by night. “The most common version has a woman who drown her children in a river and now haunts rivers around the world looking for kids to drag into the water. The one consistency across the board is her weeping. She is always weeping.”

The Weeping Woman as La Llorona translates in English has a checkered past, to say the least. Checkered in the sense that it is difficult to pinpoint the origin of her story.

“Most scary tales - the call from inside the house, the man with the hook for a hand, the candyman who poisons candy on Halloween, bloody Mary and the bogeyman - they all have an origin of some kind and in many cases they can be traced back to something that actually happened. But in the case of La Llorona, it’s so old and been retold so many times, there is no face to put to the tale…which makes it all the more terrifying in my opinion. The mystery around her creates the suspense.”

Some origin stories depict a woman who killed her children in a jealous rage after catching her husband in flagrante with other women. In midst of her jealousy, she threw her children into a river and was immediately consumed with guilt for what she had done. Instead of returning home, she wandered the river depressed in search of her children until lack of food and water consumed her and leaving her skeletal body along the banks of the river.

“That’s my favorite version,” Cuevas said. “It gives her character purpose for looking like this wandering skeleton in white.”

The most common version of the story, however, is that La Llorona is the ghost of a woman who lost her children after they drowned in a river by accident. With her children gone, she began searching for them in rivers and other bodies of water, dragging other children to join them while she searched.

“I think the most logical origin story is that some kids drowned in a river in some pueblo in Mexico a long time ago and to keep the same thing from happening to their own kids, mothers in Mexico made up this tale of the ghost of a woman who would pull them in if they disobeyed,” Cuevas said laughing. “I know that’s something that my mom would have done.”

Aztec legend connects La Llorona to La Malinche, the guide and eventual mistress of Hernan Cortez, conqueror of the Aztecs. The story goes that La Malinche, an local woman caught the eye of the Spanish explorer who made her his mistress. They raised two boys and later Cortez was ordered back to Spain telling La Malinche he was returning to Spain with his two sons. La Malinche was devastated and asked to see her sons one last time. She walked them to the nearest water’s edge and drowned them both before they could be taken from her. Legend has it that her ghost walks along water ways mourning for her two sons.





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