Every culture has legends that seem one part cautionary tale and one part plain old hair-raising ghost story. Hispanic culture has La Llorona, or the Weeping Woman, a ghostly figure whose wails echo from Mexico to Argentina. Many versions of the La Llorona legend exist, with different countries putting their own spin on the story, but the core themes of loss and punishment always hold true.
The First Weeping Woman
Like many Mexican legends, the inspiration for La Llorona can be traced back to pre-colonial times.
Just before the arrival of Hernan Cortes’ army in the Aztec capital of Mexico, the goddess Cihuacoatl appeared in the streets among the temples, crying out for the fate of the people: “O-h-h, my children, the time for our departure draws near. O-h-h-h, my children! Where shall I take you?”
The Legend of La Llorona
Long after the conquest and the establishment of New Spain as the capital city of colonial Mexico, a mysterious figure in white continued to appear in the streets, wailing “O-h-h, my children.” No one dared to leave their homes after curfew for fear of encountering the woman on her nightly rounds around the city.
Every night she cried for her children in the Main Square, and every morning just before dawn she vanished at the shore of Texcoco Lake. Sometimes, a young child vanished with her, stolen by La LLorona in a futile attempt to replace her own lost children.
This weeping woman was not a goddess, but the ghost of an ordinary woman doomed to suffer for all eternity for her mistakes. Legend has it she loved a Spanish nobleman. She bore him three children, but being an indigenous woman she could not marry him. When her lover finally married a Spanish lady, the woman went insane with grief, drowned their three children, and committed suicide. When she reached the gates of Heaven, she couldn’t explain where her children had gone. She became doomed to walk the earth for all eternity searching for them.
Even today, the ghostly figure of La Llorona continues to haunt Mexico City. She has also expanded her search for her lost children to many other cities and countries. You might hear her cries one dark night, or even see her veiled white form disappear into the waters of some river or lake.
La Llorona in Colombia
In Mexico La Llorona inspires fear but also a touch of pity due to the unjust society whose prejudices led to her madness. She wears white like a bride, and there is a purity to her pain.
In Colombia she cuts a much more terrifying figure. La Llorona in Colombia wears a black robe with a hood, like Death. Crickets, fireflies, and butterflies alight in her long curly hair, but when you catch sight of her face you see nothing but a skull with two glowing orbs for eyes. She too wails, but she has not lost her child.
The dead babe rests in her arms, its angelic expression marred by the tears of blood the mother sheds over it. In this version of the La Llorona legend, the ghost appears to girls in danger of having their own illegitimate children to frighten them.
No matter which version of the legend you believe, you would not want to meet La Llorona out at night!