Have you ever gotten home late at night, perhaps after a few drinks, and felt that maybe you weren’t alone? In Central America, some might say that you were followed by El Cadejo. This mythical creature is present throughout Mesoamerica.
Although each country has its own version, all agree that El Cadejo is a huge, black dog with bright red eyes, often with goat hooves and dragging chains. From afar, it follows those who go out at night, drinking and partying, until they get home safely.
Versions of El Cadejo Legend
In several countries, for example, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador folklore, there are actually two Cadejos: one white, representing good, and one black, representing evil.
In these countries, the black Cadejo is the dog that follows night dwellers and drinkers, while the white one serves to protect against the other. If they meet, they fight, but don’t kill each other – just as in the struggle between good and evil, neither wins.
In Guatemala folklore, there are even regions with three Cadejos: black, white, and grey, with the white protecting women and the grey protecting lost and sick children.
In Costa Rica, the creature is called El Cadejos, and in addition to searching out partiers, it also appears at the window of children that won’t go to sleep.
Origin of El Cadejo Legend
It is not surprising that the El Cadejo legend is present in many parts of Mesoamerica. Dogs have been an important aspect of the region’s folklore and mythology since the golden age of the Mayan civilization.
One common theme was the dog as a companion or guide to the underworld; for example, dogs were painted on burial-themed pottery and were even buried with the dead in some of the region’s cultures.
It’s also possible that the legend comes from Mayan traditions which held that human beings had companion or spirit animals, called nahuales, which protected them from evil. The name itself is likely to come from the chains that the dogs drag – chains being cadenas in Spanish.
Given the Cadejo’s choice of “victim,” one of the most common explanations is that the legend serves a morality tale, discouraging heavy drinking and staying out late.
A Real-Life Cadejo?
Another origin of the El Cadejo legend is the weasel-like animal the tayra (Eira barbara), which is called a cadejo is some parts of the Central America. Most are dark brown or black, and they do have one unusual feature: the fur on their heads, which gets lighter as they get older.
This has led to some of its other names: viejo de monte (old man of the mountain) and cabeza de viejo (old man’s head). Still, it’s unlikely that this is the actual source of El Cadejo, as tayras are only about two feet long, not the huge, terrifying dog that inspired this legend. They do have long claws, though.
Still, the next time you have a long night, be on the watch for a big dog – and those bright red eyes…