Generations of Mexican children grow up afraid of La Llorona—a wailing woman whose misdeeds in life have left her spirit trapped on Earth, where she torments little children. She's the stuff of legend—a myth and spooky bedtime story whose origins date back hundreds of years. For horror fans and ghost-story lovers alike, La Llorona's is a tale worth knowing.
In Latin American folklore, specifically Mexican, La Llorona ("The Weeping Woman" or "the Cryer") is one of the most famous oral legends. The lore states a woman who, refused entry to heaven until she found the souls of her two sons. She cries and wails and takes children and drowns them in the river where she and her sons were drowned.
According to the legend, in a rural village in Mexico, there lived a beautiful young woman named, María. She came from a poor family but was known around her village for her beauty and grace. One day, an extremely wealthy nobleman was riding through her village and stopped in his tracks. He had traveled all over the world and has never seen anyone as beautiful as María. He was mesmerised by her beauty. He knew that he had to win her heart. María was easily charmed by him, so when he proposed to her, she immediately accepted. Eventually, the two got married, and María gave birth to two sons. Her husband was always traveling and he stopped spending time with his family. When he came home, he only paid attention to the children.
As time passed by María could tell that her husband was falling out of love with her because she was getting old. One day, he returned to the village with a younger woman, and bid his children farewell, ignoring María.
María, angry and hurt, took her children to a river and drowned them in a blind rage. She realised what she had done and searched for them, but the river had already carried them away. Days later, her husband came back and asked about the children, but Maria started weeping and said that she had drowned them. Her husband was furious and said that she could not be with him unless she found their children.
Now she spends eternity looking for her lost children. She is always heard weeping for her children, earning her the name "La Llorona". It is said that if you hear her crying, you are to run the opposite way. If you hear her cries, they could bring misfortune or even death. Many parents in Latin America use this story to scare their children from staying out too late.
La Llorona kidnaps wandering children at night, mistaking them for her own. She begs the heavens for forgiveness, and drowns the children she kidnaps. People who claim to have seen her say she appears at night or in the late evening by rivers or lakes, wearing a white gown with a veil. Some believe those who hear the wails of La Llorona are marked for death or misfortune, similar to the Gaelic banshee legend. Among her wails, she is noted as crying "¡Ay, mis hijos!" which translates to "Oh, my children!" or "Oh, my sons!" It is also said she cries out "¿Dónde están mis hijos?" which translates into "Where are my sons?" She scrapes the bottom of the rivers and lakes, searching for her sons. It is said that when her wails sound near she is actually far and when she sounds distant, she is actually very near.
The legend of La Llorona is traditionally known throughout Latin America, including Mexico, Central and South America. La Llorona is also sometimes identified with La Malinche, the Nahua woman who served as Hernán Cortés's interpreter and mistress who bore his children and who some say was betrayed by the Spanish conquistadors. In one folk story of La Malinche, she became Cortés's mistress and bore him a child, only to be abandoned so that he could marry a Spanish lady (although no evidence exists that La Malinche killed her children). In this context, the tale compares the Spanish discovery of the New World and the demise of indigenous culture after the conquest with La Llorona's loss.
Stories of weeping female phantoms are common in the folklore of both European and indigenous American cultures. Scholars have pointed out similarities between La Llorona and the Cihuacōātl of Aztec mythology, as well as Eve and Lilith of Old World mythology. Author Ben Radford's investigation into the legend of La Llorona, published in Mysterious New Mexico, traced elements of the story back to a German folktale dating from 1486.
The earliest published reference to La Llorona occurred in a sonnet written by Mexican poet Manuel Carpio in the late 1800s. The poem makes no reference to infanticide, rather La Llorona is identified as the ghost of a woman who was murdered by her husband.