La Llorona: The Weeping Woman
By Amy Shropshire, Reference Department
There’s nothing like a good ghost story to send a tingle down the spine and a shock to the heart. For generations, people have been sitting around campfires telling tales of creeping creatures from the beyond, here to steal away innocent souls. One such creature is la Llorona, the weeping woman. The tales of her vary widely, histories blurring with the passage of time.
Her name was once Maria, they say. The stories that paint her the most innocent say that she danced and cavorted about town with her children left alone at home. They drowned in the river, from neglect or murder no one could say. Other tales say that she fell in love with a conquistador and had her children with him. After he spurned her to marry another woman she drowned her children in the river. The tales agree that she realized the wrong she’d done far too late and grieved the loss of her children until she wasted away or drowned herself in the river to follow her children to their graves. She was turned away from heaven, forced to wander the Earth endlessly searching for her dead children and mourning their loss.
La Llorona is a boogeyman used to frighten children into behaving, a creature of myth and morbid imagination. She wanders the waterways at night, drawn to the damp and dark places where she and her children died. When her cries sound farthest away is when she is close enough to touch. With her wailing the only warning, her hands will snatch a child found alone at night and drag them to a watery grave. She also visits children who argue with their parents, trying to lure them out and into her clutches. A gaunt young woman, once beautiful but now shriveled and with sunken eyes, she wears either pure white or mourning black, depending on which tales you believe. She drags truant children away, drowning them in puddles and rivers alike.
This awful specter of Mexican legend has haunted the dreams of children since her story was quite different, when she resembled a vengeful Aztec goddess. She has inspired folk songs, plays, and countless movies, mostly in Mexico where the legends originate. In addition to frightening children, her story is used as a moral object lesson about responsible motherhood. Historians and anthropologists theorize that the figure of la Llorona descended from Aztec stories and slowly evolved, taking on more modern elements as the folktales change with the times. In modern times, she has been a long time movie monster on par with Count Dracula or Frankenstein’s monster.
La Llorona’s first film was in 1933, where she took on the mantle of vengeful spirit, murdering the wives and firstborn of a cursed family descended from the conquistadors. She continued the theme in 1960, terrorizing a family and attempting to murder an infant. Both films are simply called La Llorona. Multitudes of movies and plays capitalize on the legend of the weeping woman. She has made appearances in TV shows and even comic books. The newest film starring the specter is The Curse of La Llorona, which just came out in theaters.
Teachers are beginning to use folktales and legends such as la Llorona to encourage literacy development in increasingly multicultural classrooms. Story books about la Llorona are increasingly available in English and Spanish. Students are attracted to the familiar tales and encouraged to learn reading skills from these books. Despite the terrifying nature of la Llorona, children are drawn to her morbid tales. There’s no denying the appeal of a good ghost story and la Llorona is a spine chilling ghost.
Translation from video:
You were leaving the Temple one day, Llorona
When in passing I saw you
You wear a beautiful huipil*
That I though you were the Virgin Mary herself.
Ay my crying woman, Llorona
Llorona of blue sky
Even if it cost my life, llorona
I won’t stop loving you
They say I don’t feel pain, Llorona
Because they don’t see me mourn
There are dead ones who make no sound, Lllorona
And your sorrow is much greater
Ay my llorona, llorona
Llorona carry me to the river
Cover with your shawl, llorona
Because I’m dying of cold
*huipil- a blouse with embroidery and lace.
- Brujerias: Stories of witchcraft and the supernatural in the American southwest and beyond by Nasario Garcia (398.20979 BRU)
- The Mythology of Mexico and Central America by John Bierhorst (299.792 BIE)
- La llorona = The weeping woman : an Hispanic legend told in Spanish and English by Joe Hayes (Espanol J E HAY)
- La Llorona : the crying woman by Rudolfo Anaya (Espanol J 398.20979 ANA)
Articles (all available through library):
- Engaging Bilingual Students in Sustained Literature Study in Central Texas by Mara E. Franquiz, Antonieta Avila, Brenda Ayala Lewis. Journal of Latino/Latin American Studies, Winter 2013, 5(3), p142-155.
- From Llorona to Gritona: Coatlicue in Feminist Tales by Viramontes and Cisneros by Ana Maria Carbonell. MELUS, 24(2), Summer 1999.
- La Lloronaby Alcina Lubitch Domecq. Translated from the Spanish by Ilan Stavas.
- Leyendas (legends): Connecting reading cross-culturally by Judy A. Leavell, Nancy Ramos-Machail. The Reading Teacher, 54(3), November 2000.
- “Nobody’s Mother and Nobody’s Wife”: Reconstructing Archetypes and Sexuality in Sandra Cisneros’ “Never Marry a Mexican” by Laura Paz. Human Architecture: Journal of the sociology of Self Knowledge, VI, 4, Fall 2008, 11-28.