La Llorona (also called The Weeping Woman) A spectral weeping woman who drifts about at night looking for her murdered child or children. Llorona is Spanish for “weeper.”
There are numerous versions of the Llorona legend, which also exists in the American Southwest and as far away as the Philippines. According to one version, the Ghost is searching for her lost boy and is lost herself. In another version, she murdered the boy and now wanders about demented. Or, she murdered the child and therefore is condemned to eternal wanderings as a ghost.
In still another version, she once had several children but fell in love with a man who wanted none. To please him, she drowned them all, then drowned herself. Most folklorists believe that the legend derives from Aztec mythology. The goddess Civacoatl (also known as Chihuacohuatl or Tonantzín) dressed in white and carried a cradle on her shoulders.
She walked among Aztec women and left the cradle, which was discovered to contain an arrowhead in the shape of a sacrificial knife. Civacoatl also walked the cities, screaming and crying, eventually disappearing into lakes. There may also be a historical basis for the legend. According to that story, which took place in Mexico City around 1550, Doña Luisa de Olveros, an Indian princess, fell in love with a nobleman, Don Nuño de Montesclaros.
She bore him two children (some versions say twins). Montesclaros promised to marry her, but instead married someone else. Doña Luisa visited him on the night of his wedding party and was spurned by him. Insane with rage and humiliation, she went home and stabbed her children to death with a dagger that Montesclaros had given her previously as a gift. She then wandered the streets, in torn and bloody clothing, crying for her children. She was found guilty of sorcery and was hanged.
Her ghost is said to be cursed to wander the earth forever looking for her children. La Llorona has numerous shapes and appearances. Usually she has a seductive figure and dresses either in white or black and has long black hair. She has long fingernails, sometimes described as claws. She is faceless, or has the face of a bat or a horse. She also is described as a vampire.
In the El Paso, Texas, area, she has appeared as a faceless woman in white with shiny claws. La Llorona’s mournful, shrouded ghost usually is seen by riverbanks, the woods and along deserted streets, especially at midnight, the traditional “witching hour.” Sometimes she is seen in daylight. She may not bother the living, or may ask someone if her missing child has been seen.
She often entices men when they are drunk and out and about lonely areas. As a Phantom Hitchhiker, she sometimes waits along lonely roads and tells motorists who pick her up her woeful tale of her lost or murdered child. She is feared, however, for, like the demon Lilith of Hebrew lore, she preys upon young men and kills them.
La Llorona also may be compared to the Banshee of Irish lore, in that to see her presages one’s death within a year, or, at the very least, bad luck within the year. A version of La Llorona has been reported as far north in the United States as Gary, Indiana; it may be two ghost legends, La Llorona and the phantom hitchhiker, blended into one.
A woman in white, often said to be La Llorona, has been reported drifting about Cudahey, a suburban community once largely populated by Mexican Americans who worked in the steel mills. The ghost is said to have killed her illegitimate children in Gary by drowning them in the Calumet River. She usually hitches rides to the Calumet Harbor, disappearing from the car en route. Sometimes, she is said simply to appear in a car and vanish a few minutes later.
- Leach, Maria, and Jerome Fried, eds. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979.
- McNeil, W. K., comp. and ed. Ghost Stories from the American South. New York: Dell, 1985.
- Scott, Beth, and Michael Norman. Haunted Heartland. New York: Warner Books, 1985.