The Weeping Woman ‘La Llorona’: A Mexican Legend
The Legend of La Llorona often referred to as the ‘Weeping Woman’, ‘The Wailer’ or ‘The Wailing Woman’, is an ancient Mexican legend that has its root in Mexican and Mayan pre-Hispanic origins.
La Llorona is a spectre of Hispanic-American folklore originating in Mexico that, according to oral tradition, is the soul in pain of a woman who drowned her children, who later, repentant and cursed, searches for them at night through rivers, towns and cities, scaring those who see or hear her at night with her overwhelming cry.
The legend has a great diversity of versions, with generalities and particularities typical of many geographical regions, but with various characters with similar characteristics, present in the cosmogonies and ancestral beliefs of the native peoples of America, transmitted orally from generation to generation, finding stories common but with diverse images, emblems and symbols, giving the legend a rich cultural diversity.
The first known written records appeared around the 1500s during the times of the Spanish Conquistadores. Records of it can be traced to two main sources. The Florentine Codex text originated in Mexico in 1519, written by the Spanish Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún. And The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, a set of memoirs written by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, a soldier who served under Hernán Cortés during the conquest of the Aztec Empire.
Today, the legend continues to be very popular from its origin in Mexico to Argentina, as well as in the southern states of the United States with the largest Spanish-speaking population, such as Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. In the particular case of Mexico, the character of La Llorona is a sign of national identity and the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mexico City.
The Legend of La Llorona
It is said that she was a beautiful woman with dark caramel skin and long black hair. She was madly in love with a Spanish Creole that she had taken as a lover. Together, the couple had two small mixed-race children.
Tired of always hiding their relationship and meeting in secret, the woman asked the man to formalize their relationship. He refused. He told her that she was of lower caste and he of high society, and therefore, they could never be seen together. Shortly after that, he abandoned her.
Upon hearing this, the woman became inconsolable and overcome with pain. Eventually, she lost all her reasoning abilities and one night at midnight, she took her children, a boy and a girl, to a nearby riverbank and with a dagger she had hidden in her dress, she ended their lives and threw their bodies into the river.
When she came out of her trance and realized what a horrendous crime she had committed, she was overcome by grief and sorrow. ‘Oh, my children! My Children!’ she shouted. But it was too late. Their children were already dead.
The Wailer was beyond herself with despair. She had nothing to live for. She had lost her lover, and now, through her fault, she had lost her children. Her soul was forever damned. She walked into the river and sank beneath its murky waters, letting the current drown her pain and her life.
Legend has it that there was so much pain and rage in her soul, that her spirit returned after death but when she woke up her children were not waiting for her, so the weeping woman was condemned to wander the rivers and streets looking for them for all eternity.
From that moment on, residents of Mexico City who went to their houses at curfew, tolled by the bells of the first Cathedral at midnight and especially when there was moonlight, woke up frightened when they heard in the street, sad and prolonged moans, released by a woman who undoubtedly was afflicted by deep moral sorrow or tremendous physical pain.
The residents crossed themselves and prayed, but the moans were so many and repeated and lasted for so long, that after a few nights some daring and unconcerned men wanted to see with their own eyes what it was that was making that noise. First, it was from ajar doors, from windows or balconies, but soon they went into the streets looking for the source of the sound that appear to be otherworldly.
In the silence of the nights or in those in which the pale and transparent light of the moon fell like a vaporous mantle over the high towers, the roofs and the streets, they finally saw her.
The woman wore a very white dress, and a thick white veil covered her face. With slow and quiet steps she walked through many streets of the sleeping city, each night different a different one. But always crossing the Plaza Mayor (Main Square), where, turned her veiled face toward the east, kneeling on her knees, she gave her last anguished and languorous lament. Then she would stand up again and continue to walk with a slow and deliberate step towards the shores of the brackish lake. And like a shadow, she vanished.
It is said that The Weeping Woman still roams the streets and the parks of Mexico City, looking for the children she lost in the river. Her damned soul is now condemned to the perpetual shadows of the netherworld for eternity, never able to find peace, never able to see her children again.