In Latin American folklore, La Llorona (pronounced [la ʝoˈɾona]; "The Weeping Woman" or "the Cryer") is one of the most famous oral legends. The lore states a woman was unloved by her husband and her husband loved the two boys instead of her. She caught her husband kissing another woman and drowned her sons in a river. Out of grief and anger she then drowned herself. She was 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 she and her sons drowned in. The legend represents La Llorona as a person or ghost.
The legend described in this article is a generic version of the Mexican version of this folktale. Other regional variations of the story exist.
According to the legend, in a rural village there lived a young woman named María. She came from a poor family but was known around her village for her beauty. One day, an extremely wealthy nobleman traveled through her village. He stopped in his tracks when he saw María. María was charmed by him and he was taken by her beauty, so when he proposed to her, she immediately accepted. Eventually, the two 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 and as time passed 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 realized 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 "¿Donde estan 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.
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). Aztec pride drove La Malinche to acts of vengeance. 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.
The Chumash of Southern California have their own connection to La Llorona. Chumash mythology mentions La Llorona when explaining nunašɨš (creatures of the other world) called the maxulaw or mamismis. Mythology says the Chumash believe in both the nunašɨš and La Llorona and specifically hear the maxulaw cry up in the trees. The maxulaw cry is considered an omen of death. The maxulaw is described as looking like a cat with skin of rawhide leather.
Outside the Americas, La Llorona bears a resemblance to the ancient Greek tale of the demonic demigodess Lamia. Hera, Zeus' wife, learned of his affair with Lamia and, out of anger, killed all the children Lamia had with Zeus. Out of jealousy over the loss of her own children, Lamia steals other women's children. In Greek mythology, Medea killed the two children fathered by Jason (one of the Argonauts) after he left her for another woman.
In popular culture
La Llorona appeared as the main antagonist in the 2007 movie J-ok'el.
La Llorona appeared as the "monster of the week" in the NBC TV series Grimm, in the ninth episode of the second season which first aired on October 2012. In this storyline, she is a ghost-like creature (her exact origin and nature is undefined) who appears in different cities at yearly intervals around Halloween, always luring three children to a point where three rivers meet, attempting to 'sacrifice' these children to regain her own. In the episode, series protagonist Nick Burkhardt and his partner Hank Griffin work with wesen detective Valentina Espinosa, who lost her nephew to La Llorona some years ago, and manage to save her latest victims, although La Llorona simply vanishes into the water.
La Llorona appeared as the first antagonist in the 2005 pilot episode of the TV series Supernatural. Sarah Shahi portrayed Constance Welch, The Woman in White who, after discovering her husband's infidelity took the lives of her two children by drowning them in a bathtub at home and soon after, took her own by jumping off a bridge into a river. Her ghost was known to haunt the Centennial Highway, hitchhiking unknowing motorists, mostly men, and killing those whom she deemed unfaithful. Main character Sam Winchester destroyed her ghost by crashing his car into the house where she used to live. Finally facing the ghosts of her children, The Woman in White was destroyed by her own guilt from killing them.
La Llorona briefly appears in the 1973 Mexican film Leyendas macabras de la colonia. La Llorona is mentioned and appears in several episodes of "El Chavo del Ocho" and "El Chapulín Colorado", both comic series written by Roberto Gómez Bolaños, aka Chespirito.
La Llorona appears as the main antagonist of the Mexican animated film La Leyenda de la Llorona. Here, La Llorona is portrayed as a more sympathetic character, with her children's deaths coming as an accident rather than at her own hands.
In 1995, Mexican playwright Josefina Lopez wrote "Unconquered Spirits", which uses the myth of La Llorona as a plot device. The play has two time periods, with Act One taking place in 16th Century Mexico after Spain occupied it. Here, Lopez takes inspiration from the "La Malinche" variation, with the heroine represented as a young Aztec girl who is brutally raped by a Spanish Friar. She gives birth to twin boys as a result, and drowns them in the river out of protection rather than spite. Act Two takes place in 1938 amidst the San Antonio Pecan Sheller's Strike. A widowed mother who works at the Pecan factory has an abortion after being raped by her white supervisor, resulting in a visit from La Llorona to give her the strength to fight back against her attacker. The play is well noted for its sympathetic portrayal of La Llorona as a victim of oppression.
In Nancy Farmer's 2002 science fiction novel, The House of the Scorpion, and its 2013 sequel book, The Lord of Opium, the main character, Matt, makes several references to La Llorona, often when retelling the story to other main characters or during self-reflection.
La Llorona is mentioned in the 2003 film Chasing Papi starring Sofía Vergara, Roselyn Sánchez, Jaci Velasquez, and Eduardo Verástegui. Her screams can be heard when Thomas (Eduardo) is under stress or confronted by the three women in his life. La Llorona's image is shown a few times in the film too.
The 2006 Mexican horror film Kilometer 31 is inspired by the legend of La Llorona, and the main evil entity in the film is based on her and her story.
In 2019, BuzzFeed Unsolved released a video called The Hunt for La Llorona - The Weeping Woman, the video discussed the details of the legend of La Llorona, while traveling to different places in the United States looking for the weeping woman.
In April 2019, James Wan, Gary Dauberman and Emilie Gladstone produced a film titled The Curse of La Llorona. The film is the sixth installment in The Conjuring Universe. It was released on April 19, 2019, by New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures. The film was directed by Michael Chaves and stars Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velasquez and Marisol Ramirez, who portrays the ghost.
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While the classic image of La Llorona was likely taken from an Aztec goddess named Cihuacōātl, the narrative of her legend has other origins. As Bacil Kirtley (1960) wrote in Western Folklore, "During the same decade that La Llorona was first mentioned in Mexico, a story, seemingly already quite old, of 'Die Weisse Frau' ('The White Lady')—which reproduces many of the features consistently recurring in the more developed versions of 'La Llorona', was recorded in Germany"; references to Die Weisse Frau date back as early as 1486. The story of the White Lady follows a virtually identical plot to the classical La Llorona story.
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- The New Mexican La Llorona
- Handbook of Texas Online A summary of the tale.
- Supernatural TV Series - Season 1 - Pilot Episode Woman in White Episode
- Grimm TV Series - Season 2 - Episode 9 - La Llorona Episode
- La Llorona in League of Legends
- Mama Watched Me Sink 2014 song by Kate Vargas
- La Llorona, 2015 short film
- Leyenda de la Llorona The complete story in Spanish