La Llorona: The Weeping Woman

Image © NBC, Universal. Source: Dryed Mangoes.

In the wake of all the creepy clown nonsense that has been sweeping the States, I happened across a meme that poked fun at those frightened by the idea of random clowns popping up. It referenced La Llorona, or the weeping woman, as being, more or less, the Hispanic equivalent. This is not the first time La Llorona has been used to strike fear into the heart of children, in fact she’s been around for quite a long time, and so I decided to do a little bit of reading on her. Despite being Hispanic myself, I was fortunate enough that my mother never used her to terrify us as children. When I think about it though, I can recall a time or two that my grandfather brought her up when we visited him in Colorado. Those that were not raised hearing of the legend may have heard of her through other mediums, such as an episode of Grimm in which she was the main antagonist (that’s where I swiped the image from).

According to legend, the weeping woman was described as beautiful with long, black hair. Her name was Maria, she had two children and, though their fate remains the same regardless, there are two popular variations to her tale. The first suggests that she was a neglectful mother, forgoing caring for her children so that she could gallivant with men in town, while the second claims she was married to their father; however, he had eyes for another wealthier woman and cast Maria aside – this version is often linked to La Malinche, the mistress of Hernan Cortes. The only time he would pay her any attention, it was toward their children. In the first variation, as a result of her absenteeism, the boys fell into a river and drowned while playing unsupervised, whereas in the second version, she drowned her children in a fit of jealous rage when her husband snubbed her. As a result, in both stories, Maria spent the rest of her short life wandering up and down bodies of water in search of her children until she died, probably of starvation and grief. In some stories, she drowned herself upon realizing what she had done to her children. Either way, her body was found on the bank of the river where her children died.

Her punishment in the afterlife came in the form of being denied access to Heaven. Upon attempting to enter, she was asked where her children were. When she was unable to answer, she was returned to haunt the world of the living until she could find her children. Sightings of La Llorona span the Southwest United States and Mexico. Accounts range from claims of hearing a woman weeping near bodies of water, largely canals and rivers, to sightings of Maria, clad in a white gown. Her story is used to encourage children to stay inside after dark and is often recited with the warning that, should they play outside at night, then La Llorona will take the children into the river and drown them.

While we may call this apparition La Llorona, the story of the weeping woman is not exclusive to the American Southwest or Mexico; in fact, the United Kingdom, among many other countries, have their own versions with similar histories. Across the pond, La Llorona is replaced by The White Lady and is said to appear before the homes of those that will soon die. Like most folktales, the stories are passed down from generation to generation and have been recounted for hundreds of years. Also, I would like to note that stories regarding The White Lady vary greatly, with some versions being similar to La Llorona, and others reminiscent of the hitchhiking girl urban legend; however, to keep the mention of The White Lady relevant to this post, I have not included those variations.

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