The Curse of La Llorona

19 Jan

La Llorona is a legendary figure with various incarnations. Usually translated into English as ‘the wailing woman’, she is often presented as a banshee-type: an apparition of a woman dressed in white, often found by lakes or rivers, sometimes at crossroads, who cries into the night for her lost children, whom she has killed. The infanticide is sometimes carried out with a knife or dagger, but very often the children have been drowned. Her crime is usually committed in a fit of madness after having found out about an unfaithful lover or husband who leaves her to marry a woman of higher status. After realising what she has done, she usually kills herself. She is often described as a lost soul, doomed to wander the earth forever. To some she is a bogeywoman, used by parents to scare children into good behaviour. This folk story has been represented artistically in various guises: in film, animation, art, poetry, theatre and in literature aimed at both adults and children alike. The legend is deeply ingrained in Mexican culture and among the Chicano Mexican population of the United States. The legend of La Llorona has supposedly haunted Mexico since before the Conquest. Her story is one of violence, much like the country whose suffering she is often taken to represent. So beware the woman in white…

The origins of the legend are uncertain, but it has been presented as having pre-Hispanic roots. Although the story varies a little depending on who tells it, the gist is simple. Basically: long ago, a woman named Maria married a rich man, with whom she eventually had two children. Then their marriage hit a rough patch: her husband spent less and less time at home, and whenever he was home, he paid attention only to the children. Eventually, she sees him with another woman. Enraged beyond reason, some versions claim Maria drowned her two children—but she immediately regretted it, crying out, “Ay, mis hijos!” (Translation: “Oh, my children!” or “Oh, my sons!”) Maria is sometimes said to have drowned herself afterward. But when she arrived at heaven’s gates, she was denied entry, banished back to purgatory on Earth until she could find her lost children. She’s now known as La Llorona, which translates to ‘the weeping woman.’ So the legend says, she floats over and near bodies of water in her white, funereal gown, forever weeping as she searches for her lost children. Some versions of the story say she kidnaps or attacks children; others say she attacks cheating husbands. Regardless, when you hear her cries, the directive remains the same: run away!

La Llorona has directly inspired and/or influenced several movies over the years—including the 1933 Mexican film La Llorona, the 1963 Mexican film La Maldición de la Llorona (The Curse of La Llorona), 2006’s KM 31: Kilómetro 31, and 2013’s Mama, from Andy Muschietti and Guillermo del Toro. (Muschietti, who directed 2017’s It remake as well as Mama, is Argentinean; del Toro, who executive-produced, is Mexican.) The most recent film to tackle the legend, 2019’s The Curse of La Llorona, starred Linda Cardellini as a non-Hispanic white woman whose late husband was Latino. Much of the film’s supporting cast, however, was Hispanic and many of the film’s casting, directorial, and creative choices suggested a commitment to grounding this film within a Latin American world. The Curse of La Llorona received mixed reviews but for a good number of the film’s cast and crew, making the film was an experience that recalled chilling childhood memories. Patricia Velásquez, who played Patricia Alvarez in the film, said at a junket that when she was growing up in Mexico, La Llorona felt quite real. “[I]t’s really how our parents make us do what they want to,” she said. A sample threat: “[Make sure] to come in at 5—otherwise, La Llorona is gonna come and get you.”

It is strange that such a pervasive myth could have such different features, but still be known by the same name. Indeed, the variations in the folk story seem to be geographical, with different regions having their own slightly different versions of the wailing woman. In addition, the legend has changed over time, seemingly to reflect the socio-political climate. Just as a source will often tell us more about the author than the subject, we can glean a lot about the story-tellers’ points of view when examining the development of this particular legend. It is not until the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the folk story can be found in print. However, when we look at them, far from finding an official version, we can clearly see that many elements of the La Llorona story change over time. The evidence would suggest that La Llorona, as she is now known, is a fairly modern myth that has evolved over time and has been used since the late 19th century to reflect and comment upon the socio-political situation of Mexico. By presenting La Llorona during the Day of the Dead celebrations, both of which have disputed origins but are thought to be ‘quintessentially Mexican’, it can be used to present to the world a new version of Mexico’s history and an official representation of Mexican identity.

2 Responses to “The Curse of La Llorona”

  1. Von at 9:01 am #

    Do you think there is a connection between La Llorona and the banshee curse which we have here in Ireland as this also features a lady in white?

    • ghostcities at 11:53 am #

      Absolutely – although the Banshee and La Llorona are folklore from entirely different cultures, they do share the same archetype. The Banshee is a supernatural being but is known as a Fairy in Celtic culture. La Llorona is also a supernatural being but is just known as seen a lost soul in Mexican culture. They are both women who cry out at night and tend to spook people, but they just do it for different reasons.

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