Every culture in the world has its own unique stories of lore and Mexican culture is no exception. The ghost story of La Llorona [translated to mean "The Weeping (or Wailing) Woman"] is well-known within Mexican and Mexican-American cultures. Believed to have originated hundreds of years ago before the Conquest in Mexico, possibly from the Aztec, the story has been kept alive by parents and grandparents who retell it to their children and grandchildren.
If you didn’t grow up with an abuela (grandmother) who reminded you nightly to be kind to your family lest you incur the wrath of La Llorona, you might not know the story. It's the tale of a beautiful woman who, after suffering heartbreak, drowns her children in a river and then, in a fit of regret, drowns herself. She then wanders about aimlessly as a ghost weeping and wailing in search of the children she has killed. In recent times, the growth of Latinx populations in the United States has helped to introduce the story to mainstream society. Artists and writers have created books, poems, plays and movies based upon the tale. Hollywood adapted the story into the 2019 movie The Curse of La Llorona.
As most legends do, the story of La Llorona has taken on many different variations. The following are just a few of the creative versions shared amongst communities today.
Depending on which version of the story you follow, La Llorona isn't just a weeping ghost who hangs out by the river, but rather she's a child-kidnapping monster.
In Mexico, parents use this version of the tale to keep their children from running around at night and getting into trouble. The story goes that if a child is caught by the ghost, she'll ask them for forgiveness and then drown them in the closest body of water.
In northwestern Arizona, the story goes that La Llorona was originally a woman named Launa who lived in Kingman Canyon with her husband and two children. Sadly, she felt that her husband was paying too much attention to their daughters and became increasingly jealous. In a fit of jealous rage, she pushed her girls over the edge of the canyon, plunging them to their deaths.
After the loss of their children, Launa's husband was so grief-stricken and distrusting of her that he left. She became so despondent that she threw herself off the edge of the canyon to join her children. From thereafter, she was condemned to wander the canyon for eternity, alone and wailing with grief. Legend has it that her cries of despair can be heard echoing among the canyon walls and that her ghostly apparition can be seen floating about the canyon between the hours of midnight and 3 AM.
In some versions of the story, La Llorona wasn't the one to kill her children. One tale tells of a poor woman and her husband who start having children, but cannot afford to feed them. The husband's solution is to drown the children.
After giving birth to their fifth child, La Llorona follows her husband to the river where she sees him throw the newborn into the water. Desperate to save her child, she jumps in after the baby and drowns. Thereafter, she returns to the river bed nightly, weeping and wailing at the loss of her children.
Another version of La Llorona's story is that she and her husband had a couple of children and lived happily as a family. However, once they had two sons, her husband began having affairs with other women. Distraught over his infidelity, she threw her children into the river. However, once she realized that they had drowned and died, the gravity of her actions struck her.
In her despair, she refused to leave the bank of the river or to eat. She grew thinner and gaunt until she looked like a walking skeleton and eventually died on the banks of the river. Grief-stricken for eternity, she remains at the river, weeping and wailing for her lost children.