The Lowdown On The Legend Of La Llorona

Every civilization has its own lore concerning the paranormal, and 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, La Llorona has gone more mainstream. 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.

Photo: The Curse of La Llorona / Warner Bros. Pictures

  • Sometimes She Kidnaps Children
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Sometimes She Kidnaps Children

    Depending on which version of the story you follow, La Llorona isn't just a weeping ghost, but 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 One Legend, She Murdered Her Children In A Jealous Rage
    Photo: C.C. Pierce / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    In One Legend, She Murdered Her Children In A Jealous Rage

    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 envious rage, she pushed her girls over the edge of the canyon, sending 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 between the hours of midnight and 3 AM. 

  • Some Say Her Husband Killed Her Children
    Photo: Auckland Museum / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 4.0

    Some Say Her Husband Killed Her Children

    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 started having children, but could not afford to feed them. The husband's solution was to drown the children. 

    After giving birth to their fifth child, La Llorona followed her husband to the river where she saw him throw the newborn into the water. Desperate to save her child, she jumped in after the baby and drowned.

    Ever since, she returns to the river bed nightly, weeping and wailing at the loss of her children. 

  • In Another Telling, Her Heart Was Broken After Her Husband Cheated On Her

    Another version of La Llorona's story is that she and her husband lived happily together. However, once they had two sons, her husband began having affairs with other women. Distraught over his infidelity, the wife threw her children into the river. However, once she realized that they had drowned, the gravity of her actions struck her. 

    In her despair, she refused to leave the bank of the river or to eat. She grew skeletally thin and eventually died.

    Grief-stricken for eternity, La Llorona remains at the river, weeping and wailing for her lost children.

  • According To One Story, She Was Barred From Heaven

    One version of the story relays that after La Llorona's children drowned (either at her hand or by someone else's), she drowned herself in the same river to join them in the afterlife.

    Though she reached the gates of heaven, she was barred from entering until she found the children. Her spirit still wanders the earth looking for them.

  • One Woman Saw La Llorona In Her Home

    According to Teresa Finney, a writer for The Hairpin, her mother had a face-to-face encounter with the famed ghost when she was a girl. It was late at night and she was on the phone with her boyfriend when she suddenly felt a chill:

    All I know is that I tried to turn around to see where the cold was coming from, but I couldn’t move. I was frozen! I was laying in bed on the phone and I’m paralyzed, I can’t move. That’s when I see her. She’s in the doorway of my room just staring at me, dressed in all white. I try to scream but I’m just paralyzed.

    When asked how she knew it was La Llorona, she said, "I just knew.”