La Llorona

Conquistador Medea La Malinche
Actors representing La Llorona, 2003

In Hispanic American folklore, La Llorona (pronounced [la ʝoˈɾona]; "The Wailing Woman" or "the Cryer") is a legend about a woman who drowned her children and mourns their deaths for eternity, roaming Latin American areas as a ghost or apparition. Multiple variations exist, as is common in oral tradition.

The legend says that a woman was unloved by her husband, who loved their daughter and son instead. She caught her husband with another woman and drowned both of her children in a river, in grief and anger, and then drowned herself because she felt so sad and angry at herself. She was refused entry to heaven until she found the souls of her children. She cries and wails and takes children and once she realizes they aren’t her own she drowns them in the same river where she and her children drowned.[1]

La Llorona ("Weeping Woman") has been part of Hispanic culture since the 16th century Conquistadors. There are many different names for her; for example, in America she’s called the "Woman in White". The origin of the legend is unclear. The multiple variations of the tale are consistent on certain points: La Llorona is a woman named Maria who was doomed to walk the earth in search of her children after she drowned them.[2]

In one variation she was tricked by a demon, who told her that her children' souls were lost, but that she would be granted entry to Heaven if she found the souls and brought them to Heaven where they belonged. The demon knew that her children's souls were already in Heaven and that the woman would be stuck in the land of the living trying to find her children forever, crying constantly for the sin she had committed. After a long time without finding her children, her grief and desperation to just be able to die and be at peace caused her to start taking other children's souls by drowning them.[citation needed]

In another variation, a beautiful young woman named María lived in a rural village. She came from a poor family but was known around her village for her beauty and grace. One day, an extremely wealthy nobleman was riding through her village and stopped in his tracks. He had traveled all over the world and had never seen anyone as beautiful as María. He was mesmerized by her. He knew that he had to win her heart. María was easily charmed by him and he was charmed by her beauty, so when he proposed to her, she immediately accepted. Eventually, the two married, and María gave birth to two kids. 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.[3]

María, angry and hurt, took her children to a river and drowned them in rage. She realized what she had done and searched for them, but the river had already carried them away. Days later, when her husband came back and asked about the children, 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.

She drowned herself, knowing what she had done. Now she spends eternity looking for her lost children in hell. She is always heard weeping for her children, earning her the name "La Llorona", which means "The Weeping Woman".[4] 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 tell this story to scare their children from staying out too late.[5]

La Llorona kidnaps wandering children at night, mistaking them for her own. She begs God/Heaven for forgiveness but to get to heaven, she needs to find her children. It says that she drowns the children she kidnaps, hoping she finds her kids.[6] 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.[7] Some believe those who hear the wails of La Llorona are marked for death or misfortune, similar to the Gaelic banshee legend.[8] 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 "¿Dónde están 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.[9]


The legend of La Llorona is traditionally known throughout Latin America, including Mexico, Central and South America.[10] La Llorona is also sometimes identified with La Malinche,[11] the Nahua woman who served as Hernán Cortés's interpreter and mistress, and bore his children[12] 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. Before the Spaniards arrival in Tenochtitlan, there were seven ugly omens, the sixth of those was a woman screaming in the night crying: "Where will I take you?,oh my children!"[13]

Stories of weeping female phantoms are common in the folklore of both Iberian and indigenous American cultures. Scholars have pointed out similarities between La Llorona and the Cihuacōātl of Aztec mythology,[10] as well as Eve and Lilith of Hebrew mythology.[14] 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.[15]

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.[10]

Per region

In Mexico

In Mexico, there are said to be ways to connect to La Llorona or to come into contact with her. One is to light red candles in a room whose walls are covered in mirrors. If one chants her name while lighting the candles, she will likely appear. Other accounts tell of her appearing when children are misbehaving, or near lakes and rivers in Mexico, searching for her children.[16]

In United States

La Llorona's legend has seeped deep into Hispanic culture. The forms of the tale are diverse due to the wide range of geographical distance that Hispanics have traveled. She is deemed pathetic because her lover betrayed her and then her children died. This tragedy in the Chicano culture portrays a woman doomed to walk the earth for eternity. Hispanics also see La Llorona as an omen of supernatural danger. [17]

In former Spanish colonial communities in the United States, the legend of La Llorona serves as a cautionary tale to deter children from playing too close to the acequia irrigation system which criss-crosses the region. [18]

Similar folktales

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.[19] 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.[19] The maxulaw is described as looking like a cat with skin of rawhide leather.[19]

Outside the Americas, La Llorona bears a resemblance to the ancient Greek tale of the demonic demigodess Lamia.[20] Hera, Zeus' wife, learned of his affair with Lamia and, out of anger, killed all the children Lamia had with Zeus.[20] Out of jealousy over the loss of her own children, Lamia steals other women's children.[20] In Greek mythology, Medea killed the two children fathered by Jason (one of the Argonauts) after he left her for another woman.

In Venezuela

In Venezuela, the tale of La Llorona is set in the Venezuelan Llanos during the colonization period. La Llorona is said to be the spirit of a woman that died of sorrow after her children were killed either by her or her family.[21][22] The myth is similar to another Venezuelan ghost woman called La Sayona.[22]


A boy and his family were sitting near a creek between Mora and Guadalupita in New Mexico when they saw the form of a tall thin woman. She quickly seemed to float over the water and up the hill out of sight until she returned a little later even closer to them. The family had suspicions that she was La Llorona so they went to the shore to see if there were footprints, and there were none. They believed they saw La Llorona. [23]

Another encounter occurred when a band of brothers left their ranch in Ofo de La Vaca to head towards the Villa Real de Santa Fe. On their way, they encountered a tall woman wearing a black tapelo and a black net to cover her face, two of the boys who were riding in the front seat of the wagon stated that the spirit sat right between them. She remained with the boys until they decided to return home, this is where she uttered, “I will visit you again someday when you argue with your mother”. This tale corresponds to the actions of La Llorona showing up when children are misbehaving, and is a warning to children to be respectful. [24]

In popular culture

La Llorona first appeared in film in René Cardona's 1960 La Llorona, based on the tale of La Llorona. A tale of a family cursed by the evil spirit of Luisa, this story's "weeping woman", the film was shot on location in Guanajuato, Mexico.

The plot of the 1961 Mexican film The Curse of the Crying Woman (La maldición de la llorona) involves the resurrection of the spirit of La Llorona.[25] La Llorona also appears as the main antagonist of the Mexican animated film La Leyenda de la Llorona.[26] Here, La Llorona is portrayed as a more sympathetic character, whose children die in an accident rather than at their mother's hands.

In 1995, Mexican playwright Josefina López wrote "Unconquered Spirits",[27] which uses the myth of La Llorona as a plot device. The play has two time periods. Act One takes place in 16th Century Mexico after the Spanish occupation. Here, Lopez takes inspiration from the "La Malinche" variation, with the heroine represented as a young Aztec girl brutally raped by a Spanish friar. She gave birth to twin boys as a result, and drowned them in the river to protect them rather than from 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 noted for its sympathetic portrayal of La Llorona as a victim of oppression.

Nancy Farmer's 2002 science fiction novel, The House of the Scorpion, and its 2013 sequel The Lord of Opium, has a main character, Matt, make several references to La Llorona, often when retelling the story to other main characters or during self-reflection.

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 life by jumping off a bridge into a river. Her ghost was known to haunt the Centennial Highway, hitching rides from unknowing motorists, mostly men, and killing those whom she deemed unfaithful. The 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 for killing them.

The 2006 Mexican horror film Kilometer 31[28] is inspired by the legend of La Llorona, and the main evil entity in the film is based on her and her story.[29] Then 2006–07 saw a trilogy of low budget movies based on La Llorona:

La Llorona appeared as the primary antagonist in the 2007 movie J-ok'el,[33] and has also been the theme character of several of Universal Studios's haunted houses during their annual Halloween event, Halloween Horror Nights, at both the Hollywood and Orlando locations.[34]

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.[35]

In August 2019, Jayro Bustamante directed the Guatemalan film La Llorona, starring María Mercedes Coroy. It was screened in the Contemporary World Cinema section at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.[36]

See also



  1. ^ Kirtley, Bacil F. (1960). ""La Llorona" and Related Themes". Western Folklore. 19 (3): 155–168. doi:10.2307/1496370. ISSN 0043-373X. JSTOR 1496370.
  2. ^ "La Llorona – Weeping Woman of the Southwest – Legends of America". Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  3. ^ "LA LLORONA - A HISPANIC LEGEND". Archived from the original on 2016-11-19. Retrieved 2016-12-07.
  4. ^ "LA LLORONA - A HISPANIC LEGEND". Archived from the original on 2016-11-19. Retrieved 2016-12-07.[verification needed]
  5. ^ Perez, Domino (2008). There Was a Woman. ISBN 978-0-292-71812-8.
  6. ^ "Mexico's legend of La Llorona continues to terrify". SFGate. Retrieved 2016-12-07.
  7. ^ "Chilling Legend of La Llorona | Psychic-Mediumship Training". Retrieved 2016-12-07.
  8. ^ De Aragon, Ray John (2006). The Legend of La Llorona. Santa Fe, NM: Sunstone Press. p. 4.
  9. ^ Gaitán, Héctor (2007). La calle donde tu vives - Héctor Gaitán - Google Books. ISBN 9788489766570. Retrieved 2019-01-12.
  10. ^ a b c Werner 1997, p. 753.
  11. ^ Hayes, Joe (2006). La Llorona (The Weeping Woman). El Paso, Texas: Cinco Puntos Press; Bilingual edition.
  12. ^ "La Malinche - Spanish Conquest of Mexico | don Quijote". donQuijote. Retrieved 2016-12-07.
  13. ^ Miguel León Portilla- Visión de los Vencidos, p. 21
  14. ^ Norget 2006, p. 146.
  15. ^ Radford, Ben (2014). Mysterious New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. p. 228. ISBN 978-0-8263-5450-1. 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.
  16. ^ "La Llorona - A Mexican Ghost Story - donQuijote". Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  17. ^ Kirtley, Bacil F. (1960). ""La Llorona" and Related Themes". Western Folklore. 19 (3): 155–168. doi:10.2307/1496370. ISSN 0043-373X. JSTOR 1496370.
  18. ^ Raheem, N.; Archambault, S.; Arellano, E.; Gonzales, M.; Kopp, D.; Rivera, J.; Guldan, S.; Boykin, K.; Oldham, C.; Valdez, A.; Colt, S.; Lamadrid, E.; Wang, J.; Price, J.; Goldstein, J.; Arnold, P.; Martin, S.; Dingwell, E. (2015-06-08). "A framework for assessing ecosystem services in acequia irrigation communities of the Upper Río Grande watershed". Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water. Wiley. 2 (5): 559–575. doi:10.1002/wat2.1091. ISSN 2049-1948.
  19. ^ a b c ed. Blackburn, Thomas C. "December's Child: A Book of Chumash Oral Narratives" p. 93
  20. ^ a b c Folklore: In All of Us, In All We Do. University of North Texas Press. 2006. p. 110. ISBN 9781574412239.
  21. ^ Franco, Mercedes (2007). Diccionario de fantasmas, misterios y leyendas de Venezuela (in Spanish). El Nacional. ISBN 978-980-388-390-4.
  22. ^ a b Dinneen, Mark (2001). Culture and Customs of Venezuela. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-30639-6.
  23. ^ "La Llorona – Weeping Woman of the Southwest – Legends of America". Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  24. ^ "La Llorona – Weeping Woman of the Southwest – Legends of America". Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  25. ^ "The Curse of the Crying Woman (1963)". IMDB.
  26. ^ "La Leyenda de la Llorona". iTunes.
  27. ^ Josephina Lopez. "Unconquered Spirits" (PDF). Dramatic Publishing.
  28. ^ "KM 31". Rotten Tomatoes.
  29. ^ Archived 2010-06-21 at the Wayback Machine February 15, 2007. Filmeweb.
  30. ^ "The River: Legend of La Llorona". IMDB.
  31. ^ "Revenge Of La Llorona Director's Cut". Amazon.
  32. ^ "The Curse of La Llorona (2007)". IMDB.
  33. ^ Mayra Adauto Gómez (Feb 27, 2007). "Presentan J-ok'el". Retrieved Sep 13, 2011.
  34. ^ "La Llorona comes to "Halloween Horror Nights"". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  35. ^ "Bloody Disgusting about James Wan's The Curse of La Llorona". Bloody Disgusting.
  36. ^ "Toronto Adds The Aeronauts, Mosul, Seberg, & More To Festival Slate". Deadline. Retrieved 16 August 2019.