History is filled with tales of ghostly apparitions returning from the Underworld. The story of a jilted lover–whether passed over for another, stood up at the altar or dissed at the Prom–who meets an untimely, ghastly end and returns from the grave to wreak havoc is a popular theme which appears in practically every culture.
I’m a sucker for a good ghost story and thought I’d heard them all until a friend told me about La Llorona, a vengeful spirit whose sad tale allegedly arrived with the Spanish Conquistadors in what is now the Southwestern United States and quickly spread throughout Latin America.
Like most centuries-old ghost stories, this one has many variations, but they all center around Maria, a beautiful peasant girl who attracted the attention of a wealthy man in her village. The story my friend, Claudia*, recounted found Maria married to the wealthy man who was entranced by her beauty and spoiled her rotten. Maria willingly accepted his gifts and the promise of a life of luxury. However, once she bore two sons his affections waned. He mistreated Maria terribly and threatened to marry someone more worthy of his station. Eventually, he started creeping, only coming home periodically to visit his kids.
One day while walking with her children near the river, Maria’s husband came by in a carriage with a hot, young chippie riding shotgun. Stopping beside his family, he acknowledged the boys but ignored Maria. When he rode off without as much as a backward glance, Maria went insane. Filled with rage and blaming them for her troubles, she set upon her sons and tossed them in the river. As the current carried them away, Maria regained her senses and tried to rescue them but they drowned.
Driven mad with grief, Maria searched the river every day for her sons. Giving no thought to her well-being, she wore only a thin, white dress and refused to eat or care for herself, becoming disheveled and gaunt. Eventually, she met her end when she died on the riverbank from a broken heart.
It wasn’t long before villagers spotted her skeletal spirit roaming the river and nearby shore after dark, eerily shrieking, “Ay, mis hijos!“ (“Oh, my children!”) and vainly searching for her murdered boys. Her plaintive cries earned her the name La Llorona, Spanish for “the weeping woman.” Reports surfaced of missing children, last seen heading toward the river. Villagers said they were killed by La Llorona’s demented spirit trying to rebuild her shattered family. Eventually, anyone unfortunate enough to encounter her in the night suffered the same ghastly fate as her sons.
When she was a little girl, Claudia’s mother told her this story at least once a week before bedtime. Claudia swore that when the wind blew just right, she would hear La Llorona wailing her name outside her window. When she roamed the small creek in the woods near her house she always made sure to get home before sundown, terrified that every snapping twig and swaying branch as the sun set signaled La Llorona’s arrival.
According to legend, this story is a warning that children who are lured by material wealth, don’t appreciate their families, disobey their parents, or go out alone after dark will be fatally visited by La Llorona. From my friend’s breathless and wide-eyed retelling, I know that even as an adult she believes every word of it, so I’d say it served its purpose well.
*name changed to protect the spooked