The character of popular Southwestern/Mexican folklore La Llorona is familiar amongst Mexican Americans. When I requested information about the Weeping Woman, as she is popularly known, David’s Aunt Lydia fondly recalled the delicious childhood terror of the northern Arizona winds being described as the “cries of La Llorona”. Aunt Lydia was, as many youngsters were, advised to behave, or La Llorona would snatch her up.
Succinctly her tale is thus:
Although several variations exist, the basic story tells of a beautiful woman by the name of Maria who drowns her children in order to be with the man that she loved. The man would not have her, which devastated her. She would not take no for an answer, so she drowned herself in a lake in Mexico. Challenged at the gates of heaven as to the whereabouts of her children, she is not permitted to enter the afterlife until she has found them. Maria is forced to wander the Earth for all eternity, searching in vain for her drowned offspring, with her constant weeping giving her the name “La Llorona”.
In some versions of this tale and legend, La Llorona will kidnap wandering children who resemble her missing children, or children who disobey their parents. People who claim to have seen her say she appears at night or in the late evenings from rivers or oceans in Mexico. Some believe that those who hear the wails of La Llorona are marked for death, similar to the Gaelic banshee legend. She is said to cry “Ay, mis hijos!” which translates to “Oh, my children!” Source
It has been argued that LaLlorona is an incarnation of the much maligned La Malinche, Hernán Cortés’ guide, translator and romantic companion. La Malinche has been accused of having sacrificed her “children”, the native people to her lover and to the brutal tyranny of the Spanish empire. This is an easy assertion to make, but the historian Luis Leal believes that La Llorona has roots that date before the Conquest- hence her inclusion in this Primer of New Spain. Leal’s belief is that the Weeping Woman is not La Malinche but in fact the ancient goddess Cihuacóatl, the Serpent Woman.
Leal quotes Fray Bernardino de Sahagún‘s Historia de las costs de la Nueva España, describing the Earth /Fertility Goddess as such :
” …she appeared before men, she was covered with chalk, like a court lady. she wore earplugs, obsidian earplugs. she appeared in white, garbed in white, standing white, pure white. Her womanly headdress rose up. By night she walked weeping, wailing; also was she an omen of war.”
My desire was as usual, was to interpret this mysterious goddess through Western eyes, hence the stylization in the manner of the Artemis-Ephesus
I have placed upon her head the helmet of a warrior, for before the time of the conquest the Woman-Snake, Cihuacoatl was called upon by women giving birth. Patroness of mid-wives, the soon to be mother was urged to call upon the goddess for strength. As described in the Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, she was of “warlike aspect” due to the fact that giving birth was akin to battle, ” Midwives exhorted women to call out to her in childbirth and to be as warriors in the violent expelling of the child from the womb”. I love that description, not a whiff of romantic sentiment to be found, just sound advice. Our goddess goes from benign protectress to demon after the Conquest which is not at all surprising. According to Leal, Sahagún considered her an incarnation of the devil, speaking to the conquered he describes her :
“Behold another confusion of your forefathers. They worshipped a devil in the guise of a woman, named Cihuacóatl…She terrified men…And because of this they celebrated her feast day. They laid offerings before her, they slew victims before her, that her anger, her fury, might not fall upon [them]” (Book I, 69-70).
Later on Sahagún softens her image more in keeping with the pitiful LaLlorona. During the final days of the ill-fated reign of Moctezuma II she seems a demon reformed:
“In the days of this same [ruler] it happened that [the demon] Cihuacóatl went about weeping, at night. everyone heard it wailing and saying:
‘My beloved sons, now I am about to leave you’ “(Book VIII, ch.1,3).
Truer words could not be imagined as Cortés marched into the dazzling city of Tenochtitlan.
With that image in mind, I have tried to paint the pre and post colonial character with the sensitivity and pathos reserved for Medea. I have taken liberty with the violent death, the children are known to be drowned, but my approved accent color is red!
2 thoughts on ““L” is for La Llorona”
Fascinating stuff -loved your watercolour, and discovering the entities of La la llarona and the earlier connection with Cihuacóatl. I feel enriched by learing about this. Thank you.
Oh I am pleased, the least I can do given your daily dose of wondrousness!