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La Llorona A five-century-old lamentation

Read in Spanish

“They say that a crazy weeping woman appears
in a street near the high school/
That she dances the twist and rock‘ n roll;
that she dances rock‘ n roll and the twist,
and if you look at her you’ll go completely mad…”

Los Gliders, 1961

For over 500 years and even in the age of space travel and global warming, in many parts of Mexico you can still hear the echo of a lamentation.  A woman wanders in the middle of the night, through vacant lots, in alleyways with walls of volcanic rock or of quarry stone; weeping over the death of her children.

Dressed in white, with her loose hair; this woman still makes children as well as old-timers tremble with terror, from the lowlands of the Bajío region and even to the southeast of Mexico. She’s “La Llorona”- (The Weeping Woman).

This is the ancient legend that every Mexican child hears either from the mouth of his grandfather or passed on by some school friend that wants to play a joke on him.  There’s even a rock’ n roll song that reflects the way that we still get together with this mythical woman.

But the Weeping Woman is much more than a ghost or an apparition. It’s got nothing to do with horrible women with bloody eyes or sharp, pointed teeth. It’s not just a paranormal entity or nor some insane woman who inspired a tale. La Llorona is a woman both faceless and ageless, a compendium of many symbols and pre-Hispanic deities. She’s both a condemned woman and at the same time, a goddess bearing an ominous message.

In the book; “Vision of the Conquered”, by Ángel María Garibay, the author collects the forebodings that the Mexicas– the pre-Hispanic Mexican empire–received from their gods before the arrival of the Spaniards. One of these omens makes reference to a woman; “La Cihuacoatl” or serpent-woman, that wandered about the the broad streets of the Great Tenochtitlan wailing and lamenting: “My dearly beloved children; your departure is near; we’re about to become estranged! Oh, my children! Where shall I take you?”

Curiously, the echo of La Cihuacoatl was disseminated with the conquest of the Spaniards and every region was fused together by the image of various feminine deities:

Auicanime, “the needy one; the thirsty one”, the goddess of hunger of the Michoacan Tarascans; Xtabai, the goddess of suicide according to the Mayans of the Yucatan Peninsula;Xonaxi Queculla; “the red-fleshed lady”, the deity of death, of the underworld and of lust among the Zapotec people of  Oaxaca[1].

And, of course, the “colonial” version also ensued, that of a young and lovely woman who, having been rejected by the man she loved, drowned her children and then committed suicide. Upon arriving at the gates of Heaven, God asked her about her children and she answered, I know not, my Lord”, so she was sent back to find them.

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