La Llorona, most literally “The Crier,” but more often translated as the Weeping or Wailing Woman, is one of the most famous Mexican ghosts, but as with most folklore, there are several different versions of her story. What’s consistent is that she’s wailing loudly while searching for her dead children, and that she haunts rivers and other bodies of water and attacks living children.
She’s often seen as someone being punished for killing her own children, but other tales make someone else the murderer and her a victim. I think some of it depends on how misogynistic the tellers are. Sometimes she’s married to a man who cheats on her, and she drowns her children in a fit of madness, then either kills herself or just wastes away. This story often makes the husband stop loving her but continue to love the kids, making the murder sort of a twisted revenge. Other times she’s a widow whose kids get in the way of her finding a new man, so she kills them in an attempt to please a man who’s interested in her but not her children. Obviously it doesn’t please him at all. Other times it’s the husband who’s the killer, either because he can’t provide for any more children or just because he’s psychotic. One particular version ties her to Doña Marina, or La Malinche, Hernan Cortes’ interpreter and mistress, who is frequently viewed as a traitor to the Aztecs.
When the two figures are mixed, she kills the children and eventually herself when Cortes marries a Spanish woman. When La Llorona is given a name for when she was alive, it’s usually the quite European Christian Maria, although in Arizona she’s sometimes called Launa. Regardless of her origin, she’s forced to wander the Earth looking for her children, even though she presumably knows where they drowned. Or is it their souls she’s searching for? She’ll kidnap children she finds, then drown them when she discovers they aren’t hers, which sounds like it would just mean more sins to atone for. She’s said to have been a very attractive woman in her lifetime, and her ghost is a skeletal figure with pretty black hair, wearing a white gown, and sometimes without a face or perhaps with a horse’s face.
The story of La Llorona has been compared to several other mythical tales. The version where she kills her children when her lover marries someone else is similar to that of Medea, who kills her children after Jason decides to marry a Greek woman instead. Also similar is the Lamia, originally a woman who had an affair with Zeus, and was turned into a child-devouring monster by Hera. And in terms of classical mythology from the same part of the world as the legend itself, she’s been compared to the Aztec goddess Chihuicoatl, who abandoned her son Mixcoatl at a crossroads and constantly weeps for him, and was said to have wept as an omen of the Spanish conquest.
I hear there’s a movie coming out about La Llorona, but I don’t know much about it. Only time will tell if the audiences will be weeping and wailing like the ghost herself. It also remains to be seen whether it will include “La Llorona” sung to the tune of “My Sharona,” but I certainly hope it does.