Saturday, October 30, 2010

"La Llorona" deconstructed

This close to Halloween, it's time for a ghost story. I was unaware of this one until my friend Sheila's husband Troy brought it to my attention. In my own peculiar way, I have tried to incorporate a few of the variations and some of the history, so you may want to follow one of the links for a more fluid reading...

La Llorona (1)

A baby christened "Maria" was born to a peasant family in a humble village. She grew into a woman of startling beauty who captured the attention of men rich and poor. They awaited her entrance in a flowing white gown at the local dances and paid her plenty of attention, and she reveled in it.

A. To attend the events, however, she had to leave her 2 young sons home alone. Then one day the boys were discovered drowned in the river. Maria was accused of having neglected her children, resulting in their accidental drowning, or worse, actively drowning them to remove the obstacle to her social life.

B. A wealthy man lavished her with gifts and attention, and she bore him 2 sons. But he soon returned to his former habits of drinking, gambling, and womanizing. He was gone for months at a time, returning only to visit the boys, which caused Maria to resent them. The man threatened to leave Maria for a wife of his own class and goaded her by riding past her in a carriage seated next to an elegant lady. This sent Maria into a rage. She grabbed the children and threw them both into the river.

C. Maria and the son of a Spanish aristocrat fell in love, but kept their relationship a secret because they were of such different social castes. After they had several children, the grandee arranged for his son to marry a Spanish woman of equal social standing. Obediently, the son broke the news to Maria, telling her that he could never see her again. Enraged and jealous, Maria stabbed the children one by one and dropped them in the rushing river.

As her children floated away, Maria realized what she had done and hurried to save them, but it was too late. She broke down into inconsolable grief, screaming and wailing as she ran down the road. They were lost and their weeping mother mourned them day and night, walking back and forth along the riverbank looking for them. She refused to eat, and the gown she wore became soiled and torn. Already looking like a specter, she finally died at the river's edge, but her ghost continued to haunt the banks at dusk. She was heard weeping and wailing, and was seen drifting between the trees along the shoreline or floating on the current with her long white gown spread out upon the waters. Maria became known as La Llorona, the weeping woman. To this day, children are warned (2) against going out in the dark for fear La Llorona might snatch them and throw them to their deaths in the river.
Don’t go down to the river, child,
Don’t go there alone;
For the sobbing woman, wet and wild,
Might claim you for her own.
(1) The legend of La Llorona (pronounced "LAH yoh ROH nah"), Spanish for the Weeping Woman, has been a part of Hispanic culture in the Southwest since the days of the conquistadores.
(2) "La Llorona" is a cautionary tale told in many variations from the Southwestern U.S. to Central America to keep children away from the river at night. It is thought to have originated in Mexico and is possibly pre-Colombian in origin, since there are similar tales in Aztec, Toltec, and Mayan lore.
The spooky tale has inspired oral legend, prose, verse, film, and music.

A word about the illustration: I usually avoid using images that are unattributed or can't be linked back to the original source, but I have made an exception today because the image is so compelling. If you are the artist of this work - or know who is - please contact me!

1 comment:

  1. Clarissa Pinkola Estès analyses this tale in a chapter of "Women Who Run with the Wolves", which is where I heard of it first. Spooky and sad.


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