La Llorona, The Weeping Woman of Latin American Folklore

La Llorona, Spanish for “the Weeping Woman,” is a mythical, vicious ghost of Hispanic-American origin, said to wander coasts and waterfronts mourning her children she drowned.

La Llorona’s ghost story is arguably the most widely and enthusiastically discussed, interpreted, and sometimes conflated in all Latin American and Spanish communities in the US. But the overarching attribute of La Llorona, across all its possible contortions, is that she is the weeping woman. 

Whether news accounts, film adaptations, or books, the Legend of La Llorona often takes a different shape when retold. For instance, when Judy Beatty and Edward Garcia Kraul wrote the book, “The Weeping Woman: Encounters with La Llorona,” the various encounters reported by witnesses and victims often featured striking inconsistencies and divergent patterns, especially with established perceptions developed by previous accounts.

Sometimes, La Llorona pursues you from afar. Other times, she hides behind shadows to chase you home. Sometimes, she’s riding a horse, and other times, she appears and disappears in your horse wagon or car, scolding you for some malfeasance. In some cases, an encounter with La Llorona may be somewhat benign, but mostly, it’s the stuff of nightmares that cost you weeks of sleep. 

But what is La Llorona’s story, and why does it matter? 

La Llorona

Legend of La Llorona – How and Why the Story is Told 

Most reports agree that La Llorona stemmed from the colonial era, primarily as it features the dynamic between the indigenous Spanish women and the conquistadores. Stories agree that La Llorona was an indigenous woman who killed her children born to a wealthy Spaniard who abandoned her. 

One fateful evening, Maria found out her husband was having an affair with another woman. Blinded by rage, she drowned both children in a river and immediately regretted it. Out of guilt, she drowned herself but could not transition to the afterlife for some reason. She was stuck in limbo and condemned to roam the earth until she found her children. 

Another version contends that Maria’s children were illegitimate, and she drowned them so that their father wouldn’t take them away from her, but, most importantly, the new wife would not raise the children. A recurrent idea in every variation of La Llorona is that she wears a wet white dress associated with nocturnal wailing and water. 

In this widely accepted lore, La Llorona possesses several villainous qualities such as infanticide and killing her blood, characteristic of older Mexican villains like Doña Marina, famously known as Maltinzin.

La Llorona was first documented in 1550 in Mexico City. However, some theories hold that her lore is connected to specific Aztec mythological stories. For instance, the signature “weeping” tag ascribed to La Llorona is often alluded to “The Hungry Woman,” who, as the myth goes, is constantly wailing and crying for food, the difference being that La Llorona’s wailing is primarily nocturnal. 

Similarly, La Llorona’s mother figure is often compared to Chihuacoati, the Aztec goddess of motherhood. In contrast, her hunt for children to have by herself is compared to Coatlicue, Our Lady Mother, and Virgen de Guadalupe, a prominent monster-mother in Mexican culture, famed for her distaste for sin or filth.

A retelling of these comparisons has shaped a narrative around the personhood of La Llorona. First, we must remember that the Legend of La Llorona is told in the northern parts of South America, Central America, and Mexico. As such, La Llorona is often conflated with villains and vicious elements in these parts.

For instance, La Malinche is a famous Nahua lady from Mexican Gulf Coast who served as interpreter, intermediary, and advisor for Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés and bore him a son. She played a significant role in aiding the Spanish and is regarded as a symbol of national treachery in Mexico. 

Scholars have drawn parallels between the stories of weeping female mythical creatures with Amerindian and Iberian cultures. They point out various similar patterns in Aztecs Cihuacōātl, the Hebrews Eve, Lilith, and La Llorona. 

They also noted the striking resemblance between La Llorona’s legend and ancient Greek lore of the goddess Lamia, where Hera, wife of Zeus, found out about his affair with Lamia and killed all the children she had with Zeus. Driven by uncontrollable jealousy and hatred, Lamia began to kill other children. 

Though some quarters favor the view that La Llorona is pre-Hispanic, the earliest written reference to the lore comes from a sonnet by Manuel Carpio, a Mexican poet in the 19th century. However, even the subject matter of this poem departs from the predominant perceptions of the legend, as it references La Llorona as a ghost named Rosalia who was killed by her husband – leaving out the central theme of infanticide. 

Notwithstanding the varying views and contortions, a standard version of the La Llorona legend holds that a beautiful lady, Maria married a rich conquistador and bore him two children – male and female.

The Legend of La Llorona as Told in Around Latin America 

In terms of cultural relevance and didactic utility, the legend of La Llorona differs across the Americas – from Mexico, Venezuela, the United States, and Guatemala. 

Let’s take a look at how these variations. 


The La Llorona story has deep roots in Mexican culture, which is its origin, so it enjoys famous fanfare in modern Mexican households. Adults tell the story to children to discourage them from wandering in the dark, which most versions agree is La Llorona’s favorite place to haunt. 

In popular Mexican arts, La Llorona’s persona is featured in artworks such as that of the famous Alejandro Colunga. Every year in the Xochimilco metropolis of Mexico City, the keenly anticipated la Cihuacoatle, Leyenda de la Llorona, features waterfront playlets on the La Llorona story. This event which began in 1993, is marked the same day as the Day of the Dead.


The legend of La Llorona in Venezuela is set in the colonial period. Here, the myth has it that La Llorona is the spirit who died a sorrowful death after her children were murdered. Some say La Llorona killed her children. Others say her family killed them. Families place wooden crosses over their doors to ward off La Llorona and similar spirits. 

United States

Like in Mexico and Guatemala, locals in the Southwestern United States tell the story to scare their kids to comport themselves, mainly to deter them from playing near large bodies of water. They’re told that La Llorona’s cries can be heard as she trudges around streets or near waterfronts to scare kids who wander around, similar to the lore of El Cucuy. 

In parts of Southern California, the Chumash mythology’s nunašɨš, a mystical creature with the cry of a newborn baby, is linked to La Llorona. 


In Guatemala, the locals tell a different story. 

The story goes like this: a young lady once lived in Guatemala City and had an affair with a lover who got her pregnant. She had the child and named it Juan de la Cruz but soon drowned him to cover up her affair away from her husband’s knowledge. 

Decades later, she died but was rejected in the afterlife, condemned to search for the son she murdered at waterfronts or waterbodies similar to where she killed her son. She’s also known to cry out for her son in these places, earning her the “Wailing Woman” tag. La Llorona belongs to the horror genre and is told to scare and teach a generation of children. 

A rather peculiar detail in the Guatemala version is that when La Llorona cries from afar, it means she’s nearby, and when the wailing is nearby, she’s afar. The irony is that if La Llorona would not be allowed the transition to the afterlife, she finds some gratification in expediting the process for others, especially children. 

La Llorona In Modern Media

La Llorona has been featured in many works, from films and television shows to books and plays, each adding its unique twist to the legend.

La Llorona is typically portrayed as a ghost or supernatural being who haunts rivers and streams, searching for the children she drowned. In addition, she is often described as a tragic figure, driven to madness by her grief and guilt over her actions.

One of the earliest and most famous depictions of La Llorona in modern media is the 1953 film “La Llorona,” directed by Roberto Gavaldón. 

In this film, La Llorona is played by the actress Rosa Carmina, who gives a haunting and emotional performance as the doomed mother.

Since then, La Llorona has appeared in numerous other films and television shows, including the 2019 horror film “The Curse of La Llorona,” which was a box-office hit. 

In this movie, La Llorona is portrayed as an evil spirit who preys on the children of those who cross her path.

La Llorona has also been featured in many books, including the 2006 novel “La Llorona: The Weeping Woman” by Joe R. Lansdale. In this work, Lansdale reimagines the legend of La Llorona, giving her a more complex and sympathetic portrayal.

Overall, La Llorona continues to be a popular and enduring figure in modern media, with her tragic tale capturing the imagination of audiences around the world. 

Whether depicted as a ghostly figure or a more complex and nuanced character, La Llorona remains a powerful and enduring symbol of motherhood, grief, and redemption.

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