La Llorona of Mexico City
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If you follow horror films or grew up hearing scary stories from Mexico or the United States Southwest, you may have already heard of the legend La Llorona, but keep reading because you may find a few surprising things you didn't know. If you've never heard of La Llorona, then let me tell you why wandering the streets at night might get you a close encounter of the ghostly kind.
Pronunciation & Meaning of La Llorona
The word "llorón" in Spanish can mean "weeping," and when it's in the form of "la llorona," it means "the weeping woman." The double "L" at the beginning of "llorona" is pronounced with something like an English "y" sound. You can listen to a recording from a native Mexican speaker saying "la leyenda de la llorona" right here on Forvo.
And, for a text-based pronunciation, this should get you an approximation:
la (as in "la la land") + llorona (take the word "corona" and put a "yo" at the beginning instead of the "c"). There are other dialects for the double "L" with more of an English "J" pronunciation, like that of Spain.
Pro tip: if you also learn to say "ayúdame" in Spanish (Forvo recording of ayúdame here), you can scream it as you run away from La Llorona. Combine the two for "¡La Llorona! ¡Ayúdame!" and at least people will know what happened to you when you suddenly disappear.
Location of La Llorona: Mexico City
We're heading to Mexico City for this one, so for anyone unfamiliar with the area, here's a quick visual.
Humans in Mexico can be traced back to at least 8,000 BCE, and the area is considered one of only six "cradles of civilization." The origin of the name "Mexico" is still debated, and there's no general consensus on it, though it may derive from the Nahuatl language.
People often think of places like New York City as one of the most populous cities in North America, but it's actually Mexico City. As of 2023, Mexico City's metro population was over 22 million, beating New York City by a few million. Mexico City is one of the oldest capital cities in the Americas and is only one of two founded by indigenous people. It was initially built around 1325 by the Mexica, rulers of the Aztec Empire, and used to be called "Tenochtitlan."
While many tales of La Llorona come from Mexico City, stories extend south into Guatemala and Venezuela and north into the Southwestern United States. So, just because you aren't in Mexico City doesn't mean you can't have an encounter (lucky you).
The Legend of La Llorona
Imagine taking a late afternoon stroll when you hear a faint cry nearby. Wondering if someone needs help, you follow the source to a river a short walk away. The crying becomes louder as the sun drops below the horizon, and darkness begins to settle. As the last rays of light disappear, you spot a ghostly woman in a white dress standing in the water—no—standing on the water, and she's weeping. You stare for a moment, confused.
She looks up.
With a flash of white, the woman is on you.
Icy hands grab your neck.
Your face plunges beneath the cold water.
You've just been killed by La Llorona.
Could you have survived somehow?
Some stories, like the one above, portray her as malicious, but she is harmless in others.
What is she doing? And why does she weep?
The legend goes that a very long time ago, a beautiful young woman named Maria lived in a small town in Mexico. One day, a wealthy man riding through town saw her and, struck by her beauty, stopped to talk to her. The two immediately fell in love, and the man moved into the small village to marry her as he knew he could never take her back to the city to meet his family and friends. After a few years, they had two baby boys, but Maria felt her husband was becoming distant. The wealthy man disappeared for long periods, and the spark that was once there had gone. Maria wondered what she'd done wrong because he wanted nothing to do with her and only paid attention to the children.
One day, he left and didn't come back. Maria kept waiting, hoping he would return someday. Many years later, the man did return, and with him was his young bride—from a wealthy family. As it turned out, he'd met his new bride in the city and only returned to Maria's small village to fetch his two sons from her. Maria pled with him to not take the two boys, but he didn't care, and he told her he was taking them—no matter what Maria had to say about it. Distraught and knowing there was nothing she could do, Maria decided to say goodbye to her sons and took them down the river for a picnic as a final farewell. At the river, Maria decided that no one would take her children from her. So, she took her sons into the river, pushed their heads underwater, and killed them.
Immediately realizing she'd made a mistake, Maria confessed to the wealthy man. He pushed her away and left with his young bride. With her entire life shattered, Maria went to the river and drowned herself, hoping to be reunited with her sons in the afterlife. Upon dying, though, she was told that she could not be reunited with her sons as long as their bodies were lost.
Maria's spirit returned to the river and began searching for the bodies of her children. She saw her own reflection and discovered her face to be not only that of a corpse but disfigured by her own grief. It didn't matter, though, and she kept focusing on the search for her sons.
To this very day, Maria roams waterways, weeping, searching for her sons. She is called "La Llorona"—the weeping woman. Parents tell their children not to go out alone at night because La Llorona may get them...and drag them down into their own watery grave.
There are variations of the story of La Llorona, some of which can be traced back nearly 500 years. A bit of interesting horror history: the first Mexican-produced horror film with sound was La Llorona, released in 1933. It was thought to be a lost film for decades, but a copy eventually did turn up, and someone even uploaded it to YouTube with English subtitles.
If you find yourself wandering the streets of Mexico City (or, really, anywhere in the world with water) at night and hear a woman weeping, remember that La Llorona might be just around the corner. As far as what you do in that situation, you're on your own since I couldn't find any information on what to do to survive an encounter with La Llorona—she may not even come after you, especially if you don't approach her, as she is lamenting the loss of her children and not really a murderous-type ghost...in most stories. If you ever have a close encounter with La Llorona and live to tell the tale, let me know because I'd love to hear about it.
Relevant & Related
- Don't miss the child-friendly book La Llorona: The Crying Woman by Rudolfo Anaya.
- Another book published in 2019—La Llorona: Ghost Stories of the Southwest by Rodarte
- 2019 must have been a popular year for La Llorona because two films were released featuring La Llorona: the Guatemalan film La Llorona and the American film The Curse of La Llorona.
- La Llorona may have been caught on film a few times. Take a look at 5 SCARIEST Times "La Llorona" Was Caught On TAPE.
- Want to read more about strange happenings in nearby South America? Check out my articles: La Patasola of South American Folklore | El Silbón of Los Llanos in South America | El Peuchen of Mapuche Mythology