Weird California
Weird California
Weird California - By Joe Parzanese

La Llorona

California use to belong to Mexico, along with what is today Texas and New Mexico, and was referred to as Alta California. In 1821 Mexico gained its independence from Spain and California was one of its provinces. From 1821 until sometime between 1846 and 1848, Mexico ruled over the area. The United States formerly annexed the region in 1848. Thus it's not surprising that several of Mexico's traditions, legends, and myths are imprinted upon the area. One such tale is the spooky story of La Llorona!

Before she was called La Llorona, she was just Maria. She was married and had two children. But her husband was not faithful, and after catching him cheating on her with a younger and prettier woman, she in vengeance knowing how much her husband loved their children, tossed them into the river, letting them drown. Afterwards either in remorse, or in an attempt to save her own children she jumps into the river herself, also drowning. It is said that she is not permitted into the afterlife until she can find her children, and so she wanders the river looking for them every night.

There are, of course, other similar versions. For example, another version has a widow with two children falling in love with a man who did not want any children. And so after failing to get his attention, the woman tries a last ditch effort and drowns her children in the river so that he will love her. Of course, the man is mortified by what she has done. She is eventually either hung for her crime or drowns herself in the river.

Yet another version again involves a widow with two children, who needed to find a husband in order to support herself and her children. Thus she spent much of her time away from her children, in places where men congregated such as saloons. One night while she was out at the bar, bandits raided her home and slaughtered her two children. She was despondent when she arrived home, realizing that if she had not gone out that night, that perhaps her two children would still be alive. Grief stricken and feeling guilty she went insane and began wandering looking for her children, still wandering until today, even in death.

And in one more version, she is an evil woman who cheats on her husband and eventually kills her children since they kept her from her lover. Again, God condemns her, and she is forced to wander the earth looking for her drowned children.

In general all the versions involve water and the deaths of the woman's children. The woman always either kills her own children or gets them killed through her neglect (or at least she blames herself for their death). She often drowns herself in the same river as the children, even in one version being found dead on the river's banks with tears frozen on her face. However, in a few stories she is executed for her heinous crime. In a few stories, they cap off her loss by refusing her entrance into Heaven or an afterlife until she locates her children. And in at least one version, while trying to get into the afterlife she is tricked by the Devil, posing as God, into killing more children.

And now, today, she is known as La Llorona, or the weeping woman (I believe the literal translation is "the crier"), a horrible specter, usually of a woman all done up in a long white dress or flowy gown, who wanders near the river searching for her children. When encountered she is often crying or wailing, and asks those she runs across, "Donde esta mis hijos?" Make sure to keep your own children away from her, for often she will mistake them for her own, snatch them up, and upon discovering the truth that they are not her own children, horribly drown them in the same river. Children who disobey their parents are also fair game for La Llorona, as the legend is often used to scare children into behaving. Like other urban legends if you lock yourself in a room with a mirror, light some red candles, and say her name a few times into the mirror, she'll appear and snatch you away. Even worse she is a harbinger of death, as those who hear her cries at night are marked for death, dying of mysterious reasons, soon after the encounter! Although perhaps you won't die, as some variations say either you or someone close to you will die within the week.

The origins of the legend may go back to Aztec times, although the variation involving people dying from hearing her wail is very similar to that of a Banshee from Irish folklore. The Aztecs had a goddess named Cihuacoatl, a goddess of fertility and motherhood. She abandoned her son Mixcoatl at a crossroads and still returns to that spot and weeps for him. Cihuacoatl also appeared weeping in front of her Aztec people right before Cortes arrived, thus foretelling their downfall. And she is the patron of women who die in childbirth. In Aztec legend, women who die in childbirth become spirits and are called Cihuateteo. These spirits often haunt crossroads, stealing children at night and seducing men.

La Llorona also might have gotten its origins from La Malinche (also known as Dona Marina), who was a Nahua woman who was Cortes's interpreter and lover. In one story she gave birth to Cortes's child, but was abandoned by Cortes so he could marry a Spanish woman. In some tales she is depicted as evil and scheming. It is hard to tell if her story influenced the La Llorona legends or if the La Llorona legends influenced her folk tales.

There are several instances of La Llorona appearing throughout California. Although it is possible the legends just came north with those who relocated from Mexico, some say that the ghost herself also traveled north to California. One of the more famous ones is along Trabuco Creek near San Juan Capistrano. There La Llorona wanders along the creek and can often be found in O'Neill Regional Park.

Near Fresno, in the town of Sanger, La Llorona wanders Channel Road, often called Snake Road. The ghost is of a woman who was driving her car too fast along the curves and crashed her car into Kings River. She and her two children drowned in the crash, her in her car, the children, a mile downstream having escaped the car, but not the icy pull of the water. She now walks Snake Road, all done up in a white dress, asking those she comes across if they've seen her children.

Many other communities, ranging from Escondido to Lompoc to Oxnard to Merced to Riverside and Modesto, throughout California and the southwest also have the traditional La Llorona story or in rarer instances, the more modern Sanger like legend. New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and even Montana all also have La Llorona stories. A few versions also change her from a lady in white to a lady in a black dress, often with two black holes for eyes. She has also been described as having no face, just a white hole where a face should be. Some stories even relate how she floated in the air before open windows staring at those inside.

So if you're in an area where La Llorona wanders the dark nights, looking for her drowned babies, be careful, for if you happen to accidentally run across her on a moonless night, you very well might die within the week. And to all you children, listen to your parents, because if you're not good, La Llorona will get you!

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Last Edited: 2014-10-30