From Oaxaca, the latest installment of my mini-series, Mexican Monstresses, features la Matlalcihua or Matlalcihuatl (“the ensnaring woman”).
Is the Matlalcihua an evil woman, an evil couple, or a being that can be whatever it needs to be? Like La Mala Hora, la Matlalcihua has many descriptions, depending on whom you talk to.
Though she is primarily a Oaxacan legend, Hugo Nutini and John Pohl both describe a creature by that name in Tlaxcala: a spirit of the ravines that haunts drunkards and adulterers. This spirit seems to be an agent of karma, as well as one of the causes of murder and violence, even able to possess people and drive them to murder:
People believe that the killer was guided or compelled by an evil supernatural, the devil, a vengeful tetlachihuic, a matlalcihua, or other malevolent being to commit the deed, thus releasing him from responsibility for the act. On the other hand, neither is the victim completely blameless or innocent in his fate, but rather he is regarded as contributing to his own untimely demise. Again under the influence of some evil supernatural, the people believe, he did something to provoke the incident leading to his death. In acts of violence leading to death, there are no fully innocent or fully guilty parties.
— Nutini, Todos Santos in Rural Tlaxcala: A Syncretic, Expressive, and Symbolic Analysis of the Cult of the Dead
In Oaxaca, several descriptions abound. Manuel Martínez Gracida, writing in 1888, described la Matlacigua, or Gobezguia, as a being that can take the form of small child or of a giant, whose “destiny is to pervert and hurt” its victims, afterwards disappearing like a puff of air. It can also take the form of a beautiful woman to seduce men.
Marcia Trejo Silva collected several Oaxacan descriptions of a being or beings that lures its victims into the jungle, after which they are never seen again. Some say that she is a one-footed woman, who leaves a tell-tale trail when she drags her victims away. Some say she’s a beautiful woman in white who walks the streets at midnight, like La Mala Hora. When she comes across a romantically-minded man, she lures him away to his death. Still others say that the Matlalcihua is two people: an ordinary-looking couple. The man kidnaps female victims while the woman captures men. You can tell if a couple is Matlalcihua because they are blond and they chain-smoke.
And finally, some people say that the Matlalcihua is only one being, but it can appear as either a man or woman, depending on the victim. It takes the form of its victim’s beloved, to lure the victim into following it. The victim chases the apparition, losing their sense of direction, stumbling through the bushes and brambles, until they are completely lost. If they do manage to catch their “lover,” the shock of seeing that he or she is really a living skeleton (Whoops! Remember the tzitzimime and La Huesuda?), will drive the victim completely and permanently mad (and come to think of it, that sounds like the cihuateteo).