Installment four of my mini-series, Mexican Monstresses, features La Mala Hora (“the evil hour”). Is she a siren, a sheepskin, or a harbinger of death?
In Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico, they tell of La Mala Hora (or La Malora or La Malogra). She usually appears as a beautiful long-haired woman dressed in white, walking along the side of the road at night. Men who encounter her are so taken by her beauty and seductive ways that they follow her mindlessly, with no heed to where she’s leading them.
The lucky few who have met La Mala Hora and lived to tell the tale say that while following her, they lost their sense of direction. If they carried a lamp, it would suddenly stop working. Luckily, these fellows noticed that the lovely lady they were following floated, rather than walked. Or they noticed that her toes were backwards. Those poor victims who don’t look down at La Mala Hora’s feet will follow her to their doom, as she leads them over the edge of a ravine.
And if you see La Mala Hora on the road dressed in black, then look out! She is far more fierce and aggressive in her black-clad form.
Tomás Kaufman collected a Mala Hora story, told in Mochó, a dying Mayan language spoken in Chiapas, in 1967. In this story, the storyteller refers to our monstress as La Mala Mujer (“the evil woman”):
A man from Motozintla had a girlfriend in Amatenango. One night, as he was on his way to visit her, he ran into a woman on the road. She looked like his girlfriend.
“Since you were coming to see me, I came out to meet you,” she said. “I’ve brought all my things. Let’s run away together.”
“Are you serious??” the man asked. He couldn’t believe his luck. But then he looked at the woman more closely, and he saw that her toes were on backwards!
“You’re not my girlfriend,” he said.
“Of course I am!” she said. “Now let’s go, before my father finds us.”
The man insisted that she lied, but she denied it.
“No, you don’t fool me.” And the man slipped a blindfold on the woman and began to hit her until she ran way.
The next day, the man got a needle, then went to the priest and had it blessed. That night he walked the road to Amatenango again. He ran into La Mala Mujer on the way, again posing as his girlfriend, and this time he pretended that he believed her. They ran away together, and after some time they arrived at a little glen, where they stopped to rest.
The man pretended to feel romantic, and leaned over to embrace “his girlfriend.” As they sat down, he slipped the blessed needle beneath her without her noticing. The needle stuck her to the spot; she couldn’t get back up. Then the man left and went back for the priest.
When they returned after dawn, La Mala Mujer was still there, with her hair streaming all around her. The priest told the man to hit her with a branch, while the priest prayed. Just as the priest began his prayers, and the man raised his branch, the woman vanished.
And that’s The End.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the region, in New Mexico on the southern border of the United States, La Mala Hora is a completely different creature. In 1910 Aurelio Espinosa described la Mala Hora, or la malogra, as an evil spirit that haunts the crossroads at night, hunting those who travel the roads alone. If you see it, you will be driven permanently insane (sounds a little like what they say about the cihuateteo, too). According to Espinosa, La Malogra looks like a large lock of wool, or even an entire fleece, that expands and contracts in size before its viewer. It rarely appears in human form, but when it does, it’s a sign of bad omen: disaster or death.
Ana Castillo referred to this version of La Malora in her novel So Far from God (which I haven’t read). In the novel, the character Caridad is attacked (possibly raped?) by something
made of sharp metal and splintered wood. Of limestone, gold, and brittle parchment. It held the weight of a continent and was indelible as ink, centuries old and yet as strong as a young wolf. It had no shape and was darker than the night, and mostly, as Caridad, would never, ever forget, it was pure force.
From the commentary on the novel that I’ve read, it seems that this attack inspires Caridad to turn her troubled life around, and to become a curandera, a traditional folk healer.
More modern New Mexican versions of La Mala Hora describe her as a terrifying wonan in black, who appears to travelers at night when a death is about to occur. There’s a particular story that’s floating around the internet, of a woman driving alone at night on the way to Santa Fe. She (almost literally) runs into a demonic woman on the highway. The next morning she gets news that her husband, who had been away on a business trip, had been killed. The best version of this tale is on the American Folklore website.
According to one informant, in Monterrey, Mexico (northern Mexico), La Mala Hora has a face like a horse and runs alongside your car. I think in this version, she is also an omen of death.
Whether she’s a temptress or death’s messenger, the lesson of La Mala Hora is clear: be wary traveling the roads alone at night.
Trejo Silva, Marcia. Fantasmario Mexicano, Editorial Trillas, 2009 [Spanish]
Méndez, Matias and Laura Martín. “La mala hora, un cuento mochó de Motozintla, Chiapas”, Tlalocan, Vol. 11 (1989). [Spanish and Mochó, with English story summary]. PDF download here.
Espinosa, Aurelio M. “New-Mexican Spanish Folk-Lore.” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 23, No. 90 (Oct. – Dec., 1910), pp. 395-418
Martínez, Danizete. “Teaching Chicana/o Literature in Community College with Ana Castillo’s So Far from God,” Rocky Mountain Review, Vol. 65, No. 2 (FALL 2011), pp. 216-225
“La Mala Hora,” Scary For Kids website. http://www.scaryforkids.com/la-mala-hora/ (as of August 17, 2015)
Schlosser, S.E. “La Mala Hora: A New Mexico Ghost Story,” American Folklore website. http://americanfolklore.net/folklore/2010/07/la_mala_hora.html (as of August 17, 2015)
I didn’t use this reference, but I’m in love with the photo the blogger used. I don’t see attributions or permissions on it, otherwise I’d use it myself. And if I could read Indonesian (Malaysian?), I would absolutely follow this blog….