The Tlahuelpuchi Epidemic

In this installment of my Mexican Monstresses series, folklore meets real life when the bloodsucking tlahuelpuchi strikes a small rural community.

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December 8, 1960: an unseasonably cold night in San Pedro Xolotla, a rural, primarily Nahuatl-speaking community beneath La Malintzi volcano in the Mexican state of Tlaxcala. Filemón and Francisca, a couple in their early thirties, were working late carding wool and making yarn; like most households in the community, they supported themselves with their weaving. They lived in one room of Filemón’s parents’ extended household with their four children: two boys and a girl between 5 and 14 years old, and a seven month old daughter, Cristina. Around midnight, Filemón’s older brother returned from Mexico City, where he had gone to deliver an order of sarapes. The three of them had coffee and chatted, then all retired for the night.

Filemón, exhausted, fell asleep immediately, but Francisca gave baby Cristina one last breastfeeding. Then she put Christina back on her petate (sleeping mat) before going to bed herself.

Two or three hours later, Francisca awoke and saw an intense light moving around outside the window. She tried to get up to investigate, but her body felt heavy and unresponsive, and she soon fell back asleep. A little later she half-awoke again. A strange mist filled the room, and out of it materialized a chicken-like creature, blue and red. Again she tried to get up, but the mist overcame her. That’s all she remembered.

At six AM Filemón awoke and noticed that the door to the room was partially open. Then he saw baby Cristina lying not in her petate, but on the floor some yards away. He got up to investigate. Francisca was still fast asleep.

It took several minutes for Filemón to wake Francisca from her deep slumber with the terrible news: Cristina was dead. The skin around her chest and neck was mottled and purplish, her chest covered in scratches. She had been sucked to death by that shapeshifting vampire known as the tlahuelpuchi.

And on that morning of December 9, six other mothers were shaken out of trance-like sleeps to a similar discovery: a still, tiny body, sometimes an open door. Seven dead babies. It was a tlahuelpuchi epidemic.

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Mexican Monstresses: La Mala Hora

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?

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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.

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La Yurei de Atoyac (The Japanese Ghost of Atoyac)

This is a story from the days of the Manila-Acapulco trade route — a story of a beautiful Japanese urn brought by a Manila trade galleon from Japan to Mexico by way of the Philippines.

NewImageBlue and White Covered Urn, James Whistler
Image: Wikipaintings

No one knows how the urn ended up on the galleon. Perhaps it was stolen from a temple or cemetery and sold to a Spanish sailor as a souvenir. All we know is that when the galleon arrived in Acapulco, one of its crewmen, short of funds, sold the urn to a local shopkeeper.

The urn was lovely, white with painted cherry blossoms. The shopkeeper showed it to a friend of his, a sailor on shore leave.

“It’s heavy,” the sailor said. “Let’s open it and see what’s inside.”

And so they opened it and discovered that it was full of ashes, and bits of human bone. It was a funerary urn.

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