The Curse of La Llorona

To wrap up the Mexican Monstresses mini-series: a rather unusual version of the famous legend.

Once upon a time, there was a woman with three children: one was two, one was four, and the eldest was six. The woman’s husband had died, and she was lonely, so she took a lover.

But her lover got tired of her, and one day he left. The woman became angry and depressed. She blamed her children for her lover’s abandonment, and she stopped taking care of them. She wouldn’t kiss them, or hug them — or feed them, or bathe them. Her little children, frightened and confused at their mother’s anger and neglect, cried all the time. This made her angrier, and she would whip them and scold them, and scream at them:

“It’s all your fault that my life is so unhappy! Why did I ever have you?”

One day, enraged and out of her head, she picked up a butcher knife and hacked her poor children to death. She cut them up into little little pieces, and threw them into the river. The swift current swept the remains of her babies out to sea.

As she threw the last piece into the water, she suddenly realized what she had done.


She cried as she ran along the river’s edge, pulling her hair, tearing her clothes, weeping and wailing — but it was too late. Grieving, the woman dragged herself back home, calling her children’s names. The house met her with only emptiness and silence. Overcome, and not knowing how else to relieve the pain in her heart, the woman picked up the fatal knife and plunged it into her heart. Straight away, her spirit came out of her body and went to face God’s judgement.

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The Many Origins of La Llorona

To conclude my series on Mexican Monstresses, who better than La Llorona, possibly the most famous Mexican legend of all? In this installment, I’ll talk about the possible origins (and some variations of the story) of this legendary fearsome female.


A lone woman with long black hair, dressed in white, who walks along the water’s edge (or in more modern versions, along a highway). She weeps and wails as she walks, crying out for her children, whom she murdered. Some say that to hear her cry means death. Some say that she will steal your children, to make up for her own. Others say that she is a siren, who lures men to their deaths.

Siren, sorrowful mother, child-snatcher, harbinger of doom: you can see aspects of the La Llorona legend in several of the fearsome females that I’ve featured in this series.

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The Tlahuelpuchi Epidemic

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

800px MalincheMatlalcueitl

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 Matlalcihua

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).

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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?


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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Malinalxochitl and the Founding of Mexico

The third installment in my mini-series Mexican Monstresses — fearsome females of Mexican legend.

Codex Borgia page 55
Detail from the Codex Borgia (not Malinalxochitl, but it seemed to get the idea across).
Source: Wikipedia

Malinalxochitl (“black grass flower”) was the sister of the god Huitzilopochtli, the founder of Mexico. While her brother ruled their people from the heavens, appearing to his priests in dreams, Malinalxochitl guided them in person. She was beautiful and mild-mannered, but also a powerful witch. She could kill a man just by looking at him, secretly eating his heart while he was still alive. Or, just at a glance, she could eat the calf of a person’s leg without his feeling the pain. Or sometimes she would twist a man’s eyesight so that he would hallucinate an enormous beast or some other terrifying thing. She was the kind of witch known in later times as a heart biter (teyollohcuani — more on them in a future post in this series), a calf snatcher, and an eye twister.

At night, when people were asleep, she would pick up a man and carry him outside the camp and drop him in front of a poisonous snake. Scorpions, centipedes, and spiders were also used by her in her evil work, and being a witch, she could transform herself into whatever bird or animal she wished. With all her dangerous powers she insisted on being worshipped as a goddess, and no one dared treat her otherwise.

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Mexican Monstresses: The Tzitzimime

The second installment in my mini-series Mexican Monstresses — fearsome females of Mexican legend: the Tzitzimime.

Tzitzimitl, from Codex Magliabechano
Image: Wikipedia

The tzitzimime are fearsome, fleshless, skeleton women. They have claws for their hands and feet, and teeth and eyes at all their joints. They wear skirts decorated with skulls and crossbones, and necklaces strung with human hands and hearts. At the end of this age, the tzitzimime will come down from the heavens as terrible beasts, jaguars and dogs, to devour all of humanity before great earthquakes destroy the world.

Their queen is the goddess Itzpapalotl (“obsidian butterfly” or “clawed butterfly”), who rules the heaven for souls who died as infants. They are also associated with the goddess Cihuacoatl (goddess of motherhood and fertility, and queen of the cihuateteo — see my previous post) and in Mayan mythology, with Goddess O (Chac Chel — goddess of floods, storms, childbirth and medicine).

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Mexican Monstresses: The Cihuateteo

I got to wondering recently whether there are any indigenous succubi legends in the Southwest: the New Mexico/Arizona/Texas region, and by extension down into northern Mexico. I still haven’t found any specific to that region, but I did uncover all kinds of dangerous females of legend in Mexican (particularly Aztec) mythology. What I found was interesting enough to put aside the succubi search for a while. “Monstresses” is maybe not quite the right word to describe these beings (terrifying as they are) since many of them are deities, but I liked how the phrase sounded. The first installment of this mini-series: the cihuateteo.

A cihateteotl (singular of cihuteteo)
Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City.
Image: originally from, retrieved from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine

Beware of the crossroads on a dark night! You may run into the cihuateteo.

The cihuateteo are the deified spirits of women who died in childbirth. On certain nights of the year (their feast days) they haunt the crossroads, seeking victims — especially young ones. On those nights, parents tell their children to hide inside, for the cihuateteo may steal them, leaving only a sacrificial knife in their place. They can cause sickness, paralysis, seizures, or insanity, and sometimes possess their victims’ bodies. They have also been known to seduce men, causing them to commit adultery and other sexual misbehavior. Some say that the legend of La Llorona is based on the cihuateteo.

To placate the cihuateteo, the Aztecs made them offerings on their feast days, either at their altars or at the crossroads: bread in the shape of butterflies or lightning, of little tamales called xucuichtlamatzoalli, and toasted corn called ízquitl.

Cihuateteo have pale skeletal faces, chalk-white limbs, and claws for hands. They wear gold earrings and horned headdresses, rippling black blouses, white sandals, and skirts embroidered in many colors.

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