One of the pieces that Vincent Price reads on his 1974 spooky tales album, A Graveyard of Ghost Tales, is a story called “The Ghostly Hand of Spital House,” by Dorothy Gladys Spicer. This is a fun and engaging tale about some bandits who try to rob an inn with the help of a hand of glory : a candle (or candle-holder) made from the hand of a hanged man. Lighting the hand of glory puts all the sleeping occupants of the house into an even deeper sleep, from which they don’t awaken until the hand is extinguished. You can see how this would be a (cough) handy tool for robbers and catburglars to have.
In the post, I also talk about a supposed pre-Colonial Mexican analog to the hand of glory as a housebreaker’s tool: the left arm and hand of a woman who died in first childbirth. While the source for that piece of folklore was not exactly disinterested (it was written by a 17th century Spanish friar), the story does in a way tie in with how Aztecs regarded women who died in childbirth, as equivalent to warriors who die in battle.
Have I intrigued you yet? If you’d like to read some earlier versions of the Spital House legend, give another listen to Vincent Price’s spooky reading, and learn how this relates to aspects of Aztec mythology, then head on over to Dark Tales Sleuth, and check out The Legend of Old Spital Inn.
Featured Image: Detail of Jacob meets magician Hermogenes, Pieter van der Hayden, after Breughel (1565). Source: Wikimedia.
Illustration of Hand of Glory, annotated as from The Grimoire of Pope Honorius Grimorium Verum Petit Albert by Albertus Parvus Lucius. Source: Wikimedia.
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.
The third installment in my mini-series Mexican Monstresses — fearsome females of Mexican legend.
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.
The second installment in my mini-series Mexican Monstresses — fearsome females of Mexican legend: the Tzitzimime.
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).
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.
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.