The True Story of 'La Llorona,' the Weeping Woman

No one knows the specific origins of the old Mexican ghost story.

If you hear La Llorona crying, run the other way.

The Mexican folk tale of the Weeping Woman, or La Llorona in Spanish, struck fear in every young child growing up in a Spanish-speaking community.

The story starts with a beautiful young woman from a village who was so proud of her looks that she refused to marry any local man.

One day, a handsome foreigner arrives in her village and she decides to marry him.

Their relationship is plagued with troubles, however, and not long after they are married, the handsome foreigner begins spending his days drinking with his friends and chasing other women, and anytime he comes home, he will only play with their children.

Jealous of their attention, the beautiful young woman throws her children in the river in a blind rage, but instantly regrets it. She chases them down the riverbank, hits her head and falls to her death.

Her ghost continues to haunt the riverbank, crying out for her children, as the legend goes.

With “The Curse of La Llorona,” directed by Michael Chaves, in theaters, storyteller Joe Hayes explained to the background and significance of the legend.

“La Llorona is a very very wildly known story and especially in Mexico but all over the American Southwest,” Hayes said. “I knew it from my childhood. We all grew up thinking that she was from our little town.”

He explained that the tale is so commonly told that every community had their own version of the story, but one thing stays the same – listeners always believe La Llorona is local, and storytellers always seem to know someone who has either heard or seen the undead mother.

Even though Hayes explained it’s unclear when the story dates back to or how it even came to be, he believes it could be derived from Greek mythology, when Madea slaughters her own sons as revenge against Jason.

“It seems just about the most horrific thing that can happen is the mother turns against her own children,” Hayes said. “That has sparked people’s imagination all over the world.”

Heed advice to elders, pay less attention to the superficial and keep your conscience clean are all morals of the story also common among legends and myths around the world, Hayes said.

Which is not uncommon, he added, for stories in Mexico that do not have indigenous roots.

“Most of the stories that are told from the northern part of Mexico are also European stories,” he explained. “They are similar to the Grimm fairy tales, but they always consist of an overlay of their own culture.”

Scary stories, however, are rarer for the culture. The ones that do get passed down often have to do with evil witches and demons.

“One of the groups that kept those alive was the nuns and Catholicism,” Hayes explained. “They would scare the kids into behaving themselves with those stories of the devil.”

And as longtime followers of the legend and new fans prepare to see La Llorona play out on the big screen, Hayes warns not to discredit the age-old practice of storytelling.

“When people receive the stories directly from the teller, that is still the most valid way to hear old stories,” he said. “Listeners are creating the story with their imaginations. The old traditional storytelling is a bonding activity, something that creates a community among people. “