La Llorona is the ghost of a woman who weeps and searches for her dead children. She is a popular figure in Mexico, other areas of Central and South America, and Mexican-American communities in the United States, and there are many different versions of her story. Also known as the Weeping Woman, La Llorona is said to have been abandoned by the father of her children and to have murdered her own offspring. Like the banshee in Irish folklore, she is said to be a bad omen, sometimes heralding death.
La Llorona is generally said to have been a beautiful young woman, but as a ghost, her appearance is often frightful. She wears a long, flowing garment, either all white or all black, and is constantly weeping. In some versions, her eyes are empty sockets. She sometimes stops strangers to inquire about her children, or she may simply wail for all to hear. Seeing or talking to her is nearly always considered dangerous; in some tellings, she drowns living victims to make up for her children.
The majority of stories about this figure say that the woman drowned her children in the Rio Grande. Her motives and the motives of the man who abandoned her vary among tellings. She is often said to have been of a lower social class than her lover; sometimes, she is a Native American maiden seduced by a Spanish lord. After she had many children with her lover, he left her for a woman of his own social standing.
In such stories, La Llorona drowns her children out of insane grief, as revenge against her husband, or to save them from poverty. She often commits suicide soon after, out of grief or guilt or to avoid justice. She is forced to wander the earth as punishment for the murder of her children, or because she refuses to admit her guilt to God.
Some stories differ markedly from the above version. In one version told in Texas, La Llorona drowns her children from a previous marriage in order to be free to marry another, who later abandons her. In another variant, it is her husband who murders the children. In one Mexican story, the children are not murdered at all, but die in a flood. In some southern Mexican states, this figure is believed to have been a prostitute who regularly drowned her babies.
The legend of La Llorona is sometimes held to stem from a comparison between the Spanish conquest of the Americas and a mother's loss of her children. La Malinche, a Native American woman who acted as interpreter for the conquistador Cortes, is sometimes likened to La Llorona and considered a traitor to her people. In folk tradition, she was Cortes's mistress, but he abandoned her for a Spanish noblewoman.