The Depths of the Ocean
A Creative Focus on the Myth of La Llorona
Reaching through the depths“I’m forever blowing bubbles/ blowing bubbles in the air/they fly so high/… they fade/ and when she realized she did not have it/she fell apart inside/ no, no, she cried/ frantic" La Llorona by Cordelia Candelaria (Rebolledo et al., pg. 216-17)
There are many variations of the tale of La Llorona, but there is a central theme that always runs through them. It is a theme of betrayal, both of the feminine spirit and of the nurturing trust. Clarissa Pinkola Estes puts it simply as “the destruction of the fertile feminine”(p.328). But is it that simple? Can this be a story built on truth or mere fabrication? Or is there a message in this story, frightening as it may be, of empowerment? The story of La Llorona is of a woman who fell in love with a man, a nobleman, and had his children (the number of children changes as does the gender) out of wedlock. His family disapproves of the idea of him marrying into a lower class and arranges to have him marry a richer woman. In the various forms of the story, the man wants the children, doesn’t want them, or doesn’t even know about them; either way, the children are drowned and the mother dies from the grief of what she has done. Some modern tales have had her move in with the man who owns factories near a river and while she is pregnant, drinks the polluted water and the babies are born mutated; her only recourse is to kill them (Estes, p. 327). At the gates of heaven, the master tells her that she can only enter if she is with her children (their souls).
is said that she walks the rivers of the world sweeping the
ocean with her hair and using her
fingers to drag the ocean’s floor. She is always weeping (that is what La Llorona translates to, The Weeping Woman) for her missing children. The stories have been used to scare children (esp. females), to represent how a man can take away the inner child of a woman (through suppressive acts, rape, etc.), and to demonstrate the destruction of the feminine spirit. But how can these tales be directed at harming the feminine essence? Why the need to use intimidation and fear?
The betrayal happens at many levels. First, her lover betrays La Llorona. They have an intimate relationship from which children are produced and then he leaves her to raise them on her own. He gets married to another woman (the time span is not really known between these two events). Then she betrays her children’s trust, the faith they had in her, by ending their lives before they had a chance to grow and learn. She loses faith in life itself and ends hers, betraying everyone including herself. Is this just a simple ghost story? If so, why is there so much symbolism embedded in the stories? Symbols such as the river (feminine creativity), her lover (supposed to be caretaker of the “river” and her equal, but fails), her children (desires, dreams, things that need to grow) and the other women (outside forces acting against the whole) are found in almost every telling of La Llorona. The river also could represent how we start to “drown” at birth, being submerged with such small problems that we get lost in the flow of things.
tale itself could be a warning to women to be aware of
masculine “evils” or traps. I don’t think that it is
saying not to trust men, but to look out for yourself.
La Llorona returns to wander the earth often dressed in
black with a shawl over her head concealing her face.
says that ghost are souls that live a “separate existence” and that revenge could be one of the motives for La Llorona’s “return” (p. 76-77).
revenge seems such a base reason for walking the earth for
eternity. The loss of her children, her desires and
dreams, seems to be the key reason and this could lead her
to attack men who get in her way. Many accounts have
placed La Llorona as a killer of men and kidnapper of
children. This could be because she is blinded by the
losses she has faced in her physical life. The image
of the “dangerous woman” can be seen throughout any society,
especially in Christian Doctrine with the creation of the
first woman Eve and the loss of paradise. Is this
evidence of the fear men have towards femininity, their
insecurities for the
mysterious? The man is blamed for a lot in this story, I feel, for his role in betraying La Llorona. But he deserves this blame for he did leave her for another, casting his lover and children aside. Estes states that he should have been animus (her masculine force) and he was to be supportive of her (p. 335). His actions turned that creative flow (the river) in her to drown her children and send her searching for that lost part of herself. He also turned away from his essences, for if he really loved her he would have given up everything to be with her. Instead he succumbs to the influence of money and tarnished La Llorona’s name, condemning the feminine forces within him and around him.
does La Llorona’s tale affect women? It makes women
look weak and purely emotional,
lacking reason. It also creates a fear that she is a danger not only to herself but also to people around her (almost rings of Freud, doesn’t it?). It could be used as a cautionary tale to give a moral of “premarital sex is BAD!” but it only speaks to females, excluding half of the population who “abandon” these women. In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, the main character, Sethe, kills one of her children (she would have killed them all) to “save” her from ever having to live her life as a slave. But in La Llorona, the main character kills her children for no real reason (except in the modern rendition where she kills them so they don’t have to live their lives deformed). How is one supposed to react to this?
Can this tale be used to empower women? If you overlook the emotional appeal and focus on the symbolism of the river and children, an implication of empowerment can be construed. One interpretation is that one can be drowned by her desires, that life can overwhelm her; that before it does, she should get out before she destroys everything. But is the elimination of emotions needed to empower this story? Emotions can be turned around and used against women, but maybe the story is meant to guide women to regain control of their emotions. Maybe La Llorona doesn’t drown her desires but submerges them into her creative self. By immersing creativity with emotions she can create a balance within herself, obtaining control of her life. Estes feels that the story is meant to recapture the “fertile feminine” and to take back the “river” (the rebirth of love, creativity and healthy relationships). She gives some steps on how this can be done in her book Women Who Run with the Wolves (pg. 342-345).
can also learn from the story that they can’t abandon the
feminine side they own (Shakti and Shiva, masculine and
feminine, interact within everyone to create a balance) and
to be honest to their desires and dreams. This may
just be a ghost story to tell children to scare them, but
the waters that make this tale dark and deep hide thousands
of faces. “There was a dark
figure moving along the beach, slowly. Her shawl covered her head. She looked tall and
strong as she came towards them, weeping and singing.” (Villanueva, p. 7) “When La Llorona comes to me/ vulnerability turns to compassion/ the haunting melody of her song/ wanders as wounded and random as her legend through the rivers/ and alleyways of my existence.” -Naomi Quinonez (Rebolledo et al., p. 218)
As seen through other myths, The myth of La Llorona and urban legends associated with her primarily center her around water. In the Haitian religion, Vodou, there are several figures of the
Mother Mary (also referred to as the Virgin). They are called Ezili (these can be found in
Karen Brown's Moma Lola), the term refers to the Vodou "love spirit" (Brown, p. 3). The three prominent are called Lasyrenn (a mermaid of women's sense of power and water power), Ezili Dantò (the mother figure), and Ezili Freda (the beautiful, flirtatious one) (Brown, p.220). Lasyrenn is often seen beneath the water, just below the surface, what is referred to by Haitians as "the back of the mirror"(p.223). The disappearance of a person (usually a woman) is usually said to have been taken by Lasyrenn. The person is returned (Brown said in about 3 days, 3 months, or 3 years, p. 224). Ezili Dantò, who had her tongue cut out of her mouth, usually can only speak the words "Dey-dey-dey-dey." She is also attached to water for she is usually sited during rainfalls, powerful storms are seen to be expression of her anger. Ezili Freda is the gorgeous one, a role model for women to take control of their lives and feel good about it. These three images can be powerful role models for women. They show women that they can claim the mystery that lies within them, express their beauty, and take control of their future. Like La Llorona, the image of water is used to show the hidden power of women, the dark currents of
creativity that runs through a misogynistic society. Lasyrenn often "kidnaps" people but usually returns them. La Llorona abducts people often to reclaim her children or to rid herself of male dominance. Dantò anger is often expressed in the form of storms, but even a mild rainfall is said to be caused by her.
facet of the Ezili is their comparative quality to the
Virgin. In Chicano culture, the image of the Virgin is
a prominent feature in art work, literature, and daily life.
The "Virgin inspired the Mexican revolution of 1810 and 20th
century's struggle of the grape workers of Delano"
(Birnbaum, p. 12). Since her first appearance in 1531 she has become a role model for
women, even if they didn't know it. The image of the ultimate pure woman placed pressure on women to try and maintain that role in their society. The Madonna/whore archetype almost rules in Mexican society, a continuum between extreme holiness and a woman who has abandoned the honest path. Just as with Ezili Freda, the Virgin is a beauty woman and, like Dantò, a mother figure.
any deviation from this motif and you cross over to the
"whore" dichotomy (for some odd reason there is no
comparative model for males… hmmm), a woman who seems to
abandon traditional family. La Llorona is this woman,
she had children out of wedlock and, because of rejection,
killed them then herself. The term marianismo
(slightly comparative to machismo) is the idea that women
are superior and can handle everything that comes to
them. It is also implies submissiveness. Women
are beautiful, mother figures but can't rise above that
The Virgin and La Llorona are two sides to this argument, one capturing the motherly qualities of women, the other encompassing the escape from tradition.
qualities can be seen in a historical figure, La Malinche
(also known as Doña Marina), who lived from 1505 to
1525.Malinche helped Hernán Cortés colonize Mexico, she was
his guide and lover (they had a son out of wedlock).
"I am my lord's mouthpiece and I am the mouthpiece of my
earth" (Long, p. 14). She was the translator between
Cortés and the
Mexican people. She is often referred to as the "traitor" of her people because she let the
conquest happen. The image of her as a translator can also correlate to that of the Virgin, for the Virgin was the spoke for God and humans. Malinche's mother sold in to slavery so that her son could claim an inheritance. She was then purchased by Cortés, who later gave her to his friend Jaramillo. In Long's story, a character named Xicotenga says to Malinche, "What has a woman to give…? Her Love. Her Love is a spring that knows no ceasing" (p. 22). This quote can refer both to La Llorona and the Virgin. It captures the flowing love of La Llorona and the love Mary gave to her people. Malinche was seen as the creator of a new breed of people (mestiso, mixed blood, Mexican and European). The Virgin is seen to be the mother of the man who is seen as "Savior" in Christian doctrine. Malinche is seen to abandon her people, La Llorona abandoned her children by killing them. Malinche died in around 1530 and the Virgin started to appear in Guadalupe in 1531. "Her ghost still flits through the groves of Chapultepec at dusk, she is still a personage in the dances of the native Indians, and many a folk-tale gives her life also in the heart of Mexican People" (Long, p40). The image of her being a ghost relates to that of Llorona, often roaming the land and inspiring creativity in her "children". La Llorona's
myth could stem from Malinche's story, just as tales of the Virgin. Malinche lives and moves between two worlds: the world of actuality (reality, history, etc.) and the psychic world (folktales, literature, ghosts, etc.).
The concept of
"borderland reality" plays a part in Chicana life.
They have to deal with the Madonna/whore dichotomy,
family/individual, and culture/change. The myths used
in this culture can often be seen as empowering to women of
diversity and also create stereotypes that are hard to
eliminate. The myth of La Llorona is an example of
this. She empowers women to dive in to their creative
force, but scares men with her power. Learning to see
through a "new lens" perspectives might help to capture the mysticism within the tale and to give a new meaning to women's work. The tale doesn't have to create a fear of the unknown but a passion to embrace the deepness of being a woman. For one to swim in their desires gives them a chance to fulfill them.
Birnbaum, L. C. (1993). Black Madonnas. Northeastern University Press: Boston, MA. Brown, K. M. (1991). Mama Lola. University of California Press: Berkeley, CA. Estes, C. P., Ph.D. (1995). Women Who Run With the Wolves. Ballantine Books: New York, NY.Long, H. (1939). Malinche (Doña Marina). Writers' Editions, Inc.: Santa Fe, NM.Rebolledo, T. D. & Rivero, E. S. (1993). Infinite Dreams: An Anthology of Chicana Literature. The University of Arizona Press: Tucson, AZ.Villanueva, A. L. (1994). Weeping Women: La Llorona and Other Stories. Bilingual Press: Tempe, AZ.West, J. O. (1988). Mexican-American Folklore. August House Publishers: Little Rock, AK.