Posted at May 16, 2020

Cíhuacoatl and La Llorona

Some notes regarding Cíhuacoatl and La Llorona from Celebrating Latino Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Cultural Traditions [3 volumes]: An Encyclopedia of Cultural Traditions by Maria Herrera-Sobek.



Folklorist draw a connection between Cíhuacoatl and La Llorona.

According to Aztec mythology (collected by the Spaniards and narrated by the Aztecs) there is a close resemblance between the myth of Cíhuacoatl and La Llorona.

Recurring themes in both myths: both dress in white, roam the streets or countryside weeping and wailing for their dead children.  Both are considered to be bad omens.

  1. Cíhuacoatl


Patron of the midwives; patron goddess of women who died in childbirth; and goddess of both birth and war.

According to myth, she carried a little baby cradle on her back or a dead baby in her arms, as she roamed the country crying through the night.

Early chronicles report that before the Spaniards arrived, “many times and many nights was heard the voice of a woman who cried out in a loud voice, drowning herself with her tears, and with great sobs and sighs, wailing.”

Before Hernan Cortes arrived with the conquistadors, the Aztec Indians nightly heard the ghostly screams of Cíhuacoatl.  Cries of, “My children we must flee,” echoed throughout Tenochtitlan.  Her dire warning came to fruition with the arrival of Cortes.

Another version in The Conquest of Mexico has “ a woman was often heard as she went weeping and crying out loudly at night,  “oh my beloved sons, now we must go!”

According to Fray Diego Duran writing in 1570, “Aztecan priests would manipulate the image of this popular goddess as ‘cunning device’ to obtain more sacrificial victims for their war gods.

These priests would enlist an ordinary woman to impersonate Cíhuacoatl and carry a cradle that contained not a child, but a sacrificial knife.

She would then disappear into a body of water, strategically leaving the cradle with the knife behind, so others would interpret it as a sign that the gods desired more sacrificial victims.

According to Fray Duran (who recorded a lot of the Aztec mythology after the empire fell), the Aztecs focused on Cíhuacoatl’s destructive side by replacing her child (the one she carried in the cradle) – a sign of fertility- with the sacrificial knife.

In exchanging the symbols they transformed Cíhuacoatl exclusively as an agent of destruction and erased her positive qualities (her life giving powers as a goddess of childbirth).

The Spanish contributed to this negative image of Cíhuacoatl by associating her with La Llorona.

Within folklore literature, La Llorona emerges as both a figure of maternal betrayal and maternal resistance.

She is most often imagined as a destructive figure, contemporary Chicana writers like Sandra Cisneros have revised the legend and made La Llorona into a figure of maternal resistance.

  1. La Lorona (the weeping woman) repeatedly portrayed as dangerous and destructive figure during the Colonial Period

La Llorona is the most famous legendary woman found in Mexico and the American Southwest.

There are different versions of who La Llorona was/is, but a recurring theme include:her white dress; her wanderings at night wailing at the loss of her children whom she has killed; and her association with water.

One version, likely the most common, La Llorona is Malinche.

After the conquest, Cortes is planning to bring his Spanish wife, who is waiting in Cuba, to New Spain to reunite with him. After an unspeficied period in New Spain, Cortes plans to return to Spain and take with him his first born with Malinche, Martin. His plans do not include taking Malinche with him, he no longers needs her so he plans to marry her to his lutienent Juan Jaramillo.

Rather than lose her son, Malinche murders him, and is now condemned to wander for eternity, crying and weeping, repenting, searching for her lost child. Some versions say that Malince stabbed him to death with an obsidan knife, the most common version says she drowned him. In these two versions, Malinche’s actions are interpreted as maternal betrayal due to Malinche’s selfishness since her son was going with his father, not a stranger.

Literature places La Llorona in Colonial Mexico. This is an excerpt from research that appeared in the journal Western Folklore (1968) and is quoted in part in another article.

“When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they were impressed by the beauty of the Indian children. The Spanish took the children (the most beautiful) and gave them to their wives. Some of the Indian women killed their children in order to keep the Spaniards from taking them.  La Llorona is one such woman. She is now searching constantly for her children, whose faces she sees in all children.  She kills the children to be united with her own again.

In this case, the killing of the children is not vengeful, but a desperate attempt to protect her offspring from enslavement within the Spanish world. This would be a case of maternal resistance. 

La Llorona is usually depicted as having long flowing hair, wearing a white gown, appears at night only and wanders the dry riverbeds weeping and wailing, for her lost child, calling “Ay mis hijos.”

In contemporary times, she is still believed to wander the streets of large cities, as well as small rural towns in the SW.

In  New Mexico, signs depicting the image of La Llorona are posted along creeks and riverbeds warning children to stay away. Mexican American/Chicano children are familiar with La Llorona and will stay away out of fear that she roams areas associated with water and is looking for children to kill.

In the Mexican culture, her apparition serves to correct bad behavior in adults and children; she often appears to men as a siren and temptress; she entices them to follow her, and then frightens them with her horrible looks.

In Chicano culture, La Llorona is also symbolic of Chicano culture, whose children are lost because of their assimilation into the dominant culture, or because of violence or prejudice.

Associated with water, drownings, and mysterious forces of night. La Llorona comes to represent the unpredictability of nature. For Chicana writers, La Llorona represents mourning for their lost selves.

In the search for self has also included the recovery and incorporation of the power of the Pre-Columbian female goddesses: the negative and positive; control over one’s destiny; and the active side rather than the passive side identified with the Virgin of Guadalupe.


Herrera-Sobek, M. (2012). Celebrating Latino folklore: An encyclopedia of cultural traditions. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.
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