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La Llorona – The Phantom Banshee

Part sorrowful banshee, part angry spirit, part cursed creature, La Llorona is known to almost every Latin culture. The first story dates back all the way to 1550. The name, pronounced "la yo-ro-na," literally translates to "the crier," which is exactly what this spook is said to do for all eternity. There are different versions of the story depending on the region in which it's told, but all of them center around a woman who murdered two children hundreds of years ago.

In one of the more popular versions, a widow, who lived in a poverty-stricken town with her two children, fell in love with a wealthy man. The man returned her affection, but wasn't interested in being a father and so would not marry the young woman. In her desperation to be with him, the woman led her children down to the river that ran near her town, and in the dead of night, drowned them both.

As the bodies of her children floated away into the darkness, the woman raced to her lover's house to tell him what she had done. She explained to him the lengths she would go to in order to be with him.

The man was horrified and turned his back on her. When she realized the irrevocable act had been for nothing, she went mad. The woman ran back to the river, hoping to save her children, but it was too late. God then condemned her to walk the earth for all eternity, searching for her drowned children.

La Llorona is known to haunt many locations throughout Arizona, as well as the rest of the American Southwest. Two of her most notorious stomping grounds in this state are along the banks of the Gila and San Pedro Rivers. It’s said that she steals the souls of living children, and she’s often invoked by Mexican mothers to frighten naughty ninos. Legend also has it that if you see her, you or someone close to you will die within a week. The origin of the story is unknown, although some folklorists believe it may date back to Aztec times.

Many modern Mexican-Americans believe in La Llorona, and swear that she still bedevils the living. They say she still walks at night, her long, jet-black hair and white dress blowing in the wind. But where her face should be, they whisper, there is the head of a horse.

La Llorona has been reported all over Arizona in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods. Just about every river or creek is rumored to be the spot where the wicked woman drowned her children in the distant past. And on moonlit nights, they say, you can see her ghostly form bending over the creekbed, her pale arms elbow-deep in the waters, searching for her drowned children.

Launa's Canyon

In northwest Arizona, people say La Llorona’s actual name was Launa and she lived with her lover near a canyon about 3 miles south of Kingman. In this version, the man had already agreed to marry her and had built a cabin for her and the two children, who in this case were his. Launa, however, felt the man gave his daughters too much affection and became increasingly jealous at the attention he paid them. So, one evening, she lured the children toward the canyon and pushed them over the edge.

Launa claimed it was an accident, but the children's father was aware of her jealousy and couldn't allay his suspicions that she was responsible. The man's grief and mistrust compelled him to leave her. Launa, now alone, regretted what she had done. Her guilt and anguish led her to end her own life in the same way she ended the children's.

Launa has been damned to wander the canyon ever since. At night, the woman's cries of despair can be heard echoing from the canyon walls. Between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m., she can often be seen drifting through the darkness, clad in a long, white dress. She's said to be desperate for company, and in some accounts, will take possession of anyone she finds in her canyon, forcing them to join her in eternal grief.

La Llorona’s Choice

There is an old Mexican folktale around where I live about La Llorona. In the story no specific towns are named. Well, as the story goes, a young woman married a man she does not love. He loves her and he is rich so she decides she will marry him to make her family happy. As the years went on she gave birth to two sons that this man loved dearly. As it so happened the woman met a man in a nearby town. She fell in love with him and began an affair. Well, her husband found out and threatened to leave her with the two boys, in a fit of anger she slipped out one night with the children and went to her lover. 

The husband leaves, never to return, because of the pain he went through in the town. His wife is confused to find her world so changed. She had no sisters or brothers to leave her children with. She loves her children and her lover yet she can't choose between them. As it so happened she stopped to have a picnic with the children near a river. Well, as she went over in her mind what she could do something snapped. She smiled and calmly plucked up one boy, the youngest. This boy was said to be three or four. She walked to the edge of a cliff and gently tossed him into the river. This boy didn't know how to swim and drowned quickly. As her other son rushed over to try to save his brother she promptly grabbed him under his arms and plopped him into the river as well.

It was said she was truly insane at that moment. She rushed to her lover and told him that the children were with their grandparents. A week after the drowning the lover was bored with her and disappeared. It was at this point that she realized what she did to her children. Frantic, she ran out into the night howling. It was said that people who saw her after that viewed her as a woman who was wearing all white, crying as she wandered along the river. If approached she would run away screaming "I did it for him! They were my children!” Several reports were made of this woman and the police began a search for her. The bodies of the children were never found.

Two years passed, and she somehow made an amazing journey around the area rivers and streams, looking for her lost children. She found herself at the same spot where they had their little picnic. She could see the children playing about in the sun. She remembered them having so much fun that day. In all her grief she calmly leapt off the same cliff she tossed her children from––two years to the day after she had killed them. It was said that a week later, to the day that the lover abandoned her, her body was recovered.

People thought that this was the end to this tale of great sorrow. But, to this day people still claim to see a woman dressed in all black in an outdated dress. She cries out to the streams looking for her children. It is said that she is cursed to walk the rivers until the bodies are given a proper burial. There are various endings to this tale, one being that she came back as a woman dressed in black a symbol of her guilt for her crime. One version cloaks her in red to symbolize her adulterous ways, the blood of her children soaked into her dress. It was also said that she was very pretty and as a punishment for her sins she was given the face of a white horse with sunken in features.

My grandfather is one of those people who have seen her. He was walking home one night with his brother. They were tired from a hard day of work in the fields of the local farm and could not think of anything else but getting home to sleep. They were headed to the house that my grandfather and grandmother still live in today. This house is but a few blocks from the river. As they walked across a field in front of the house they realized a woman walked just ahead of them. She was wearing all white. She began to cry. They both ran up behind her asking her what was wrong. She was headed towards the river. Again and again they asked her but she only answered them back with her cries. As they got closer to her my great uncle began to realize something. He yelled to my grandfather to look at her feet. As he did so he saw she was floating two feet off the ground. Both ran away to the house locking it tight. My grandmother was confused about it all until he told her what they saw. She whispered to them, “La Llorona?” I believe him to this day, because I've seen ghosts myself. –Jaime Burvato

La Llorona Wants Your Bones

Growing up we heard a lot about La Llorona. Right before my great grandma died, she told me this weird story. One night while she was walking home, she saw a lady in black ahead of her carrying a lamp. (Remember, it was a long time ago and there weren't streetlights.) So she walked up to the lady and asked what was she doing out so late. There was no reply, so she asked again. This time, the lady stopped and looked up at my grandma. She screamed. The lady did not have a human head but that of a horse. At this point, my grandma got the heck out of there, tripping and falling all the way home.

In another variation La Llorona did not have enough cash to feed her children, and not wanting them to suffer, she tossed them off a cliff. Too guilty to live with her sin, she also jumped. When she got to heaven, the lord wouldn't allow her to enter till she found her children's bones (which had been scattered by the river). To this day, she still searches, willing to take anyone's bones, anyone who crosses her path.  –James

Woman Without a Face

Once my friend was passing saw the La Llorona. I believe him because he never lies to nobody. He said that him and his parents were just passing by and that all of a sudden they saw a lady dressed in white, and once they got closer they got to see her better.  But once they saw the front of her they said she didn’t have a face and she was caring a baby all covered in white, but they didn’t get to see the baby’s face.  They said it was like 3 o’clock in the morning. They punched the gas and went faster because they were scared. –Letter via email

La Llarona Drowned Babies in Tucson

The Tucson, Arizona version of La Llarona was a promiscuous lady who didn't like to be bothered with children. Whenever she had a baby, she would take it down to the river and drown it.

When she herself died and tried to get into Heaven, St. Peter told her that she couldn't get in unless she brought all her dead babies with her. So now she wanders along the river, wailing for her lost children. Not surprisingly, they haven't come back to her.

Don't leave your baby alone in the dark or let your little ones wander around at night alone, because La Llarona will take them in hopes of fooling St. Peter. —Maureen

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