Move over, Moaning Myrtle — the landscape of weeping ghosts in pop culture just got even more crowded thanks to The Curse of La Llorona, out April 19. The latest addition to The Conjuring horror movie universe is inspired by the famous Mexican legend of La Llorona, which translates to "the Wailing Woman" in English.
Beware: If you hang out near the lakes or crossroads in Mexico, you might see La Llorona's long black hair and gauzy white gown. More likely, though, you'll hear her, because La Llorona wails as she searches for her drowned children.
The myth of La Llorona has been a part of the culture of Mexico and the Southwest since the days of the 16th-century conquistadors. There are many variations to the story, but the legend broadly says that La Llorona was once a startlingly beautiful woman named Maria. Maria caught the eye of a wealthy Spaniard. He gave her two sons, but wouldn't commit. Eventually, Maria caught him strolling with a wealthy woman. He ignored his indigenous family completely. Full of rage, Maria drowned her two sons — then immediately regretted it. She wailed, she grieved, she screamed down the streets. Finally, she drowned herself, too.
Death didn't provide relief for La Llorona. Until she finds her sons and her spirit can rest, she's consigned to trailing river beds and forests. And until then, any children will do. La Llorona sightings have occurred everywhere from San Antonio, TX to the streets of Chicago and juvenile halls.
"The curse of La Llorona is something we grow up with," Patricia Velazquez, who stars in the movie, told Moviefone, adding that she certainly believed in the legend growing up in Venezuela.
La Llorona stays with people far into adulthood. Reddit is teeming with stories of people who believe they heard La Llorona's wailing at some point during their childhoods.
"It sure is one of the most disturbing memories I have of my childhood that I've got no explanation for," reddit user portablecabbage wrote. "Here we are, two fifth graders strolling home without a care in the world, talking about one thing and the next in the pitch black of night. Then, I shit you not, from the dark houses in the distance, both [my cousin] and I hear the most blood-curdling scream I've ever heard. The strangest thing was, never once did I feel genuinely scared. Even my cousin was acting as if it was the most normal thing in the world. We both knew it could not be a recording, yet neither of us panicked."
In r/Paranormal, one man recounts being up late with his infant son when he hears a strange noise. "I can hear someone. Someone crying, weeping and moaning like a woman grieving somebody close who has just passed...I jolt awake. I spin around fast and that's when I see her. She's tall, dressed in all black like she just came from a funeral," u/TJShuck wrote. "She is real!"
While the tale of La Llorona has been tied to the American Southwest region for 500 years, the myth's central trope — a scorned woman killing her children — is not unique. It dates back to the ancient Greek myth of Jason and Medea. As the story goes, Jason brings Medea, a witch from Colchis on the Black Sea, back to his home in Corinth. When Jason leaves Medea for a younger princess, Medea murders their two sons "to get at [Jason's] heart."
Unlike Maria, who turns into a ghost, Medea successfully flees on a chariot sent by a god in Euripides' version of the drama. Essentially, she gets away with it. Euripides may have looked at Medea's situation with sympathy. After enduring years of oppression in a male-dominated society and being treated as a second-class citizen for her Asian roots, Medea escapes.
La Llorona and Medea are indigenous women who, after experiencing deep betrayal from men, become so wrathful they no longer experience fear. "Both women alienate themselves from their worlds for their men, both grow jealous and then rage and act in defiance,” historian Gregorio Luke told the Long Beach Press Telegram in 2011.
Beyond the glaring similarities of La Llorona and Medea, the figure of a wailing woman in white appears throughout world mythology — but only La Llorona haunted the movie set.
“We did have some creepy supernatural occurrences," the director Michael Chaves told the L.A. Times. "Half the crew actually does believe the house that we shot in was haunted, and there might have been something to that."