La Llorona Musings by Sara Wright

In Abiquiu New Mexico I walked down to the river and Bosque (wetland) communing with trees, leaving in the dark and returning before dawn every morning. Red Willow River is a tributary of the Rio Grande. I didn’t need to see; my feet knew the path by heart, so I was free to let my other senses take precedence. Listening to the sound of my feet, the first bird song, I moved into a still place, while first light gathered itself around me like a luminous cloak under the cottonwood trees. On my return the curves of the river and the dazzling painted sky held my rapt attention  … I didn’t realize for a long time that this daily meander was actually a walking meditation that helped stabilize me in a place that I loved but could not call home.

In the mystical magical twilight, if the conditions were right, I witnessed the mist rise over the river and whenever this happened it seemed to me that I ‘sensed’ a figure emerging from that cloud… this apparent apparition never ceased to pull me into her ‘field’. The woman was always weeping and I called her La Llorona, believing that she wept for the Earth, my precious Earth, because her animals and trees and plants were dying. Extinction was concrete reality, a daily occurrence. Cultural denial made it impossible for me to share my grief, but here, with La Llorona, I was witnessed and free to mourn…

The story of La Llorona is told throughout the Southwest and when I first heard it I knew it was a lie (see my blog for my interpretation of the legend

According to the Spaniards, La Llorona was a young woman who was supposed to have murdered her children in a fit of rage because her lover abandoned her. She could be heard weeping at the river at night, searching for the dead children she abandoned. She was reputed to be a threat to any child left alone at night.

Recently I learned that the real story of La Llorona had historical beginnings that began about ten years before the Spanish conquest as omens experienced by the Indigenous Mexica (Aztecs).

The earliest texts that mention La Llorona are located in the twelve books of the Florentine Codex. The first books were written in 1577 but can be dated earlier. Book twelve was originally written in the Nahuatl language in 1755 and here Native elders stated that ten years prior to the arrival of the Spaniards the Mexica began to witness a series of omens. The prophecies signaled the arrival of the Spaniards and the downfall of Tenochtitlan. In the texts a woman is heard crying and screaming at night crying “my children, we now have to leave… where shall I take you… or more ominously, my beloved children I am going to leave you now.” Two of these books indicate that the woman crying at night was the goddess Cihuacoatl whose name means “Serpent Woman”. In two texts the woman has a head of a woman with horns and develops a serpent’s body. After the conquest of Mexico one book makes the terrifying assertion that the goddess ate a child in her crib. The twisted version of the story of La Llarona as it is still told today also began after the Spanish conquest.

That La LLorona is a compassionate grieving Mother goddess figure seemed obvious to me when I first heard the Spanish rendition. I immediately thought of Our Lady of Sorrows, the Catholic Mary figure who is also a goddess. Guadalupe also came to mind.*

My personal experiences with La Llorona have moved this goddess beyond the original story. It is absolutely real to me that today this figure still appears out of the waters and is mourning the slaughtered trees, plants, animals, – the other children of the Earth (I have experienced her presence here in Maine by my brook).

There is a Pueblo belief that the Rio Grande and its tributaries is guarded by a Horned Serpent, Avanyu, whose petroglyphs and pictographs adorn canyon walls and rock outcroppings in the area. This Serpent of the Waters is intimately associated with rains and each spring the Pueblos hold a Snake Dance to call down the waters from the Cloud People.

Living in Abiquiu brought me face to face with what happens in severe drought. Desertification is occurring; the Cottonwoods and many other plants are dying. It was/is a terrifying reality to witness firsthand the ravages of a land that has already caught Fire. Avanyu seems to have withdrawn ‘his’ protection. He is considered to be a male figure to the Pueblo people and others but I see Avanyu as the Serpent Goddess, once again stripped of her female powers. These powers include precognition/ second sight and are experienced through the body through dreaming or through our senses even if they appear as ‘thought’.

Mythologically, the serpent has been consistently associated with the Life Force, the body – ie. embodiment.  Creation and Destruction. Christianity turned the serpent into the “evil” one who, of course was female and whose body was the source of shame and misery.

I conclude with a dream I had last November when Avanyu, as a GIANT python type snake appeared in the Rio Grande. This serpent was so enormous that all the river water disappeared underneath it and it was coming towards us radiating all the colors of the rainbow – its body was pulsing with intensity. In the dream I was terrified and then struck dumb with fear recognizing that some new unknown Collective threat was coming … Covid was on its way.

*Guadalupe or Tonantzin/multi-valenced Earth goddess  originally belonging to Aztec people first appeared on a hill outside of Mexico city ten years after the Spanish Conquest of the Mexica in 1531. She was brown skinned. The top priority of the time was to convert the Natuatl speaking Indigenous peoples to Christianity. Although the church attempted to Christianize her Guadalupe remains to this day a goddess belonging to the people. She is invoked as a power of social justice, for her compassion and strength, and as an image of Motherhood. I don’t think it’s coincidence that she first appeared to the native people after they had been conquered….and that according to some sources she has a serpent aspect.  As Cihuacoatl Tonantzin/Guadalupe is Serpent Woman. Creator and Destroyer.


Sara is a naturalist, ethologist ( a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.

Author: Sara Wright

I am a writer and naturalist who lives in a little log cabin by a brook with my two dogs and a ring necked dove named Lily B. I write a naturalist column for a local paper and also publish essays, poems and prose in a number of other publications.

9 thoughts on “La Llorona Musings by Sara Wright”

  1. How interesting that the serpent contained all the colours of the rainbow, so for those who see she heralds transition and the shedding of an old skin, these colours could signify something beautiful to take its place. I love your post which is also serpent like, in that shedding of old narratives about La Llorona, bringing her truth forward into the rainbow light. Thank you for sharing it all, what a wonderful walking meditation.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am a dreamer and for so many years whenever the rainbow colors appeared in a dream I thought something wondrous was about to occur… the story the dreams were telling was quite different. Now I recognize that the rainbow colors refer to the intensity of the – in this case – threat – there may of course be more to this – let’s hope so – but this is not how I experienced the dream.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ve always felt troubled by this story and the way it is commonly told. It never rang true to me, but now I can see her as the archetype of the lamenter, the mourner for lost animals, peoples, places and things. She is the quintessential wailer, symbolizing the pain of all loss, enabling those in the first shock of their own loss to express their anguish.

    The grief over mass extinction is so profound and so present in my heart. Whenever I mention it people begin to nod and tear. It weighs on so many hearts, shadows many joys, and goes mostly unexpressed. I can’t thank you enough for redeeming La Llorona for us.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, I am so grateful for your response. When I first wrote abut La Llorona I felt a weight lift in me – very strange – very visceral – have never doubted that some wise part of me that is attached to nature and story re-attached me to truth. This story came through me…like a gift.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I echo both comments above. Thank you for your serpentine retelling, interweaving history, ecology, y/our own sense of profound sorrow. I love the connection between the mist on the river and the world mystical.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. By the way my correct blog address is – wordpress not “woodpress” and yet when I googled it it came up just the same!

    I had to laugh because I am a tree woman and “woodpress” actually makes more sense to me as an address than wordpress!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks for bringing out La Llorona and your deep understanding of her story. It reminds me very much of Lilith who was denigrated and according to mythology, stole and ate children as well. Lies indeed! I have been writing about Lilith lately as she has called to me. I wonder if there is a connection between the two divinities or if the story is so universal that of course it appears in other cultures????

    I also just love all the serpent imagery!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. My guess is that the goddess wears so many coats that it would be impossible to name them all – I like to think of all these coats as different aspects of Her – and no doubt patriarchal religions adopted the grizzly side of the goddess for their own purposes…

      Liked by 1 person

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