La Llorona

llorona

This is the most well-known and well-feared in all of Mexico. It’s been passed down from one generation to another and there’s even some people who claim they’ve caught her on film. The origin date of this particular legend is unknown, but what is certain is that it’ll make the hairs on the back of your head stand on end. This is the story of La Llorona (The Wailer), a wandering soul that roams the streets at night weeping and wailing in sorrow. Her heartrending wails shake the windows of every house, her moaning so full of sorrow that it makes dogs howl and the chill of her pain freezes the streets and the souls of all who hear them.

La Llorona is the ghost of a woman condemned to walk the earth for all eternity as a punishment for murdering her children. There are many versions of this story, but all of them share the same tragic end. In some states it’s the story of a woman from a modest family that fell madly in love with a handsome and wealthy Spaniard who, after finding out she’s so obsessed with him, seduces her so he can take her to bed but as soon as he found out she’s pregnant he vanished without a trace. Others say that it’s the Malinche, the woman who served as an interpreter for Hernán Cortés. Said woman fell in love with him but was cast aside when she became pregnant. Such was her love for Cortés that she killed her new-born child just so he would stay with her. Yet another version says a young woman from a wealthy family got pregnant from a man from a poor family. Her parents found out and hid her so nobody could talk behind her back for having relationships out of wedlock. As soon as her child was born, the young mother was forced to drown the baby in the river and, even worse, she had to let the current drag the body away so she wouldn’t have to bury him and raise suspicion.

Losing a son is an experience no mother wants to go through, but killing them yourself is a whole other can of worms. The Weeping Woman wanders at night weeping and wailing her eternal suffering. Legend says she always cries “Ay, mis hijos!” (Oh, my children!), and many say it’s true. Others say it’s just a cry so cold and creepy it freezes you completely, rendering you immobile. Some others have seen her and describe her as a pale woman with long, straight black hair dressed in white with a face distorted into a perpetual expression of sorrow.

You might not believe me, but maybe you’ll believe the video in this link:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goktY3OxIkA

The Catrina

la Catrina

If there’s something you can be sure of about us Mexicans is that we’re not afraid of death, but that doesn’t mean we’re all reckless and pulling stunts that endanger our lives all the time. No, we just see her and embrace her like an old friend that’s been waiting for us.

Death for us is not a “goodbye” but a “farewell, see you later”. We get sad when someone close to us dies and we often say “the thin one took them” but nevertheless we know that someday we’ll see them again, we even know that once a year those who are gone come to visit us.

You’ve probably seen her more than once: the Calavera Catrina (The Elegant Skull), the skeleton wearing elegant dresses and a big hat adorned with feathers. She’s our most famous representation of death, but she wasn’t born that way. While this is not exactly a legend, its existence dates several decades back and is linked to so many things it could very well pass for one.

The creator of the Catrina is José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican political caricaturist (or a “monero (doodler)” as we call them colloquially) famous for always including skeletons in his socio-political critical caricatures. He drew them to allude to the critical social situation in times of Porfirio Díaz’s government. Back in those times, though, she wasn’t called Catrina, but “La Calavera Garbancera”.

In times of Díaz’s government those that denied their indigenous origins, claiming to have European ascent, were called “garbanceros” (Chickpea carriers). These claims were ridiculous since given their physical features and skin tone it was fairly obvious they were not even remotely European. Years later, the famous muralist Diego Rivera painted the Calavera Garbancera in his mural painting “Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central”. It was the first time the famous skeleton made its appearance dressed up as a high society woman and it was Rivera himself who dubbed her the “Catrina”.

Since then, the famous caricature’s been present in our lives and has been included in every celebration of Día de Muertos turning her (almost) into the main protagonist of the famous date.

There’s no legend as such about the Catrina, but it’s always nice knowing where she comes from and more now than ever, considering her now worldwide fame, as well as the latest fashion of wearing face paint depicting one of our most famous Día de Muertos sweet treat: decorated sugar skulls.

Pozole

pozoleMexican cuisine is very diverse, full of colours, flavours, scents and designs. You can’t say you’ve been to Mexico if you’ve never tried enchiladas de mole, red chilaquiles, tamales de rajas, some real tacos, tamales, tlacoyos, esquites, huaraches (not to be confused with the footwear of the same name), mole de olla, and… pozole.

Pozole is a traditional soup in this country, made with cacahuazintle corn kernel, chili, various vegetables like lettuce, radish and onion and flavoured with meat like beef, chicken or most commonly pork. It”s quite popular in patriotic holidays like Independence Day (that’s on September 16th, not Cinco de Mayo) or the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution on November the 20th, when families get together to eat a hearty dose of pozole served in clay bowls accompanied with tostadas with sour cream. Cooking it is quite an art and eating it, a privilege. Pozole is a prehispanic dish and back then only the emperor could eat it. What you’re about to read is not a legend but a true story, though it’s so creepy you wouldn’t believe it.

Fray Bernardino of Sahagún relates in his book “General History of the Things of New Spain” that our traditional soup was originally made with human meat. Yes, you read correctly: human meat.

During spring, Aztecs would celebrate a party in honour of their god Xipe Tótec (The Flayed Lord) so he would be generous and give them a bountiful harvest. Part of the ritual for this celebration included making a serving of pozole using the meat of a prisoner of war. The Spaniards, horrified at such an act of cannibalism did all they could to eradicate such a custom and belief, forcing upon the native inhabitants the Christian faith by giving them catechism lessons.

In time the human flesh was replaced with Xoloitzcuintle dog meat, a breed of dog native to Mexican lands which has been hunted almost to the point of extinction, making it an endangered species. So, is Xoloitzcuintle meat similar in taste to human meat? Well, guess we’ll never find out. This situation forced people to once again change the main ingredient and now it’s cooked with pork, chicken of beef or even, in some states, with shrimp.

With such a creepy origin you might not want to try it anymore, but it’s a dish as famous for its origins as for its flavour so don’t miss out on a chance to give it a taste. After all, it was a delicacy worthy of emperors.

The Kissing Alley

Beso

The tale of Romeo and Juliet is, no doubt, one of the most tragic stories ever in which death is preferred to living a life away from a loved one and you could say that in Mexico we have one just -or almost- as tragic. It’s known as the Legend of the Callejón del Beso, the Kissing Alley, starring Luis and Carmen.

Carmen was a lady of a high lineage, who lived a wealthy life with no privations in the city of Guanajuato, in the state of the same name. Her father, who was known for having a short temper, loved her very much and already had plans made for her future. He wished to marry her to a wealthy Spaniard, much older than she was, with the sole intention to increase her already large fortune. Nevertheless, Carmen already had a secret lover way out of sight from everyone. The only one who know about this affair was Carmen’s handmaiden, Brígida, who guarded her secret like her own and helped set up their trysts. Luis, Carmen’s lover, was from a poor family, the son of lowly miners that had little to offer. The young lovers knew their romance was an impossible one but they didn’t care much for it and slowly they started weaving their love story.

The fairytale didn’t last long though, for Carmen’s father found out about the affair his daughter had behind his back. Blinded by rage and deaf to any protest he sentenced his daughter to a life in a secluded Spanish convent. Carmen wept and begged her father, asking him to see reason but her efforts were in vain. The only thing she got was permission to pen a letter to Luis, to be delivered by Brígida to let him know she was leaving for the convent and would never return again. When Luis read the letter, he started devising a plan and doing everything he could to be close to Carmen. It’s widely known he used gold to buy the house behind hers, whose walls were so close that one only needed to stretch their arm to touch the other house’s.

This is how Carmen and Luis could be together…for a short time. They talked in hushed voices, spent hours looking into each other’s eyes and holding the other’s hands while Brígida stood dutiful watch to make sure Carmen’s father was far from her room, but one day Carmen’s father tried to get into the room despite Brígida’s protests. Her father, in a fit of short-fused anger, shoved Brígida aside and barged into the room. Upon seeing Carmen holding Luis’s hand he went mad with rage and stabbed his own daughter twice on the chest. Luis, stunned and terrified could do nothing but hold the hand of his beloved one and see the life leave her body, but not before giving the back of Carmen’s hand a soft and warm kiss.

This story has been passed down since then and the alley is now a popular place for couples to visit and kiss under the windows of Luis and Carmen, lest they face 7 years of bad luck in love…or so the townsfolk say.

The Black Christ

Black Christ

There are many legends about the Black Christ. Some of them will tell you the story of the one in Valle de Bravo, others of the one in Michoacán or Colombia, but on this occasion, I’ll tell you the story of the Black Christ in the Metropolitan Cathedral, better known as the Lord of the Poison. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact date in which the effigy of the Christ arrived at the Cathedral, nevertheless there are records of its existence from the times in which the country was known as New Spain.

The story has Don Fermín, a wealthy but humble man who always gave help to those who needed it, as its protagonist. Despite his standing as a gentleman with plenty of businesses to take care of, he made time for his family and friends and he went to church every Sunday. He listened to the words of the priest attentively, he took the communion with fervor and had the habit of leaving a gold coin at the feet of the Christ that hung on the left side of the atrium and never left without humbly kissing the feet of the sacred figure.

Yes, Don Fermín was an exemplary man, loved and respected by everyone. By everyone, except for Don Ismael Treviño, who professed an enormous envy of him. He abhorred every single one of his actions, and was always looking for a way to defame or discredit him. He constantly spoke behind his back, trying to besmirch his name, but he never succeeded. No one knows why he hated Don Fermín so much. He never confessed and no one found out, but Don Ismael is remembered to this day because of a foul ploy that endangered Don Fermín’s life.

One day, full of hatred and envy, he decided to murder Don Fermín. He looked for a method that would leave no clue, not even the slightest hint that could lead back to him as a culprit. That’s how he came across a peculiar poison of delayed action that left no trace at all. He came up with a ruse to invite Don Fermín to his house for dinner and then slip the poison in his glass of wine. Don Fermín, who ignored the ill intentions and hatred of his counterpart, accepted the invitation gladly.

They shared a pleasant meal and they chatted all night. Don Ismael managed to stay cheerful and jovial, for he knew that that night would be one of the last Don Fermín would spend alive. The days went by and Don Fermín’s health diminished at an alarming rate, no remedy seemed to help and obviously, his mood took a dive for the worse as well. Nevertheless, he never stopped going to church. He showed up very early next Sunday at mass, watched closely by Ismael, who eagerly awaited the moment of his rival’s death. After the sermon, Don Fermín walked towards the Christ and kissed its feet. In that very moment a black spot appeared on the figure’s toes, which immediately started spreading like a cancer all over the Christ, until it covered it in its entirety.

Horrified by the miracle he had just witnessed, Don Ismael ran to Fermín and confessed that he had tried to poison him and the Christ had acquired that coloring after absorbing the poison and sparing his life. Fermín bore no hard feelings against him and in front of the whole gathering he forgave Ismael and embraced him like a brother. The Black Christ or Lord of the Poison can nowadays be found in the Metropolitan Cathedral and can be visited whenever you want.

Don Juan Manuel

Don Juan Manuel

A few nights ago, I found myself walking around the streets of downtown Mexico City looking for a place to have dinner in. While I walked along República de Uruguay street I was approached by a man in a heavy black cloak who asked me for the time. While perplexed at his appearance, I told him it was 11 p.m. He thanked me with a polite bow, turned around and left.

During my whole meal I couldn’t get the face of that gentleman out of my mind, until my curiosity was such that I had to ask the waiter what he knew. I told him what had just happened to me and I described the man’s out-of-this-time outfit. The waiter told me in a kind voice that I had nothing to worry about. “It was probably just Don Juan Manuel” he said, “he always asks a passerby for the time at precisely 11 o’clock at night”. Not quite understanding what I had just been told I asked him for more details and the kind waiter sat in front of me to tell me the legend I’m about to tell you.

Don Juan Manuel was a very fortunate man. He was the Viceroy’s right hand in Mexico, back when it was called Nueva España (New Spain), and he lived surrounded by wealth and comfort. He was even married to a beautiful woman called Marina, but there was sadness in both their hearts for his wife was unable to bear children. While trying to find some relief for his suffering, Don Juan Manuel went to live in a convent for a while.

To live in seclusion in a convent is a synonym to being completely isolated from the rest of the world, so Don Juan Manuel had one of his nephews brought over from Spain to take charge of the businesses he would leave unattended. Some people who were either enemies or jealous of Don Juan Manuel started spreading a rumour that his wife, Doña Marina, was cheating on him with his nephew.

When Don Manuel found out, in a blind rage and without regard to his being secluded in a convent he summoned the Devil himself and offered his soul in exchange for being able to get revenge on the ‘traitor’. The Devil, with a crooked smile and an evil laugh told him “go out at 11 p.m and kill the first man that you pass on the street”, and so he did.

When the clock chimed 11 times, Don Juan Manuel went out to the street and killed the first man he encountered, using a silver knife. In that moment the Devil appeared next to the dead body. He looked at him and gave the same cold, crooked smile before telling him

“This is not the man you’re looking for, Manuel. Go out every night precisely at eleven and kill the first man you encounter, and I’ll tell you when you’ve had your revenge”.

Blind with rage, Don Juan Manuel obeyed the Devil’s orders and for several nights, a man could be seen clad in a thick cloak standing in the shadows, waiting for an innocent man to walk by. When a passerby walked his way, he’d approach him silently and asked for the time. When he heard the answer he’d reply “Blessed be you who know the time of his own death”, and murder them in cold blood.

That’s how Don Juan Manuel spent his nights until one morning he received a visitor who informed him that his nephew had been murdered the night before. Horrified at his own actions, he went looking for shelter and consolation with the convent’s priest, who he told all that he’d done in the past nights. The priest told him that in penance he should go out for three nights and pray the Rosary three times in the public square, on the gallows.

Horrified at his own sins, Don Juan Manuel went to the public square to pray the 3 Rosaries, but it wasn’t as easy a task as he first thought. He had visions and hallucinations. The first night he saw with his own eyes a group of angels carrying a casket that contained his own body. He returned to the convent in fear.

The following night, bent on fulfilling the penance he had been tasked with, he returned to the public square, sitting right next to the gallows. Soon after starting his prayer, he heard a voice coming from nowhere. A hellish, cold voice, adorned with ghostly echoes that pronounced “one Hail Mary and one Our Father for the salvation of Don Juan Manuel”, followed by a sinister cackle that chilled him to the bone.

No one knows, however, what happened on the third night. When the sun came out, Don Juan Manuel’s body was discovered, hanging from the gallows in the square. Many like to believe that angels came to save him from the Devil, others say he went insane after his visions. What is completely true, though, is that it was the very same Don Juan Manuel who asked me for the time that night.

The Mulatto Woman of Córdoba

Mulata

There’s plenty of known stories of witches and sorceresses, but none like the legend of the Mulata (Mulatto Woman) of Córdoba: a woman born in the city of Veracruz when the Holy Inquisition undertook the mission of terminating any and all who comitted acts of sorcery.

Legend says her name was Soledad, but everyone knew her better by her ‘healing powers’. She earned her fame in Veracruz for brewing potions that healed even the most mysterious ailments. It’s also been said that she could make a bad husband to return home, gave jobs to the poor, found what had been lost and healed those left for dead.

Her popular and ‘magical’ services were known from the main streets of the State capital all the way down to the last boardwalk of the pier, and that’s how the Holy Inquisition found out about her. However, finding her was not easy, and neither was holding her captive.

When the Mulata was finally arrested, she was tried and condemned to burn in a pyre in the public plaza for witchcraft and sorcery. Between the trial and her execution she was imprisoned in the deepest, darkest and coldest cell in San Juan de Ulúa, a prison built on an island close to the port of Veracruz.

The story says that one night the Mulata approached a guard with a charming smile and asked him for a lump of coal to draw with. No one was ever capable of denying anything to a face as beautiful as hers, or those eyes as black as the darkest abyss so deep and so mysterious one could get vertigo by just looking straight into them. The guard gave her the coal immediately, under the condition that he be allowed to watch her while she drew.

When she was finally done, Soledad called the guard over to show him what she had created. The guard was astonished at such a magnificent work of art. It was a drawing of a boat, a huge Spanish galleo with big, wide, white sails that navigated on troubled waters, its bow pointing towards a distant horizon.

“It’s magnificent” he told her. “It just needs to sail away”. The Mulata smiled, showing off her pearly-white teeth.

“That can be solved” she said with laughter in her voice and she jumped directly into the drawing. Astonished and incapable of believing his own eyes, the guard watched her walk on the deck, take the wheel and point the ship at the horizon. The galleon faded into the distance and got lost in the crack of some wall.

No one ever saw the Mulata again. Nobody knew anything about her after that.