The mythology in Latin America is quite rich: some tales have been passed onto us from the Incas, Mayas or Aztecs, and others are colonial imports from Europe. On this first part of the multinational Latin American post, we'll visit some of the most popular myths and legends like the Llorona, the Cegua, the Cadejos and the Evil Light.
Legends and myths are part of our culture. Nina Maguid mentions in her post “Of Fear and Frights”, that these stories were told in first person and usually around some source of fire, and I couldn't agree more. I used to hear local versions of some of these stories during my holidays, sitting around dining room tables at rural farmhouses, our faces lit up by a flickering kerosene lamp. All it took for a story to be recalled was the unexplained baying of dogs or a horse galloping by in the dead of the night. Nina mentions three specific frights famous in her mother's Argentinean hometown: The bad light, the widow and the pig.
According to Comodín at El Blog de Oro, this light would be used to hunt for treasure: if it was a white light, it would signal gold and silver treasure, if it was red, they had to run away, since it was the devil at work. This myths is by no means unique to Argentina: all over the world people have tried to explain the meaning of these mysterious lights which appear at twilight, like in Spain and Chile.
The Widow was a woman slighted in love, who died when she discovered her husband was unfaithful. She signed a deal with the devil to remain forever in this world and get her revenge. She would jump on single men's horses and ride pillion with them, and if they got frightened, she would kill them. The only way to remain unscathed was by carrying a rosary or crucifix and not getting scared. This myth is so fixed in Argentinean folklore that the expression “getting visited by the Widow” is a synonym for an unexpected or disagreeable event.
El Loco Bender (Crazy Bender) also writes about the Black Widow, and adds a bit more flair to the hair-raising story by promising a lonely, slow and painful death to those fickle or unfaithful men she meets.
Costa Rica has a similar myth, known as la Cegua. La Cegua will hitch a ride from lonely and unfaithful men, luring them with her attractive appearance, but once she is atop the horse, when the men look back they will see that her face is a horse's skull covered in putrid meat, and she will bite their cheek to mark them as unfaithful. However, blogger Elemental writes that the outcome may be far more dire: all unfaithful men die with their eyes wide open in fear, and those who weren't unfaithful keep their lives, but remain impotent for the rest of their lives.
Elemental also writes about the Cadejos, a demon dog that would appear at night with the sound of dragging chains, although none would be visible. The size of a small calf, this dog had matted hair, giant fangs and sizzling eyes, nose and ears, and would scare anything in its way, from naughty children and wayward men to farm animals. Nevertheless, this “fright” is considered benevolent, since it will walk along drunken men and make sure they get home safely, even protecting them from other beings of the night such as La Llorona or common thieves. In Guatemala, however, they consider that there are two versions of this dog: the black one and the white one. The white dog will protect anyone it walks with, and in Deguate.com, Mrs. Argentina Barcia tells of how the Cadejos led them to find her father's dead body. At El Blog Chapin another goose-bump inducing story tells of how El Cadejos appeared to a city slicker staying at a homestead, and how people should take heed when warnings of the supernatural kind are delivered by country folk.
Our last legend for today is that of La Llorona, [en] one that caused me to fear cats in heat for years and years of my childhood . La Llorona is “the crying woman, and this is one of the multinational frights. From Mexico to Chile, the Llorona stays near bodies of water (which might include a water tank in your garden) and wails for her missing children. She might just be there to scare you, or if you are in Colombia [es], she might want you to hold her baby for just one second, since she's very tired, and then you'll be condemned to being La Llorona until someone takes the burden off your hands. The story of how her children went missing varies from one country to the other, but most have some of the same elements. Women who married men who were much richer than they were, got slighted or abandoned, and decided to take their anger out on their children by drowning them, to later regret their choice. Others versions have a young and flighty woman who leaves her baby out by a river rock where she things he'll be safe while she goes out dancing, and then the river rises and takes the baby away, and so the woman remains near rivers, asking everyone if they have seen her children.
The following Costa Rican animated short film, Asusto, by Pablo and Francisco Céspedes Jr showcases most, if not all the Costa Rican legends, including the ox-less cart and the headless priest. No translation necessary: there seems to be no need for words when you are busy running away from fright after fright.