Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Archive for the tag “women”

Daily Ghost Post – L is for La Llorona

La Llorona is an enduring Mexican legend that is told in Latin American countries, the American Southwest, and beyond. Even my American teenaged son points to it as the most terrifying tale of his childhood.

There are other interesting tidbits about the tale, but first, the story.

THE LEGEND

There once was a woman called Maria. With long dark hair that hung like a bridal train, she caught the eye of many. But the one who caught her eye in return was a fine courtly gentleman. Maria fell deeply in love him and bore two children. But for the nobleman, Maria was a mere dalliance. His heart and plans lay with someone else, far away.

When he broke it off, Maria was devastated. Through her pain, she convinced herself that she lost him because of the children. So, one night, she put on a flowing white gown, possibly the one she hoped to wear for her wedding, and brought her children to the river. There, Maria drowned her babies. Then, she died at the water’s edge in utter grief for everything that happened. Some say she drowned herself in the river. I wonder if she drowned in her own tears of pain and regret.

When she approached the gates of heaven, Maria discovered that she was not allowed in until she could find her children’s lost souls. Condemned to exist in between the afterlife and the world of the living, La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, still walks the earth.

Even today, she prowls the rivers and lakes in search of her babies. Crying and wailing, La Llorona wears white, her long hair wild in in wind, searching and searching through the night. If she sees any children near rivers or lakes, it is said that she reaches out and clutches them to her broken heart.

And they are never seen again.

DIGGING DEEPER

A friend who grew up in Mexico told me that even though La Llorona’s story is set by a river, his parents, like many others, used the story to keep their kids off the streets.

“They told us she could be anywhere at night. We were afraid she would take us by mistake. It was the perfect way for parents to get us home before dark.”

The legend is scary by itself. It is used almost like a bogeyman – well bogeywoman – story. But scratch a bit deeper and much more is revealed. La Llorona is a story that is probably rooted in folklore that predated the Spanish conquest.

That story was about a woman who lived ten years before Cortes and the Spanish arrived in 1519. Like La Llorona, that woman wandered at night through the streets of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City at the time of the Aztecs), crying and wailing about her children. But unlike La Llorona, her children were not dead.

She wept out of concern for what would become of them.

Those who study this story suggest that her wailing was a warning to the Aztec people. It foretold a future when their lives would be forever changed.

The tale doesn’t signify the loss of individual children as a literal interpretation might suggest. Instead, it bemoans the loss of a culture’s children. And so it came to pass that after the Spanish came, people intermarried and children were born of mixed races. On a deeper level, that wailing woman was wailing about the lost future of Mexico’s children.

The accuracy of this foretelling is as scary as the modern La Llorona story.

Scholars say that the woman was based on the goddesses Chihaucoatl, the serpent woman of Aztec mythology. Montezuma, king of the Aztec empire, and his priests believed that the wailing woman was Chihaucoatl herself. Since they believed that she could foretell future events, they prepared for the worst.

But Chihaucoatl is probably not the start of the legend’s journey. Some scholars argue that the Aztec tale was appropriated by the Aztecs from the previous Toltec civilization.

Hmmmm.

La Llorona is a gripping tale of life, loss, love, and more. It is also an example of the many ways that conquerors co-opt people – they steal so much more than land. The tale we hear now, tinged with European religion (going to the heavenly gates) and class overtones (the rich gentleman), is a colonial version of an indigenous story.

La Llorona scares children off the streets at night. It also scares me, yet again, about the pernicious power of conquest.

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
Perez, Dominio Renee (2008). There was a Woman: La Llorona from Folklore to Popular Culture. University of Texas Press.
Estes, Clarissa-Pinkola (1992). Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. New York: Ballantine Books.
http://www.inside-mexico.com/la-llorona-a-five-century-old-lamentation/
Romero, Rolando and Amanda Notacea Harris (editors, 2005). Feminism, Nation and Myth: La Malinche. Luis Leal’s work. Houston: Arte Publico Press.
Wikipedia – La Llorona

PHOTO CREDIT: By Rodtico21 / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

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Daily Ghost Post – C is for Churel

Old Man at Ravangla Market, India


The churel is a supernatural badass. A female ghost, the churel can slap back at those who wronged her in life.

In India, it is said that if a woman is treated badly by her family or dies under unnatural circumstances, then she can return after death to settle up. A bit of a vampire now, she can turn the blood of the men in her family to powder. A churel can also suck the youth out of people. According to vampire expert J. Gordon Melton, if she offers a young man some food and he takes it, then he is hers for the night. When he returns to his own life the next day, he will be a withered, old man.

That’s one powerful play date.

Although she can trick her quarry into believing she is a regular everyday woman, her actual physical appearance is hideous – thick black tongue, long dangling breasts, pointy teeth, slimy mouth – you know, your basic monster. Some sources indicate that churels are the ghosts of women who died in childbirth. Rosemary Ellen Guiley indicates that a churail (note different spelling) could have been either pregnant or menstruating when she died. With so many ways to spell her name and so many variants in what she is capable of, there is agreement on at least two points: 1. that she is a ghostly vampire woman known in India, and; 2. you don’t want to meet her in a dark or day lit alley.

This ghost fascinates me for several reasons. The first reason is that the churel is empowered in death. This is in contrast to whatever situations in life wronged her. Like the closing of a circle, the churel represents cosmic justice. I also wonder if the existence of the churel offers spiritual hope to those who suffer in life.

Another reason for my churel fascination is that her actions and their consequences are somewhat parallel to those of the Irish fairies. The risks of accepting food from the fairy folk is well known in Irish lore. Those who do are whisked off to the fairy world. Because time passes differently there, a homesick inter-world traveler may pine to return to the land of living humans. If he or she returns, hundreds of years may have passed. Once that person sets ancient foot on earth, his or her body cycles through the years until it reaches its actual age and finally crumbles to dust (you can read a version of such a legend here).

Parallels abound in world folklore, and the similarity of churel and fairy consequences are fun to note even if they are completely and totally unrelated.

The final reason why the churel intrigues me is that she robs her quarry of two things that humans hold dear – youth and the future. To be killed outright is punishing in and of itself. But wouldn’t it be even worse to go to sleep full of youthful fire and promise and wake up the next morning barely able to function, and living, albeit not for long, with the knowledge that your most of your life was stolen?

But you can avoid the churel’s trouble, as far as I understand it, by being observant of those around you. You see, the churel has an unmistakable characteristic that gives her away – her feet are completely backwards. So if a woman approaches you heel first, you might want to turn on your heels and hoof it in the other direction.

What do you think about the churel? Do you know of parallel spirits in other cultures? Can you add more information about churels? I’d love to hear from you and will write back!

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES: Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (2011). The Encyclopedia of Vampires and Werewolves, 2nd Edition. Facts on File, Inc. Melton, J. Gordon (2011). The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, 3rd Edition. Visible Ink Press.
Wikipedia – Churel entry.

PHOTO CREDIT: By Sukanto Debnath (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

How to Avoid Splashing Muck

Hello people! Nice to be back to blogging after a hiatus. I was nudged back in the saddle by a recent event that touches on the power of words even though, ironically, it’s about pictures..

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The rhetoric around the theft of celebrity nude photos has me thinking. As most of you know by now, private photos of many celebrity women, including Jennifer Lawrence and Kirsten Duntz, were hijacked from their private accounts and made public on the web. To say that there is public outrage is to put it mildly. A major violation took place, and people are horrified.

In the frenzy of commentary about this, I saw some interesting discussions. One writer, Scott Mendelson at Forbes.com, urges the media to describe this incident as a sexual assault, not a celebrity scandal. He argues that the connotations associated with the word “scandal” puts blame on the women, when in actuality, they did nothing wrong. One or more hackers ransacked their privacy, scoured through their intimate photos, and then broadcast them to the entire world without permission. Hackers were the ones who committed a crime, not the women.

Writing for Time Magazine, Charlotte Alter disagrees about calling it sexual assault. She argues that using sexual assault as an umbrella term for violations against women dilutes the meaning of the phrase. (Sexual assault encompasses a range of violent crimes whose definitions vary state by state). About the photo hacking incident, she writes:

It is not the same as being raped, or forced to perform oral sex, or molested as a child, or beaten. It’s not a question of “more or less awful,” because both scenarios are horrific examples of how women are treated in our society. But they’re different, and it’s especially important to be precise when we’re talking about violence.

Alter suggests that we call this revenge porn, a newer legal term referring to crimes where angry lovers publicize erotic photos from broken relationships.

I applaud both writers for their great contributions. And I concur that this issue needs to be carefully named. But I am not comfortable referring to this as revenge porn, and this is why. Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines porn as:

Movies, pictures, magazines, etc., that show or describe naked people or sex in a very open and direct way in order to cause sexual excitement.

The word “porn” suggests that these photos were taken to cause sexual excitement. But that’s irrelevant. They were private photos. It is nobody’s business what their purpose was. The hacker(s) committed a pornographic act by placing those pictures in the public eye. But just as “scandal” can suggest that the celebrities did something wrong, the word “porn,” with its deeply negative connotations, could leak from the hackers (where it belongs) onto the women (where it doesn’t), shadowing them for a very long time.

Whatever we ultimately call wicked acts of this nature, we must take care to avoid splashing any more muck upon the victims. How can we do this?

1. Stop and think before we write and speak. Everyone, including the media, has the responsibility to carefully consider the meaning and connotations behind words.

2. Use alternate phrasing. Perhaps the broader term sex crime carries the story of what happened. It doesn’t dilute the term sexual assault or put the onus on the women.Sexual exploitation crime might be considered, as the word “exploitation” clearly places the responsibility on the wrongdoers, not those who were victimized. The same could be said of sexual harassment.

3. View the situation from a different angle. Indeed this crime has a sexual side, but maybe a broader view can be instructive. The hacker(s) committed an egregious violation of privacy. So I offer up another phrase for consideration in describing this kind of offense: privacy assault.

We can all agree that a serious crime was committed. Let’s ensure that our rhetoric doesn’t inadvertently victimize the victims more.

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I’d love to hear what you think! Make some comments below and let the conversation begin.

For more thoughts on this, you might be interested by this Upworthy post!

Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters

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