The informant (L) is a 22 year old film student at California State University Los Angeles. She grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma before coming to Los Angeles for college after high school. Her family is Mexican and Catholic. At the suggestion of our mutual friend who had heard the story before, she told me the legend of the Cihuateotl. She mentioned prior to telling me that the story was not told often within her family because of how sad it is. She was told the story by her grandmother when L’s fourth cousin died in childbirth, when L was around seven years old. Though L does not tell the story often within her family, L does tell the story when other urban legends are being discussed among her friends in Los Angeles, which is where I heard some of the story prior to beginning to collect folklore for this database. The story involves the following legendary figures:
In “native ancient Mexico,” the cihuateotl are the spirits of the women who died in childbirth. Their sadness is the reason the sun goes down at night. Once a month, the spirits haunt the streets to hold the children they were never able to hold. After sunset, they try to abduct children. Because ‘good’ children should be inside and safe by the time the sun goes down, the children they were trying to abduct are the bad, misbehaving children. This is also used to scare children into behaving, as the cihuateotl would not give the children back.
This mix of ancient myth and urban legend is an interesting intersection between old and new. Though the spirits make sense in both modern and ancient contexts, the haunting of streets does not make as much sense in ancient Mexico, which probably did not have the sort of streets and highways L referred to in her retelling.
The story also presents some interesting contrasts. The fact that the cihuateotl only abduct bad children seem to say something about how either those children do not deserve a real mother or the mothers who allow their children to be bad don’t deserve to have children when there are mothers who died trying to have them. While these ideas are in the background, the practical use of scaring children into behaving probably plays more of a role in why the story is told than the more subtle themes.