Tag Archives: Mexican Myths

“Cuando el Tecolote Canta, el Indio Muere”

Informant Info:

  • Nationality: Mexican
  • Residence: San Diego
  • Primary language: Spanish/English

Text and Context:

M.W grew up in a small rural town in Mexico, where superstitions are dominant in everyday life. From a young age, her parents instilled in her the belief that owls are a bad omen. She says, “Cuando el tecolote canta, el indio muere.” This translates to,  “When the owl sings, the Indian dies.” Basically, if you were to hear the owl sing, it was thought that someone known or close to you is about to die. M.W says there are lots of superstitions involving owls, and all are negatively associated. She recalls once when it was night, an owl sang and then something unexpected happened right after. A bird hit itself on a wall shortly after, and then in the morning it was known that her neighbor passed away around the time the owl sang. M.W recalls that every time she heard the owl, someone died, ended up in the hospital, or very sick. In her culture, the owl was feared and when seen, it led to an eerie sensation. 


When talking to M.W, what stood out was when she told me, “Something about the owl had always unsettled me. In the night time, the eyes are so spooky and the fact that they can move their head 270 degrees is just creepy.” After doing some research, I found that the association between owls and bad luck runs beyond just Mexican culture. Amongst many cultures, owls are also seen as omens of death and are avoided. For example, in Native Cherokee culture, the owl is believed to be an embodied spirit of the dead. In my Mexican culture, I was also told that owls are also called “lechuzas” in spanish. Lechuzas are typically referring to barn owls or larger owls. There are lots of myths associated with owls, another one being that witches can transform themselves into owls. 

Break the Tortilla – Quiebra la Tortilla

Informant: My informant is my Mexican mother, who grew up in Puebla, Mexico. While she stayed with her mom for about 16 years before coming to the U.S, she grew up with many superstitions that derived either from her mom or from her grandmother.

Main Piece: “Esto lo escuche de mi mama en mi niñez. Ella siempre decía, que si sobraban tortillas era importante de intentar de no tirarlas a la basura porque si no uno se hacía más pobre y era mala suerte. Era muy importante que las agarres y las quiebres en pedazos más pequeños y dárselos a cualquier animal que encuentres en la calle como un perro. O si tenias puerquitos dárselos ellos” 

Translation:  “I heard this from my mom when I was a child. She always said that if there were leftover tortillas it was important to try not to throw them in the trash because if you didn’t you would become poorer and it would be bad luck. It was very important that you grab them and break them into smaller pieces and try to give them to any animal that you would find on the street like a dog. Or if you had little pigs, give it to them”

Context: My mom stated that she grew up hearing this superstition for as long as she could remember when she lived with her mom back in her town. She still performs it up to this day because it’s not that she believes that something bad will happen out of throwing out a tortilla, but because she states that this superstition has taught her to value even the simplest of foods. Growing up poor, she stated that sometimes the only thing her mom could provide for her was a tortilla with some salt or green pepper. Whenever there were one or two tortillas left and they had been overheated too many times and were too bland/hard to eat anymore her mom would break them into pieces and offer them as an offering to the animals.  Again, throwing them away was a big NO NO because God would punish them.

Analysis: I agree with my mom’s analysis of this superstition. My mom grew up in very difficult circumstances and I am sure that she was not the only one in that town who had to go through this. I also don’t believe that merely throwing a tortilla into the trash will necessarily make you any poorer is true. However, I do see where my grandma and great-great grandma/others who believe in this superstition come from. The tortilla in Mexico is a very sacred item, a symbolic perspective, and a pride-inspiring symbol of the nation and its people. Therefore, if this sacred item is thrown away it symbolizes not being grateful for the food that was created by previous ancestors, and ultimately when thrown away it’s a sign of ungratefulness. Not only do I believe that this custom has to do with culture and heritage itself, but also with religion. Throwing away a tortilla might also be considered rude in the Catholic religion because it refers back to Jesus’s last meal where he broke bread for his disciples. I’m assuming that this custom has transcended throughout generation to do the same with the idea of not wasting food or sharing to those less fortunate.

Devil Sightings on Horse at Night – Mexico

KF: People have tales of like because uh Mexico is like predominantly like Catholic um…people say that like they’ve seen the devil on like their horse- on his horse…like just like galloping like if you stay up really really late at night, you’ll see him like come through like the town or something.



Location of story – predominantly Mexico, according to informant

Location of Performance – Interviewer’s dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night


Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore via a group message. KF approached me two days prior to this interview, but schedules did not allow for a recording until she came to ask a homework and remembered. I am good friends with KF. This story followed one of KF’s previously about La Llorona.


Analysis: It is interesting to note that the devil only appears late at night. In Catholic tradition, one is always at risk to sin and the Devil, but for some reason, these monsters only seem to reveal themselves at night. In Mathias Clasen’s article “Monsters Evolve: A Biocultural Approach to Horror Stories,” Paul Shepard is quoted as saying, “our fear of monsters in the night probably has its origins far back in the evolution of our primate ancestors, whose tribes were pruned by horrors whose shadows continue to elicit our monkey screams in dark theaters” (Clasen 1). In other words, tradition has conditioned us to believe that the night brings about supernatural activity. This phenomenon can possibly be explained by a communal need to feel protected from evils, such as the Devil, by having times dedicated to explore and be free and then times dedicated to retreat and hide.


Additional Reading:

Clasen, Mathias. “Monsters Evolve: A Biocultural Approach to Horror Stories.” Review of General Psychology, vol. 16, no. 2, June 2012, pp. 222–229, doi:10.1037/a0027918.

Shepard, Paul. The others: How animals made us human. Island Press, 1997.

Baptisms Can Determine a Child’s Future Fortunes

Baptisms Can Determine a Child’s Future Fortunes

“The way a baptism goes can either mean that the child will have good luck in their future or not. This though is specifically entirely in the hands of the padrinos(god parents) so the parents of the child must choose a good fit. The padrinos are said to have to buy the baby’s attire for the day, pay for the holy mass and then contribute in whatever else they want for the baby’s party. The padrinos also have to throw a “bolo”, this is money thrown in behalf of the baby and other kids then get to pick it up. The baby’s luck is measured by how lavish the attire is, and how much money the padrinos throw… they say that if the padrinos are being stingy about the party, then the baby will suffer terrible luck but if the padrinos don’t show any signs of stinginess and are willing to rip a hole in their pockets, then the baby will be very lucky… I don’t really know how this originated, what I do know is that everyone goes by the same rule. I know my mom talks about how this was something that had been happening since years ago back at home in Mexico. I don’t think it’s like something set in stone but I mean, everyone else is doing it so why not. And it also is kind of true. My mother says how I have really good luck because my padrinos gave a lot of money the day of my baptism, and I do feel like I’m pretty lucky, whereas my sister didn’t even have a party and she’s not doing as good as I am. I also did the same for my children and I hope that they choose good padrinos for their kids. I guess this is all a tradition that makes us who we are.”

My informant is a 41 year old Mexican descendant who was born in Mexico but has lived in the USA for the most part of her life. She maintains most of her ties to her Mexican culture while living in the USA so therefore, most of the things she knows has been passed down by her mother and other relatives. She does not necessarily learn her folk tales for different thing via a specific book or other published material, but rather from relatives in her daily life.

This was pretty fascinating to analyze because who knew that a baby’s future can be determined at such a young age. Furthermore, I found interesting that parents are solely responsible for what kind of future their kids will have, based on this tradition. It might be interesting to try and see where this tradition originated from because that way we would be able to see exactly why it is formatted the way it is. Regardless, I don’t think that just because it seems silly, it’s not entirely a myth. It may actually be true, and if so, it should be practiced because who wouldn’t want good luck.

Saying “Bless You” Can Save One’s Soul

Saying “Bless You” Can Save One’s Soul

“Se acostumbra decir salud a alguien que destornuda por obediencia pero hora en dia, no mucha gente se sabe el verdadero significado. En realidad se le tiene que decir ala gente que esta destornudando, ‘Jesus le ayude” porque cuando alguien esta destornudando es porque el cuerpo se quiere desaser de un espiritu maligno… esta historia era muy comun cuando yo era nina. Mucha gente creia en todo esto porque eran tiempos en donde existia mucho la maldad, la brujeria y las brujas… yo no se a quien escuche diciendo esta frase por primera vez, alomejor porque era algo que alguien cresia escuchando… al parecer, ahora no hay tanta brujeria como antes, pore so talvez mucha gente ya no dise la frase como debe decirla. Pero yo la sigo diciendo, y la voy a seguir diciendo.”

“It is custom to tell someone bless you when they are sneezing as a sign of friendliness but now a days, not a lot of people know the real meaning of it. In reality, one has to say to the people sneezing, “may Jesus help you” because when someone is sneezing, the body is trying to get rid of a bad spirit from within… this was a very common story when I was a little girl. A lot of people believed in all of this because they were times where a lot of evilness existed, witchcraft and witches… I don’t know who I first heard using this phrase, maybe because it was something that one just grew up hearing… from the looks of it, now there isn’t as much witchcraft as there was before, maybe that’s why a lot of people now don’t say the phrase as it’s supposed to be said. But I still say it that ways and will continue to say I that way.

My informant is a Mexican native of 68 years. She was born and raised there and continues to reside there. In her times, life was much simpler; there were no schools so anything she had to know was taught by people around her. Even though her stories may not seem plausible, they are the kind of stories she grew up listening to so she will hold her faith to their truthfulness with no hesitation. She now continues to pass on the stories she know to her children and grandchildren.

This specific story was fascinating to hear because even though it may seem like one specific type of folk tale, it ends up incorporating several other folk themes. This story incorporates a sort of cure for evil spirits, as well as incorporating witchcraft and witch concepts. Witches are not scientifically proven to be real so therefore one can infer that this story may be a fallacy, however, just because it has not yet been scientifically proven doesn’t mean it’s false. Furthermore, the fact that my informant believes this story to be completely true, can only serve as point in favor to considering the truthfulness of this story. I however personally don’t believe it’s entirely a true story, but it is fascinating to see the kind of mythical identities that were incorporated into this story which tie in to the time of when this story originated.