Tag Archives: Regional folklore

Whistling witches in the trees

A. is a 55-year-old mother of two in San Antonio, Texas. She grew up in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, a small town nearing the center of the country. She immigrated in her mid-twenties to join her husband in Chicago. She claims in this story that she saw a witch and describes the personal experience in detail every year near Halloween or Dia de los Muertos.

This performance was over the dining table. I was bringing her family conchas and other traditional Dia de los Muertos’ breads like pan de muerto.

Intv: Ok entonces, puedes reiterar ese cuento que siempre me contaste? / Ok then, can you reiterate that story you always told me

A: Claro, claro. Primeramente, el cuento tomo lugar en San Luis Potosi, mi hogar. Allí, viviamos en este casa de dos niveles y dentro del centro habia un patio real lleno de arboles de fruta. En el segundo nivel habia un pasillo que siempre recuerdo nuestro perro, Willie, corria por para saludar visitantes, tambien se podia ver los arboles de nuez que crecieron alrededor de la casa y tambien la entrada de la casa. Claro que esos arboles crecieron un poco mas alto, y por ese pasillo dormia Willie anoche. Acuerdo este noche donde cual Willie no tranquilizaba. Le invite dentro mi cuatro que mi mama, la abuela de Mili, prohibia pero sabia que ella pusiera de peor humor si le deje ladrando. Willie no quizo, y finalmente sali a media noche en mis pantuflas para ver que se notaba Willie. Al abrir de mi puerta escuche un silvando. Acerce al frente del pasillo y vi una figura donde escuchaba el silvando. De repente acorde de un cuento de mi ninez del vecindario. En las noches acerando la noche de todos los santos salian sombras en los arboles que silvaron. El cuento seguia que esos fueron brujas o gente embrujada invitando ninos para sequestrar.


Of course, of course. First, the story took place in San Luis Potosi, my home. There, we lived in this two-level house and inside the center there was a courtyard full of fruit trees. On the second level there was a hallway that I always remember our dog, Willie, ran through to greet visitors; you could also see the walnut trees that grew around the house and the entrance of the house. Of course, those trees grew a little taller, and willie slept down that hallway at night. But one night Willie wouldn’t calm down. I invited Willie into my room, something that my mother, Mili’s grandmother, forbids but I knew she would be in a worse mood if I left him barking. Willie didn’t want to, and finally I went out in the middle of the night in my slippers to see what Willie saw. As I opened my door, I heard a whistling. I approached the front of the corridor and saw a figure where I heard the whistling. Suddenly I remembered a story of my childhood. In the nights approaching the night of all the saints, shadows came out in the trees that whistled. The tale followed that these were witches or haunted people luring children to kidnap them.

This myth seems closely linked to the myth of La Lechuza, the bewitched owl women. As aforementioned in the annotation for La isla de las munecas, cultural syncretism plays a large part in La Lechuza’s etymology as well. Owls interestingly are a shared omen amongst many cultures, often developed worlds away from their parallel symbols. This bird of prey with empty black eyes and a scientifically proven silent flight brought chills to dozens of indigenous cultures, being cited as an omen of death repeatedly. La Lechuza moved into Tejano folklore easily with the frequent migration between Mexico and Tejas. As a tejano, I’ve encountered many barn owls near the Gulf of Mexico that glide atop the coastal winds and seem distinctly out of place with their white feathers and habit of flying at eye-level of humans. La Lechuza’s mythology capitalizes off the owls’ nocturnal habits and follows the myth of a persecuted witch that shapeshifts in the night hours and perches in trees as a 7ft tall woman with an owl face luring children. Rumors also dictate the unlikeliness of surviving an encounter with La Lechuza, once again solidifying it as a death omen. Some of her rumored powers are controlling the weather, causing supernatural accidents and deaths and amidst many other claims, gripping a child with their talons and flying off.

To read more about La Lechuza, see “Owl-Bewitchment in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.” Humberto Garza in the Celebrating 100 Years of the Texas Folklore Society 1909-2009 Page 38. https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc271470/m2/1/high_res_d/9781574413601.pdf 03+

La isla de las munecas

X is a 59 year old Mexican immigrant from Tabasco, Mexico. He is a university professor, specializing in printmaking. X is reserved and does not talk to many students about his homelend.

The context of this piece was in a printmaking shop after hours, around 8pm. X admitted his skepticism of the story and seemed to disagree with the local value of the piece.

X: “So, the the island of dolls is right off of that famous river, where are the floating islands used to live in Xochimilco. The story or folklore of that started actually somewhat recently within the last 50 years. People decorate all sorts of tourist sites with the dolls now. They’re hung with wires, and they looked down at people, they were often dismembered, it’s a little bit disturbing to newcomers. The story goes that a man, Santana, abandoned his family, a wife and a child and move to an island where the is OG musical canals. A lot of relatives discounted his deciding, but according to him he watched a little girl drown. After that people say he went crazy, others say he just devoted a life to honoring her by collecting the dolls and hanging them up. I personally say the first because he filled up that whole island with them. Usually shrines in the day of the dead are limited to just a few objects all on an altar in one space not a whole island. He said they protected the island and he used it as a torch attraction which I thought was weird also, but the story gets even more ominous when, what in 2001? how old were you then? Well anyways he drowned in the same spot.”

Contextually, the isla de las munecas sits in one of Mexico City’s most toured areas and rumored to be the most spiritually active as well and acts as a legend. This region was where the indigenous Mexica’s technologically advanced floating islands, the Chinampas, existed. For that reason, many tourists find it historically significant, but similarly because of the sheer amount of local culture and tradition that plays out in these areas. As for the Xochimilcan canals, the dynamics foster a hub for folklore, with local festivals showcasing a great amount of visual tradition such as the decorated “canoas” that often sport common Mexican women’s names such as “Ximena” or “Maria.” As a result, the historical and present culture give all visitors a sense of preservation. Don Julian Santana is the documented hermit that doubles as the caretaker of the island. The interesting aspect of Mexico’s folklore is the cultural syncretism. As mentioned in lecture, ghosts and many modern Mexican folklore would have clashed with the Roman Catholicism introduced to them in the colonial periods. For example, the Chinampas, an agricultural wonder would have likely been destroyed if not readapted to colonial taste. The Templo Mayor is one of the larger ruins buried by the cathedrals built in the plaza of Mexico city and is currently causing the cathedrals to sink as the ground and stone deteriorates beneath. Santana’s preservation of this girl’s haunting soul likely followed the Roman Catholic custom of sanctification. In the culturally syncretized Mexico, many of these sanctifications occur during the Day of the Dead ceremonies during early November but can transcend the annual ceremony through a pagan ritual of shrine building. This ritual memorializes mementos of the dead, in this case, Santana attached the feminine baby doll to the little girl’s death. A fair amount of misinformation surrounds Santana’s practice as much of American folklore is bound to the practice by the tourists, despite its contextual inaccuracy. Many compare them to the Chucky’s and Annabelle’s of Mexico and only a select few sources cite Santana’s practice in any closeness to honor rituals of the forgotten dead.