The Witch’s Grave

Text: “As a kid, my parents and elders would tell us not to misbehave or they would take us to the cemetery in the town of Old Mesilla. The town was colonized by the Spanish in the late 1500s, and the indigenous peoples of the land faced heavy persecution from the settlers. There was a woman who was native to the land, and as a form of revenge, she sought to poison one of the men who was settling in her home. The man soon caught on to the woman’s plot, and he accused her of witchcraft and poisoned her himself. The woman died soon after, and the colonizers buried her in an unmarked grave that was covered with an extremely heavy rock. That rock began to crack, and it is believed the woman is trying to escape her grave and seek vengeance against the men who stole her home and killed her. To this day, locals have repaired the tomb with many layers of concrete, but the concrete continues to crack and become more brittle. There is a story from a couple years ago of a teenage girl being dared to lay on top of the large grave, and when she did, she began having a seizure. It is believed that the woman’s spirit possessed the girl, filling her with the same rage the woman had.”

Context: My informant – a 29-year-old man from Las Cruces, New Mexico – told me this story, drawing on the legend he and his siblings and cousins would hear from their parents and elders as children. He explained to me that if he was misbehaving among his family, someone would reprimand him by telling him to act right or else he would be taken to “the witch’s grave.” He had heard the legend as a child from his mother, and it was common knowledge that the area was the burial site of a bruja (witch), so it wasn’t to be neared. My informant explained to me that the last part of the story is the part that scared him and other children the most – the story of a young girl laying on top of the grave and being possessed. If anyone were to get too close to the grave, they would be filled with the spirit of the woman who seeks revenge on anyone who settles on her land, a spirit that is malicious and bound to cause harm to anyone in her path. Playing on the children’s fear of their bodies being inhabited by a witch’s spirit, parents would warn their children to behave or else they would be taken to the grave to be possessed. 

Analysis: When my informant was telling me of this legend, I began to draw parallels between this story and the wider-known legend of La Llorona due to the history of colonization. In “The Politics of Taking: La Llorona in the Cultural Mainstream” by Domino Renee Perez, the author examines the legend of La Llorona, honing in on a specific interpretation of the legend where La Llorona is an indigenous Mexican woman that ends up bearing the children of a Spanish colonizer. After her children are born, he abandons her and her children, and the ensuing grief and rage that comes over her motivates her to kill her children and wander for eternity. Perez stresses that the traditional legend views La Llorona as a figure of resistance to imperialism, and she serves as a reminder of the violence and pain that were inflicted on the indigenous peoples who fell victim to colonization. Yet, in the majority of Western media, La Llorona is portrayed as a mere woman who solely seeks to exact vengeance upon unfaithful men.

After my informant told me of the legend regarding the witch’s grave, I wanted to see if that history of imperialism provides some insight into understanding the witch’s motives in other tellings of the story. While there wasn’t much published on the legend, I came across a blog post that described the same witch’s grave in Mesilla, yet instead of describing her actions as resistance against colonization, it states that she was merely trying to poison a man who instead poisoned her, resulting in her death. I am unsure of who the author of that blog post is, but I found it very interesting to hear the legend from my informant as he provided historical context that doesn’t enshroud the woman with petty vengeance, but instead details her fighting back against the men who stole her home. My informant is an indigenous Mexican, and I believe that the version of the legend that he heard was told to him by members of his culture that share in feeling the collective pain caused by colonization. His version of the legend grants greater insight into the history of his people, and while it may differ from other interpretations, it showcases the unique forms legends can take in order to tell a story that others may not know.


“A Witch’s Grave.” The Scarlet Order, 8 Feb. 2016, 

Perez, Domino Renee. “The Politics of Taking: La Llorona in the Cultural Mainstream.” The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 45, No. 1, 153-172. Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 2012.