The Digger

 

When I saw her on the red dirt road around 2 in the afternoon I was stunned. It was 92 degrees. Who expects to see a giant toad in intolerable heat? It must be at least 105 – 110 in the sun I thought as I stared at this apparition whose breath was labored and whose newly shed skin was still stuck to her back legs. S/he was the fattest toad I had ever seen, a western version of the toads I lived with in Maine. She was almost as wide as she was long – 5 plus inches in length with a girth of almost four inches – maybe more. In my entire life I had never seen such a HUGE toad.

 

What threat to her well-being could have forced the toad onto the driveway at this time of day? Her newly shed skin made her more vulnerable to dehydration and death. I already knew that toads could not survive in 90 degree heat.

 

For a few moments I watched her from a place outside time. I had been longing to see a toad since I had first come to the desert two years ago. A year ago last spring had heard one, and found (tragically) a dead one. This year with the drought droning on through the monsoon season I hadn’t even heard one toad or frog – let alone seen one.

 

It must be said that my love for these amphibians goes back to early childhood, the songs of peepers, tree frogs, bull frogs, leopard frogs, and when I moved to western Maine, wood frogs joined the early spring chorus. All these amphibians continue to sing through my skin although the symphony is now internal.

 

One of the hardest adjustments I have had to make here in the desert is losing the seasonal marker of spring – the songs of my beloved frogs and toads. Although this desert is home to both, rain is a necessity for breeding to occur and this year we had no winter, no spring snow melt, and during the monstrous heat that has characterized late spring/summer, only few drops of rain or a light shower have grazed the ground. We have had two good soaking rains in July and August – one at the full moon in July, and one at the Green Corn Moon in August, just two days ago. I wonder if the second rain may have brought this toad to the surface. Could this giant toad actually be pregnant? Probably not and although I would love it if it were so, she has no temporary pool in which to lay her eggs let alone hatch them.

 

Last June I had constructed a small hand dug rock depression in the ground, using plastic covered with mud to line the hole and creating cool interior niches in hopes of inviting any toad to take up residence hereabouts. I waited patiently watching the lizards scurry about this strange looking rock pile and young fledglings also used the spot but no toad appeared. I created a space for toads and left it at that. Now seeing this giant I realized that if I wanted any toad to breed I would need a much larger container.

 

After having a brief conversation with Toad and taking a few pictures I watched this female – females are always bigger than males – make three long hops that ended when she reached a tiny oasis, an area watered twice a day with an irrigation drip that supported seedlings that I had planted too late. In seconds she began to bury herself in the soft moist soil. I watched as she used her long webbed back feet to dig herself in, almost disappearing into the ground in minutes. Then at the end when she just sort of sat there with her head still exposed, seemingly exhausted by this herculean effort, I decided I had to intervene to protect her from the heat. First I gave her three cups of water, gently pouring it into the soil that was already drying around her. Next, I gathered three rocks to make half an enclosure and then placed olive branches over her head. My prolonged exposure to the sun during this whole process of watching and building had made me dizzy and ill, as it routinely does in the afternoon, so having completed this project I scurried indoors. Toads and I had a lot in common. About 45 minutes later, still uneasy about the heat, I emerged, watered her again, and added a cottonwood bark roof. Finally satisfied that she would be cool enough I left her to rest.

 

The most amazing part of this story is that gradually I realized that this toad must have been living here all summer without my knowledge because she knew exactly where she was going when she headed for that particular piece of moist ground. All the other irrigated areas were bursting with plant roots and thus difficult to disappear into, and she had to have known that.

 

I routinely irrigate and spray water around this area in the early mornings so the hummingbirds can bathe, to keep wildflowers blooming, to help the solitary juniper sprout new growth and to encourage more flowers to come. The ground is well covered with wild greenery and is always moist below the surface so it seemed to me during the early summer that if any toads were in the area I might have seen one but I never did.

 

For me, just seeing that emerald green in the early dawn hours helps me deal with the drought that seems to be sucking life energy out of me. When I first came to the high desert two years ago sage green bushes and gnarled junipers, monsoon rains and stunning August sunsets stole my heart, but this year’s weather has brought me to my knees.

 

Someone I know said recently “welcome to the the new summer in New Mexico” in reference to the thick unbreathable smoke of raging Southwest/ Northwest wildfires, and the reality of ongoing drought conditions intensifying as global warming creates more havoc. This casual comment sent chills of miserable truth up my spine because my dreams have repeatedly been forecasting this precise future for approximately 30 years. For a long time I didn’t realize that I was having what some would call a ‘big dream’ that would affect everyone from Maine to New Mexico as well as the entire planet.

 

The Earth is literally on fire. Most people don’t think about what these changes will mean. For us in New Mexico high desert will become a “true” desert like that of Arizona or that of Utah – a land made of stone, sand, and wind… animals will die, the trees, scrub and bushes will disappear as the water table continues to drop. The Southwest will be the first place in the US to become uninhabitable because of lack of water. This is the reality humans have created in their arrogance, stupidity, and blindness.

 

The long term future for toads, frogs, and all living creatures is grim.

 

But for this moment in time I feel such wonder that a toad probably lives here somewhere in this small desert oasis. And that, for whatever reason I actually got to be with her, and hopefully helped her deal with the scorching heat that literally could have killed her. The last thing I did before dusk last night was to clear the pool of wood debris enlarging the space, in case she wanted to take an evening dip after her ordeal.

 

At dawn this morning after returning from my river walk I anxiously peeled away her house to see if she was still there. What I saw instead was a giant empty toad hole!

Advertisements

In the Shadow of Santa Rosa

Last night I had a nightmare.

 

I am dressed in a white cloak that obscures all but my face. The robe is splattered with paint and blood. I am awash in every color of the rainbow and dripping paint. I have been raped by strangers and no one is accountable.

 

This morning I could not get this horrible image out of mind but I had the strong sense that it had an impersonal aspect that had nothing to do with me.

 

This weekend at the Pueblo of Abiquiu the community celebrates the feast day of the first official saint of the Americas, Santa Rosa, and I planned to attend…

 

The people of Abiquiu call themselves Genizaros. Representing Apache, Navajo, Comanche, Kiowa, Pawnee, Ute and Wichita, de -tribalized Native peoples from the Plains that were captured and traded during the Indian wars of 18-19th centuries, and sold to New Mexicans as slaves and servants where they were stripped of their identity, instructed in Hispanic ways, and baptized as Christians. The People survived by incorporating Hispanic and Christian cultural practices into a distinct Genizaro consciousness, one that is distinct from the Indigenous Tewa speaking peoples (descendants of the Anasazi) who also live here in six pueblos along the Rio Grande.

 

The Genizaros are devout Catholics and every year a pilgrimage is made on foot from the ruins of Santa Rosa, a mile away, to the site of the present day Abiquiu Pueblo church. I was surprised that the procession was such a small one led by a man and two young women on horseback who appeared in the plaza under light rain followed by other men one of whom held up a wooden cross, a second man wore a cape of roses, another carried an image of the saint and all the men chanted. The group disappeared into the church to pray and to deposit the Santa… presumably at the altar.

 

Across the plaza women were busy preparing for the book sale. Unfortunately this year the new priest had decreed that there would be no booths for the people to sell food or their arts or crafts, and no afternoon dancing on the plaza. For me these activities were the heart and soul of these fiestas, and I am sure I was not alone in this perspective. I couldn’t help feeling disappointed and wondered why the Genizaros of Abiquiu had accepted these changes without protest as I left the Pueblo  until I recalled the influence the Catholic Church still has over it’s people. The priest holds the power.

 

I wish no disrespect but it seemed to me that the people were overshadowed by a religion that might not have the best interests of the Genizaros at heart. It was ironic that this priest’s behavior mirrored what happened to these de -tribalized people in the first place when they were stripped of their identity during the Spanish Colonial Conquest.

 

Because I am not Catholic I had no idea who Santa Rosa was until I did some research on this saint.

 

Santa Rosa de Lima is the patroness of Lima, Peru. She was born into poverty in 1586, one of 13 children. Her father was Spanish and her mother was Indian. As a child she spent her time in a small mining town along the Arahuay River in Peru.

 

Rosa was supposedly possessed by every aspect of religion and spent hours staring at an image of the Madonna and Child as a little girl. She was also apparently quite beautiful and her parents hoped that Rosa would marry ‘well’. But Rosa had other ideas – she chose the religious life, taking a vow of virginity, something her parents couldn’t accept. She devoted herself to a life of abnegation and self-mortification. Despite her family’s objections Rosa practiced extreme forms of asceticism. She fasted, became a vegetarian, mortified her flesh with hard work and went as far as to cut her hair, and rub lye, lime and pepper into her hands and face. She also wore a crown of thorns.

In 1605 Rosa wanted to join the monastery ‘Santa Clara’, but was too poor to pay the necessary dowry. She moved out of her family’s house into a small cottage built by herself on their property and filled her days with praying, hard work, bodily-torture and helping sick and poor people in her community. She sold her fine needlework and grew beautiful flowers that she offered at the market. With her exquisite lace and embroidery she supported her family and charity works.

 

Finally at the age of 20 she attracted the attention of the Dominican Order and was allowed to enter the ‘Third Order’ without payment. Thereafter she redoubled the severity and variety of her penances. She continued in her religious practices, gave up eating normal food and survived on bread and water, which she combined with herbs, grown in her herb garden, and juices made of natural plants. Rosa continued to wear a metal spiked crown, concealed with roses. She also wore an iron chain around her waist.

 

After more than fourteen years of martyrdom she died on the 24th of August 1617, at the age of 31. Her funeral couldn’t take place for two days because so many people queued to see her body. Rosa was worshipped at that time to such an extent that the Viceroy, the archbishop, representatives of all religious fraternities and many public authorities of Lima attended her funeral.

 

Pope Clement X canonized Rosa as the first Saint of the Americas designating August 30th as her Feast day.

 

How could such a woman  be deified?

 

Suddenly I remembered my nightmare. Had I dreamed an image of Santa Rosa?

 

Surely, this woman had endured the worst form of psychic/physical rape through her own heinous acts of self hatred, while being supported by a culture that elevated women who engaged in this total splitting of female mind from body through daily acts of cruelty and martyrdom. For any woman, this splitting leaves us vulnerable to an inner/outer takeover by Patriarchy, and without the defenses we need for our own survival. Our bodies carry our feelings, our instincts, and our truths.

 

The feminist in me was frankly horrified by the story of Sant Rosa’s life. It occurred to me that it might be a good practice to phase this festival out permanently since it modeled such self -destructive behavior for women. Maybe the priest was on the right track after all without realizing it!

 

Contrast this with Guadalupe who for more than 300 years has been celebrated and revered in Mexico as the Mother of Mexican and Indian peoples, although she has never been officially canonized by the Catholic Church (who still did its best to turn her into another version of the Virgin Mary when they realized the people refused to give her up).

 

She stands on home altars, lends her name to men and women alike, and finds herself at rest under their skin in tattoos. Guadalupe’s image proliferates on candles, decals, tiles, murals, and old and new sacred art. Churches and religious orders carry her name, as do place names and streets. Far from vulgarizing her image, these items personalize her and maintain her presence in daily life. She is prayed to in times of sickness and war and for protection against all evils.

 

Her story begins in 1531 when Guadalupe, a dark skinned Indian woman appeared to a young Indian (Aztec) peasant on a hill outside Mexico City in December. Many songbirds surrounded her. A healing spring of clear water rose up at her feet and flowers abounded. She requested that a shrine be built in her honor on Tepeyac, the hill outside Mexico City upon which she was standing. Scholars know is that this particular rise has been identified as the site where the earlier Aztec Earth Goddess Tonantzin once had a temple and was worshipped, especially at the winter solstice.

 

To make a long story short Guadalupe’s request was finally granted when she presented the peasant whose name was Don Juan with “proof” of her divinity – a tilma full of Castilian roses. Don Juan took the cloak of red roses and presented it to the Bishop who was finally convinced the apparition was that of the Virgin Mary!

 

Today, Guadalupe is heralded as the Indigenous Mother Goddess of the Americas and she is associated with Nature and the powers of Earth and Water. Unlike her unfortunate Spanish sister who was so saintly and died a victim and a martyr, Guadalupe’s power and strength live on.

Hawk Moth

When I first saw her dive into the brilliant orange nasturtium I stopped dead in my tracks – I was so fascinated by the speed of her flight, her ability to hover just in front of the flower, as if making up her mind to re- enter that blossom or move on. The pale pink brushed across her speckled/striped mole brown/buff thorax almost seemed like it had been added as an afterthought.

 

What a magnificent creature I thought, as I remembered the night in June when one had spent the night on porch screen door. I suddenly realized that this was probably when she laid her eggs on the Datura plant I was growing in a pot nearby, because hawk moths loved these plants with their huge lace edged trumpeted flowers. The two had a special relationship. The hawk moth deposited her eggs on the underside of the gray green leaves and pollinated the flower in return. However, once the brilliant lime green tomato hornworm ( larva stage) actually appeared with his solitary horn I was shocked by his eating habits. My beautiful Datura had lost new buds and leaves – they vanished in one night. When I attempted to remove this intruder he hung on so tightly to the branch he was ingesting that it came off with him!

 

On closer inspection I discovered 6 more of these mighty leaf eaters crawling and munching away on the underside of half eaten leaves. They varied in size from about an inch to almost four inches – the latter could pass for a true monster. This guy had probably been eating for days. What was baffling to me was why this plant had been chosen as the host, while another Datura, one just below the porch was totally ignored. I guess there is no accounting for a hawk moth caterpillar’s taste!

 

Now every morning I go out and inspect my damaged plant for more leaf tyrants, and this morning found another after a few days reprieve. In spite of extensive defoliation the Datura is making a slow come back, although I think her days of multiple blossoming are over. Prickly round sage seed-pods are developing under the leaves. I don’t mind that this plant’s flowering has been cut short because although I have read about the relationship between the hawk moth/tomato hornworm and Datura, this is the first time I have been able to witness first hand what happens when a Datura is “chosen” as a host.

 

I understand why the hawk moth is often confused with a hummingbird; the two use similar tactics to gather nectar and behave in similar ways. At first glance it would be easy to mistake one for the other.

 

These moths overwinter in the soil as dark brown pupae, then emerge and mate in late spring. They lay their eggs, which are round and greenish-white, on the undersides of leaves usually in June. Next year I will be on the lookout for the Datura I plant on my porch!

 

Some of the largest moths in the world belong to the hawk moth family (Lepidoptera). These magnificent creatures have long narrow wings and thick bodies. They are swift and graceful flyers, highly aerobatic. Many species can hover in place as the one did in front of my nasturtium blossom. Some can briefly fly backwards or dart away. Hawk moths are experts at finding fragrant flowers after dark. They are especially fond of Datura, primroses (they are the primary pollinator of this family which explains why the flowers are so luminous before dawn), orchids, petunias and other flowers with long floral tubes concealing pools of thin but abundant nectar.

Hawk moths have the world’s longest tongues of any other moth or butterfly (some up to 14 inches long). Charles Darwin knew of the star orchids (Angraecum spp.) from Madagascar that had nectar spurs over a foot in length. Darwin was ridiculed by other scientists of his day for predicting that star orchids would be pollinated by these particular moths. After his death, hawk moths with tongues long enough to sip of the nectar produced by the star orchids were discovered on the island of Madagascar. Curiously, some hawk moths are nocturnal and others feed during the day. The ones I have here are abundant day feeders.

Hawk moths have three spectral receptors that are sensitive to blue, green, and ultraviolet light. It was originally assumed that hawk moths relied primarily on olfactory cues to locate flowers, but recent studies have shown that they actually have excellent vision overall.

With a wide geographic range throughout Canada, North, Central, Mexico, South America, Eurasia, and Africa, hawk moths feed on many different host plants as caterpillars and pollinate a variety of flowers. They use both visual and olfactory perception to locate plants from which they collect nectar. They seem to thrive almost anywhere (!) in rural areas, suburbs, mountains and deserts.

 

If you want to attract these marvelous creatures plant penstemon, red salvia, nasturtiums, and scatter Datura seeds around your property. I promise, you will not be disappointed. But beware of of half eaten leaves with holes!

 

Postscript:  I regularly write a couple of weekly/bi weekly nature columns for publication and some of these end up on my blog because I am so fascinated by the information and don’t want it to disappear into the thousands of writings stored in my computer! I have written a few articles about Datura for this blog because the shapeshifting qualities of this plant amaze me and learning first hand how one can be decimated by the hawk moth larva is yet another source of fascination.

A Little Story about PTSD

This morning I awakened at 6AM under a star cracked sky that frames the window behind my head… The owl was singing outside my window. Walking down to Red Willow River in the predawn light while listening to the sound of water blurred the boundaries between a woman and the element she yearns for, flowing water, (a natural antidote to having an intense fiery nature).

 

I remind myself that approaching old age doesn’t mean that I am no longer made of water – I have just less of it than before. Feeling that I am part of this river helps me breathe deep into my belly, releasing some of the mountains of stress – at least temporarily – that I have accumulated over the past few weeks… My dog Lucy has been ill. Too much fear, and a body too exhausted to sleep leaves me walking on air with no ground under my feet.

 

A few days ago we finally found a veterinarian who didn’t whisk my terrified dog out of my arms to do blood work, dismiss my ideas, or tell me what was right. Instead, he noted my dog’s terror, bent the rules for the blood work while offering his opinion as to where we should go from here (When I told him I was losing it he agreed saying bluntly “I can see that”). Finally, we have a plan. No more invasive testing for now, unless Lucy becomes ill again.

 

Dr. Martin said it was his policy to work with the people and animals that he sees (what he didn’t say was that he wasn’t attached to the need to dominate), a rare perspective for a doctor to hold but one I value dearly because I have been gifted with a friend and vet of 30 years who wouldn’t consider behaving any other way. In the last chaotic, fear dominated weeks, Gary has been the one stable influence (besides Iren and Bruce) in a sea of veterinarian misery. However, Gary is in Maine and we are making our permanent home in New Mexico and there is a limit to what he can do long distance. It is such a relief to have the sense that another personal thread might be being woven between a vet, my dogs, and me (unless I am so desperate that I have become delusional).

 

I can’t function without that personal thread.

 

For now anyway my sweet Lucy eats, rests well, and waits for me at the window as I return from my morning walk… perhaps one day soon I will sleep just as soundly again as she is doing now at my feet.

 

Meanwhile, a demon from the deep has arisen to haunt me.

 

PTSD and a Generalized Anxiety Disorder have been my unwelcome life-time companions. My present perspective is that I was born into terror, and had no way to metabolize it as either an infant, a child, an adolescent or an adult. I was branded too intense, too emotional, too high-strung, even too stupid, as if these qualities were somehow my fault. Unfortunately, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe the adults were all correct and that I was not worthy to be on this planet. I was intrinsically flawed.

 

It is unfortunate that I was not dually diagnosed with PTSD/ Acute Anxiety Disorder, both debilitating mental and physical diseases until mid- life. Up until that point I functioned mostly in the breakdown lane. The one exception was my relationship with animals and plants. Animals and plants always seemed to accept me for who I was, loved me unconditionally, became my best friends and eventually taught me how to love myself. As an adult I have never lived without either, and my dogs have literally supported me through intolerable losses when I had no reason to go on except for them.

 

Unfortunately, being diagnosed at 45 with both conditions was too late to reverse their devastating effects. Around the same time I was also diagnosed with severe directional dyslexia. Although this third diagnosis is another facet of the same story I won’t be focusing on it it now.

 

I had always used walking in the woods and by water as a means to alleviate emotional stress and fear, kept animals close, had been journaling for 20 years; now I learned to meditate, and to do deep breathing. I also took up yoga, believing somehow that diligence and hard work on my part would “cure” me.

 

I was wrong.

 

The poison of intergenerational terror thrives in every cell of my unwilling body and/or it takes over my mind. I live my life on an edge that most people can’t even imagine. I may know that my terror is unreasonable, but my bodymind is still forced to carry that fear.

 

Now in my seventies, I no longer attempt to change what is, but rather to be mindful of what is happening to me when I am going into an acute phase of PTSD, to lean into it as much as I am able, and to be gentle and non – judgmental with myself.

 

I still use writing, walking, meditation, and deep breathing as de –stressors, and my animals are my dearest companions, but do not expect myself to relax mentally or physically when some frightening situation like Lucy’s illness (and even more recently a dear friend’s operation) triggers the acute phase of this disease because I know the dark man has risen out of the depths of my unconscious and he is more powerful than I am. With him dominating both my mind and body I am unable to think clearly, relax, and my poor body is deprived of sleep. I develop terrible headaches that blur my vision. I am nauseous and often can’t eat. My mind is flooded by catastrophic thoughts that I am unable to rid myself of and I lose complete access to my short – term memory, ending up in a room for example, with no idea why. This terrifying force of negative energy literally brings me to my knees. But the one thing that helps me is knowing “it” will eventually have to let go of me if I can wait it out. The key is “if”.

 

I use the phrase ‘the dark man’ because this is how my dreams forecast either a future or mind/body attack in progress. For example recently I dreamed that I am with the dark man trying desperately to please him when he says with disgust, ‘we have nothing in common’ and dismisses me. This controlling inner demon is gender neutral – both male and female – but relentless in his pursuit and when I am in his power being patient with my emotional and physical state is the most important thing I can do. I will no longer give in to self – hatred to feed this parasite who is feeding on me.

 

The most debilitating aspect of this disease in its acute phase is my exhaustion. I am unable to sleep without taking medication, and even then, my sleep is short lived and I awaken heart pounding with fear. Sleep deprivation destroys brain cells and eventually causes physical illness.

 

I am hyper – aware and my startle reflex is intensified by these attacks. A dog barking, or the sound of music can literally send me over the edge.

 

Although I have been forced to take anti-anxiety medication since I was 50 (when I finally gave in to the reality that I was unable to cure my condition with diligence and personal actions), I am only too aware that this medication is only a palliative measure. It cannot stop the acute phases of the disease from occurring.

 

In the last year prolonged sleep deprivation and stress led to serious of physical infections that I can no longer treat with antibiotics. This current situation has left me on a new frightening edge. I will need surgery to correct a chronic stomach condition (diverticulitis – that is exacerbated by too much stress) unless I can get this stress under control. The surgeon also tells me that there is no guarantee that surgery will correct the problem.

 

How ironic, since it was stress that brought me to this edge in the first place.

 

These days I can feel a fragility in myself that I have not experienced before; my body is weary. Every time I experience the acute phase of this disease (like I am now) I feel less able to cope with it. I am depressed and feeling hopeless.

 

There is absolutely nothing I can do to control what happens around me. There is also nothing I can do to put an end to this acute phase.

 

When people tell me I “should” relax I feel crazy.

 

I am writing this narrative on a blessedly cool morning in New Mexico hoping that hearing the owl’s song at dawn might mean that help is on the way in some unknown way.

 

Throwing myself on the mercy of Nature, is at this point, my only hope.

Synergy

I’m on Fire –

My thirst quenched

only by flowing water.

 

He’s a Stone

walking on air.

 

Together,

we embody

all four elements –

 

Fire and Water

Earth and Air.

 

Photo taken last year by artist Iren Schio on the Mesa we call the Pedernal. This amazing mountain has a band of chert that stretches all around it. Chert was used to make Indigenous arrows and other tools. Being on that mountain and seeing all that chert has left me with such a longing to return to that spot…

Don’t Forget to Come Home Tomorrow

Together

we watched the glow

of a bitter orange sun

sinking in the west –

you insisting upon

seeing that final moment

before our day star

dropped below the hills.

I walked you home

just like any other night,

the dogs sniffing secret scents,

the smoke from burning trees

torching my lungs.

We hugged goodnight,

knowing tomorrow was

not just another day …

 

Afterwards,

I stood here on the porch

staring up at a waxing moon.

Venus and Jupiter

Shone bright –

Shivering diamonds

bring in ‘the light of darkness’ –

Twilight, when the Earth sleeps,

Cicadas sing on .

 

Once inside the house

the power went out

just as I placed your name

in my holy place

surrounding you with bears.

The sudden loss

startled me – an

unwelcome reminder.

Neither

of us has the script

– the future is unknown.

 

I sent you an email

“star thoughts”

told you I loved you,

dear companion, friend,

difficult, impossible

man that you are.

 

Your response –

“we are lovers

how nice”

I don’t know

what you were thinking

you couldn’t have known

I had been star gazing…

 

This morning in the Bosque

the scent of mowed grass

and the sound of the river

embraced me in the dark.

I was back at dawn

to say goodbye.

 

Now I will spend

the day waiting

until its time to call

to find out

if all went well –

as if any operation

was simply a blip

on a screen.

 

This one is not.

 

You forget everything else…

 

But don’t forget

to come home

tomorrow.

La Llorona, Weeping Woman

The legend of La Llorona has been a part of Hispanic culture in the Southwest since the days of the conquistadores. Though the tales vary from source to source, the one common thread is that La Llorona is a woman named Maria who is always dressed in a white gown, the spirit of a young Mexican mother who drowned her children in the river in a moment of rage or abandonment by her lover and then took her own life in her deep shame and sorrow. La Llorona’s disembodied spirit is said to haunt the rivers at night – especially the Rio Grande – where she can be heard weeping in remorse for her dead children. Children are cautioned not to go out after dark because La Llorona might murder or drown them too. Because the tale of the Weeping Woman originated with the Patriarchal Spanish conquest I have always been suspicious of the various versions of this story believing that its meaning has been distorted.

Immediately what comes to mind is the Mater Dolorosa, Our Lady of Sorrows, or Mother of Sorrows. All refer to the Virgin Mary, the only goddess left in Christianity. Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows is another name used to refer to this goddess. The Mater Dolorosa is also a key subject for Marian art in the Catholic Church.

In common religious Catholic imagery, the Virgin Mary is portrayed with seven long knives or daggers piercing her heart, often bleeding. Devotional prayers that consist of elaborate meditations on her Seven Sorrows are based on the prophecy of Simeon:

“And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary Jesus’s mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and a sign shall be spoken… a sword shall pierce through thy own soul so the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (my italics – if this isn’t an expression of an archetype I don’t know what is – an archetype is above all a container and paradoxically an empty pattern waiting to be filled)

La Llorona and Mary seem to have a lot in common. They even share the same name! Both lost children or a child that was ‘the son of god’. Both become an archetype for all women embodying the agony of “mother loss.”

This archetype from a Jungian standpoint is both a force of energy, an empty form that embodies information that any woman suffering the loss of a child may be drawn towards, often against her will. Archetypes need to be lived through.

Another way of expressing this notion is to state that an archetype is a pattern of energy that pulls a person who is experiencing the effects of a particular ‘field’ (like that of loss) into alignment with that field in either a positive or negative way. The sorrowful mother is one aspect of this negative field, and the “good mother” is the positive side of the archetype or field. Both comprise one whole.

I think the Spanish conquistadors (who were an unspeakably cruel people to those they oppressed) chose to put this dark twist on a heartbreaking story that does not originate with Christianity but stretches back to ancient goddess worship where goddesses include, but are not limited to, the weeping woman-mother.

I also think La Llorona is an aspect of the goddess that sorrowing women might find comforting in times of intolerable loss.

Just why the Spanish would turn this weeping woman into into a seductress and killer of children forcing her to suffer for all eternity is also one way to destroy the power of women by blaming and shaming all imperfect mothers, making them evil, and teaching children and adults to fear (and hate?) women, the spirit world, the Powers of Nature as rivers and bodies of water, especially at Night.

Water has everything to do with the power of the feminine, and the Powers of Night are traditionally associated with “witch women.”

It is particularly sad that La Llarona is portrayed as a very young mother because it is often these child- women make the worst mistakes and end up paying for them over a lifetime. I certainly fall into this category having become a mother at 20, two decades before I developed into a person.

Recently, a young Mexican poet and performer, Israel Francisco Haros Lopez (I have written about him elsewhere on this blog) put a new twist on the La Llorona legend that moved me and explicated the potential power of La Llorona. What follows is his poem:

la llorona found her wail song

along the rivers of full moons remembering she was born to sing and breathe the songs of all the forgotten women

la llorona found refuge in knowing

soon many warrior women would remember

to sing cry to the full luna

the waters of the women would become balanced again

la llorona was full of broken mirrors, drenched in her throat drenched alongside her chest. Drenched along side her bloodied white dress drinking the blackened hearts of Spanish conquistadores

la llorona was full of broken light. Ripped through her chest the glowing white of coyoxauhqui’s* fullness. Dripping through her body. wailing the light of her children, and all her grandmothers all the way back to the first light.

*In Aztec mythology, Coyolxauhqui “Face painted with Bells” was a daughter of Coatlicue (Earth Goddess) and Mixcoatl and is the reigning goddess of the (southern) stars. She killed her own earth mother, Coatlicue.

It seems to me that this young man has tapped into La Llorona in a powerful and most creative way. Here La Llorona finds her voice helping women to witness forgotten sorrowful mothers with compassion. By doing so women can once again support other women redressing imbalances and the woman hatred endemic to patriarchy. In this poem La Llorona is also finally able to integrate the cruelty of those who harmed her (drinking the black hearts). Lopez reminds us that La Llorona is full of broken light like a mirror that has been shattered, and she can be made whole again by recovering her body and by having the courage to deal with internal woman hatred. No longer disembodied she is then able to reweave the Ancestor Thread that attaches her to lost children and grandmothers.

Israel’s words offer us hope as he moves the weeping woman story forward into the present, removing her victim “hood” by suggesting to all women that we can endure our sorrows, become warrior women redressing our imbalances, deal with self hatred, and that even as grieving women we can take back the power that was stolen from us “all the way back to the first light.”

Blessed Be.

Postscript:

After writing this essay last night I had a dream that “The Earth was on Fire” and that La Llorona was weeping for all living creatures and trees. In view of the terrifying fires that we are enduring here in the southwest where trees are dying by the millions the image of La Llorona’s weeping seems especially poignant.

Awakened abruptly at 4:45 AM by a single coyote wailing I was also struck by the thought that coyotes around here routinely howl down by the river’s edge at night. There are many stories of humans hearing Ll Llorona’s wailing by the river and my guess is that the occasional coyote cry is probably what people heard. Coyotes have many songs and I listen to them at night, but only twice have I heard this unsettling wail.