Mexican Folklore: The Legends of Popocatepetl & Iztaccíhuatl

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Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl By AlejandroLinaresGarcia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl are two active volcanoes in Mexico that overlook Mexico City one of the great cities of the world.  They are associated with many myths and folktales and there is also a romantic legend from the Aztec period that attempts to explain their origin.

The Aztec empire began as Triple Alliance of city states in the Valley of Mexico.  These city states were Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan with Tenochtitlan eventually becoming the dominant military power.  The Valley of Mexico is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes that are part of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt.  Naturally, with such dominant and dramatic features in the landscape the volcanoes became the subject of many myths and legends and the following two folktales give accounts of how the volcanoes Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl originated and were named.

Princess Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl

The first tells how the Aztec Emperor had a daughter named Princess Iztaccihuatl who was a very attractive woman.  Her beauty and her social position as the emperor’s daughter encouraged many rich and powerful men to seek her hand in marriage.  Although she was spoilt for choice her favourite and the one she gave her heart to was an Aztec warrior named Popocatepetl and he in return gave his to her.

As is often the case the rulers of empires and nations need to impose taxes on their citizens and subjective people to pay for state functions, services and for many other reasons.  Unfortunately taxes are never popular with those who have to pay them and the Aztec taxes were particularly oppressive.  One of the victims of these taxes were the Tlaxcaltecas people who had no love for the Aztecs in the first place and they rebelled refusing to pay.

The Emperor decided that he would send his army to put down the Tlaxcaltecas rebellion and Popocatepetl was chosen to lead it.  Before he left for war Popocatepetl asked the emperor his permission to wed his daughter.  The Emperor agreed but only if Popocatepetl returned victorious and only then would there be a big wedding and celebration.

Popocatepetl readily agreed and prepared the army for war.  Before he left he promised Princess Iztaccihuatl that he would return victorious and there would be a great wedding and victory celebration. Princess Iztaccihuatl did not want him to go to war but she agreed to keep herself for him until the day of his return when they would consummate their love.  Popocatepetl kept this promise safe, deep within his heart looking forward to the day of his return.

Popocatepetl had many rivals who were jealous of his prowess as a warrior and for his place in the heart of Princess Iztaccihuatl and one of these was named Tlaxcala.  One day while the war was being fought Tlaxcala went to her and told her that Popocatepetl had been killed in battle.  Naturally, Princess Iztaccihuatl could not imagine that anyone would tell such a terrible lie and believed him.   Devastated with grief for the loss of her loved one she could not eat or drink thereafter and slowly wasted away and died.

Meanwhile, the war with the Tlaxcaltecas people was proving to be a long and bloody campaign. Although Popocatepetl led his warriors bravely and skilfully it took a long time to subdue the rebellion and no news came to him of the tragic death of his beloved.  Eventually, he gained victory and returned in triumph looking forward to his marriage to Princess Iztaccihuatl and to consummate his love with her.   When her father told him of her terrible death he was overcome with grief.   Darkness fell upon him and he went from the palace and wandered through the streets in black despair for several days.  At last he decided he would do something to honour her and make sure the memory of her would last forever and vowed to create an eternal monument to her.

He piled ten hills on top of each other to create one huge mountain that rested under the sun.  Then tenderly lifting the body of the princess he carried her up the mountain and gently laid her down.  He bent and kissed her lips then raised a torch and knelt before his love keeping an undying watch over her everlasting slumber.  There the two lovers became transformed through the ages into two magnificent volcanoes that look out over Mexico City today and this is how Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl will remain until world’s end and the final judgement is cast.

According to the legend there are times when Popocatepetl yearns to hold his beloved again.  They say his heart still carries the eternal passion he held for her and every now and then it bursts free with smoke and flame.  The legend also tells how the liar Tlaxcala repented of his evil deed and wandered off and died nearby.  Over time his body became the volcano called Pico de Orizaba who now watches from afar the dreaming of Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl, knowing they can never again be separated.

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Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl By AntoFran (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Náhuas Legend

Probably the best known version of the story of Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl is the Nahuas legend.  This tells that many years before the arrival of Cortes and his Spanish conquistadores there was once an Aztec Emperor who was much loved by all of his people.  The Emperor and his wife had no children and they desperately wanted a baby and so did the people so that their line would continue.  One day with joy in her eyes the empress went to see her husband and told him that she was with child.  The Emperor was overjoyed and in due course his wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. The happy couple named their daughter Iztaccíhuatl which in their language meant white lady.  The people were also delighted with her birth and loved her greatly.

As she grew up Iztaccíhuatl was taught all of the things that were appropriate, important and necessary for a daughter of the Aztec rulers to learn.  In this way her parents prepared her to rule when they had passed on.   Being young and beautiful and an Aztec princess she had many suitors but she fell in love with a young warrior chief of her people named Popocatepetl.

One day Popocatepetl was sent to fight a war by the Emperor who promised him that if he could bring back the head of his enemy he would give him permission to marry Iztaccihuatl.  Popocatepetl vowed he would do this and motivated by the thought of marriage to Iztaccihuatl went off to war.  The war turned out to be a long and bloody struggle that was waged for several months.  One of his rivals sent a message to the emperor saying that Popocatepetl had been killed in battle.   When the Emperor told Iztaccihuatl she became inconsolable with grief and sorrow and fell into a black depression.  She spent days on end crying and would not eat or drink and eventually died of broken heart.

However, Popocatepetl was still very much alive and eventually  triumphed and returned to the emperor with his enemy’s head in triumph expecting to marry Iztaccihuatl.  He was shocked to find that the funeral of Iztaccihuatl was underway and when the Emperor told him that she had died after being told by another warrior of his supposed death, he was devastated.

Popocatepetl took the body of Iztaccihuatl and carried it for many miles and then ordered his warriors to build a funeral table for her to rest upon.  This was done and the table was decorated with many beautiful flowers and Popocatepetl gently laid the body of his love upon the table.   Then he kneeled over the body to watch over her and he died in that position.  The Gods looked down and were moved by the dedication of Popocatepetl and turned the two bodies into huge volcanoes.   The largest of these is Popocatepetl whose name in Náhuatl means smoking mountain.  Sometimes even today smoke can be seen issuing from him which is said to prove that the fire he had for Iztaccíhuatl still survives.

© 10/01/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright January 10th, 2018 zteve t evans

 

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Guatemalan Folklore: El Sombrerón

El Sombrerón

In the folklore and of Guatemala, El Sombrerón is a legendary bogeyman figure who also appears in other Latin American countries such as Mexico. He also is known by other names such as Tzizimite, Tzipitio, and the goblin, but generally appears as a short male dressed all in black. He wears a thick black, shiny belt and black shiny boots that click when he walks. On his head, he wears a large black sombrero hat.

He often has a horse and will braid its mane and tail. His favorite occupation is to court young ladies who have large dark eyes and long black hair which he likes to braid for her. He will serenade and play his guitar for her but will also place soil on her plate and she will have problems eating and sleeping.

His favorite time to appear is at dusk when he can sometimes be seen leading a line of four mules around the city or its urban districts. When a girl responds favorably to his advances he will tie his mules to her house and begin to serenade her by singing and playing his guitar.  Sometimes he will dance for her.  It is said by some residents of Parroquia Vieja and La Recolección districts in La Antigua, Guatemala, that when there is a full moon he can still be seen at times wandering through the streets.

Susana

One legend of El Sombrerón tells how an attractive young woman named Susana from La Recolección was troubled by this strange, amorous spirit. Susana was the daughter of a woman who was the owner of a local store. She was very pretty with long dark hair and big hazel eyes.  One pleasant summer night she was sat out on her balcony watching the stars come out when she was approached by a rather short man dressed all in black wearing a large black sombrero hat. He was carrying a silver guitar slung over his back.

He stood below her balcony looking up to her and he sang and strummed his guitar and she fell under his spell. Luckily her mother looked out and called her inside but from that moment on Susana could not get the strange man out of her mind. In fact, he would appear out of nowhere either in the house or outside and begin playing his guitar and singing to her. Sometimes he would begin to braid her long dark hair while she appeared helpless to stop him. Strangely each time she was given a plate of food it was found to be contaminated with soil. It made no difference who prepared it or who served it to her it still became contaminated preventing her from eating properly and her health began to suffer. Eventually, her worried mother cut her hair and took it to the church and asked the priest to soak it with holy water and to pray over it. The priest did as he was asked and after a few days, the strange little man stopped bothering her.

Another Victim

Another legend tells how one village girl went out one night to sit on her balcony and enjoy the light of the full moon. She was surprised to hear the sound of a guitar playing and a soothing voice singing a beautiful serenade. Looking over the balcony she saw a strange, dark, squat figure in a large sombrero hat playing a silver guitar while singing up to her. Struck by the music and singing she listened but was disturbed by her mother who heard and knew who was out there and came out and called her in quickly. However, it was too late for she had fallen under his spell and every night the strange man in the big hat would appear and serenade her keeping her awake all night long.

One night he climbed the balcony and entered her room and began to braid her hair as she sat spellbound. Tradition says that once he finishes the first braid she would become his bride for eternity but that never happened in this case. Although she was under his spell El Sombrerón likes to keep moving from one girl to the next and he grew bored with her and moved on to another victim. Although he has them under his spell rather than marry them he prefers to throw stones and dirt in their food so that they cannot eat and slowly starve and die of a broken heart. That is what happened to this poor girl.

Warning

The legend of El Sombrerón is a warning to young girls that moonlight and music can easily be used by men of bad intentions as a means of seduction and to remember and uphold the traditional family values and the standards of society. It reminds them that courtship has certain rituals and rules that should be obeyed and followed rather than fall for the charms of mysterious strangers on dark nights under the moonlight.

© 23/08/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 23rd, 2017 zteve t evans

Latin American Folklore: La Patasola

La Patasola - Public Domain

By Rafael Yockteng (http://leyenco.iespana.es/quindio.html) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

La Patasola

In Latin American folklore La Patasola, or one-foot,  is a predatory supernatural woman preying on those males who tend to live or work on the edge of civilization close to the wild such as hunters and forest workers.  La Patasola has only one foot or leg and appears to her victims as a beautiful woman often taking on the likeness of a victim’s loved one.  She will choose a victim and try and separate him from his companions and enticing him further and further into the jungle.  Once she has led him to a remote place she will change into a terrifying, one legged vampire-like creature that lusts after the blood and flesh of humans.   She will suck the blood from her victims until they are dry and then eat their raw flesh.

La Patasola haunts the remote mountains and dense untamed forests and other thickly wooded places with lush verdant vegetation.   She is seen as a guardian of the wild animals and the jungle and the enemy of those who kill animals or destroy the jungle environment that she lives in.

She mostly strikes at night tending to lurk on the fringe of semi-civilized places looking for male victims such as loggers, miners, hunters, shepherds and herders who tend to spend a lot of time around the edges of the wild places.  She will often disrupt their activities if they are interfering with her territory by blocking paths and shortcuts through the jungle and disrupt hunting dogs making them lose the scent trail.

La Patasola is found in different regions many South American countries and is known by different names with different attributes in different places.   A similar creature is found in the Colombian Pacific Coast region called La Tunda

A Shapeshifter

La Patasola is so named because she has only one leg which has an hoof for a foot.  Despite these apparent disadvantages she can move very swiftly around the jungle and wilderness.  She is said to only have one breast, a large hooked nose, bulbous eyes, thick lips and sharp teeth with elongated canines which she uses to puncture the skin of her victims and suck their blood.  Her head is a mass of long, wild, matted hair.  La Patasola is a shapeshifter who can change her body into different forms such as a loved one of an intended victim, or a huge black dog or cow.

It is said that when she is happy she will climb to the top of a tree or mountain and sing the following song,

I’m more than the siren ,

I live alone in the world

and no one can resist me

because I am the Patasola.

On the road, at home,

on the mountain and the river,

in the air and in the clouds

all that exists is mine.” (1)

The Origin of La Patasola

There are many different stories that tell how La Patasola originated.  In most cases she has been a woman of bad character displaying lecherous or lewd behaviour.  Some versions say she murdered her own son and was punished by being mutilated and banished to the jungle.  Another version says that she was evil and cruel to men and women.   She was punished by having her leg chopped off with an axe which was then burnt in front of her as she died,  Now she haunts the jungles, mountains and wild places on the edge of civilization.   Another account tells that she had an affair with her husband’s employer and when he found out he murdered her and his boss and although she died her soul now dwells in a one legged body.

Variations of La Patasola

There are similar entities to La Patasola found in many parts of Latin and South America. For example there is the Sayona in Venezuela, though they are more common in Columbia which tells of a vampiric female called La Tunda that is a shapeshifter with a wooden leg.  However what ever shape she assumes will also have a wooden leg which she carefully conceals from intended victims.

A Warning!

Gruesome entities such as La Patasola tend to serve as warning or morality tale in Latin American folklore.   Often, they reinforce the accepted roles of gender and sexual and moral behaviour in society especially for the lower classes.  It is believed that such legends and folktales help reinforce the family values especially the traditional nuclear families with a dominant male at their head.  Although La Patasola is used to warn against the sexual and moral behaviour in females it is the men who are her victims and also must moderate their behaviour.  Secret liaisons in the woods with females can bring a risk of horrific consequences.

© 16/08/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 16th, 2017 zteve t evans

The Lost World of El Dorado

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In search of El Dorado

In the 16th century when the Spanish Conquistadors conquered Mexico they began to hear rumors of a fabulous priest-king who was said to cover his body with gold dust. The conquistadors called him El-Dorado or the Gilded King, and the Golden One. The city he ruled over was said to be paved with gold and held unimaginable treasures.

The Zipa and the Zaque

When the conquistadors explored what is now Columbia they found the Muisca people who were organized into the Muisca Confederation. This confederation had two rulers; the Zipa and the Zaque. The Zipa ruled over the southern part of the confederation that was then called Bacatá and now known as Bogota and during the time of the Spanish conquest the Zipa held ascendency over the Zaque.

The Zaque ruled over the northern part of the confederation. These were positions of tremendous prestige, authority and power and they were held in great honor by the people. Elaborate ceremonies surrounded them and were part of their duties to participate in and perform.

The Zipa was held in such high esteem that even members of the Muisca nobility would not dare to look him in the face. Although the position was inherited it was not from a patrilineal line. The new ruler would come from the oldest son of the oldest sister of the previous Zipa so he would be the nephew. Although there were some exceptions to this and the people had some say in the matter, but usually only to give their consent to the successor at the ceremony on Lake Guatavita.

One of the most important tasks of the Zipa was to offer the gods gold and this was done with great ceremony at Lake Guatavita the sacred lake of the Muisca. In a ceremony on barge on Lake Guatavita the Zipa would be covered in mud and then gold dust sprinkled over him and then floated out to the middle of the lake. While his people watched from the shore he would dive in the water washing himself clean of mud and gold dust. His attendants then threw gold and silver objects and precious stones into the water for the gods and the people would roar their approval from the shore.  Read more Continue reading

Supernatural beings in the Chilote mythology of Chile

The Chiloé Archipelago lies just off the southern coast of Chile. The islands are remote and isolated and over the centuries the people developed a unique mythology and many folk traditions that enriches their island culture. Their mythology tells of how the archipelago was believed to have been created and the deities that take care of the sea. They also have a number of supernatural creatures and entities that have evolved along with the mythology. The following examples give an insight into the rich culture that grew up among the island people.

The Basilisco chilote

The Basilisco chilote is a strange beast that has the body of a snake and the head of a cockerel. It is hatched from an egg that has been incubated by a cockerel. It is said that creature will slither under houses and dig a hole to create a lair. From there it draws the saliva, phlegm and moisture out of the bodies those who sleep there, causing their flesh to shrink and shrivel against their skeleton and death through dehydration. At all costs one must avoid looking into the eyes of the basilisco as its gaze turns humans to stone. It is best not to let Basilisco chilote hatch, but to kill one the egg must be burned immediately it is laid and the chicken that laid it must be killed to stop more eggs being laid. The only one way to be free of the Basilisco chilote once it has targeted a victim is to burn the house above its lair to ashes.  Read more

The Royal Family of the Sea in the Chilote mythology of Chile

The Royal Family of the Sea in Chilote Mythology

The people who live in the Chiloé Archipelago of southern Chile have developed their own unique mythology over the centuries which helps to explain their environment and its maintenance. Being islanders they rely upon the sea for much of their sustenance and they have evolved a hierarchy of divine figures who take care of the ocean. This hierarchy is made up of a Royal Family who consist of a king and queen, a prince and two princesses.

The Millalobo

Millalobo is the king of the seas and was said to have been born from a union by a beautiful woman with a sea lion during the epic battle between Tenten Vilu and Caicai Vilu that created the Chiloé Archipelago.

He had a human wife, Huenchula and they had a son, the Pincoy, the prince of the sea, and two daughters, the Sirena Chilota who was a type of mermaid and the Pincoya a sea nymph. The prince and the princesses helped their father and mother take care of the sea.  Read more

The Chilote mythology of Chile, South America

Chilote mythology

Chilote mythology is the mythology of the people who live on the Chiloé Archipelago lying near the coast of southern Chile. The biggest of the islands is Chiloé, which means “land of sea gulls” and pronounced, Chee-lo-way. Archaeologists believe the islands have been settled by humans for at least 5,000 years. The people of the Chiloé Archipelago are known as Chilotes and are the descendants of Huilliche and Choncho Indians and the main language spoken is now Spanish.

A unique mythology

Their lives and well being, in the past, present and the foreseeable future are inextricably linked to the sea. This dependence has seen the evolution of a unique mythology, folklore and traditions to help them explain and make sense of the world they live in. Naturally, for an island people, the sea plays a large part in this mythology, reflecting its importance to the people.

Spanish ships bring Christianity

Another important influence was the arrival of the Spanish from across the other side of the world in huge ships with masts and sails. The first sightings of these strange ships, perhaps sailing on the distant horizon and maybe stopping off at an island, must have had a profound effect on the native people. But in 1567 the Spanish stopped at the islands bringing with them from across the other side of the world, Christianity.  Read more