Catrinas, one of the most popular figures of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico.
Catrinas, one of the most popular figures of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico.

There are extensive and varied beliefs in ghosts in Mexican culture. In Mexico, the beliefs of the Maya, Nahua, Purépecha; and other indigenous groups in a supernatural world has survived and evolved, combined with the Catholic beliefs of the Spanish. The Day of the Dead (Spanish: "Día de muertos") incorporates pre-Columbian beliefs with Christian elements. Mexican literature and cinema include many stories of ghosts interacting with the living.

Aztec beliefs

Main article: Aztec religion

A terracotta statue of Cihuateotl, the Aztec goddess of women who died during childbirth.
A terracotta statue of Cihuateotl, the Aztec goddess of women who died during childbirth.

After death, the souls of the Aztecs went to one of three places: Tlalocan, Mictlan, and the Sun. The Aztec idea of the afterlife for fallen warriors and women who died in childbirth was that their souls would be transformed into hummingbirds that would follow the sun on its journey through the sky. Those who drowned would go to Tlalocan, the first level of the upper worlds. Souls of people who died from less glorious causes would go to Mictlan, the lowest level of the underworld, taking four years and passing through many obstacles to reach this place.[1]

The Cihuateteo, spirits of human women who died in childbirth, were not benevolent. On five specified days of the Aztec calendar they descended to earth and haunted crossroads, hoping to steal children whom they had not been able to have themselves.[2]

The Cantares Mexicanos is an important collection of lyric poetry transcribed from Náhuatl into Roman letters around 1550 CE, about 30 years after the fall of Tenochtitlan. In his 1985 edition of these poems, John Bierhorst [de] interprets the poems as "ghost songs" that were intended to summon the spirits of dead Aztec warriors back to earth to help their descendants under Spanish rule. If the songs were successful the ghosts would descend from heaven fully armed and ready to fight, demanding payment in human sacrifice.[3] This interpretation is, however, controversial.[4]

Maya beliefs

Main article: Maya religion

The traditional Maya live in the continual presence of the "(grand)fathers and (grand)mothers", the usually anonymous, bilateral ancestors, who, in the highlands, are often conceived of as inhabiting specific mountains, where they expect the offerings of their descendants. In the past, too, the ancestors had an important role to play, with the difference that, among the nobility, genealogical memory and patrilineal descent were much more emphasized. Thus, the Popol Vuh lists three genealogies of upper lords descended from three ancestors and their wives.[5]

These first male ancestors - ritually defined as "bloodletters and sacrificers" - had received their private deities in a legendary land of origins called "The Seven Caves and Seven Canyons" (Nahua Chicomoztoc), and on their disappearance, left a sacred bundle. In Chiapas, at the time of the Spanish conquest, lineage ancestors were believed to have emerged from the roots of a ceiba tree.[5] Comparable beliefs still exist amongst the Tz'utujiles.[6]

Purépecha beliefs

Main article: Purépecha Empire

The Purépechas that live in what is now Michoacán believe that the monarch butterflies that travel to the region towards its winter habitat (Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve) symbolize the spirits of the dead as they journey from the afterlife. There is the legend of Mintzita, the daughter of the Purépecha king, and her fiancé. Their ghosts arise and head towards a specific cemetery every Noche de Muertos. Noche de Muertos or Night of the Dead, a variation of Diá de Muertos, is a major holiday in the region in which one custom involves the floating of hundreds of small candles on Lake Pátzcuaro and other bodies of water. Michoacán is even known as El alma de Mexico or the soul of Mexico.[7]

Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead at a Mexican cemetery.
Day of the Dead at a Mexican cemetery.

Main article: Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead (Spanish: El Día de los Muertos), is a holiday celebrated in Mexico and by Mexicans and Central Americans living in the United States and Canada. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. The celebration occurs on November 1 and 2 in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day (November 1) and All Souls' Day (November 2).

Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts. Due to occurring directly after Halloween, the Day of the Dead is sometimes thought to be a similar holiday, both being in the family of Allhallowtide.

Mexican academics are divided on the exact origins of The Day of the Dead celebrations. Most consider it a mixture of both indigenous roots and European Catholic traditions. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2500–3000 years.[8] The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. However, current modern-day depictions of the festival have more in common with Catholic European traditions of the Danse Macabre. Archaeologist Augustin Sanchez Gonzalez notes how the festival was moved towards the end of October and early November by the Spaniards to syncretize with the Catholic Allhallowtide.

People go to cemeteries to communicate with the souls of the departed who are paying a holiday visit home. The descendants build private altars, containing the favorite foods and beverages, as well as photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them.[9]

In most regions of Mexico, November 1 honors children and infants, whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2. This is indicated by generally referring to November 1 mainly as "Día de los Inocentes" (Day of the Innocents) but also as "Día de los Angelitos" (Day of the Little Angels) and November 2 as "Día de los Muertos" or "Día de los Difuntos" (Day of the Dead).[9]

Modern Ghost legends

La Llorona

From a film La Llorona.
From a film La Llorona.

Main article: La Llorona

"La Llorona" is Spanish for "The Weeping Woman" and is a popular legend in all Spanish-speaking cultures in the colonies of the Americas, with many versions extant. The basic story is that La Llorona was a beautiful woman who killed her children to be with the man that she loved and was subsequently rejected by him. He might have been the children's father who had left their mother for another woman, or he might have been a man she loved but who was uninterested in a relationship with a woman with children, and whom she thought she could win if the children were out of the way.[10]

She drowned the children and then, after being rejected anyway, killed herself. She is doomed to wander, vainly searching for her children for all eternity. Her constant weeping is the reason for her name. She is said to haunt near bodies of water such as rivers and lakes. In some cases, according to the tale, she will kidnap wandering children or children who misbehave.[10]

La Pascualita

La Planchada

"La Planchada" is Spanish for "the ironed lady". Contrary to what people may assume because of the legend's title, La Planchada was not a woman who was crushed, rather it is similar to La Llorona. Legend says it was a nurse who was attracted to a doctor and he rejected her, or a disgruntled nurse, or a nurse who killed her patient. Many variations of how she was created exist, but one consistent theme is that her ghost appears in many hospitals, though mainly in the metropolitan areas, especially in Mexico City.[12]

Many hospitals such as Hospital Juárez claim she appears there in her old 1930s/60s nurse uniform, which is perfectly ironed (hence the name "La Planchada") and heals patients in the emergency sections. Just as there are claims about how she was turned into a ghost, there are many others in which eyewitnesses claim she appears. Some say she emits a sort of glow. Others say she looks like a normal nurse. Others say she floats, while others say she walks normally, but her steps are never heard. This happens at night and the next morning patients feel better and are taken to another room for further recovery. When asked why they feel better, patients say that "a nurse came in and healed me", but no one in the hospital was either guarding the room or no nurse came at the time the incident happened.[12]

Vanishing hitchhiker

In the Mexican version of the Vanishing hitchhiker urban legend, the hitchhiker is a beautiful woman, who chats with a stranger in a taxi. When she leaves as a normal person she leaves her address. When the person tries to reach the woman at her home, he is informed the woman is dead and that it is also the anniversary of her death.[13]

Cemetery hauntings

Often there are ghost legends associated with the older cemeteries. For example, the Panteón de Belén (also Santa Paula Cemetery), a historical cemetery located in Guadalajara, Mexico, is the site of legends and night tours. The cemetery was opened in 1848 and it was formally closed in 1896. Legends that are part of the local folklore include the Vampire, The Pirate, The Lovers, The Monk, The Child afraid of the Dark, The Story of José Cuervo, The Nun and many more.[14]

Poster for the film El Charro Negro (1940), based on the popular legend of the Charro Negro.
Poster for the film El Charro Negro (1940), based on the popular legend of the Charro Negro.

El Charro Negro

The Charro Negro is a ghost of Mexican folklore that, according to popular tradition, is described as a tall man, with an elegant appearance, in an impeccable black suit consisting of a short jacket, a shirt, tight pants and a wide-brimmed hat who wanders in the depth of the night in the streets of Mexico on the back of a huge jet-colored horse.[15] He is of Mexican origin, and is related to the Devil. It has also served as Mexican cultural inspiration for literature and cinema such as La Leyenda del Charro Negro.[16]

Origin of El Charro Negro

According to some,[who?] the legend of El Charro Negro arises from the syncretism in 1920 between indigenous and European beliefs. El Charro Negro represents the dark side of the human soul, a story that warns of blinding greed. This character was transmuted into dark deities by ethnic groups such as the Wixárika.[17] Among the Huichol deities, which are linked to a dark part are defined as "Neighbors" or "Mestizos", the one that stands out the most within these deities is the god Tamatsi Teiwari Yuawi, which in Spanish is called "Our Big Brother the Dark Blue Mestizo". The result of the meeting of these two cultures, also unites two religions; the Mesoamerican (specifically the Huichol) and from Spain, the result will be a Mestizo popular culture, which creates a figure of Ibero-American folklore, that is, the "Charro Negro".[18]

The coexistence between the indigenous and mestizo culture resulted in economic conflicts, where they took over land to use it for their own benefit, for trade, etc. According to sociological records, the god "Mestizo Azul", within the indigenous culture, specifically within the Huichol culture, represents the stereotype of the colonizer who threatens his culture. This god "Mestizo Azul" is more powerful than the Huichol gods themselves, however, he is a despot, a collector and does not know forgiveness.[18]

From a Mixtec perspective, it is said that El Charro Negro is the "patron of the place" who lives on the top of the mountain, caretaker of the region, this individual does not have indigenous aspects, on the contrary, he tells us about characteristics of the colonizers, that is, a white man, tall and mounted on horseback. The Mixtecos speak of how dangerous it can be to find it, that is why they have the belief of carrying garlic, to be able to drive it away. This "lord of the hill" punishes those who cause destruction in the forests, guards the treasures and punishes those who commit greed. Such is the importance of the "Lord of the Hill" that the indigenous people asked for permission with offerings in order to obtain permission to work on their lands. The offerings consisted of cigarettes, mezcal, and food.

There is an anecdote recorded, in the Sierra del Norte de Puebla, where the indigenous people stopped working on a highway, since the permission of the "lord of the hill" had not been requested.

San Martín de Caballero, is known in the cities as a saint who is asked for money with the phrase "San Martín de Caballero, give me a little money" while alfalfa is offered to his horse. While in the Mazatec culture he becomes a nocturnal being, where they explain that he is not a saint. He is known as the owner of the lands and the mountains. His characteristics are those of colonizers, he is white and greets in Castilian. Some nights he comes down to visit his animals and watch over the buried treasures. Those who wish to obtain money from this being, must go in a state of indulgence (sexual abstinence) and offer cocoa or a turkey. San Martín de Caballero, gives them instructions, which include, take his horse by the tail to the applicant's house and not say anything in 4 years, if this promise is broken then the applicant's soul is condemned, he dies instantly and San Martín de Caballero takes his body and soul to take them to work with him.

In practically all societies the concept of "the dark" has been conceived, which is even presented as an essential element for balance to exist. And this, the dark, is a kind of constant temptation, linked to human passions, which could make man lose his reason, and as a consequence, lose himself or the luminous part of him .[17]

In the Mexica worldview we have the unforgettable cosmic battle between day and night, between light and darkness symbolized by Tezcatlipoca, one of the four sons of Ometéotl, lord of the night; and Quetzalcóatl (also called the white Tezcatlipoca) .[17]

With the arrival of Christianity in Mexico, dualism was also propelled with the figure of God and Lucifer, and in this cultural bifurcation myths and legends arose about the perennial temptation that is capable of making the soul perish.[17]

Legend of El Charro Negro

According to the legend, the El Charro Negro continues to appear at night, on the streets of cities or on rural roads. Being mysterious, he sometimes accompanies walkers, but if the person agrees to get on the horse or receives coins from it, his luck is given.[19]

It is an evil entity that receives this name for its dark clothing. He always appears dressed in an elegant black charro suit with fine details in gold and silver. He can be seen riding on his horse, the same color, an animal whose eyes look like balls of fire.

Fortunately, the Charro Negro only appears to people who walk alone, mainly at night.

In popular culture

There is not much about inspirations about this evil entity. However, it has appeared in the literature within the story Macario, from which it was used and inspired to create a film with the same name. In 2018, the animated film La Leyenda del Charro Negro was released, created by Anima Studios, based on the legend, where he appears as the main antagonist of the film, as well as of the franchise in general.

In the arts

See also


  1. ^ Geoffrey W. Conrad, Arthur Andrew Demarest (1984). Religion and empire: the dynamics of Aztec and Inca expansionism. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-31896-3.((cite book)): CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  2. ^ "Deity Figure (Cihuateotl), 15th–early 16th century". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 2010-03-13.
  3. ^ John Bierhorst (1985). Cantares mexicanos. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-1182-8.
  4. ^ John Curl (2005). Ancient American poets. Bilingual Press. ISBN 1-931010-21-8.
  5. ^ a b Sir John Eric Sidney Thompson (1975). Maya Hieroglyphic Writing. Forgotten Books. p. 71. ISBN 1-60506-860-8.
  6. ^ Robert S. Carlson, and Martin Prechtel, 'The Flowering of the Dead: An Interpretation of Highland Maya Culture'. Man 26-1 (1991): 22-42.
  7. ^ Andrea Fischer (2022-10-15). "Así se vive la Fiesta de las Ánimas, la festividad de muertos de los purépechas en Michoacán". National Geographic en Español (in Spanish). Retrieved 2022-12-11.
  8. ^ Miller, Carlos (2005). "History: Indigenous people wouldn't let 'Day of the Dead' die". Day of the Dead — Día De Los Muertos. The Arizona Republic. Retrieved 2007-11-28.
  9. ^ a b Palfrey, Dale Hoyt (1995). "The Day of the Dead". Día de los Muertos Index. Access Mexico Connect. Retrieved 2007-11-28.
  10. ^ a b "La Llorona - Weeping Woman of the Southwest". Legends of America. Retrieved 2010-04-10.
  11. ^ "The corpse bride in the window: La Pascualita in Mexico". Ripley Entertainment Inc. 20 May 2021. Retrieved 20 May 2021.
  12. ^ a b "La Planchada enfermera fantasma". Lanza del Destino (in Spanish). Retrieved 2011-04-06.
  13. ^ Jan Harold Brunvand (1981). The vanishing hitchhiker: American urban legends and their meanings. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-95169-3.
  14. ^ "The History of Santa Paula Cemetery". Retrieved 2015-01-02.
  15. ^ niños, En Clave de (2013-10-29). "La leyenda del Charro negro". En Clave de Niños (in European Spanish). Retrieved 2021-10-14.
  16. ^ Edwards, Ethan (2013). "El charro negro" (in Spanish).
  17. ^ a b c d "La leyenda del Charro Negro (que también se incorporó al misticismo indígena)". Más de México (in Mexican Spanish). 2017-06-21. Retrieved 2021-10-06.
  18. ^ a b Neurath, Johannes (2005-01-13). "Máscaras enmascaradas. Indígenas, mestizos y dioses indígenas mestizos". Relaciones: Estudios de historia y sociedad. 26 (101): 23–50. ISSN 0185-3929.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  19. ^ "La leyenda escalofriante leyenda del Charro negro". Multimedios (in Spanish). 2019-10-29. Retrieved 2021-10-06.
  20. ^ Sandra Cisneros (2008). Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories. Paw Prints. ISBN 978-1-4395-0807-7.
  21. ^ Hasta el viento tiene miedo at IMDb
  22. ^ interview with director Rigoberto Castañeda about KM31 and Blackout.
  23. ^ Carmen Sánchez Dávila. "No hay peor miedo que al fracaso", asegura Rigoberto Castañeda director de "Kilómetro 31". Archived 2010-06-21 at the Wayback Machine February 15, 2007. Filmeweb.