Mexican folklore has several tales of scorned women who become otherworldly figures of vengeance to right the wrong caused men. Machismo, or an aggressively strong masculine pride, permeates the Mexican culture making women subservient to men. My father was born into this culture and I asked him why men act like this. He said that there was no other choice. Mexico could be a hard place to live and bring up a family. You had to fight to survive and you had to rise above other men to show virility, strength, and even a little danger. As a result, tales of supernatural women seem to exist to balance the power dynamic between the sexes, and perhaps, to also serve as a cautionary tale to the next generation of male children.
WHAT IS A LECHUZA?
The term lechuza translates from Spanish to English as "owl" although, I don't remember that word being commonly used. I've always known them to be called "búhos" but perhaps different types of birds have different names. Lechuzas seem to refer to larger, white faced barn owls (pictured on the right).
Owls have been associated with different superstitions and folklore for across many cultures. In some indigenous tribes, like the Apache, they are seen as omens of imminent death, while Australian Aborigines believe they are human spirits and sacred. Greeks and Roman believed owls were witches in disguise, or at least carried messages for witches. Some even believe that barn owls bare a striking resemblance to the typical image of aliens (big head, beady black eyes) and are actually aliens in disguise! Owls are nocturnal hunters of insect, vermin, and small mammals, can turn their head almost all the way around (like in The Exorcist), and owl hoots are a standard scary sound effect in movies. It's easy to see why owls have a bad reputation. However, one look at baby owls would dissuade any fears.
LA LECHUZA BRUJA
The story of La Lechuza comes the Rio Grande Valley of northern Mexico and Texas, but varies from region to region. It goes something like this: it's said that if you spot a giant white owl in the night sky is it likely La Lechuza – don't look at her face! She is a shapeshifting old witch set out to take revenge to drunk men who wander out late at night. She might lure them with a whistle or the sound of baby crying. Once she spots a target, she will follow them to the bitter end. Of course a girl's gotta eat, and La Lechuza is also know to grab a small child by the leg to take them back to her lair for dinner. So if you see an old woman walking out late at night, look towards her feet. She cannot hide her taloned feet!
ESPOOKY TALES: LA LECHUZA
Want to hear something scary? Join Cristina and MJ on the Espooky Tales podcast to learn more about Latin American folklore, myths, legends, haunted places and espooky cuentos del rancho. Their episode on La Lechuza is well researched and very fun to listen to. Make sure to subscription on your favorite podcast platform and find them at EspookyTales.com.
by Sarah Asch & Raul Alonzo (Texas Standard, October 16, 2023)
by Austin Harvey (AllThatsInteresting.com, April 5, 2023)
By Jaymi Heimbuch (Treehugger.com, October 24, 2022)