Several stories based on Mexican oral culture, legends with decades of history.
Short Mexican legends are famous for their mystical content and the cultural syncretism that makes them up. They are an important part of popular culture, since they represent and at the same time transmit values and imaginations about life and death, the masculine and the feminine, morality and injustice, sanctions and rewards.
In this article you will find 12 short Mexican legends, as well as a brief description of this type of narrative and what are the functions they fulfill.
14 Short Mexican Legends
Legends are the stories that are transmitted from generation to generation through the spoken word, and to a lesser extent through texts. These are narratives that can include historical, fantastic or supernatural elements and characters, who interact with people and impact the phenomena of everyday life. They have the function of explaining human or natural situations, and have the power to represent an important part of the imaginary, the values and the social conventions.
For this reason, legends vary according to the place where they emerge and the culture that transmits them. In Mexican legends we can find a wide repertoire of symbolic images and mythical representations that fulfill important social functions. Although there are many more, below we will see several short Mexican legends.
1. La llorona
Legend has it that a long time ago there was a woman who, in an attempt to get revenge on the man she loved, murdered her children by drowning them in a river. Immediately afterwards she repented, and before guilt she decided to commit suicide.
Since then, he wanders the streets of different cities at midnight (especially near places where there is water), and repeats incessantly “Oh my children! For this reason it is known as “La Llorona”
The roots of this woman, and the reasons that lead her to take revenge, vary according to the version. Likewise, there are those who say that it is a woman who appears specifically to drunk men and punishes them through fright.
2. The Popocatépetl and the Iztaccíhuatl
In central Mexico there are two volcanoes called Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, as an Aztec warrior and the daughter of one of the chiefs had been named, respectively. Popocatépetl had to go to war, but promised Iztaccíhuatl that he would return as soon as possible.
However, another warrior who had listened to them and was also in love with the chief’s daughter, let Iztaccíhuatl know that Popocatépetl had died in combat, although this had not happened. The sadness was so great that Iztaccíhuatl decided to take his life, and when Popocatepetl returned and did not find his beloved, he did the same. In a sign of trembling, the gods decided to reunite them again in the form of two great volcanoes.
3. The alley of the kiss
This legend, typical of the city of Guanajuato, tells that a suspicious father had separated his daughter Carmen from her lover. To such an extent she disliked the love bond that he promised to marry her to another man, richer and more prestigious, who lived abroad. Before complying with this, she locked the daughter in one of the typical houses of the city, which are characterized by being high and one very close to the other, divided only by a small alley.
Fortunately for the lovers, the window of Carmen’s room adjoined that of a house for sale, which was quickly acquired by the lover, as the only solution for their reunion. Thus the lovers could be together again.
But, shortly after, they were discovered by the father, who, in a rage, stuck a knife in his daughter’s chest. Her lover could only kiss her goodbye. Since then, this alley has been dubbed the kissing alley, and it is tradition for couples who go through it to kiss right there.
4. The Mayan hummingbird
They say when the Mayan gods created the earth, each animal was assigned a specific task. But, when they finished, they realized that there was no one to transport ideas, thoughts and wishes between them.
On top of that they had finished the clay and corn, which are the materials with which they had originated the rest of the things. They only had one small jade stone left, so they decided to carve it and create a small arrow. When they finished they blew on her and she flew off. They had thus created a new being, which they called x’ts’unu’um, which means hummingbird.
5. La Mulata de Córdoba
La Mulata de Córdoba was a woman condemned to the stake by the Holy Office, near the east coast of Mexico. She was credited with the power of eternal youth and being the advocate for impossible cases, such as those of unemployed workers and single women. She was always surrounded by men who easily fell in love with her and lost the path of righteousness. Given all the above, they said that he had pacts with the devil and that he even received him in his own home.
Until she was arrested by the Court of the Holy Inquisition, being accused of practicing witchcraft and having arrived on a ship that had not docked at any beach. One night before serving her sentence and while she was in a cell, she requested that they bring her a piece of coal, with which she drew a boat and was able to fly out of the bars. Upon arrival, the guards could only find a smell of sulfur, whose existence is recounted to this day.
6. The dead man’s alley
This legend tells that in the city of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, a man whose task it was to light the oil lamps in the city, was murdered right there. He had finished his work, but he quickly realized that he needed to light one, so he returned just before returning home. He died mysteriously and, since then, legend has it that his soul appears after 9 o’clock at night, to walk the alley of the oil lamps.
This is one of the legends of Mexico with more recent origins, but that does not mean that it ceases to be part of the popular culture of the region.
7. The nagual
Since pre-Hispanic times, several of the gods that have been part of Mexican culture have had the power to change from human to animal form. This faculty was later transferred to witches, witches and shamans, who acquired the abilities of the animal into which they were transformed and used it in favor of the community.
Thus, legend has it that nahuals constantly appear to people, especially at midnight and taking the form of common animals.
This is one of the Mexican legends in which the influence of pre-Hispanic folklore is noted, based on many animist beliefs according to which non-human objects and animals have intellectual faculties typical of our species.
8. The Devil’s Alley
Located in Mexico City, they say that the devil himself appears in this alley. A skeptical man decided to check such a story, and one night he was encouraged to walk around. It was a shady place where there were some trees.
When he was not even halfway there, he stopped, as he thought he saw a shadow behind a tree. Immediately he continued walking, and they say that the shadow approached him, taking the form of a man who laughed intensely. The previously skeptical man ran away, but began to feel that the ground was sinking and trapping him hard to prevent his escape.
However, he managed to escape and transmit his encounter with the devil to those he met on the way. In other versions it is said that the apparition was towards a drunk man and that, to avoid it, it is necessary to deposit jewels and offerings daily under the tree where it appears.
9. The island of dolls
In Xochimilco, one of the delegations of Mexico City where there is a large lake with numerous trajineras, it is said that a man named Julián Santana collected abandoned dolls.
The man lived in one of these trajineras, and the reason why he put the figures together was to drive away the lake spirits. Specifically, Don Julián offered these dolls as a symbol of peace to drive away the spirit of a girl who drowned right there.
Currently there is a small island with the dolls collected by Don Julián in the channels of Xochimilco, and they say that the soul of this man constantly returns to take care of them. In this way, this Mexican legend has given way to an urban legend whose reality takes place in the present time.
10. Princess Donají
This legend tells that Cosijopi, the last governor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in the southern part of Mexico, had a daughter whom he named Donají. During a war between the Mixtecs and the Zapotecs, Donají was captured hostage and later beheaded. Although her body was buried, the place where her head lay was never made known.
Some time later, a shepherd who was passing through the Oaxacan mountains pulled up a lily (wild flower also called lily). In doing this, he found what appeared to be a human head under the ground, and upon rescuing it, he brought it to meet his body in the temple of Cuilapam. It was then that Princess Donají’s soul was finally able to rest in peace.
This is another of the many examples that show the extent to which death has a relevant role in Mexican legends, and almost always goes hand in hand with narrative elements related to drama.
11. The vampire tree of Guadalajara
Many years ago, a foreigner from Europe came to a town in the area of Guadalajara, Mexico. He was a strange and reserved person, but his lack of interest in socializing with the people of the region was not the most disturbing.
In fact, since the arrival of this mysterious man, the corpses of animals began to appear, and then the lifeless bodies of children, all of them bled to death.
One night, the townspeople decided to look for the foreigner to confront him, assuming that he was the author of the events. That night they found him trying to bite a local, so they drove a wooden stake into him and then buried his body under a pile of bricks.
Years later, a tree grew from among the bricks from the wooden stake, and it is said that when its branches are cut, trails of blood appear inside the cut, from the victims of the Guadalajara vampire.
12. The legend of Tepoztécatl
Tepoztécatl is a legendary character from the Morelos region of Mexico. It is said that he was the son of a pregnant princess through magic through a small bird that landed on his shoulder. As she was not married, the princess’s parents became angry with her, and the young woman was forced to separate from the baby after the birth occurred.
And that’s how Tepoztécatl’s journey began, when his mother abandoned him in the forest and was picked up by a colony of ants. These small insects fed it cooperating with some bees, which gave part of their honey so that the ants could take it to the little one.
Months later, the ants left the little Tepoztécatl next to an agave, and it took him in among its leaves and fed him with his sap. Some time passed, and the agave left Tepoztécatl on some logs and put it in the river, where the boy traveled until an elderly couple from Tepoztlán found him and adopted him into their family.
Years later, when Tepoztécatl was already a strong and intelligent young man, a monster in the shape of a giant snake called Mazacóatl appeared to frighten the inhabitants of the region, and the old man who had adopted the young man was chosen to fight with her. As he felt old and weak, his godson Mazacóatl replaced him, and killed the serpent using a blade made of obsidian crystal.
13. The stone shepherds
This Mexican legend comes from Teloloapan. He tells us that many years ago, two shepherds joined a group of pilgrims who, after having made promises to the Lord of Chalma, traveled to his hermitage on foot for several days, to pay tribute to him.
But at a certain point along the way, the shepherds told the rest that they were exhausted, and that they regretted having promised to go to Chalma, so they would wait there for the group of pilgrims to return on their way back. However, when they started walking again, the latter looked back and instead of seeing the shepherds, they saw two rocks shaped like a woman.
14. The grotto of Xalapa
On the Macuiltépetl hill, belonging to the city of Xalapa, there is a cave in which it is said that once a year mountains of treasures and riches appear, visible only to people in dire need. One day, a mother who had spent all her money trying to cure her baby without getting any positive results, saw a golden reflection inside the cave, and when she entered it, she saw great mountains of gold.
As she carried her baby in her arms, she placed him on a pile of coins and began to fill her pockets with wealth, using both arms to carry more and leave it in the saddlebags of her mule, which was waiting outside. But when she returned to the cave to find more gold and carry it to the saddlebags, she saw that both the treasure and the baby had disappeared.
- Erbiti, A. (2004): Myths and legends of Mexico. Buenos Aires: Austral Latin Circle.
- Fernández del Castillo, Francisco (1991): Tacubaya. History, legends and characters. Mexico DF: Porrúa.