Story Magic: Working with the Weeping Woman
Article ID: 11193
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Wolf [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: January 28th. 2007
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Long years ago in a humble village in the Southwest, when the Southwest still belonged to Mexico, there lived a fine looking girl named Maria. From the moment that Maria was born, the people of the village told her how beautiful she was and how special she was and indeed, Maria grew into the most beautiful young woman that anyone had ever seen.
Because she was so beautiful, the people went out of their way to be in Maria's company; they gave her gifts, flattered her and did service for her. They were proud to have such a beauty in their midst.
In time, Maria began to feel that the attentions and solicitations of the village were her due, for wasn't she the most beautiful woman that ever was? Was she not the jewel of the village? Had not men jealously beat each other in the streets over her merest glance? In this way, she convinced herself that her beauty was evidence of the grace of God and she began to act as she imagined royalty might behave. Maria became demanding, haughty and arrogant. – from La Llorona: The Weeping Woman
La Llorona is a ghost story and cautionary tale from the American southwest about the beautiful and selfish Maria. Maria is betrayed by her husband and in a fit of rage and madness, drowns her children and herself for which crime she becomes La Llorona, the weeping woman, and is doomed to haunt the arroyos forever. She is the boogeyman in a region where flash floods can suddenly scour the normally dry arroyos with raging torrents.
There are many different versions, but this year at SpiralHeart WitchCamp our community inhabited the story of La Llorona that you see here. We walked in her shoes. We spoke with her voice. We were her community, her husband, and her children. We praised the beautiful Maria and condemned the miserable, hungry ghost, La Llorona, which she became. We worked intensely with the story of the weeping woman for seven days.
Why did we do this?
Maria's beauty and pride grew, and the people began to say it was time for her to find a husband. They told her that the young men from her village were not good enough for her, for they hoped that Maria would catch they eye of a great patron who would bring prosperity to the village. But Maria was not interested in money (for would the village not continue to provide for her every desire)? "When I marry, " Maria would say, "I will marry the most handsome man in the world."
And then one day, into Maria's village rode a man who seemed to be just the one she had been awaiting. Gregorio was a dashing young ranchero, the son of a wealthy landowner from the southern plains. He could ride like a Comanche, and if he owned a horse, and it grew tame, he would give it away. He would only ride wild horses that he had roped from the plains himself. "No true man will be satisfied with a domesticated mount, " he said often. He was so handsome! And he could play the guitar and sing beautifully. Maria made up her mind. Gregorio was the man for her! – from La Llorona: The Weeping Woman
One of the hallmarks of the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft is how we use stories as magical tools and as portals into the soul. Stories, especially the ancient and often told tales, have the power to slip past our ego and deliver their magic directly to the heart of our true selves. A well-crafted story is a magic spell that can have unseen but profound effects, like tectonic shifts deep in the earth, not only for us as individuals, but also for our communities.
The irony is that most people use this powerful tool in an unconscious way. We tell and retell stories, myths, nursery rhymes, personal experiences, news items, urban legends and jokes without a thought for their hidden meanings and magical payloads.
What gives stories their power? How can we use stories to consciously shape our being, our community and our world?
But Maria was too proud to show her true feelings to Gregorio. And Gregorio was too proud not to pursue the most beautiful girl in the land. If the ranchero spoke when they met on the pathway, she would turn her head away. When he came to her house in the evening to play his guitar and serenade her, she wouldn’t come to the window. She even refused his costly gifts. But the more she refused him, the more the young man was enthralled. She was like a wild mustang to him, proud and wild and haughty. "That girl, Maria!" he said to himself. "I know I can win her heart. I swear I'll marry that girl."
Maria's plan worked perfectly. Before long, she and the ranchero became engaged and soon they were married. But because he was a second son, Gregorio had no great wealth of his own, only a small allowance. Some of the villagers began to grumble that Maria had made a selfish choice, but the couple ignored them. Maria had her Gregorio, what did she care about the feelings of peasants?
At first, things were fine. Maria gave birth to a baby boy and soon after, a girl. They were a happy family together. But after a few years, the ranchero went back to the wild life of the prairies. He would leave town and be gone for months at a time. And when he returned home, it was only to visit his children. He seemed to care nothing for the beautiful Maria. He even talked of setting Maria aside and marrying a woman of his own wealthy class. – from La Llorona: The Weeping Woman
Many traditions of the Craft and many other religions have a concept of the triple soul. In these traditions, the soul is thought to have three parts. The first is the part that we recognize as “I, ” the second is our childlike primal selves, and the third is that part that connects directly to the Divine. In Reclaiming, the three parts of the soul are called Talking Self, Younger Self and Higher Self. In Feri Tradition, the tradition from which Reclaiming grows, they are Shining Body, Sticky One, and Sacred Dove.
Talking Self is the seat of intellect and communication as well as our filters and our ego, commonly called “mind.” Younger Self is the seat of sensual enjoyment and wonder in our incarnated existence. Higher Self is our link to the universal consciousness of the Goddess, and is the source of all Love and creativity.
Talking Self is that part of ourselves that makes plans, designs houses and builds tall buildings. It is the part of ourselves that we think of as “me.” But Talking Self is furthest from that divine connection of Higher Self and so wise folk through the ages have developed techniques for short circuiting, or circumventing Talking Self in order to access our divine natures. Meditation, Yoga, prayer, Kabala, and occult practices of many kinds all have been used to quiet our minds and bring us into contact with the divine within.
Younger Self is that part of us that loves to sing and dance and swim and partake in all the sensual pleasures of the world. It is this part of our soul that is already in contact with our divine spark, and is activated by fun. Art, dance, music and story have such power to touch our souls because they provide a direct conduit to that part of us that most easily communicates with Higher Self.
Of course Maria became very angry with the ranchero. She also began to be jealous of her children because Gregorio paid attention to them, and ignored her. One evening, as Maria was strolling with her two children on a shady pathway by the road, the ranchero came by in a carriage. An elegant lady sat on the seat beside him. He stopped and spoke to his children, but he didn't even look at Maria. Then, he whipped the horses and the carriage rolled away leaving a cloud of dust in its wake. – from La Llorona: The Weeping Woman
Stories have such power because through Younger Self they communicate our desires, intentions, curious inquiries and delight to Higher Self where they germinate and are given back to us as our creative impulse, solutions to problems and intuition and if we are still and let them, they shape our being.
In this way, we all create our personal "reality" every day by telling ourselves stories. These stories can be empowering or limiting. They can generate anger or despair or joy or hope. You know what yours are, “I’ll never be able to do … as well as …” and, “Why do I always get on the slow line at the store?” and, “Love is a battlefield.” or, “You never take out the trash.” One of mine is, “If I order it the restaurant will be out of it.”
The stories that we tell ourselves are inherited from our families or accepted from the dominant culture or even made up by ourselves. In modern psychological parlance, they can become a "tape" that plays in our heads and colors our experience of the physical world. They can generate infatuation where there is no reciprocation. They can generate fear where there is nothing to fear. The can generate hurt where there is no insult.
Most of us tell ourselves these stories without intention and so create our "reality" unconsciously. Reality, in this sense, is like a metaphorical overlay on physical sensation, and is necessarily personal. That is not to say that we do not have shared realities, but most shared realities are created by the willful abdication or subornation of our power (the topic of a different article to come.)
A terrible rage filled Maria, and when they had returned to their house, she turned on her children. "You are my curse!" she screamed at them. She wept and scolded and said many cruel things to the children. She said horrible things about Gregorio and cursed the day she had ever met him. The children cried and cowered, but Maria had lost her senses. A terrible storm blew up to match the fury of the wounded Maria. The wind blew and clouds darkened the sky. Maria’s anger was turning to madness. She whipped the children, and just as the sky opened and released a deluge, the boy took his sister by the hand and together they fled into the countryside.
Maria wept and tore her clothes and pulled her beautiful hair until she was exhausted. She laid her head on her hands and drifted to sleep with a curse on her lips. The crack of lightning and boom of thunder woke her almost immediately. She came to her senses enough to realize the children were out in the storm. "Those children are my misery, " she said as she wrapped her shawl about her shoulders and launched herself into the downpour to find them. – from La Llorona: The Weeping Woman
The most important point to understand is that all the stories that we tell ourselves are made up. They are fiction, just as Maria’s self image was built up by the village, by Gregorio and by herself. While they may be based on a physical sensation, such as attraction to a pretty girl, this physical sensation is imbued with meaning by the story that we tell about it. So I can make up any story that I want. Whether that story is positive or negative is up to me.
Even statements of fact can be invested with story in such a way as to color our experience of the physical world. "The Nazis killed millions of innocent people." The mere statement generates negative emotions, even in those who were not personally physically harmed.
Someone once said to me that, "the Nazis invaded Belgium. The Belgians had no choice in creating their reality." I responded that indeed, some Belgians were killed in the invasion, but some collaborated, some fled, some hunkered down and endured, some resisted and some even ignored the Nazis. There was no uniform physical experience and no uniform reality.
Magic is the art of changing consciousness at will. One way that we do this is by telling ourselves consciously crafted stories. In order to do this effectively, we have to accept responsibility for our reality. To step into my power is to recognize that I created my life by my choice of stories (whatever the physical world threw at me) and to begin to change those stories to what I want them to be.
This is the most difficult skill to master in the Craft, because our culture is all about blaming others for our experience and feelings. “You hurt my feelings, ” is a common refrain. But the truth is that I hurt my feelings by the story that I tell myself about your behavior. Even if you are intending to hurt my feelings, you have no power to do so unless I give you that power.
From our earliest childhood, the blame culture has been so deeply ingrained that it has passed into our unconscious. It is hard to recognize and harder to admit that our hurt feelings are self-inflicted.
She walked out onto the plain to the edge of the formerly dry arroyo and saw to her horror that it was now a raging torrent. She called to her fellow villagers to come to her aid, but they turned away. Maria had been unbearable enough before Gregorio had left, but now most people had had enough of Maria's arrogance. Maria turned back to the storm in frustration.
Maria screamed for her children, running along the bank of the arroyo for miles until she finally saw them. Their lifeless bodies were huddled together, washed up on the far bank. Maria screamed for them to move, to get up. She waded into the torrent, calling their names, until Maria understood the awful truth. She tried to swim over to their bodies, struggling in the raging current, struggling against a tide that she could not resist, until the river took her to her children.– from La Llorona: The Weeping Woman
At WitchCamp, we worked the magic of the La Llorona story by recognizing that Maria’s downfall was more than a series of unfortunate events. Maria’s story was unconsciously crafted, by her parents, by the village, by Gregorio and by herself. All shared responsibility in creating and then helping to destroy Maria’s “reality.”
The reason we chose to work with such a difficult story that is seemingly without redeeming elements, was that SpiralHeart as a community has shadows that needed to be brought into the light. Among other things, we have a way of building up our teachers and organizers, putting them in a position of authority and acclaim and then knocking them down when something goes wrong. This community behavior has strong parallels with La Llorona.
We consciously structured rituals throughout our week between the worlds to follow key elements of Maria’s story. We appealed to Younger Self by imagining and playing out scenes of Maria’s life, villagers fawning, a grand ball, Gregorio’s betrayal and the tragic drowning itself. We leavened the magic by invoking the pre-Christian Virgin of Guadalupe and seeing the story through Her compassionate eyes. Guadalupe helped us to forgive Maria, but more importantly, to forgive ourselves.
We accepted responsibility, as individuals and as a community for creating the world as it is, and pledged to work together to consciously create the world of our desire. Khalil Gibran wrote, “…a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree …” Maria withered and fell, but the fault was not hers alone. For a week, we continually changed our perspective to see with many eyes and plant the seeds of compassion in our hearts.
The next morning, a traveler brought word to the villagers that a beautiful woman lay dead on the bank of the arroyo. That is where they found Maria, and they laid her to rest where she had fallen. Her children were buried in hallowed ground by the church.
But the first night Maria was in the grave, the villagers heard the sound of crying down by the arroyo. It was not the wind. It was Maria. "Where are my children?" she cried. "Where are my children?" And they saw a woman walking up and down, dressed in the long white robe that Maria had worn for burial.
On many a dark night they saw her walk the banks of the arroyo and cry for her children. And so they no longer spoke of her as Maria. They called her La Llorona, the weeping woman. And by that name she is known to this day. Children are warned not to go out in the dark, for La Llorona might snatch them away and drown them in the arroyo. - from La Llorona: The Weeping Woman
Maria’s life was a willful illusion, but one that was not designed to survive the fickle nature of popular acclaim. Indeed, our culture seems to thrive on this motif, this shadow. We inflate some individuals in our midst, giving over our power and so make them into “stars, ” only to enjoy their fall even more, until it happens to us. When we unconsciously build the edifice of our world, the danger is that the flood, when it comes, as it must, will catch us unaware and dash it to pieces.
So the Magic for me is in changing my story from, "I can't, " to "I can, " from, "it's not my fault, " to "it's my responsibility, " from "you hurt my feelings, " to "why am I hurting my feelings about this?" from, "it's so hard, " to "it's simple, " from, "it's not my job, " to "I'll help you and together we'll create the world we want to live in."
La Llorona has become a part of SpiralHeart culture. She reminds us to have compassion for one another, to help one another, to not judge too quickly or too harshly, and above all to accept responsibility for our community, our world and ourselves.
This is the power of story magic.
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