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53. La Siguanaba (Central American Folklore)

In today's episode we discuss La Siguanaba, a frightening, horse-headed spirit found in folklore all throughout Central America. We explore the many, many different iterations of her story, talk at length about the symbolism of horses, and delve into colonial influences found in the legend.


Sources

Leyendas Populares de Aparecidos y Animas en Pena en Guatemala by Celso Lara Figueroa

Leyenda de la Siguanaba - El Salvador mi país

“Las niñas buenas van al cielo y las malas... Género y narrativa oral tradicional” by Anna M. Fernández Poncela

“Construcción de la subjetividad femenina en la leyenda de La Segua” by Manuel Martinez Herrera 

The Fiction of Solidarity: Transfronterista Feminisms and Anti-Imperialist Struggles in Central American Transnational Narrative 

La Sucia | Cuentos y leyendas de Honduras 

The Siguanaba - Chalatenango, El Salvador 

La Siguanaba Character | USC Digital Folklore Archives 

​​La Sucia | Cuentos y leyendas de Honduras 

Horse Symboism 

el cipitío: Sihuehuet. La otra leyenda.

To donate, please go to ko-fi.com/mytholadies.  

Transcript

(musical intro)

 

Zoe 

Hello, and welcome to Mytholadies, the podcast where we talk about women from mythology and folklore all over the world. We're your hosts.

 

Lizzie 

I'm Lizzie.

 

Zoe 

And I'm Zoe. Lizzie, what have you been up to? How was your St. Patrick's Day?

 

Lizzie 

Oh, it was good. I didn't do much, but Cathy brought whiskey to her office (laughs) and she made Irish coffees for people.

 

Zoe 

Okay, good.

 

Lizzie 

So she had a great St. Patrick's Day.

 

Zoe 

That is good. Was that for her new-new job?

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. For her new copywriting job.

 

Zoe 

Good. Good.

 

Lizzie 

She-she's already popular. It's fine (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Good.

 

Lizzie 

That's just how she is. And also apparently the liquor store had a discount on Bailey's.

 

Zoe 

Uh huh.

 

Lizzie 

So, Happy St. Patrick's Day, Irish people.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. I actually did end up going to a liquor store, um, on St. Patrick's Day, which is allowed because I am 21 (Lizzie laughs). And I heard one of the people working there--I was with my dad, too. We were just--um, he was looking to get whiskey for his friend whose birthday is actually St. Patrick's Day.

 

Lizzie 

Awesome.

 

Zoe 

And I heard the people working there being like, oh, yeah, you know, like the Jameson and the Bailey's are just flying off the shelves right now. And I was like, yeah, so true (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm. Yeah. I mean, there's a lot of Irish Americans in New England. I've been thinking a lot about how--the differences between how St. Patrick's Day must be celebrated in Ireland versus Boston.

 

Lizzie 

Of course. Lots of Irish-Americans.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah (laughs).

 

Zoe 

I don't know. I just think it's interesting how it kind of is a holiday for, like, the diaspora more than like, the country itself. I don't know.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Yeah. I mean--I don't know. All I know is you're supposed to wear, like, green and stuff, which I did. I did wear green.

 

Zoe 

I did wear green.

 

Lizzie 

I now live with an Irish person, which means that I have to be Irish-adjacent.

 

Zoe 

Yes. Mm hmm. Exactly.

 

Lizzie 

And it was great.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. I had a good day. I had a fun time. So before we get started, everyone should know we do have a Ko-fi. If you wanna slide us a few dollars, that would be really awesome. And we will be making bonus content very soon. It is imminent.

 

Lizzie 

Like actually soon now (laughs). We've been saying that for a long time.

 

Zoe 

Like actually soon. Like, we mean it this time. If you want to find out what we're talking about, you better get there and get ready. Buckle your seatbelts, 'cause we're about to go!

 

Lizzie 

Exactly.

 

Zoe 

And also, we have a website. On our website, you can find transcripts. Um, you can find all our sources if you'd like to know where we got our information from, or if you'd like to tell us if some information that we had is wrong. For example, we recently got an email from a wonderful listener who informed us that in our La Llorona episode, we had some incorrect information, and that, um, the story of La Malinche being associated with La Llorona is based on incorrect information. So thank you so much for telling us about that. We really appreciate it.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

So yeah. Anyways, Lizzie, who are we talking about this week?

 

Lizzie 

Speaking of Latin American vengeful ladies--

 

Zoe 

Ohh!

 

Lizzie 

--today we're talking about La Siguanaba from Central American folklore.

 

Zoe 

Oh! Okay.

 

Lizzie 

Do you do you know who she is?

 

Zoe 

I've definitely heard of her. That's all I got.

 

Lizzie 

Great. So her legend varies a lot from place to place. But the general legend is usually that she appears as a beautiful woman to lure men before revealing that she has either a skull for a face or a horse head.

 

Zoe 

Oh, yes! The horse head lady. Yes.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. And another main aspect of her legend is that she punishes unfaithful men and womanizers.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah!

 

Zoe 

Awesome.

 

Lizzie 

Definitely a really fun legend, there's a lot, a lot of variations.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

As we'll come to see many of them like a David mentioned, there's many but, um--

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

So the legend-it's likely that it was created around the time of Spanish colonization as a way to control the indigenous population, which we'll talk more about later.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

 She is known by several different names. I'm using the name La Siguanaba, uh, which is used in Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico, but she's also variantly known as La Sihuanaba. She's also known by "La Sucia" or "La Cigua" in Honduras, "La Cegua" in Costa Rica, sometimes by "La Ciguamonta" in Guatemala as well. And so the name La Siguanaba--there are several different proposed etymologies. One states that Siguanaba comes from the Nahua word "ciuanauac" or "ciguanauac," meaning "concubine."

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Another suggests that it comes from the word (macihuatli, consisting of the word (matlatl, meaning mesh or net, and (cihuatl, meaning woman, with the combined meaning of woman of the net or mesh, referring to the way she entangles her lovers.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

That's a fun one.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm!

 

Lizzie 

And "La Cegua" or "La Cigua," the names used in Honduras and Costa Rica, may have come from the Nahua word cihuatl, meaning "woman." Also I'm very sorry, my pronunciation. There was few resources that I found.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

In addition, the Guatemalan historian Adrián Recinos said that "Siguanaba" means "naked woman" in an indigenous Guatemalan language, but didn't specify which of the 22 of Guatemala's indigenous languages he was referring to. In one indigenous Guatemalan language, K'iche', the word tziguan means "precipice, deep ravine with no return--"

 

Zoe 

Mm!

 

Lizzie 

--which may have become "siguanaba," referring to the ravine where La Siguanaba leaves her victims.

 

Zoe 

Okay.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah! So now we're gonna get into the legend. I have versions from several different countries, beginning with Guatemala! So in Guatemala City, La Siguanaba is a woman who appears near places with water, such as public fountains--

 

Zoe 

Oh!

 

Lizzie 

--where she bathes with a golden bowl and combs her hair with a golden comb. She runs around the city's public baths and sometimes appears in private homes.

 

Zoe 

Oh!

 

Lizzie 

She wears a transparent nightgown and makes men follow her, and then loses them at some ravine. In the version where she has the face of a horse or skull, this is the point where she turns around and reveals her face. I feel like her main thing is less killing people and more like, scaring them so bad that they either go crazy or die or [unintelligible] escape but they just are really scared.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm. Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

You know.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Her main victims are men who are unfaithful or womanizers. And she appears to them at night and when they see her bathing, they fall in love with her. When a man falls under her spell, there are a few ways he can save himself. He can protect himself with an amulet, by making the sign of the cross--

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

-entrusting himself to some saint, or biting down on a metal object, specifically a knife or machete.

 

Zoe 

Oh.

 

Lizzie 

Another way is to drop to the ground, hold on to a wormwood bush, or Artemisia campestris, which I guess is a bush that's native to Guatemala--

 

Lizzie 

--and pull. And then La Siguanaba feels as though her hair is being pulled and he can escape.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

Huh.

 

Lizzie 

So the reason for this has to do with the legend that says that when the devil was creating La Siguanaba, he didn't have any materials for her hair. So he made her hair out of this bush. So now when anyone pulls on that bush, it feels like her own hair is being pulled.

 

Zoe 

Oh. That is an interesting story.

 

Lizzie 

I think it's interesting because of the, like, direct devil association. Like, some of them--

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

--she is meant to be, like, kind of satanic, others it's not mentioned. But that was--it's kind of fun thinking of the devil, making her, like, you know, making a little doll, you know? Like, oh, we'll use this for the hair.

 

Zoe 

(overlapping) Well, it's interesting to think that the devil has the power of creation.

 

Lizzie 

Is it?

 

Zoe 

I think so.

 

Lizzie 

Okay, expand on that.

 

Zoe 

Well, I'm not really an expert on this, like, area of--I don't even know. Demonology, whatever. But the idea that the devil, which is like evil, and the opposite of God in every way also has the power to create things like God does.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Is interesting, 'cause it's sort of--like, I think that an important thing is that, like, God and the devil are, like, ultimately not equals.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Because that goes against the Christian idea of there being only one God because like--

 

Lizzie 

Oh, okay.

 

Zoe 

--if the devil is on equal footing--at the same level of power as God, then like, the devil is also a god, there's two gods then.

 

Lizzie 

Okay. Makes sense.

 

Zoe 

But--so they're not on the same level. He's just trying to mess with, you know, God's creation and turn them towards his ideas and stuff.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah!

 

Zoe 

And so the idea that the devil has like, the same powers as God, and like, the same strengths as God, especially specifically the power of creation, which seems to me like generally a very positive attribute, you know, like--

 

Lizzie 

Definitely.

 

Zoe 

--being able to create something and give life is like, a really good thing generally is--I don't know, I think it's an interesting idea. I mean, obviously, like, I don't know (laughs), how much, like--this is a fun little story, but like, I think it's interesting that--

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. I mean, it's just kind of fun, like, ooh, craft time, you know?

 

Zoe 

(overlapping) Like, yeah, you know, she was made with--yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, no, you're totally right. Like, I hadn't thought about that, obviously. But...

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. I mean, kind of already see the sort of, like, Christianity associations here.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Like, which we'll sort of see more about that a little bit later. But--yeah, you can already kind of tell this wasn't, like, a indigenous myth. Like it's all about like, oh, you make the sign of the cross and then you're saved, you know?

 

Zoe 

Yeah. Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

In the Güija region, she can appear at any time of the day or night and takes the appearance of a beautiful woman with long hair. She is seen bathing in the (Ostua River or other sources of water and appears to both lustful men and men who are in love. And when she appears to lustful men, she appears as like some beautiful woman, like, some anonymous beautiful woman. But when she appears to men in love, she appears as the object of their affection. So like the girlfriend or wife or whatever.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Which I thought was very interesting. And this one is less like--I feel like it's just kind of less about punishing men because you're also punishing-punishing men who are in love, like faithfully.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Which is interesting.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

And, um, one story said that a man went to find his wife who had gone out walking. When he found her, he lifted her up onto the horse and took her back home. When they arrived, she threw herself off the horse and said, "Look who I am," and showed him her nails. And when he realized it was La Siguanaba, he was paralyzed with fear.

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

Some men managed to escape in the ways I described earlier. and others die of fear.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But yeah, that's kind of key that some men actually do escape because then they get to tell the story to others.

 

Zoe 

Yeah! I mean, yeah, that is key for sure. In, like, stories like this.

 

Lizzie 

An origin story from the city of Antigua, Guatemala says that once she was a beautiful woman with many lovers, and she would kill her lovers when she was tired of them.

 

Zoe 

Mmm.

 

Lizzie 

And when she died, she was judged by God, who condemned her to return to Earth.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm. Well, okay.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Yeah, in this one, it's more God having the power there.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

For sure.

 

Lizzie 

Anyway. Um, next, El Salvador. So, in El Salvador, La Siguanaba was originally known as Sihuehet, meaning "beautiful woman." She married, uh, Yeisun, a Nahua prince, but when he went off to war, she had affairs with other men.

 

Zoe 

Hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Yeah. From-from one of these affairs, she had a son, Cipitio, who she neglected. She then poisoned her husband in an attempt to steal the throne for a lover of hers. Um, but the poison turned Yeisun into a two-headed beast, who attacked people and then was killed.

 

Zoe 

Hmm.

 

Lizzie 

The God Tlaloc condemned Sihuehet and had the Almighty God cursed her. Thereafter, she was known as La Sihuanaba, "horrible woman."

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

She wandered around the countryside looking for men to punish. It is also said that she searches for her son, Cipitio, who was also cursed and remains a young child for eternity.

 

Zoe 

Hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Does that remind you of something?

 

Zoe 

La Llorona.

 

Lizzie 

Exactly. Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

This version is very similar to La Llorona.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

It's also interesting her legend is similar, but her origin stories are, like, very different.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

So in Honduras, um, she's known as La Sucia, which means, like, "dirty girl." La Sucia was once a pretty girl who got engaged when she was 15. On the day of her wedding, the priest asked her to show her baptismal certificate, which she couldn't do since she wasn't baptized. The priest then refused to marry them, in spite of protests that he just baptize her first and then marry them. He said he wouldn't do that, and so, unable to marry her love, she then sank into a deep depression, and her fiance abandoned her. She started wearing her wedding dress everywhere she went, and, uh, one day she was washing clothes at the river--

 

Zoe 

Mmm.

 

Lizzie 

--when she heard news that her fiance was now engaged to someone else.

 

Zoe 

Uh oh.

 

Lizzie 

She was so consumed with despair that she jumped off of the cliff, dying instantly.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

La Sucia appears near rivers and streams dressed in white, particularly to drunk men. She appears to them as the object of their affection or as a figure of a bride, causing the men to run happily towards her until they realize that she is a horrifying monster.

 

Zoe 

Wow.

 

Lizzie 

 And then in Costa Rica, where she is known as La Cegua, her legend is very similar to the Guatemalan version, except for a few variations.

 

Zoe 

Okay.

 

Lizzie 

Sometimes she appears among herds of horses, mounted on one, which causes panic. I mean, it'd be very weird to see a girl riding on a horse, but she has a horse's head.

 

Zoe 

Yeah!

 

Lizzie 

It's a very strange image.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Sometimes she can also appear at dances or at festivals, where she flirts with men and finds one to lead away into a clearing, and when he tries to kiss her, she transforms into her horse-headed form. In terms of her origins, there's a legend that she was a young promiscuous woman who wanted to go to a party, and when her mother forbade her she tried to hit her mother, who then--

 

Zoe 

Oh!

 

Lizzie 

--cursed her and turned her into La Siguanaba.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Or La Cigua. And others believe that she's a demonic manifestation.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, I see.

 

Lizzie 

So in Mexico, she's known to have Macihuatli, or Matlazihua, and is also connected to La Xtabay and La Llorona.

 

Zoe 

(overlapping) Yes, I thought she sounded very similar to La Xtabay.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, right? Yeah. And some think that La Llorona is the same figure. But, um, Celso Lara Figueroa disagrees. Although they have many traits in common, their motivations and character are distinct.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

And um, La Siguanaba dresses in white. La Llorona dresses in black, doesn't she?

 

Zoe 

I think she also dresses in white, actually.

 

Lizzie 

See that's--I wasn't sure about that. 'Cause this source said that she was dressed in black and I was like, wait, does she? But she is similar, and they both have--and they both--

 

Zoe 

(overlapping) Well, it might vary. That might be something that varies.

 

Lizzie 

True. And they're both near bodies of water--

 

Zoe 

(overlapping) I know that La Xtabay dresses in white, though.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, this, um, source told me that, like, this is, like--La Xtabay's like a different name for the same figure. I'm not sure about that, because they seem, like, very different to me. Like, super different origins stories.

 

Zoe 

(overlapping) Yeah, well La Xtabay a very specific--yeah, has a specific origin story that doesn't reflect what you've said or any of the stories you've said already, so.

 

Lizzie 

Right?

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

But I guess it'll make sense that all the different, like, vengeful spirit seductive ladies in the same kind of area would be, like, linked.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. And there's a lot of them, which is very interesting.

 

Lizzie 

There are a lot of them. It is!

 

Zoe  

Like, specifically in, like, Central America. There are a lot of vengeful, seductive spirits.

 

Lizzie 

Well, yeah. Like, you have to wonder, like, about all these similarities. Like, there's so many different figures with, like, really similar characteristics.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

And it's just interesting. I'm not gonna spend, like, a big study on it. I haven't really found anything about the sort of motif--

 

Lizzie 

(overlapping) It'd be really interesting to look into. But yeah. I don't-I don't think she's the same as La Llorona or La Xtabay. But there you go. She's also linked to La Sayona, a vengeful spirit in Venezuela who punishes men who cheat on their wives.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, that would be really interesting.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But other than that, those stories aren't really that similar. Also, La Llorona isn't a horse.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

And yeah, so her most common stories obviously involve her as, like, a adult woman who's, like, seductive. Um, but there's a few mentions of where she doesn't just appear to men but also to children.

 

Zoe 

Oh!

 

Lizzie 

In which case she takes on the appearance of the child's mother.

 

Zoe 

Oh!

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, isn't that creepy?

 

Zoe 

This is--I mean, yeah, that's really creepy (laughs).

 

Lizzie 

I know, and after being touched by La Siguanaba, the child goes crazy.

 

Zoe 

Oh, gosh.

 

Lizzie 

But this isn't-this isn't that common. The variants I did see, like, once or twice.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

I also saw one that said that sometimes she appears as a child to lure people, but I saw that once and then didn't really have a source on it, so I'm not really sure.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But that could be a possible variant as well.

 

Zoe 

Okay. Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

So, yeah (laughs). I also find it interesting that she doesn't appear to women, like, at all.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah! So Celso Lara Figueroa also connects La Siguanaba to an old Spanish spirit called La Lavandera, or The Laundress.

 

Zoe 

Mm!

 

Lizzie 

Or, you know, washerwoman.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Who is seen washing clothes at riverbanks on moonless nights, which I did mention the washing clothes thing.

 

Zoe 

Sounds like a banshee.

 

Lizzie 

Oh, does it?

 

Zoe 

I think so. Don't banshees wash clothes of, like, the--

 

Lizzie 

I don't know.

 

Zoe 

--soon to be dead--

 

Lizzie 

Maybe.

 

Zoe 

--as well as, like, scream.

 

Lizzie 

I know that--I know the screaming part.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

I don't know. But yeah, so he argues that the conception of La Siguanaba was not something that was previously found in indigenous populations. It was likely a variant of such Spanish figures as La Lavandera. Her legend was created by the colonizers to instill fear in the indigenous population and to, like, discourage them from going after their women.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

You know, like after the-the white women, the colonizers' women, etc.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

I have a quote from Lara Figueroa. Also this source was in Spanish. I actually had our friends translate it for me.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

So quote, "they [the conquistadores] needed barriers to live apart from them. To the Spanish, we owe the doors and the windows. They created Andalusian houses to protect their women.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

So yeah. I mean, it really doesn't shock one to hear about this, like, if you know anything about, like, legends from around colonial time--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--of, like, colonized places, like, of course, there's a colonial association as well.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

It didn't say this in the article that I'm quoting, but I imagine there was a sense of moralistic control, like, specifically in regards to Christianity. Like, um, associated with the conversion to Christianity.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Like, they want to convert them, and for them to behave in ways that they found to be moral. Like, it wasn't just about scaring them, but it was also about like, making, like, a good Christian society or whatever, you know?

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

So, what do you think?

 

Zoe 

Yeah, well, I mean, I think that this very much sounds like moralistic control. I think that--well, one of the things that really stuck out to me from the beginning was from, like, the Guatemalan story, which is when you were talking about how she can appear in the daytime, as well as, like, at night, she can appear anywhere. And she can appear also, like she's sort of an urban spirit as well as, you know--

 

Zoe 

--she can appear in the city as well. And so that just kind of sounds like she could be anyone, like, any woman you see.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah!

 

Zoe 

It could be her, you, you don't know, you could, like, talk to any woman and suddenly she's, like, has a skull face or, like, a horse head? Like, you just don't know. And like to that extent, I feel like it's basically just discouraging men from trying to pursue any woman. And that is--like, that feels very much like a form of control, of, like--

 

Lizzie 

Right?

 

Lizzie 

Definitely.

 

Zoe 

Any of these woman could be this horrifying spirit, so you should just play it safe and not go after any of them. It's different than the other stories we have where it's like often Oh, this woman is found by, like, a river or this woman is found, like, in-in the forest, you know?

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, definitely.

 

Zoe 

You sort of have that sort of context of like, okay, if I see a beautiful woman in the forest, I should probably not go after her and then, like, the people who are like, Oh no, I'm gonna go after this beautiful woman in the forest because I wanna be with a beautiful woman in the forest or the people who are like, you know, the most sinful and like, lecherous men--

 

Lizzie 

(laughs) Definitely.

 

Zoe 

--who just can't control themselves 'cause they just need to be with this beautiful woman they see and then they, you know, get what's coming to them because--

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, that makes sense. Like, don't go in the woods at night, don't follow strange women etc.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, like--

 

Lizzie 

But this is more than that.

 

Zoe 

But this is just kind of like if you go towards any woman, like, no matter what it could be the-the horrible demonic woman that they're telling you about.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Yeah, I do also think it's interesting that, like, this sort of developed among, like, a more natural landscape, you know, rivers and whatever clearings for it, but then it sort of evolved with, like, cities and everything. Like something I was kind of reading about as well about how it persists in like, you know, big cities as well. It's not just about--and like, she'll also, like, lead people out to the rivers and forests and whatever.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

But yeah, you're totally right.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. And that just--it kind of sounds like, don't experience any attraction, don't experience any lust or else something really awful is gonna happen to you.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, lust is bad, people.

 

Zoe 

And--yeah, so that sounds, like, very much like a kind of moralistic control, especially when you consider, like, the sort of anti-miscegenation--

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, definitely.

 

Zoe 

--agenda that the colonizers probably had. So.

 

Lizzie 

Definitely. Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

For sure. What do you make of the whole horse thing?

 

Zoe 

I don't know. I think it's really interesting.

 

Lizzie 

Right? (laughs)

 

Zoe 

My--okay, so my thought. I don't know. So, horses do not--are not native to North America.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, I read that they were brought by the Spanish colonizers.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. So I feel like it's sort of like this--I mean, I don't know. If you had lived--you and your family had lived for thousands upon thousands of years in one place and had never seen a horse (Lizzie laughs). And then suddenly now horses are there--

 

Lizzie 

You would think the horses were weird (laughs).

 

Zoe 

The horses are weird. I'm--we are familiar with horses. Yeah!

 

Lizzie 

I mean, all animals that you've never seen before are weird.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. It's something you're unfamiliar with. It's pretty--it's kind of freaky.

 

Lizzie 

See, that's interesting, 'cause what I was kind of thinking was that, like, horses at this time of like, you know, the beginning of colonization, and like, you know, afterwards, horses were really important. Everyone rode horses everywhere. Like they weren't cars. Horses were really important.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

That's what I was sort of thinking, like, that they're so, like, a commonplace everyday animal that it just wasn't that weird. But--see, I was also wondering about the horse things. I couldn't find anything--a really good, like, analysis about the horse thing. And I was really wondering, like, why a horse?

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

I didn't find a clear answer. But I--

 

Zoe 

Yeah. I mean, I think that it's also true that horses played a significant part in the colonization process, because--

 

Lizzie 

Definitely. That's so true.

 

Zoe 

--they gave the European colonizers an advantage. Because you know, you're higher up, you can move faster. You know? Like...

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Yeah! They were used a lot in battle, like--

 

Zoe 

Yeah, and so in that way, there's a sort of negative connotation there of like, this weird thing that's alive, but also sort of being used as like a machine against you is--

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, it definitely would be really freaky to, like--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah! It would be different than if you saw someone with a head of like, a more normal animal, right? Like a cat? I don't know.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, like a cat, or--I don't know, an animal--like, a bird that you're familiar with. Like, I mean, that would still be weird--

 

Lizzie 

It would still be weird! (laughs) But um--

 

Zoe 

But yeah, a horse is very specific. I mean, also, maybe they just thought horses were like, really ugly (Lizzie laughs). And it would be like, the worst thing you could possibly imagine being on a woman's body is a horse's head.

 

Lizzie 

(overlapping) That's true. That could have also been the case.

 

Zoe 

Like, can you imagine? You know.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. I mean, it would be weird. Do you remember, like, a few years ago when people were wearing those, like, horse head masks?

 

Zoe 

Yeah!

 

Lizzie 

It was like, really common meme thing.

 

Zoe 

(overlapping) I don't--that was really creepy.

 

Lizzie 

It was--it was weird. I don't--I didn't understand it. But it's true. It's just weird seeing a human with a horse head.

 

Zoe 

(laughs) Yeah. I mean, that could have been it as well, like--(Lizzie laughs) or any combination of those things.

 

Lizzie 

(overlapping) Yeah, like it's weird.

 

Zoe 

Like, you were just like, oh my gosh, can you imagine if you're trying to, like, seduce a woman and suddenly she had a horse head? (Lizzie laughs) Like, that sounds like a bad dream that you would have, you know, like...

 

Lizzie 

It really does. And I was thinking about how horses appear a lot in mythology.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Like, mythological horses, like horses with, like, wings or, like, magical powers or, like, in the sea were, like, very, very common. But relatively few creatures were, like, half-human, half-horse or like--

 

Lizzie 

--human, but with equine features. I know centaur-centaurs, but, like, other than that...like, um, there was the Anggitay in the Philippines, and, um, centauresses in Greek mythology. And, um, the other examples I found were, like, masculine creatures like Polkan from Russian folklore and, um--

 

Zoe 

Well--

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

--Horse-Face, or Mamian, from Chinese mythology, and the each-uisge from Scottish folklore. And I weirdly found fewer half-horse type creatures that I thought it would. And that was most of them.

 

Zoe 

interesting.

 

Lizzie 

But also she isn't, like, half-horse. She's, like, human, but with horse-like features. And you know what I just kind of realized? Centaurs are like the opposite because centaurs are like human top, horse bottom. And she's-she's the reverse.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. Yeah, also centaurs generally don't have a very positive reputation in mythology either.

 

Lizzie 

Do they not?

 

Zoe 

No. I mean, there's obviously Chiron, who is, like, the--he's the exception, but for the most part, they're, like, really raucous, they're always drunk (Lizzie laughs), they're pillaging and raiding villages and carrying off women. Like, uh, they're not good--

 

Lizzie 

Oh, okay. Yeah.

 

Zoe 

They're not good people.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Yeah, a lot of the horse creatures that I found were, like, neutral to negative.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. I mean, they're not really like--

 

Lizzie 

That's interesting.

 

Zoe 

You know, you're not, like,, going to war against them specifically, but you don't want them, like, near your city, basically.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, horses aren't, like, that scary. I get they're big, and they're powerful, but they're not like--I don't  know. It's not like a bear, you wouldn't see a horse and run. Or would you? I don't know, maybe you would.

 

Zoe 

It might depend on the horse, I don't know (laughs). I also think that probably we might not be able to understand, like, the amount of power that horses were seen as giving a--like, a person or a group of people because of, like--

 

Lizzie 

True.

 

Zoe 

 --how the world has changed since, like, the 1800s.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, I have not been, like, near a horse basically my whole life.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, like, we have cars now and other, like, giant machines--

 

Zoe 

--but before a car, it was, like, the horse was the thing.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah (laughs).

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, horses were, like, everything.

 

Zoe 

If your army was on horses, you were like, unstoppable. If you were fighting against someone--people that weren't on horses.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Yeah, horses were really the only way of traveling.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Other than, you know, walking (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

And they were also important in battle. They--well, actually, I don't know. Were they important in other ways? Maybe. I don't know.

 

Zoe 

I mean, they could probably carry--help carry stuff, you know? Like, pull things?

 

Lizzie 

Yeah--well, yeah, yeah, transport...

 

Zoe 

Carts.

 

Lizzie 

And they were--yeah, horses were, like, a big deal.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. So I feel like there's probably a certain level of power that horses embody that we just don't get now.

 

Lizzie 

That's true.

 

Zoe 

Or feel as much.

 

Lizzie 

If you live in a place where there's, um, no way of going places besides walking, and you had also never seen a horse before, and suddenly, people are, like, riding in on these horses.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, that'd be really creepy.

 

Zoe 

And you're like, Whoa, that person's going like 10 times faster than me (Lizzie laughs). And they aren't tired because they're riding on top of this animal that's doing the work for them.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. And um, I--like I said, I don't have, like, a clear answer. I was thinking about it, thinking about, like, horse symbolism and whatever. I also read in one source that La Siguanaba appeared to herdsmen, and just, like, sort of combined with that about horses being kind of like man's loyal companion and symbolism, like strength and big victory.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

I thought it was maybe just, like, frightening for women to suddenly have a horse head because of their importance.

 

Lizzie 

Like I was kind of saying, and, um, apparently horses can also represent impulsiveness, the impetuousness of desire and virility, um, which go along with La Siguanaba's characterization of--as seductive, possibly, like--yeah, as you were saying, horses are just, like, powerful.

 

Zoe 

Yeah!

 

Zoe 

Yeah. It's like, if you're a primarily, like, agricultural society, if you have horses, they're gonna be on your mind a lot more.

 

Lizzie 

And the thing with them being very, very linked to the colonizers.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, yeah. I think it makes sense, even if you don't have, like, a clear answer of where that came from. Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. But it is definitely--it's a very distinct detail. Like--

 

Lizzie 

It is! It's so specific.

 

Zoe 

I think if someone were to ask me what's--when it comes to, like, encounters, how would you know if you had encountered La Xtabay versus this woman, it would be like, probably, if she had a horse head, you know?

 

Lizzie 

Yeah! Exactly (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Like, La Xtabay doesn't have a horse head, you know?

 

Lizzie 

Exactly.

 

Zoe 

That--it's definitely is a very distinguishing feature-feature of her. So.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. It's really distinctive. (Laughs) I love how long we were just talking about horses (both laugh). Horse lore. Um, it was fun. I thought it was really fun. Anyway (laughs), so I also want to talk about--this is, this is for the horse girls out there (laughs).

 

Zoe 

This is for our horse girl fans.

 

Lizzie 

Including, um--

 

Zoe 

Margot.

 

Lizzie 

--our friend Margot, who helped--who helps translate the thing that I read earlier (laughs). So, yeah. (Laughs) Um, so. I also want to talk about the sort of water symbolism.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

So, um, what do you make of that, the whole water thing?

 

Zoe 

Well, yeah. So this is something I've looked into before because water symbolism plays in so often into this kind of spirit.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah!

 

Zoe 

And it's really interesting. And I feel like, well, water can symbolize fertility, which is a big thing.

 

Lizzie 

Yes. Yes.

 

Zoe 

Um, it's also something that can be both life-giving and life-taking, you know.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Um, it's both helpful and dangerous. Yeah, I think those are the main things that I've--like, the conclusions that I've drawn from, like, the research that I've looked into for that.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. And, um, like I said, like, there's a lot of different variations in her story, but I feel like the one thing that is sort of universal about all the versions is that it's like her association with water, like, riverbanks, streams, ravines, lakes, public baths, like, they all basically appear, in at least--in most of them, at least in some way, which--yeah, I mean, in folklore, women's associations with water is really common. It's found in all sorts of cultures that aren't connected to each other. The water aspect of the legend of  La Siguanaba can also be seen as a continuation of the original Spanish La Lavandera, where she is wearing clothes in the river. Um, additionally, and you were saying this, but water can represent fertility, birth and rebirth, and transformation.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

And I was wondering if the water motif in the story could have anything to do with baptism? That's like a really, really common association with water in, like, literature and stuff, or like some other sort of purification. Like, the Honduran story of the young bride who wasn't baptized presents this connection very explicitly. Like, she literally was, like, punished because she wasn't baptized, which then sort of led to her becoming this monster. And--yeah, and I feel like that really also ties the story with colonialism. Like, it's already so tied with colonialism I feel like the baptism thing could be plausible.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, for sure. There's also, like, a lot of mythology or folklore of, like, evil creatures not being able to cross running water.

 

Lizzie 

Oh, is there?

 

Zoe 

Which is interesting. Yeah. Like vampires'll, in a lot of stories--

 

Lizzie 

Oh, yeah.

 

Zoe 

--can't cross running water.

 

Lizzie 

True.

 

Zoe 

So.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

It's just interesting.

 

Lizzie 

I don't know. 'Cause, it's not like--she's not, like, a sea creature. She's just always near water, or in.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. So she's in water?

 

Lizzie 

I don't know.

 

Zoe 

Okay.

 

Lizzie 

Well, they were saying sometimes she goes to, like, public fountains and stuff and bathes.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. I was just thinking, like, for the woman who didn't get baptized, like, the idea of her being, like, always around the water but never being able to go into it or something. I don't know if that's the story.

 

Lizzie 

Ah, yeah. I mean, she does actually, like jump off the cliff. I don't know if she jumped off the cliff onto land or into water, but I feel like if it was into water, that would be a good, uh, thematic--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--ending. Yeah, so like, we were talking a lot about colonialism. Part of me is hesitant to, like, celebrate La Siguanaba the way we normally do, where we're like, oh my God, she's so cool. Because just with what I know about it being a colonial narrative, um, that was, like, meant to keep the population fearful. But on the other hand, there are Central American feminists who have begun to just, like, reclaim her story.

 

Zoe 

Cool.

 

Lizzie 

Ana Patricia Rodriguez writes in her article, "The Fiction of Solidarity: Transfronterista Feminisms and Anti-Imperialist Struggles in Central American Transnational Narratives," about how La Siguanaba represents the strength of Central American women. So, quote from that, "A water spirit representing fertility and life, she may also be read as a symbol of female desire, sexuality, strength, resilience, and resistance to patriarchy, neocolonialism, and imperialism. Like La Llorona[...], La Siguanaba is a survivor of imperial(ist) violence, transcultural mediator, and a survivalist in different worlds." End quote. So even though her legend does have colonial origins, there was also something to be said about how she also embodies the strength and, like, courage of Central American women, and how she is, like, a protector of women.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

And how she can also be seen as a survivor of colonial violence, not just like, sort of way of perpetrating it.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Um, so the poet Dago Flores, wrote a poem called "Sihuehuet. La otra leyenda," where La Siguanaba isn't an immoral monster, but rather a victim of slander. It also portrays her as a survivor of colonial violence who decided to stand up for women, and was then punished with the legend as we know it, which is actually full of lies. Which I think is an interesting, like, way of viewing it. Because it's like, don't believe everything you hear about, like, evil women, like, sometimes it's just not like that, which is super fair.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

And yeah. I mean, I'm really glad to hear that there are Central American feminists and writers, like, sort of taking a totally different approach other than, like, this is an evil woman.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

And yeah, I think that's really nice. I think that's a--it was a nice little discovery.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, for sure. Yeah. I mean, I think that it's a really interesting story. And I think that--I mean, I think all your research is really interesting. I think also that, you know, the influence of the church or--in colonization on, um, Central America is obviously incredibly profoundly impactful.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. I mean, it is very intrinsically tied to this sort of story, not just with Siguanaba, but also similar thinkers as well.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. Like colonization has, like, drastically influenced the culture and lives of women in Central America. And so, like...

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, like, even still, like, people today still, like, swear on her existence.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm. Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

And so I think that, you know, obviously, she is a very significant figure in people's lives. And I think that feminists, reclaiming her is really awesome.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. I think her story is, like, really interesting the way--the thing that, like, first attracted me to it was the horse thing. I thought it was really interesting, and fun. And then I learned that she was also, like, punishes abusive men. I thought that was awesome. And, um, now I know that she's, like, a colonial narrative used to control people. Lots of little twists in this story.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. I mean, I think that the idea that you know, since she started out--like, she potentially started out as a colonial narrative means that the people that she was like, imposed on can't do anything about her, like, change her to shape their own ideas and thoughts.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

I think that absolutely they can. You know, she is their figure now.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Like--like the idea that she's not only--or, like--not only like-like, a negative symbol of the colonization, but also a victim of this colonization, that she could be sort of, like reclaimed.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

I think that's also very nice.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, it's very interesting story.

 

Lizzie 

Like, it was so many variations. Like, I didn't even get to--

 

Zoe 

Yeah, absolutely.

 

Lizzie 

--everything that I came across, and I'm sure there's even more that hasn't been written down, or that I didn't come across, but, um...yeah.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much to everyone for listening. If you enjoyed it, please feel free to subscribe, leave a review, tell all your friends, donate to our Ko-fi, and we'll be back in two weeks with another episode. Thank you so much.

 

Lizzie 

Thank you.

 

Zoe 

See you. Bye.

 

Outro, underscored by music:

 

Zoe 

Mytholadies Podcast is produced by Elizabeth Lacroix and Zoe Koeninger. Today's episode was researched and presented by Elizabeth Lacroix. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter @Mytholadies and visit us on our website at mytholadies.com. Our cover art is by Helena Cailleaux. Our music was written and performed by Icarus Tyree. Thank you for listening. See you next time.