Mexican folklore is filled with twisted tales of wild beasts, wicked witches, and medicine men—often served up with a pinch of Aztec mythology weaved in. The terrifying tales they tell South of the border rarely make it up to those of us in the United States, the legends always stand out for their unusually spooky elements.
We all know the tragic tale of La Llorona. Most of us have also heard of duendes, and their creepy behavior. What many folklore fans might not know about, though, is the wicked witch known as la lechuza.
What Is La Lechuza?
The lechuza is a mythical creature in Mexican folklore. It is a witch who has the ability to transform into an animal, usually a big bird, such as an owl or a crow. Apparently, the lechuza is able to change into whatever she pleases. The transformation can be done with or without her consent, but usually she doesn’t mind because the lechuza gets paid for her services.
A witch’s power is an important part of Mexican folklore, probably because there were many superstitions surrounding them and they were seen as powerful beings that must be respected. Lechuza literally means “owl. Birds of prey are associated with evil, so they are often associated with witches.
The lechuza is thought to control the souls of men and bring them to their deaths, though its true intentions are often unclear because she makes deals with both good and evil people.
The lechuza is not necessarily malevolent. She merely does what she must do to survive, though she usually takes an interest in activities that are dangerous or forbidden by others.
When an owl or a witch – or both – turns into a lechuza, she usually retains her identity and powers. It is said that the lechuza does not usually allow herself to turn into an animal unless it is for money, because she would otherwise lose her powers. Also, if the head of the lechuza changes, so does her power and strength.
The worst part about it is that there isn’t just one lechuza, but rather, an entire cabal of women who have the ability to shapeshift into owls. So, there’s a chance that they could hunt in packs.
The Origins Of La Lechuza
The origin of the term is obscure. One theory is that it is Spanish, and refers to the witches’ dress, which was made of owl feathers (lechuzar). The lechuza has also been used in many folk tales and local legends of western Mexico, including Puebla and Jalisco. The term is also used interchangeably with the Spanish word bruja (“witch”), though it is commonly translated as “owl” in English.
Many Mexican folk tales have a pretty set-in-stone origin, but the story behind la lechuza isn’t one of them. This is one of the few legends floating around Mexico that doesn’t really have a solid backstory behind it. No one knows how the legend got started, or why la lechuza even exists.
There are several explanations as to why this creature (or type of witch) exists. All that we know for sure is that rumors of the “barn owl” have been discussed prior to the age of the conquistadors.
Some believe that lechuzas are women who were murdered by their lovers, and live to seek revenge on those who wronged them. Others believe that the origin of la lechuza is simply dark magic taken to an extreme level.
One of the more popular origin stories involving la lechuza suggests that lechuzas are women who practiced witchcraft, but were exposed by villagers. After villagers killed the witches, lechuzas swore to seek revenge on the people who harmed them—and anyone else who got in their way.
Feasting On People
The fearsome appearance of a lechuza isn’t the only reason to fear these flying witches. Legend states that they feast on people, and that they attack people in order to feed themselves. Some even suggest that these witches will go so far as to lure people out of their homes with the right noises.
Lechuzas’ talons are very large, and are capable of taking a fully-grown man off the ground while in flight. Sightings suggest that they can even pick up and try to carry a car if they are hungry enough to do so. A lechuza’s hunger knows no bounds, and she will do anything to hunt down victims for her next feast.
Recent reports of lechuza sightings also added a new aspect to the legend that wasn’t there before. According to people who have claimed to see la lechuza in real life, these witches have the ability to drain a car’s battery in order to render a person helpless on the road.
Considering how a classic aspect of la lechuza’s powers involve the ability to control thunder and lightning, there may be a connection here. Maybe these witches have a special connection to electricity.
One of the more positive(?) rumors about la lechuza deals with the people she chooses to attack. According to this rumor, la lechuza only attacks people who have done evil things to women or who have evil in their hearts.
If you see a lechuza and she doesn’t attack you, it means that she’s there to warn you of tragedy. Even so, the vast majority of people who had close run-ins with la lechuza never seem to live long after.
Is She Nearby?
If you want to survive a run-in with a lechuza, it’s a good idea to hide or stay alert at the signs she might be around. Though her cry is the most common sign that she’s around, there are other ways to see if you have an owl witch nearby…
One of the stranger aspects of the lechuza legend is her strange tie-in with storms. Mystics believe that these owl witches are capable of causing thunderstorms out of the blue.
According to Texano tales, if you notice strange thunderstorm patterns in your area, a lechuza might be linked to it. No one knows why stormy weather is so deeply tied to these witches or why it’s linked to birds.
Shadows Of Large Birds
Though la lechuza is known for having the head of a woman and the body of a large owl, many sightings don’t have her trademark human features. She sometimes shows up in the form of an owl the size of a human being.
If you see a shadow of an owl that seems abnormally tall, be careful! It could be a lechuza in her full avian form.
Bird Songs At Night
An old school omen suggests that you can tell la lechuza is close by if you’re hearing bird songs at night. Considering how unnatural this is, it makes sense.
La Lechuza’s Cry
People in Mexico don’t just fear running into an owl witch; they dread even hearing her call. According to the legend, hearing a lechuza’s call is a sign that a cherished loved one will die—or that you will end up being her next meal.
Whistling In The Woods
The trademark noise of a lechuza isn’t a hawk-like screech or an owl-like hoot. Instead, this cryptid makes a series of whistles when it wants to get attention. Most often, the whistles occur in batches of three.
Several rumors surround the whistling noise lechuzas make. Some believe that it’s a way that these witches communicate with one another. Others say it’s a noise they make when they are about to start hunting.
Crying Like A Baby
Considering how unsettling la lechuza looks, most people would run as soon as they see these owl-women nearby. That’s why they tend to be crafty when it comes to finding their prey. To ensnare people into traps, lechuzas hide up in treetops and start to mimic sounds of innocent creatures in need of help.
Sometimes when they hunt, they will sound like a baby crying. Other times, it will sound like a kitten stuck up in a tree or a puppy barking. People who are foolish enough to venture into the woods after hearing those sounds are never seen alive again.
Facing La Lechuza
Considering how deadly la lechuza is reputed to be, it can seem nigh impossible to stand up to such a beast. Few who have lived to tell the tale, and mystics who have seen this creature often die within a matter of days in mysterious manners.
Though lechuzas are seriously dangerous, they aren’t infallible. If you believe the rumors to be true, there are ways to ward off these creatures and prevent being their next dinner:
- Line your home with salt. For reasons unknown to us, salt is universally viewed as a material capable of warding off evil. Unsurprisingly, lechuzas can’t stand salt. Placing some nearby will prevent them from lurking near your home.
- Curse at it. You’d think that monsters wouldn’t care about foul language, but you’d be wrong. Apparently cursing at la lechuza will make her go away.
- Don’t bother with traditional weaponry. The very same magic that makes la lechuza shapeshift also makes her impervious to traditional weapons like knives and guns.
- If you hear a lechuza’s cry or see the shadow of a large owl nearby, don’t go outside. The best way to prevent falling victim to these “barn owls” is to stay inside if you hear their calls or see the shadow of a large bird perched on your roof.
- Avoid eye contact. It’s believed that direct eye contact with a lechuza can give them the ability to steal your soul or shapeshift into you.