Note: This article was originally published as part of our “100 Days of Halloween” series. Please enjoy the legend and lore of the women at the river!
100 Days of Halloween: The Woman at the River – Legendary Terror
A woman is standing next to a river. A baby is in her arms, obviously distressed. Maybe weeping, it’s kind of hard to tell.
What do you do? Leave her to her own devices? Risk frightening her to offer help?
That’s right, you are a nice person. You offer help. The woman turns, grateful, and hands you the child. (It’s not strange at all to hand your child to a random passerby. Maybe her arms are tired.)
Suddenly that little bundle of warmth is a bundle of tiny boulders, weighing you down. You can’t move.
The woman before you grows scales, claws, and a tail—we’re taking a 300 meter long tail. The last thing you see is the snake woman’s long tongue jab forward. It pierces your neck and, BAM, now you’re dead.
All for being a Good Samaritan. No wonder some people are cynics.
Such is the legend of the japanese nure-onna (wet woman).
While the end of the tale veers off into typical Japanese weirdness, the archetypal figure of the Woman at the River is something you are probably familiar with in one form or another.
When we do our @TheMonsterGuys panels or talks at conventions, one of the monsters we get asked about the most is La Llorona, the Weeping Woman.
It starts out similar—a woman is at the water, weeping while washing clothing or holding children, depending on what version you hear. (We’ll get back to the washing of clothes later.)
In Mexico, La Llorona is a ghost looking for her children, who themselves drowned due to one circumstance or another. According to one of the more famous versions of the legend, it was La Llorona herself that drowned them, and now she searches in grief and guilt. It is said that children that wander near her will be kidnapped, as La Llorona believes they are hers.
Effectively, she is the “Don’t Sneak Out of the House at Night” boogeyman.
There are similar stories also all across Europe, one of my favorites being Jenny Greenteeth,a witch who lures children into the river to drown them. The Irish kelpie (water horse) also bears similarity, if only in location and the favorite hobby of drowning people, as well as the ancient siren.
And let’s not forget another Woman at the River, the banshee. This shape-shifting female spirit is known best for her keening wails. The material that she washes at the river is a funeral shroud, and her cries are simply to let people know that someone is about to die.
The banshee (bansidhe, woman of the faerie mounds) was thought sometimes to be an ancestral spirit of influential, old families in Ireland and Scotland. When she keened, it was for a member of those families. There was a dark side to her legend, though, in which the faerie woman would spirit away children, never to be seen again.
So the next time you see a woman crying at the river…beware your chivalry and kind thoughts. They may introduce you to a terror you are unwilling to face.
Guard your children, cover your ears, and keep a good distance between any river spirits and yourself.
Please do us a favor and Follow us on Twitter, and share with your friends. We love ya’ for it!