In the Hispanic folklore of Mexico and Texas, tales are told of a strange shapeshifting witch known as La Lechusa. In Spanish, the word lechusa(also spelled lechuza) simply means “owl.” In New Mexico the Hispanic people use the word tecolote for owl. According to legend, La Tecolote was once a curandera (someone who practices white magic) who, after being exposed as a witch (or bruja), was killed by the angry and frightened townspeople. Folklore says that she returned from beyond the grave as a ghost to seek revenge upon those who murdered her in the form of an owl. Sometimes, she is the ghost of a woman who was widowed by a man who remarried, or was the devoted wife of an unfaithful husband. At least, that’s what they say.
My short story, “Tecolote Woman” is set in New Mexico and based on folklore and legends I have heard from Hispanic students in my classroom.
Tecolote Woman – Part 1
It was common knowledge in the village of La Liendre on the Gallinas River that Adelita Desideria de Herrera was a witch. As proof, witnesses swore they had seen her fly at night from the open window of her adobe hut in the persona of a great horned owl—undoubtedly seeking unsuspecting men or children to bewitch and carry away. More than one person had disappeared in this manner. Furthermore, the story spread around that she kept a tiny shrunken man in a jar on her table. If you listened carefully at night when the moon was full you could hear him screaming to be set free. That is why everyone in La Liendre closed and locked their shutters at night. That also explains why Adelita had never married, had never known a man in fact, even though she was far more beautiful than any other woman in the valley. No man was brave enough to go near her.
Adelita contemplated this as she walked along the river searching for quelite and wild garlic. “Asi es mi vida,” she sighed to the long meandering cliff that hung above the river, and her thoughts returned to the dinner she would prepare for the evening meal. She quickly filled her basket with tender young greens and started to climb the bluff toward the place where osha grew. The roots of this herb made a pungent tea that was good for many ailments. Her mother had been a curandera, a healer, and had taught Adelita the secrets of making herbal medicines and teas. But then, jealousy had turned the community against her, and Adelita’s father fled, leaving them to fend for themselves. They had managed, through resourcefulness and ingenuity, and, due to the superstitions of the village people, were left alone. But it had been a lonely life. And, now her mother was gone as well.