Cryptids and Legendary Creatures

Matlazihua: Demon Woman of Oaxaca

In October of 2017 Mexican writer Abdel Chincoya penned this in the latest edition of Razón magazine, translated from Spanish:

“Last weekend I visited Oaxaca with two friends who are a couple. We had dinner under the portales, we tried the mole and I left for the hotel in good time. I let my companions continue their evening. During their stroll, they encountered a beautiful young woman in a typical blanket blouse who offered them crafts to take home with them, so my friends agreed to buy them.  They were distracted for a moment looking for money and the woman disappeared. A voice whispered in their ears, ‘I don’t want your pay, I want your soul.’ For a moment they froze and did not see anyone, they felt they had lost their breath.  As much as they tried to move, their body did not react and their skin was prickly and pale.”

The next day Chincoya and his friends asked the locals if others had had similar encounters with this strange woman.  A few nodded, a few chuckled.  What happened was a genuine 21st Century sighting of the Matlazihua.

According to the official Oaxacan Tourism web site, the Matlazihua is the spirit of an evil woman, dressed in white, who appears late at night and into the early dawn, and preys on intoxicated and/or very lonely men.  The Matlazihua is very beautiful and entices her victim to follow her.  Her prime time to lure away the drunk and lovelorn is between 1 am and 3 am.  A man who is under the Matlazihua’s spell may have very little memory of the event, and often snaps out of his trance state if they walk into something or stumble.  Those who do not snap out of it are never seen again.

The legend of the Matlazihua, like so many modern-day legends in Mexico, may date back thousands of years.  The modern name of this phantom woman, Matlazihua, derives from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.  Her name was once Matlazihuatl, which loosely translates to “The woman who traps.”  As the Matlazihua legend is not found in central Mexico, the Aztecs probably gave their own name to an older, local legend when they conquered the Valley of Oaxaca in the late 1400s.  They must have seen some similarities between the Matlazihua and the wife of their own god of death, Mictlantecuhtli, a goddess named Mictecacihuatl.  For more information about Mictlantecuhtli and his wife, please see Mexico Unexplained episode number 170.

There are many versions to the Matlazihua legend which may also indicate extreme age.  While in Oaxaca City she may be one thing, in the rural areas she is something a little different and may also have a different name.  Accounts in the folklore literature going back centuries, we see the Matlazihua also called La Matlazigua, La Bandolera and La Gobezguia.  She is not always the beautiful temptress dressed in white.  In some early colonial accounts of the legend, she is a shape-shifting witch who can assume the form of a small child or a giant, with the intent of causing harm or causing the victim to slip into some sort of vice while in a trance state.  The Matlazihua behaves in this way because she has been wronged by society and lives a marginalized existence.  These early accounts find the creature disappearing in a puff of smoke.  These early Spanish descriptions may be the closest information available about the legend and what it must have been like before the Conquest.  There are some reports in Colonial Mexico of the Matlazihua being a former slave woman or a woman of mixed African descent.  The legend switching races from indigenous to African may have to do with the treatment of African women or women with mixed African ancestry during colonial times.  Many female slaves or descendants of slaves carried with them African knowledge of traditional healing practices and rituals that were often classified as “sorcery” by Spanish colonial officials.  In the archives of the Holy Inquisition in Mexico City, black women are represented in greater numbers as a percentage of population than other races or than men of any race.  This association of African or Afro-Mexican women with sorcery and supernatural evil forces could have played a role in the legends claiming the Matlazihua was a darker-skinned woman.  In many stories, the Matlazihua has no feet or black lamb feet.  In some varieties of the legend, she has just one foot and is thus easy to track.  Sometimes the Matlazihua travel in pairs if there is a couple they would like to stalk.  One being will turn into a male and the other a female to enchant the proper member of the couple.  In one legend, the pair of hunting Matlazihua are described as having blond hair and an addiction to cigarettes.  Although with some variations, most of the legends of the Matlazihua focus on her luring away drunken or lovesick men to their deaths or to trick them into committing unspeakable acts.

Mexican folklorist Claudia Padilla has written down this story about the Matlazihua gathered from a small town in the countryside of Oaxaca, loosely translated from Spanish:

Legend has it that a long time ago in the town of Santa María Sola de Vega, Oaxaca, there was a young man named José Antonio who liked women a lot.  He did not care if they were ugly, beautiful, fat, tall, short, single, married or widowed. For José Antonio, they were all the same.  He was tall, and handsome, and had a thick, well-trimmed mustache.  When José Antonio lacked money, he sold cattle belonging to his father, or, rather, his father’s employer. His father was a hired hand at a cattle ranch. When he saw his son in trouble the father would say to him in a very strong tone:

“Someday José Antonio, God is going to punish you for deceiving women. Now that because of that vice, you are never at home, nor do you go to work, but one of these days you are going to get a terrible scare, you see that you leave at night and come back at dawn, they can do something to you, take care of yourself and always entrust yourself to God to protect you.”

“Yes, Dad!”  José Antonio said laughing at his father. Then he would run out of the house leaving his father talking alone.

One day the young handsome José Antonio found true love in a young woman from his town with whom he fell madly in love. Like a madman he just stopped falling in love with the women he encountered.  One day after the cantina lost between the drinks, at about 3 in the morning while it was raining, a very pretty woman appeared to him, just like his girlfriend, dressed in white, with a well-formed waist, and with her hair long to the waist.  Thinking it was his true love, José Antonio followed her without thinking. At first, the young man had no idea he was in the presence of the Matlazihua but when the drunkenness started to wear off he realized that this was not his beautiful girlfriend.  He began to scream like crazy but he could not move. The Matlazihua took him to the hill and there she stunned him and hurt him.  He was all scratched, wounded and crazy. The local hacienda workers who were on that hill were scared by José Antonio’s frightful screams and went to wake up their boss, who was José Antonio’s father.  The old man declared:

“Those screams are from that evil born of José Antonio. Hopefully whoever is after him hasn’t  macheted him! Let’s go look for him!”

They all came out with axes and torches to look for José Antonio.  They combed the entire area without finding him. Then they climbed the hill where there is a stone that is like a cave, that to pass to the other side they have to go under the stone, and in that place there is a magical waterfall with a legend of its own.  There the search party noticed that the screams came from a high rock saturated with thorns and maguey trees. The bravest men barely climbed the jagged rock and when they managed to reach the top, there they found José Antonio completely naked and covered with deep wounds, as if a tiger had attacked him. With that experience, José Antonio swore off women. He didn’t even want anything more to do with his beautiful girlfriend who lived near his house for fear that she was a Matlacihua in disguise.  José Antonio suffered so much that at night he screamed like a desperate madman. His father did not know what to do, José Antonio was in such bad shape, that he went out at dawn to look for that evil woman who hurt his son without thinking that that woman was the Matlazihua. There was a full moon that lit up the entire countryside. The man continued walking to see if he could find that woman, but he did not find her since the Matlazihua only looked for men who were drunk or in a terrible state of loneliness. The man got tired of searching and did not find the woman, so he decided to return home.  When he got home he saw a woman dressed in white who was calling for her son.  He shot her but the bullets did not come out of his rifle as if his weapon suddenly locked up.  The woman slowly disappeared and by the time she had completely vanishes his gun started firing again.  The boy suffered a great deal of mental anguish until one day the parish priest went to bless the house and José Antonio so that the Matlazihua would no longer pursue him and he could be at peace.  The young man recovered and no one in the town ever saw the mysterious woman in white again.

The Matlazihua of Oaxaca is very similar to other legends found throughout Mexico – like the Siguanaba of Nayarit or to a lesser degree the ever-present Llorona – which may indicate cross-cultural connections across vast distances in ancient Mexico.  Could it also mean that there are similar ancient supernatural forces haunting the land?  You decide.


The Siguanaba:
The Llorona:


Oaxaca tourism web site.

Razon magazine

Trejo Silva, Marcia. Fantasmario Mexicano.  Mexico City: Editorial Trillas, 2009 [Spanish]

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