I first became enchanted by Chilean Folklore during my brief stint as a moderately ineffective tour guide in the south of Chile. Marcelo, the tour company operator who needed me to translate for his American customers, took me all around the Lakes Region with our clients (taking chairlifts up the volcano instead of hiking, visiting quaint colonial villages, etc) and one place that stood out was Chiloé.
Sure, Chiloe was quaint and colonial and precious and all that. But what I loved most about it was the tiny blue book of Myth and Folklore that I bought for a mere 1,000 pesos, something of a steal in the land of Ridiculous Patagonical Prices. It looked like it had been hand-made in the back room of the dilapidated German-style souvenir shop, and most certainly hadn’t been proofread at all or edited since 1971, but it was an invaluable resource that granted access to the mystical side of Chile. Not to mention some really great old-timey recipes I’m going to try that involve toasted wheat and witches breath. (Just kidding.) (Or am I?)
I was thinking about Chiloe and it’s rich history of myths and legends this morning when I woke up in Valparaiso to find a dense fog covering the city. My roommate Rodrigo – who is Chilean – casually remarked that there’s a legend about the fog in Valpo that grows ever-thicker and eventually begins to consume people.
Excellent. Perhaps it’s just another one of those dangers of a port city — transients, petty theft, prostitution and flesh-eating fogs. But I’m beginning to wonder if maybe there isn’t a kernel of truth in Rodrigo’s claim.
If you’ll recall, the view from my patio tends to look like this most days:
At any rate, my pending disappearance into the carnivorous weather phenomenon got me thinking about Chilean folklore in general. I remember thumbing through the Blue Book of Poorly-Edited Folklore back when I first bought it, intrigued by the quantity of legends and the rich mixture of the fantastical and the mundane that accompanies all legends: one’s immediate surroundings coupled with the unexplained mysteries of daily life.
One of the most famous legends of Chiloe involves La Pincoya, the resident water spirit of the Chilotan Seas. She is a friendly yet incredibly sensual lady who appears from time to time to dance near the water. Based on whether or not she is facing the sea, the sailors will either have a really great time finding seafood or a really hard time finding seafood. Also she’s married to her brother and sometimes they rescue shipwrecked sailors with their ghost boat, the Caleuche.
My personal favorite – an perhaps one of the most culturally necessary – is the legend of El Trauco and La Fiura. This is a humanoid and possibly-extremely-ugly couple that haunts the forests in Chiloe. Both El Trauco and his wife La Fiura possess a magnetism and sexuality that is inescapable, despite their dwarfish and aesthetically-appalling characteristics. Not only can El Trauco attract a woman even while she’s asleep – she will essentially sleepwalk into a helpless pile at his feet – he is pretty much the fallback answer for all single mothers – Unexpected pregnancies clearly are the result of a chance forest encounter with El Trauco. This legend effectively absolves the woman of any blame. (I mean, let’s be real, can she really be expected to resist or avoid the sexually potent forest gnome?) Societal discomfort: successfully avoided.
Did I mention that El Trauco’s wife, La Fiura, is also his daughter? Maybe this is why she similarly roams the forest attracting and seducing men. Psychological issues can effect anyone — all the way to the humanoid creatures of the Chilotan forests.
While it’s still not certain whether or not this fog will give way to a pleasantly sunny day or a horrific fate in the belly of a Fog Beast, I am left with a particular sense of appreciation for the varied ways in which we as humans observe, process and then reform the physical phenomena of daily life into legends that eventually come to influence our everyday experiences.
Furthermore, it got me thinking about legends and folklore from my own country. I asked myself some questions, trying to get into the underbelly of American mythology (without the aid of Google) based on my own childhood and family memories, because my initial reaction was that we didn’t have such a rich spectrum of tales. Here’s what I came up with:
What hideous creatures do we watch out for in the dark wilderness? Bigfoot. What lurks in the foggy nights? Any assortment of ghosts, since American culture is big on colonial spirits that just can’t seem to leave their New England residences, as well as the Headless Horseman. What do we use to explain unexpected pregnancies? This is where American Folklore really drops the ball. I don’t think we have anything as effective (or widely accepted) as El Trauco….but someone please correct me if I’m wrong. Also we have Bloody Mary (the mirror ghost, not the well-loved alcoholic beverage), but I’m not sure what she does except scare the shit out of 9-year-old’s in unlit bathrooms.
The fog and the enchanting tales from the southern island of Chiloe have unwittingly inspired an appreciation for my own culture’s myths and legends, even though I’m not terribly well-versed in them. I would love to use local Ohioan myths in an effort to both terrify and manipulate my future children, so, Ohio readers, what stories do we have to tell from the fertile lands of the Midwest? It sounds a bit silly, but it took a total shift of hemisphere, country and dominant language to get me thinking about the tall tales of Home…and how us Ohio girls might be able to explain any surprise pregnancies.
UPDATE: In terms of investigating Ohio Legends, this is all I could really find:
Strange Tales from Ohio: True Stories of Remarkable People, Places, and Events in Ohio History. Still doesn’t seem like it might do a very good job of explaining unexpected pregnancies, though…