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La Xtabay is a Yucatec Mayan myth about the Xtabay. The Xtabay is a female demon originating from a Mayan legend who has ill intentions towards men.[1] She dwells in the forest to lure men to their deaths and, according to those that have escaped her, she possesses incomparable beauty and evil.[2] She has beautiful black shiny hair that falls down to her ankles.[3] The Xtabay resides in the Yucatán Peninsula.[3] The legend of the Xtabay explains her story.[3] There are many versions of the myth. One of the most accepted versions of the myth comes from the book Diez Leyendas Mayas (1998) written by Jesus Azcorra Alejos.[4] The original myth is in Spanish and the text was translated into English.[4]


The term "Xtab" was used to refer to an ancient Mayan goddess Ixtab, the goddess of suicide.[5] According to Perez' Lexicon of the Mayan Language, the feminine prefix tab, taab,and tabil means "rope intended for some exclusive use."[5] Ixtab is known as goddess of the halter and the goddess of the gallows.[5] The belief was that whoever hung themselves would not go to the underworld but to paradise.[5] The people who committed suicide were retrieved by the goddess Ixtab and in the ancient Mayan tradition because suicide was considered an honorable way of dying.[6]

The Legend of Xtabay[edit]

The legend begins with two women who lived in a village in the Yucatán Peninsula.[7] One woman was named Xkeban and the other Utz-colel.[7] Xkeban was called the sinner and Utz-colel was called the good woman.[4] Xkeban and Utz-colel were both equally beautiful.[7] However, Xkeban was involved in many love affairs while Utz-colel was known for her purity and virtue.[7] The townspeople looked down on Xkeban for her promiscuous behavior and belittled her whenever possible.[7] Xkeban did good deeds for the poor, sick and animals in need. Unfortunately, the townspeople could not see her kind heart.[4] They wanted to throw Xkeban out of the town, but they decided to allow her to stay in order to humiliate her.[7] Xkeban was able to remain sympathetic and kind-hearted through the love of the sick and poor.[7] On the other hand, Utz-colel was cold-hearted; she despised those in need and thought everyone was inferior to her.[7] The townspeople loved Utz-colel because she was celibate.[4] They did not see or care that Utz-colel would not give any food to the poor or help the sick.[7]

Days passed and Xkeban had not been seen and the townspeople assumed she was busy with men. More days passed and a sweet scent came from Xkeban's house. The house smelled so sweetly of perfume that the townspeople decided to investigate the smell.[7] To their surprise they found Xkeban's dead body surrounded by flowers and animals guarding her. Utz-colel told the town that her smell was the trick of the devil to deceive them. The homeless and poor had a funeral for Xkeban and flowers mysteriously surrounded her grave.[7]

Utz-colel thought she was going to smell even better than Xkeban when she died because of her purity. Time passed and Utz-colel died. To the surprise of the townspeople, Utz-colel smelled horrible and the stench was unbearable. The townspeople went to her funeral and the flowers put around her grave disappeared the next day.[7]

Xkeban was converted to a flower known as a Xtabentun.[7] The flower has a sweet fragrance and found in hedges.[7] The flower seeks shelter in the hedges because it is defenseless just as Xkeban felt defenseless when she was a human.[7] Utz-colel became a flower called Tzacam, and it grows on top of a spiky cactus and the flower has an unpleasant odor.[7] Utz-colel came to the conclusion that since Xkeban gave into her desire of love she too needed to do this and that is why she was punished after death.[7] Utz-colel called evil spirits which assisted her into becoming a woman again to fulfill her desire for love. Her wicked heart, however, only allowed evil. Therefore, Utz-colel transformed from the Tzacam into the Xtabay.[7]

The Xtabay wears a white dress and has large black eyes that attract all the men that are out late at night.[8] She waits behind a ceiba tree and then invites them to have sexual relations with her and, because of her beauty, these men are drawn to her.[8] Once they have sex, the Xtabay then transforms into a poisonous serpent and devours them.[8] In other versions of the myth, the Xtabay appears in any form or sex that will lure an individual person.[2] As a female, the Xtabay will be seen under a tree to lure and then throw her victim over a cliff. Once she throws him over a cliff, she will then rip his heart out of his chest.[2]

Moral of the Legend[edit]

Xkeban was looked down upon by the townspeople for her actions, but she was considered virtuous because of her kind heart.[7] Since Xkeban helped the poor, sick, and animals she was considered a good person when she died.[7] This is why she became the Xtabentun flower.[7] Utz-colel on the other hand believed she was virtuous because of her physical purity, but she was actually wicked and the sinner.[7] Even though Xkeban was involved with many men, she did it out of love.[7] The moral of the legend is that virtue is within the heart and not only actions.[7]



The theme of death is continuous with all of the different versions of the myth of the Xtabay.[8]

The fear of death in the myth relies on the capability of the dead to cause harm to the living and the belief that the dead have hostile intentions.[8]

The Heart[edit]

In La Xtabay, the symbolism of the human heart is often repeated throughout the myth. Both character's personality were described based on the type of heart they possessed.[4] Xkeban had a kind and warm heart and Utz-colel had a cold heart.[4] The reason why Xkeban became a Xtabentum when she died was because of her virtuous heart and Utz-colel became a prickly cactus because her heart was not pure.[7] After Utz-colel became a tzacam flower on a cactus, she tried to ask the evil spirits to let her love because she thought if she could love she would be able to become a beautiful white flower of the xtabentun plant.[4] She was granted her wish but since she could only love with a rotten heart her love was evil.[4]

The Ceiba Tree[edit]

The ceiba tree is a sacred tree of the Mayan people, and the belief was that if a person's heart was virtuous, then they could become a ceiba tree after death.[4] In the legend, the Xtabay uses the ceiba tree to hide herself behind in order to surprise her victims because she knows the meaning behind the tree.[7] The ceiba tree is loved and is considered to connect both the heavens and underworld.[4] It said in the legend that the ceiba roots are where all the men the Xtabay has taken from earth go and that no one has returned from there.[7]

Long Black Hair[edit]

The Xtabay is known for her long black hair falling past her shoulders.[4] In the legend, the Xtabay combs her long hair with the spines of the tzacam cactus.[4] Mayan culture puts importance on keeping hair long and healthy, but the humid weather and long work day make this task difficult and so the working woman's hair is pulled up from the face.[4] Xtabay's hair contrasts the typical hairstyle of Mayan women but represents the culture's ideal of beauty.[4]


Utz-colel was known for her purity because she abstained from sexual relations.[7] In Mayan culture, women are encouraged to be modest and abstain from sexual intercourse until marriage.[4] Women symbolize purity and are taught not to talk to men by themselves.[4] If a Mayan woman does not follow these cultural expextactions she is condemned for her actions.[4] Xkeban was shamed and humiliated by her townspeople because she did not follow the traditional ways of how women should behave with men.[7] The Xtabay lures men with seduction and this is against the traditional Mayan culture.[4]


Contemporary Maya people do not think of these myths and legends as the past but instead as part of their culture today.[4] They use myths such as La Xtabay to influence current beliefs and way of life.[4] In the Yucatán peninsula, the word Xtabay illustrates undesirable behavior in women and men.[3] Grandmothers and mothers use the legend to teach good behaviors to their children.[3] In 1985, in Akumal, Quintana Roo in a restaurant, a young girl was told by her brother that she looks like the Xtabay. The young girl at the time did not know the legend and started to repeat loudly, "I am the Xtabay! I am the Xtabay!" [3] Her mother heard the girl say this and became angry and embarrassed.[3] The mother brought the girl behind a palm tree for discipline and "I am the Xtabay" was never repeated again by the child.[3] This myth also has influence over marriages today.[4] To prevent infidelity, it is said that the Xtabay lures husbands who left their home at night to drink alcohol and seek the attention of other women.[4] It is also said that the Xtabay is a siren and sings a song that seduces the men towards her, and then she devours them.[4] The myth is used by grandparents and parents to mold their children into never going out into night to drink or cheat on their wives.[4]

The legend of the Xtabay has influenced music.[9] Les Baxter's album Voice of the Xtabay by Peruvian soprano Yma Sumac depicts the lure of the xtabay in her music.[9]

Other Folktales[edit]

There are many "La Llorona" Mayan myth variations and overall, throughout these myths, there were different "La llorona" types including La Llorona, La Malinche, La inferiz Maria and La Xtabay. [8] La Llorona, also known as the weeping woman, was abandoned by her lover and after she was abandoned, she killed her infant and then herself. Because of these deeds, she was forced to wander and suffer for eternity.[8] She was said to be heard first in 1550 crying in the streets and then she disappeared in a lake.[10] La Malinche had three sons by three different men, and she drowned her three lovers.[8] She heard a voice saying her sons became a doctor, priest and lawyer.[8] La Malinche went to look for them along the rivers and called to them endlessly.[8] La inferiz Maria killed her three sons for an exchange with the devil for beauty.[8] However, her head turned into a horse's head and her feet turned into roster and horse feet.[8] Her wailing sounds near when she is far and sounds far away when she is near.[8] In addition, people who look at La Malinche have their necks stuck in the position in which they looked at her and must be cured by a curandero (healer).[8] Variant versions of the myths of La Llorona are told throughout Mexico and because of the versions, La Llorona can be pitied and feared at the same time.[10] Throughout all of the myths, La Llorona is known as "the white lady" because in all the versions of the myth she wears white.[10]


  1. ^ Romero, Rolando (2014-05-14). Feminism, Nation and Myth: La Malinche. Arte Publico Press. p. 135. ISBN 9781611920420.
  2. ^ a b c Starr, F. (1904). Proceedings of the Davenport Academy of Sciences. Davenport Academy of Science. p. 79.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Preuss, Mary H. (1985). "Vestiges of the Past: The Role of the Grandmother in Contemporary Yucatec Literature". Wicazo Sa Review. 1 (2): 3. JSTOR 1409116.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Roman, D.J (2013). "The siren of syzygy: A textual hermeneutic study of the embrace of the anima/animus in Yucatec Maya culture as seen through the myth of La Xtabay". pp. 6, 11, 43–47, 60. Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  5. ^ a b c d Schellhas, Paul (1910). Representation of Deities of the Maya Manuscripts. The Museum. p. 15.
  6. ^ Higonnet, Margaret (1985). "Suicide: Representations of the Feminine in the Nineteenth Century". Poetics Today. 6 (1/2): 104. doi:10.2307/1772124. JSTOR 1772124.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Lampi, Leona Lillian (1950). "The influences of some Mexican folklore and beliefs on Mexican life". Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 8019: 65–71.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Miller, Elaine K. (2014-08-27). Mexican Folk Narrative from the Los Angeles Area: Introduction, Notes, and Classification. University of Texas Press. ISBN 9781477301418.
  9. ^ a b Sloan, Heather (2009). "The Other World Music: Percussion as Purveyor of Cultural Cues in Exotic Lounge Music". College Music Symposium. 49/50: 409–426. JSTOR 41225268.
  10. ^ a b c Kirtley, Bacil F. (1960). ""La Llorona" and Related Themes". Western Folklore. 19 (3): 155–168. doi:10.2307/1496370. JSTOR 1496370.


  • Higonnet, M. (1985). Suicide: Representations of the Feminine in the Nineteenth Century. Poetics Today, 6(1/2), 103-118. doi:10.2307/1772124
  • Kirtley, B. (1960). "La Llorona" and Related Themes. Western Folklore, 19(3), 155-168. doi:10.2307/1496370
  • Lampi, L.L. (1950). The influences of some Mexican folklore and beliefs on Mexican life. Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 8019. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.umt.edu/etd/8019.
  • Miller, E. K. (1973). Mexican Folk Narrative from the Los Angeles Area: Introduction, Notes, and Classification (Vol. 56). University of Texas Press.
  • Preuss, M. (1985). Vestiges of the Past: The Role of the Grandmother in Contemporary Yucatec Literature. Wicazo Sa Review, 1(2), 1-10. doi:10.2307/1409116
  • Romans, D. J. (2013). The siren of syzygy: A textual hermeneutic study of the embrace of the anima/animus in yucatec maya culture as seen through the myth of la xtabay (Order No. 3599363). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1461758952). Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1461758952?accountid=13626
  • Romero, R., & Harris, A. N. (2014). Feminism, Nation and Myth La Malinche. Houston: Arte Público Press.
  • Sloan, H. (2009). The Other World Music: Percussion as Purveyor of Cultural Cues in Exotic Lounge Music. College Music Symposium, 49/50, 409-426. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/41225268
  • Starr, F. (1904). Notes upon the ethnography of southern Mexico. Proceedings of the Davenport Academy of Sciences 9, 63-172, Davenport, Iowa: Putnam Memorial Publication Fund