Beware the Xtabay!

I love hearing the legends of Mexico, particularly of the Yucatan peninsula which is rich in Mayan mythology. The story of the Xtabay is one of my favourites.....

Once upon a time in an ancient Mayan village in the Yucatan, there were two very beautiful women. The first woman was known to be "loose", giving her favours to many men and she was therefore named "Xkeban" (pronounced ish-ka-ban), meaning "prostitute". The other woman was virginal, never giving herself to any man and she was called Utz-colel, meaning "virtuous, decent. and clean" . The first woman may have been easy, but she had a heart of gold, generously giving food and water to those less fortunate and taking care of homeless and unwanted animals. The virtuous woman was the opposite, a cold-hearted, egotistical snob who never helped anyone except herself. She openly judged anyone who she deemed to not be pure of body and was repulsed by illness and poverty.

One day the villagers were overcome with a delicious fragrance, a divine aroma coming from the home of Xkeban. When they went to investigate, they discovered that she had died alone but her body was emitting a tantalizing scent. Xkeban was buried outside of the village, her funeral attended by only a handful of people. The scent carried down from the cemetary for days aftewards and beautiful flowers mysteriously began to grow on her grave. These flowers were named Xtabentun and are now used to make a fragrant drink of the same name, which when drunk is said to inspire the feelings of passion and love that Xkeban would bring to her men.

The self-centered, judgmental Utz-colel could not believe that such an impure, unclean woman could produce such a fine smell and declared that when she died the village would be overcome with the most delicious scent imaginable. When Utz-colel died, the entire village mourned. She died a virgin and expected to be rewarded in the hereafter. To the surprise of many, not only did her body not emit the scent of flowers, it created a stench so terrible that the villagers became ill. When people brought flowers to her grave, they shriveled and died.

It is said that this is when the Mayan people discovered that true goodness was to be found in the heart.

The tale continues, with Utz-colel finding herself in the afterlife, miserable and bitter about her life of abstinence. She asked the evil spirits to return her to the living world so she could experience the earthly delights of sex and passion.

The modern telling of this tale warns the people of the Yucatan to beware the evil spirit of Utz-colel, now called the Xtabay. She lives in the Ceiba tree and she will try to seduce any man who walks along her path. If the man falls for her gentle words, beautiful songs and come -hither looks, he will find himself trapped forever by her evil charms. The tales state that men that fall under her spell are found days later, covered in wounds like claw marks and cactus scratches and often with their hearts ripped from their chests.

The moral of the story? If the heart is virtuous, kind and generous, you will be rewarded in the afterlife.

***Note: I have heard this story a hundred times and a hundred different ways. My students who are from this area often tell the tale as a warning against drinking, saying that the Xtabay attacks drunk men in the jungle. The Mayan mamas tell their husbands and sons that they better not drink too much or the Xtabay will get them. I think that adds another moral to the story, if you drink, your heart will be torn out of your body and you will suffer at the hands of the women.

If you know any other versions or details to add to this story, do tell, share a comment! My sources are mostly word of mouth (as most good legends are), though I consulted a few sites for the spelling of names. If you think I have something incorrect, please let me know.


Comments

Kathy said…
I heard this when I was eavesdropping on a guide at Edzna in Campeche state giving a tour to local university students of the site. I just heard the very first part though - up to the deaths of both. He tied it into something at the site - I think the flowers.
"if you drink, your heart will be torn out of your body and you will suffer at the hands of the women."

Ain't that the truth.
islagringo said…
I don't have anything to add to this most excellent story but I could tell you about Johnny Appleseed. Or Paul Bunyan.
Heather said…
never heard that one before! thanks for sharing!
-h
The Xtabay was one of the first stories we heard when we moved here. We got the short version, that there is a tree spirit that entices drunken men and they disappear forever. I like your longer story better.
regards,
Theresa
BBmama said…
Hmph, sounds like a convenient excuse to give to a wife after having wild, reckless, drunk sex with a stranger.
CancunCanuck said…
Kathy- Aww, the tour guide eavesdropping, I've done the same myself, teehee. I think it's a great story, though it was a long time before I heard the full version. Usually I just got the part about "don't drink and go into the jungle". :)

Scott- Does your wife use the same tale to keep you out of the local? ;-)

IslaGringo- Ok, now I am singing the Johnny Appleseed song, thanks a lot, LOL! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_IrdS-zu48

Heather- There are so many great folk tales down here, this is definitely one of my favourites though. It's sexy, LMAO!

Theresa- I too heard the short version first, the "warning" if you will. I was so grateful to some wonderful students who shared the full version with me as a writing project, I owe it to them. :)

BBMama- HA!! I never thought about it that way. "Where have you been and why are you covered in scratches and bites marks????" "Uhhhh, the Xtabay got me!" Love it. :)

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