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Argentina has a rich mythological history, fostered by the oral traditions of indigenous communities and the creative story-tellers in isolated rural villages. These well-woven myths still carry weight among the superstitious and play an intriguing part in the country’s cultural narrative and collective memory.
While Argentina has many celebrated legends – think Gauchito Gil and Difunta Correa – they are just the tipping point. Mythical characters are also deeply embedded in Argentina’s heritage, featuring as part of fables or allegorical narratives that are held sacred and true, where each works towards an explanation for the mysterious, unexplainable occurrences in life.
Here is a selection of some of our favourites:El Pombero
Passed down through Guaraní mythology, ‘El Pombero’ is a mysterious presence particularly prominent in Paraguay, southern Brazil and north-eastern regions of Argentina. In Guaraní, he is called ‘Kuarahy Jára’ and in Spanish, ‘Dueno del Sol’; owner of the Sun.
An elusive creature – invisible to the eye – the descriptions of El Pombero differ greatly . To many, he is imp-like with large hairy feet that allow him to roam stealthy across the campo. To others, he is a tall, thin man running through the jungle. Where the stories commune is in his purpose: El Pombero is the protector of nature’s animals, especially birds, and with his large straw hat and knapsack slung across his shoulder, he whistles a harmonising tune. In the province of Chaco, many believe he is the invisible companion of nature’s genius, and attribute many unexplained phenomena to him.
But El Pombero also has a playful side; a harmless trickster who steals farmers’ eggs and blows wind up women’s skirts. The rascal is often cited by weary farmers, who place a bowl of tobacco outside the front door abate his mischief, and to the devout, who also leave rum. In Guaraní cultures, especially in rural Paraguay, where this myth is fiercely believed, many households will offer a nightly offering to this furtive figure.El Familiar
‘El Familiar’ is a terrifying superstition that spans across northern Argentina, originating in the sugar plantations in Salta, Tucuman and Jujuy. El Familiar is said to be a demonic figure, often depicted as a decapitated black dog dragging a heavy-set chain about its neck, rabidly wandering the plantations searching for its next victim.
Released by an unholy pact between sugar refineries and the devil, the tale goes that the sugar industry was protected from a prevailing economic downturn in return for a yearly human sacrifice. El Familiar, the demonic dog, was the messenger sent to collect the devil’s grisly bounty.
It is a deep fear of the devil and its ferrous dog that strengthens religious faith in these regions, for a rosary or a blessed crucifix is said to be the only means of protection.San La Muerte (or San Esqueleto)
San Muerte is depicted as a male skeleton, usually holding a scythe, and is the male counterpart to Santa La Muerta which is an occult figure in Mexico. The legend comes from the indigenous Guaraní community and is particular prevalent in northern Argentine provinces such as Corrientes and Entre Rios.
The legend is believed to have emerged with the convergence of Guaraní pantheism and the Catholicism imported by Jesuit missionaries in the colonisation of the communities in the 17th century.
Popular belief suggests that a wise king was called to God on his death and bestowed special powers to guard the transition from life to death. Tasked with collecting the souls to be sentenced, San La Muerte has reached particular fame with those that live dangerously.
The saint is believed to protect worshippers from witchcraft and the evil eye, while also granting violence onto enemies. Many modern devotees are prisoners seeking protection from captivity and death, with many inmates bearing the image tattooed on the body, carrying small amulets, and others embedding carvings under the skin.
As it is an unofficial saint, the date of celebrating San La Muerte is widely contested, but the most common festival is on the 15th January.Luz Mala
A rampant myth told throughout northern and central Argentina, particularly in the campo, is that of Luz Mala. This ‘evil light’ is an ill-omen that is also referred to as ‘Farol de Diablo’ and ‘Farol de Mandinga’, both meaning ‘the lantern of the Devil’.
The Luz Mala is often depicted “as floating in the air”, where a strange display of wispy lights are thought to be a soul broken out of the celestial sphere, crying in pain. It is in the driest points of the year, the gaucho legend goes, that its eminence is most brilliant and can be seen vividly dancing on the barren landscape. Yet it is thought to emanate toxic gases, a product of decomposed bones, which is fatal to the living.
The myth suggests that men have ventured to the source of the light, only to find broken Indian pottery and urns containing human remains. However, if the light falls at the foot of a hill, then it is thought to point to buried treasure which only the brave can uncover. Those that believe in the myth do venture to the foothills, carrying a thick woollen blanket which the gases cannot easily penetrate, as others pray with rosaries for their safe return.Pascana (Legend of Cardón)
Cardón is a species of giant cactuses that are common in Tucumán, in the northwest of Argentina. The Aymaras, an indigenous community in the Andes, tell the mythical story why these the large cactus grows in the province.
Two young lovers, Kewayl Amatua and Pascana, who were forbidden to get married by the tribal chief and father of Pascana. The cacique wanted her to marry a strong hunter from the tribe, so they ran away to the mountains together.
On discovering Pascana’s disappearance, her father ordered his men to search for her in the mountains and bring her home. Exhausted from running, and knowing they could go no further, the fleeing couple called on the devil to hide them, but it was in return for taking their souls.
Finally, Pachamama, the goddess of the land, took pity on the lovers and enveloped Kewayl Amatua into the ground, disguising him as a cactus. She reunited him with his lover by placing the spirit of Pascana inside the plant; Kewayl Amatua grew thorns in order to protect Pascana, but that does not prevent her from occasionally emerging to enjoy the landscape in the form of a cactus flower.