Editor’s note: The legend of El Silbón contains some violent details.
The legend of El Silbón (“The Whistler”) is one of the most popular in Latin America, a family tragedy whose reality has been lost in time. The story that surrounds this specter changes a little depending on the country in which it is told, but no matter what, it causes nightmares for any child. That was the case for me when I read it in primary education books.
Although I have always felt a lot of interest in the myths, legends, and fables of many cultures, the Greek more than any other, few legends have made such an impression on me as that of El Silbón. I guess you will agree with me after learning it.
It is said that in the Venezuelan Llanos, there once lived a young boy who worked every day to help his family. He lived with his parents and his paternal grandfather, who were strict with him, because they wished him to be noble. One day, while returning from work, his father, a violent man, accused his wife of being unfaithful. The discussion went out of the hands of both adults and ended with the death of the mother. Enraged, the young man disemboweled his father in revenge, but the greatest tragedy was about to happen.
When his paternal grandfather learned everything that happened, he made the young man to be tied in a pole in the middle of the field and whipped him until his back was shattered. After washing his wounds with brandy, he released him and released two hungry and rabid dogs to pursue him. As the young man walked away, the grandfather cursed him, condemning him to carry his father’s bones forever.
Since then, El Silbón walks through the Llanos, carrying his father’s bones in a sack he carries on his back. They say that his characteristic whistle announces his presence: when heard nearby, El Silbón is far away, but if it is heard far away, then the specter is close.
There are several versions of El Silbón and its effect on people. Some say that he appears to bad men, whom he murders mercilessly with a machete; others say he comes to announce a death in the family when he arrives at a house, where he begins to count his father’s bones during the night. Everything will be fine if no one hears him, but if someone does, that person will die before the morning.
Few things repel El Silbón, but the most popular protections are the barking of a dog, a whip, and the Lord’s Prayer, which is said to scare the specter in the act. Rereading the legend, one might think that alcohol could act as a defense, especially brandy.
This sort of Latin male banshee has attracted the attention of many and is used as a warning to irresponsible men and womanizers, but I think that the teaching that remains after the reading has rarely been examined. This is especially important considering the time we are in: Samhain, the dark half of the year.
During this holiday where we remember both our ancestors, both those of blood and those who are not, are we aware that they also made mistakes when they lived? We almost always idealize the deceased, seeking to have a good memory instead of a real one. Nobody wants to speak badly of those who are no longer here, but out of respect for ourselves and them, it is best to always recognize them as the human beings they were, with both good qualities and defects.
The legend of El Silbón always makes me think that our ancestors made mistakes, but that many times it is not up to us to remedy them. In any case, if we have to do it, we must heal and bless, not act driven by violence and revenge.
How many times have we stopped to think that, despite their mistakes, our ancestors want to see us well and blessed? And I mean really being aware that their love for us is immense. Death does not change mortals but frees them from the limited vision of being human.
Some time ago, a few days after losing my father after a devastating cancer, my mother dreamed about him. My father apologized to me and regretted all the mistakes he had made while alive, and told her that he believed in me more than I believed in myself at that time – that he had faith in me, and that he was proud that I was his son. When I heard that, many wounds were closed, one after another, because I had thought otherwise for several years.
My father had his defects; he made mistakes, some very serious ones. But I remember and honor him for the human being he was, for his successes, and I ask him to guide me enough to avoid making mistakes as he did at the time. I do the same with all my ancestors, no matter if they are of blood or not, and it should be that way from the moment of parting.
Being a Witch has made me see that the blessing of my ancestors is sacred, that one’s lineage is the greatest gift. Where would we be today if not for them? Like it or not, we owe them life. Walking, breathing, being able to see, being here at this precise moment, all of this is thanks to them. Let us always remember to honor them, tell their stories and learn from the mistakes of our ancestors.