Patasola: The Destructive Femme Fatale of the South American Jungle
Ancient civilizations who navigated the unforgiving coastlines of the North Atlantic, like the Vikings, feared, worshiped, and mythologized a pantheon of unforgiving sea creatures with origins half in this world and half in much, much darker places. Seductive sirens, alluring mer-folk and enchanting sea witches joined together to create the mythology of oceanic peoples; while the Shamans of jungle locked cultures toiled with similarly malevolent spirits in the form of insect, plant, and animal spirits, entities, and gods.
Found within folklore and mythological systems at distant parts of the globe, characters and personality types can be found playing out similar roles and activities, with stared outcomes and underlying moral instruction. This observation, according to Dr. Carl Gustav Jung, can be explained with his concept of the ‘Collective Unconscious’. Simply put, archetypal personalities and character types appear in the myths of cultures all over the world, transcending material constraints such as race, location, and even time.
Hand-colored photograph of Carl Jung in USA, published in 1910. (Public Domain)
An Old, Dangerous Archetype
Deservedly, standing in the hall of ‘Jungian archetypal gods’, the seductress, the femme fatale (French for “Deadly Woman”) is one of the oldest female archetypes. Although there has been great diversity in how she has been portrayed, she has some core traits which are found in every account, no matter where the story is told. She is always a sexy, manipulative, cynical, sexual predator…and often villainous.
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This seductive, mysterious and alluring woman, enchants, charms, and ensnares would-be lovers into compromising, dangerous, and often deadly situations. She appears at fundamental levels in most ancient cosmologies, religions, philosophies, ancient holy books, folk stories, and fairytales - where in the latter she is often the evil step-mother; for example, in Hansel and Gretel and Cinderella. This intelligent and witty temptress has starred in movies like Gone with the Wind, Fatal Attraction, Double Indemnity, and Basic Instinct, and she appears today in pop-fictional works such as the character Poison Ivy in Batman and Mystique in X-Men. She is the polar sexual opposite of the hero.
Depiction of Poison Ivy, a femme fatale in ‘Batman’. (CC BY SA)
The earliest stories tell of her powers of hypnosis and her abilities to entrance victims with magic spells and potions; hence, the femme fatale. But today she is most often portrayed as a semi-mythical seductress, a witch, an enchantress, a vampire, or a demon wielding supernatural sexual control over men.
In Classical times, Cleopatra led the torch of feminine seduction - but historically, the femme fatale is manifested in: Helen of Troy, Salome, Lilith, Lesbia, Visha Kanyas, the Siren, Mohini, Isabella of France, Scylla, Medea, Marie Antoinette of Austria, and, most famously, Lucrezia Borgia. She dominates Arthurian legends as Mogana le Fay and Shakespearean plays she’s seen as Lady Macbeth, who famously manipulated her husband into committing murder to enhance her own quest for power.
Portrait of a Woman by Bartolomeo Veneto, traditionally assumed to be Lucrezia Borgia – an infamous femme fatale. (Public Domain)
The more observant reader might have picked up on the fact that all the myths, stories, and individuals I have mentioned so far are all of western origin from cultures living north of the equator. And this has been a deliberation on my part as I wanted to keep this next manifestation of the ‘femme fatale’ all on her own. Caged, if you like. Because as you will now see, Carl Jung was right, archetypes do ‘transcend race and location’ and South American myths feature a femme fatale of the most loathsome nature, a real nasty one that you would never, ever take home to meet mom. Introducing, the devilish La Tunda.
A Forest Dwelling Femme Fatale
Known as La Tunda in the Colombian Pacific Coast region, but more often The Patasola (one foot) of South American folklore, this is a female monster who inhabits mountain ranges, virgin forests, and dense jungles. She is a protector of plants, rivers, trees, and animals; thus she is unforgiving when humans enter her domain with the intent of destroying it. She’s cursed hunts and caused landslides to block tracks through the jungle. She’s altered landscapes to disorient hunters and has cast spells to throw hunting dogs off the scent of their prey. In classic femme fatale style, the Patasola only made her appearance to ‘male hunters and woodsmen’.
Patasola statue. (Kobu)
Like so many other historical femme fatales, the Patasola has been depicted in the form of a seductive, beautiful, young woman who lured men away from hunting packs into her jungle or forest. Once lost, the Patasola revealed her real-self, a one-legged, one-breasted, bulging eyed, fanged, hook-nosed, big-lipped, tangled haired beast, with a hunger for human flesh and a thirst for drinking warm blood. In most accounts the leg was said to terminate in an animal’s hoof. Despite her disability, she was reported as moving nimbly through the trees and undergrowth. Javier Ocampo López is a Colombian historian, writer, folklorist and professor who maintains that when pleased, La Patasola climbed to the top of a tree or mountain and sang a song - he presents her as a scorned, unfaithful, or otherwise “bad” woman.
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Once a man has been lured away, the femme fatale known as the Patasola shows her true self. (Pata Sola)
A Lesson Learned?
All over the world, but maybe especially in Latin American tradition, myths and legends of a darker nature often served as moral tales offering cautionary advice. Folkloric legends such as the Patasola reinforced gender norms and sexual behavior. In societies such as Colombia, which used popular culture to control the sexual behavior of the people, particularly the lower classes, such tales have deep reaching effects on the Collective Unconsciousness. Establishing and policing appropriate sexual behavior is considered an important part of maintaining a well-ordered society, which ultimately rests on well-ordered families. Unfortunately, this ‘perfect world’ sexual ideal often inadvertently creates nuclear families ‘headed up’ by a strong, machismo patriarch with an obedient and domestically aligned wife. The very opposite of the femme fatale archetype, which I think might be no mere coincidence.
The Sayona of Venezuelan folklore is another South American manifestation of the femme fatale archetype which tells of an elegant woman who punishes unfaithful men. Thus, the Patasola is a clear warning to men to avoid the seductive whispers of beautiful women. And good luck if you do stray into the woods with a lover, because the Patasola is waiting with a horrid punishment. Although the Patasola is a classic femme fatale archetype, defined simply as a sexy woman who leads men into danger, it can also be interpreted that she represents the guilt and pain suffered by men who think with their “little heads”, before their big ones.
Top Image: ‘Patasola.’ Source: Public Domain
By Ashley Cowie
López, Javier Ocampo (2006). Mitos, Leyendas Y Relatos Colombianos. Colombia: Plaza & Janes Editores.
Sloan, Kathryn (2008). Runaway Daughters: Seduction, Elopement, and Honor in Nineteenth-Century Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. p. 80.