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  • Writer's pictureMacabre Emporium Pod

Episode 43 - La Lechuza (The Witch Owl) and Taphephobia (The Fear of Being Buried Alive)


La Lechuza (The Witch Owl)

La Lechuza, The Witch Owl
Art depiction of La Lechuza, The Witch Owl

The Legend

Legend states there was a bruja (or witch) that was executed by the scared townsfolk for practicing black magic. After her death, she reincarnated into an owl, but could shapeshift, going from her human witch form to the form of an owl, while retaining her human face. It is said she came back with a vengeance, and seeks to make everyone pay that had anything to do with her execution.

One of the offshoots of that main legend is that any witch can astrally project into any form they wish, and retain their face. While they are projecting, their body is lying peacefully and safely in place at home. If Lechuza happens to be killed while in owl form, it is said that their human body will die too. Which if you think about it, literally anyone that died in their sleep of natural causes could have been dubbed a witch if you believed the legend.

It is also said that La Lechuza made a pact with Satan himself and he granted her supernatural powers - such as shapeshifting and superhuman strength. She would have the ability to grab adults with her claws and fly off with them.

The witch can appear anytime she wishes to, and anywhere - but due to reports, it seems to mostly be in Zavala County, Texas, which isn’t too far East of Mexico. Reports also state that she tends to really mess with people that have had too much to drink. So it makes me wonder if the reports were actually people seeing her…or just drunks that can’t focus properly. She is also known to go after children who are outside after dark when they should be in the safety of their homes.

Even today people report seeing or experiencing what they believe to be La Lechuza. Even driving down a road, numerous people have stated a massive bird-like creature swooping down and flying off into the woods. Most of them also noting that their car batteries die at the same time. Which is another thing La Lechuza is supposed to be capable of doing.

Many people believe in this creature's existence, some claim to have actually seen her. Yet there has never been one photo taken of her to even try to prove existence. So we don’t know what she looks like other than the description that I’m about to get into. But in my head I am imagining a gray Big Bird with a woman's face…idk. Also, keep in mind, none of these reports were ever actually reported to authorities, they are just word of mouth from generation to generation, like all urban legends.

Characteristics and Features

Through my research I have gathered that when La Lechuza transforms into the owl - a white owl, she stands about 5-6 feet tall, and has the face of a wise old woman, and wingspread of close to 15 feet. She has been compared to a Harpy, but also to Banshees and Sirens. That latter two used sounds to draw their prey nearby, and so did La Lechuza.

She has the ability to control the weather, which is why most of the time when she is spotted, it is during a thunderstorm, or at least, the beginning of a storm.


If you are unfortunate enough to encounter La Lechuza, you can say it almost always means certain death is ahead, whether the death is your own, or a loved one. It’s going to happen.

Her go to maneuver for seeking out her prey is to perch herself upon a tree, and start whistling. But her whistle doesn’t sound like you or I whistling, it sounds like a crying newborn, which would of course attract someone. If you hear a crying baby in the woods your first thought would probably be someone abandoned their baby let me go help. But in this case, you’d basically be wandering around looking for nothing while La Lechuza waits to swoop down from the tree, grab you, take you back to her lair and make a meal out of you.

If you have been targeted by her and somehow escape her grasp, she will follow you to your home and leave scratch marks on your door as warning that you are indeed a future victim and your death will be by her.

If you have a dream about La Lechuza, it means that one of your family members is going to die, and soon.

She cannot be harmed by bullets, and it’s said that anyone that attempts to shoot her, and fails to kill her, will die themselves instead.

If you are ever touched by La Lechuza, even if it’s just a feather, you will die.

You can protect yourself though…

She can be repelled with salt, so you know, a typical salt ring around your house. She can also be driven away by yelling loudly and cussing. But if those things fail, you can try hanging a rope with 7 knots outside of your door, why, I don’t know. You can get a Curandera (a good witch) to come over and help. I read that throwing chili powder at her works too. You can say Hail Mary backwards in Spanish and she will fly off.

Though they say it should be done in a certain order if you are being attacked by La Lechuza:

1 - Pray

2 - Hang the rope of 7 knots outside your door.

3 - Get a Curandera (good witch) for help.

So in this day and age, she’s really easy to make go away.



Taphephobia: The Fear of Being Buried Alive

"dead" person waking up alive
Someone waking from their coffin after being "dead"

Taphephobia is the fear of being buried alive, coming from the Greek word taphos “grave, tomb” and phobos “fear” Even with modern medicine, people still have a fear of being buried alive might seem a bit ridiculous to have now but in our past it was a much bigger fear people had than today.

The fear of being buried alive could be said to have started either in the 17th or 18th century with medicine not as advanced as it is today and mostly caused people to be buried alive from misdiagnosis. One of the well-documented cases of such misdiagnosis happened in 1695.

Marjorie McCall of Ireland would fall ill with fever and be pronounced dead and to keep the rest of the village from becoming ill with her sickness was buried quickly instead of having a wake as families traditionally did after a loved one had passed.

Word got out of a gold ring she was buried with, and grave robbers would soon be at her grave to retrieve the ring even before the dirt could settle. After unearthing Marjorie McCall they found her body to still be warm and taking their knife to cut off her finger to get the ring Marjorie would sit upright screaming like a banshee from the pain of her nearly severed finger. What happened to the grave robbers is unsure. It's said one dropped dead from fright along with they both ran in fear.

Her husband John would be at home with their children and relatives when a knock on the door would come in the middle of the night. John would say “If your mother was still alive, I’d swear that was her knock.” Sure enough, as he opened the door he would find his wife Marjorie still dressed in her funeral clothes and a nearly severed finger.

Since wedding vows are until death to us part Marjorie would go on to remarry and have several more children until her actual death. On her headstone, you can find the inscription “Lived once, buried twice.”

In 17th century England, it is documented that a woman by the name of Alice Blunden was buried alive. As the story goes, she was so knocked out after having imbibed a large quantity of poppy tea that a doctor holding a mirror to her nose and mouth pronounced her dead. (Tea made from dried, unwashed seed pods would have contained morphine and codeine, which are sedatives.) Her family quickly made arrangements for her burial, but two days after she was laid in the ground, children playing near her grave heard noises. Their school master went to check the gravesite for himself. He found that Blunden was still alive, but it took another day to exhume her. She was so close to death that she was returned to her grave, where a guard stood by before deserting his post. The next morning, she was found dead, but only after struggling to free herself once more.

Even though these two tales are said to be true in 1745, English Physician Richard Mead recommended using tobacco smoke enemas to revive drowning victims. It was believed that the stimulants and the warming effect from the smoke could revive those who had drowned. That following year his name would be attached to one of the most well-documented cases of this type of resuscitation. On the advice of a passing sailor, he and the sailor would save the life of a drowning woman by sticking the stem of the sailor’s pipe up her rectum, covering the bowl with perforated paper, and blowing hard through the bowl would revive her.

French surgeon Antoine Louis would also propose blowing tobacco smoke up the rears of the deceased to awaken them years later. By 1774 of the century, Tobacco smoke enema kits were installed along the river Thames by The Institution for Affording Immediate Relief to Persons Apparently Dead From Drowning along with a Rhyme for the public to successfully perform the procedure.

Tobacco glyster, breathe and bleed.

Keep warm and rub till you succeed.

And spare no pains for what you do;

May one day be repaid to you.

By the 1780s Jules Antoine, a French clergyman would go on to invent the piece-mamelon or nipple pincher. Pince-Mamelon was a strong pair of tweezers designed to shock the alleged dead back to life, after hearing of the methods of yanking and pulling on the tongue of the dead to see if they would awaken by stimulating the tongue for up to three hours.

The first recorded safety coffin was constructed on the orders of Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick before his death in 1792. He had a window installed to allow light in, an air tube to provide a supply of fresh air, and instead of having the lid nailed down he had a lock fitted. In a special pocket of his shroud he had two keys, one for the coffin lid and a second for the tomb door.

Dr. Adolf Gutsmuth was buried alive several times to demonstrate a safety coffin of his own design, and in 1822 he stayed underground for several hours and even ate a meal of soup, bratwurst, marzipan, sauerkraut, spätzle, beer, and for dessert, cake, delivered to him through the coffin's feeding tube.

Before protocols were created in 1898, 100 years before one method was used to really make sure someone was actually dead and not in some trance-like state. They would lay out the corpse on a slab or inside an open box with a glass pane placed over the body. And on the glass, they would write in silver nitrate a message that would be invisible until the hydrogen sulfide gas produced during decomposition would react with the silver nitrate revealing the hidden message, I am dead.

During the 1820s in Germany, the use of portable death chambers would be used to prevent premature burial. A small chamber, equipped with a bell for signaling and a window for viewing the body, was constructed over an empty grave. Watchmen would check each day for signs of life or decomposition in each of the chambers. If the bell was rung the "body" could be immediately removed, but if the watchman observed signs of putrefaction in the corpse, a door in the floor of the chamber could be opened and the body would drop down into the grave. A panel could then be slid in to cover the grave and the upper chamber removed and reused.

In 1829, Dr. Johann Gottfried Taberger designed a system using a bell that would alert the cemetery night watchman. The corpse would have strings attached to its hands, head and feet. A housing around the bell above ground prevented it from ringing accidentally. An improvement over previous designs, the housing prevented rainwater from running down the tube and netting prevented insects from entering the coffin. If the bell rang the watchman had to insert a second tube and pump air into the coffin with a bellows to allow the occupant to survive until the casket could be dug up. The only problem with this is the dead can ring bells as well from bloating from the gasses being created during decomposition.

The fear of being buried alive peaked in the late 19th century in 1896, The British Medical Journal published protocols to prevent premature burial. It's a small list of protocols suggested doctors follow when making their house calls to make sure someone is actually dead.

  1. He has made one or more incisions in the arteries of the deceased, and that no blood has flowed therefrom.

  2. That He has held the hand of the deceased and the fingers thereof entirely open, and the fingers closed together not more than five inches from the flame of a lighted candle, gas lamp, or electric jet, and that no transparent appearance has been visible.

  3. That he has held a mirror, glass, or crystal before the lips and nostrils of the deceased at a distance therefrom of not more than half an inch and that no moisture or signs of moisture has appeared on the said mirror, glass, or crystal.

  4. That he has twice or oftener applied to the skin of the deceased a piece of iron or steel heated red hot for at least the space of ten seconds, and that no blister charged with water the iron or steel was placed.

  5. That he has examined the eyes of the deceased and has found mucus covering them.

The writings of Edgar Allan Poe would sensationalize being buried alive with his short stories “The Black Cat, The Cask of Amontillado, and The Fall of the House of Usher, and The Premature Burial”

One English woman named Hannah Beswick was so scared of being buried alive, that she left her entire estate to her doctor Charles White. Her only stipulation she had was that he had to check on her corpse every day until he was absolutely sure she was dead. He would end up keeping her mummified remains and every day for years, he and two witnesses would still check to make sure she was still dead.

With so many people having a fear of being buried alive many inventors would come up with various ways to signal to the living that interred aren’t really dead. Franz Vester of Newark, New Jersey invented the safety coffin in 1868. In his design, the coffin came equipped with a ladder for those who were buried alive could climb up out of their grave through a hatch above ground. If they were too weak to climb up they did have a bell they could ring to bring attention to those around.

John Krichbaun would create a device that would indicate people were alive but not allow them to escape on their own. His invention would have a T-shaped pipe near or in the hands of those buried. This pipe not only allowed fresh air to enter the coffin but the pipe was attached to a rotating scale as it was described on ground level. This scale was to be used to measure any movement from those who might be buried alive. In his patent, he did include “After a sufficient amount of time has passed the device can be removed.”

These are just two examples of safety coffins and devices that were used and this could go on for hours droning on about the different variations of these. Some of the other add-ons include

Mechanical fans for fresh air to be forced in

Various bells and alarms of all types

A smaller warmer similar to our wax burner to burn disinfectants to clean the air for the buried

Modern practices of embalming started to put an end to the fear of being buried alive.

There is one photo that came up in my research from Popular Mechanics of velvet-lined vaults with handles on the inside so they can be opened by the interred if they found themselves alive after death. But there is one grave worth mentioning and that is the grave of Timothy Clark Smith of Vermont.

Timothy Clark Smith was a doctor in the 19th century who had a fear of being buried alive and designed his own tomb to have a set of stairs under a capstone to escape if he was to find himself still alive. Along with a 14x14” window over his coffin so people can check to see if there was a mistake in burying him alive. Today you can only see down the window only a few inches due to the age of the glass and moisture. Some people have claimed to have seen a hammer and chisel nearby and a bell in his hand to alert anyone nearby that he was still alive.

Even as late as 2015 a patent for a safety coffin has been filed but I wasn’t risking the link since Google flagged it as unsafe to see what it was. I can only guess that it's similar to previous ones with modern tech.

Some notable people that were afraid of being buried alive

First President, George Washinton. He told his secretary "I am just going. Have me decently buried; and do not let my body be put into the Vault in less than three days after I am dead."

Hans Christian Andersen, in his final days, would beg his friend Dorthea Melchior to cut his veins after he breathed his last breath.

Composer Frederic Chopin, in his last written message “The earth is suffocating. Swear to make them cut me open, so I won’t be buried alive.”

Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and has a small award named after him. In his will he wrote "It is my express wish that following my death my veins shall be opened, and when this has been done and competent Doctors have confirmed clear signs of death, my remains shall be cremated in a so-called crematorium.”

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