Galicia is a land full of magic since ancient times. Most of them come from our Celtic heritage, but also Roman Empire and, of course, Christianity have left their footprints in our traditions and festivities. Saints, devils, ghosts and witches are part of the magical traditions of Galicia. We´’ll talk about a few of them.
The Santa Compaña (Holy Company)
The Santa Compaña (“Holy Company”) is a deep-rooted mythical belief in rural northwest of Iberia: Galicia, Asturias (Spain) and Northern Portugal. It is a procession of the dead (although there are many different versions of it) or a procession of souls that are suffering torment. It is usually led by a living person carrying a cross or a torch followed by several souls of the dead carrying lit candles. The tradition in some areas says that the souls can’t be seen, but they can be felt as a sudden cold breeze. In other areas it is said that the candles can be seen or the smell of the melted wax can be detected. Anyway, the living person leading the procession is suffering a curse: he or she is compelled by a supernatural force to lead this procession every night, not remembering anything the following day except the he hasn’t enough rest at night.
It is said that the Santa Compaña is a sign that somebody is about to die, and they are going to get the soul. If you see them in the middle of the night, you must inmediately draw a circle on the ground and enter inside it or lie face-down until the procession passes. If you don’t do this, the curse of leading the procession will be passed to you, and the current living person will be free. So, be careful in the forests of Galicia at night!
San Andrés de Teixido, you will go there after your death if you weren’t before
San Andrés de Teixido is a very small village with a sanctuary that worths a visit. Surrounded by the highest cliffs of continental Europe and the wonderful landscape of Serra da Capelada (where you’ll find wild horses), the Galician tradition says that everybody should visit this sanctuary at least once in a lifetime, otherwise you’ll be compelled to visit it after your death, sometimes under the form of an small animal or even a bug. Inside the sanctuary you’ll find the Image of St. Andrew, which is famous by its miracles. In fact, you will see a lot of small figures made of wax representing different parts of the body or very high candles; they are the offers to the saint made by people who promised to do it if they heal from a disease. This is one of the most popular magical traditions in Galicia.
The ‘meigas’ (witches)
Witches, called ‘meigas’ in Galician language, are part of the landscape at rural areas of Galicia. The popular wisdom says “I don’t believe in witches, but they certainly exist”. They are usually women dressed (of course!) in full black that have a deep knowledge about the use of medicinal herbs and other remedies for diseases of body and soul, but they have a dark side: They can curse you just looking at your eyes. To protect yourself from this curse, called “meigallo”, you can wear a traditional amulet called “figa” (see image below) or simply you can do the same gesture with your hand. Once you are cursed (and you will realize it because you can feel very weak and tired, or have a sudden period of bad luck) just another meiga can help you.
Jumping over 7 waves
Jumping over 7 (others say 9) waves at midnight will ensure you a year of fertility if you are a woman and want to get pregnant. This tradition is not exclusive of Galicia, but here is one of the places where it is most popular. There are some things that you can do if you want to increase the power of this magic: do it in St. John’s night (June 23 to 24) and/or do it at A Lanzada beach, which is also one of the most beautiful beaches in Galicia.
Saint John’s (San Xoán) night bonfires
The Saint John’s Night (the night between 23 and 24 of June) is definitely the most popular of the magical traditions in Galicia. A couple of days after the summer solstice, people all around the country gathers around thousands of bonfires, in a celebration of the arrival of summer. Food (usually sardines and roasted meat), music, drink and happiness are part of the menu. This tradition, very extended in all Spain, has some magical rituals in Galicia: The day before yous should go to the forest and gather 7 different herbs, known as “herbas de San Xoán”. You should put them in a bowl of water and leave them at the open air all night, and the morning after you should wash your face with this magical water. If you let the herbs dry and hang them in the wall beside the door of your home, they’ll protect it for all the year. The celebration of Saint John’s Night is deeply rooted in ancient times, as a party to celebrate the harvest. At midnight you should jump (carefully, please) over the bonfire to be purified of all bad things.
Queimada: A powerful (and delicious) magical drink
The ‘queimada’ (‘burn’ in Galician language) is a magical drink which is prepared in many festivities or parties. Some restaurants and bars offer it to you as well. It is made with Galician wine spirit mixed with sugar, some grains of coffee and some fruits. All this is burn while an ancient spell against all witches, ghosts and devils is recitated. Once most of the alcohol (but not all!) is burn, the fire is extinguished and you can drink it warm. It is simply delicious, and it has the power of taking off from you all bad things.
Portalén: The gate to the dead’s world
From the uncountable megalitic monuments left by our ancestors thousands of years ago, we have selected this one as a sample and by its magical connotations. This is known as Portalén or Porta do Alén (Gate of Afterlife). Nobody knows exactly its origin, but the round-shaped stone (see image below) hasn’t been placed there by nature, and some signs on the stones around suggest that is has been created by human hand so many time ago. The legend says that if you cross the gate from North to South you’ll enter in afterlife and can ask a question to the dead. You should bring an offer with you, like a candle and some food, and it is more powerful if you do at midnight. The aswer to the question will be brought to you by the wind, but you can’t tell anybody about it. The answer is only for you. Be careful to exit through the gate in the opposite direction, otherwise you could be trapped in afterlife and be in contact with the dead forever.
Other magical traditions of Galicia
It is impossible to gather in a single post all the magical traditions of Galicia, because we have thousands of them. Every village, every forest or beach has their own. From magical fountains who can heal you from many diseases to mysterious beings who live in the rivers or in the sea, legends about the devil, about the stones and its power, mysterious graveyards or places where the border between life and afterlife is weak. Our recommendation: simply ask, don’t be afraid. Galician people is very friendly and they will be happy to explain our traditions to you. Welcome to the land of magic, welcome to Galicia.