Galicians are highly superstitious people, very proud of what is ours and quite distrustful. Like other peoples of the north, we preserve a cultural heritage composed of different traditions, legends and myths forged throughout history.
One of the traditions that has been preserved over the years is the Samaín. In this post we want to bring you closer to the Celtic world and tell you a little bit about the origin of this festivity, known nowadays as Halloween. Read on and let’s get started!
Celts, Galicians and myths
Heir of the Celts and their descendant tribes, nowadays Galicia preserves in its own mythology an infinity of Celtic elements, traditions and legends. Within the Galician mythology, there are inherited festivities such as Samaín, popularly known as Halloween, or Beltane. Beltane marked the beginning of the pastoral summer season for the Celts.
In addition, we have also preserved many Celtic symbols that still have a special meaning and character within the Galician culture. They stand out for example the trisquel, the trisqueta, the Celtic cross or the tree of life.
Galicia shares with its Celtic ancestor different deities and mythological beings. Among the Galician mythological characters par excellence, the meigas, the bruxas, the goblins, the mouras or the Santa Compaña stand out. Unlike what many people usually think, a meiga is a mythological being of light that does good and protects other beings from the bruxas, which would be the evil witches. For its part, the Santa Compaña is one of the most famous legends of Galician culture, sure you know it, right?
Legend of the Santa Compaña
The Santa Compaña is a procession of souls in pain, dressed in black and wearing hoods, who wander through the night carrying a candle. It is said that they go barefoot in two rows and that at the front of the souls is a larger specter called Estadea. Immediately in front, opening the procession would be a mortal, condemned to wander carrying a cross and a candle every night. It is said that this mortal does not remember anything the next morning of what happened during the night and that his situation is only recognizable by his extreme pallor and thinness. As the light he carries at night grows stronger, the more the person languishes, until he dies. The only possibility of getting rid of this condemnation is that the procession crosses with another unwary mortal, to whom the role of opening the procession would be passed.
According to legend, the Santa Compaña is not seen, but is recognizable by the smell of burning candle wax in the air. As they pass by, the animals are disturbed and the forest becomes calm. If you want to get rid of him taking you, the solution is to wear a cross and pray or make a circle on the floor and get inside by closing your eyes very tightly.
Halloween or Samaín is a festival of Celtic origin that is celebrated on the night of October 31 to November 1. Before the arrival of Christianity in Europe, this pagan festival served as a celebration of the end of the harvest season and marked the beginning of the “Celtic New Year”. It was considered a festival of transition and opening to another world. The origin of the word Samaín is Gaelic and means “end of summer”.
It is precisely in the context of “opening to another world” that we find its relationship with legends such as that of the Santa Compaña. Adding to the superstitions, with the emergence of Christianity and the declaration of November 1st as All Saints’ Day, it is said that on Halloween night spirits can cross over into the world of the living. It is also said that in order to keep the spirits that crossed over to the world of the living happy, food was left outside the house. This tradition evolved into what is known today as trick-or-treating on Halloween, where children go trick-or-treating around the house.
Why Halloween and not Samaín?
Due to the persecution of pagan Celtic traditions by Christianity, the holiday became known as All Saints’ Day and in English as Halloween. However, in places with a Celtic tradition, such as Galicia, the word Samaín is still used. It should be said that the word Samhain is also correct.
What is characteristic of Halloween?
Children dress up in costumes to go door to door asking for candy. The costumes always tend to be of things of terror, spirits or diabolical. An enduring custom of Samaín is to empty pumpkins, draw ghostly faces on them and put candles inside.
Samaín in Galicia
Halloween night in Galicia is very special because of everything we have said so far. If you spend this night in Galicia, you can hear stories about encounters with the Santa Compaña and other mythological beings or animals of bad omen, such as the dog of the Urco or the song of the curuxa. In addition, the locals will inform you about everything you should do to protect yourself from evil spirits on this magical night.
One of the remedies against evil spirits is the Queimada.. The queimada is an aguardientosa drink made in Galicia that consists of a preparation recipe and an incantation. While the queimada is cooking you have to recite the incantation out loud, which is known as: “botarlle o conxuro á queimada”. After drinking it, the concoction grants protection against evil spells and spirits.
As you can see, Galician mythology, especially on Halloween night, is full of magic and legends. Maybe doing the Camino de Santiago in this week, can be a unique experience for you and bring you closer to live in first person the night of Samaín in rural Galicia. Do you dare to walk along its paths on November 1st?