Santa Compaña of the Iberian Peninsula
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There are a lot of legends around the world that most people never really hear about, especially if they're in different languages. Many legends and folklore never make it out of their locality; if they do, it happens in a way that isn't easily traced back to their origin. One of these stories comes from the northwestern Iberian Peninsula, specifically in Galicia, Asturias, and Northern Portugal.
It's interesting to search across the Internet using various languages because, much like legends and folklore, information may only spread as far as the language goes. For example, around 2.4 million people speak Galician— a tiny fraction of the estimated 8 billion people living today. As of 2022, about 600 million people speak Spanish, and around 1.4 billion speak English.
In northwestern Spain, in the community of Galicia, there's a province called A Coruña, and within A Coruña is a municipality named Neda that is home to around 5,000 people.
It's a beautiful place with a rich history that most people have probably never heard of. George A. Romero, who you likely know as the creator of the Night of the Living Dead film franchise, has family from that region. His grandfather was born in Neda, Galicia, where the legend of the Santa Compaña is widely known.
About the Iberian Peninsula
By this point, I've probably named several locations that aren't commonly known but are simple to find if you know where to look.
The Iberian Peninsula is home to around 53 million people, and the land is divided mainly by Spain and Portugal, with small areas of France, Andorra, and Gibraltar. A few dozen languages are currently spoken across Iberia—Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan make up the majority, followed by Galician and Basque.
Around 2.7 million people inhabit the autonomous community of Galicia, Spain. The name comes from an ancient Celtic tribe called the "Gallaeci" that inhabited the region during the Middle Paleolithic period.
How to Pronounce Santa Compaña
Take a quick visit to Forvo.com to hear a native pronunciation for "Santa Compaña" in Galician.
"Santa" means "Holy."
"Compaña" means "Company."
Put those together, and you have "Holy Company," which may initially sound innocuous, but it isn't something you ever want to see because you may end up cursed with only a few days or weeks to live.
The Legend of Santa Compaña
Each midnight in the villages of Galicia, a procession of the dead wanders the town's roads and nearby forest. Tormented souls, trapped in purgatory and doomed to travel the paths of the parish. They wear white hooded cloaks, carry lit candles, and are led by a living parishioner carrying a cross.
The parishioner is the only living person in the procession and goes out each night in a trance, entirely unaware of what they are doing. Before sunrise, the Santa Compaña ends, and the living leader returns to their bed, unrested and oblivious to what they have just done. The parishioner is cursed to lead the procession every night, and each night consumes more of the parishioner's vitality—until finally, they succumb to exhaustion and death.
Any other living soul who encounters Santa Compaña during their macabre march is cursed to relieve the burden of the doomed parishioner by taking the cross of the leader for themselves.
How To Avoid Being Cursed by Santa Compaña
First, don't ever encounter Santa Compaña. If that doesn't work, and you find yourself on a dark road after midnight in Galicia with a procession of the dead suddenly upon you, here are the only known ways to protect yourself from becoming their new leader.
1) Preparation! Make Queimada and perform the Esconxuro spell before you wander out after midnight. Queimada is an alcoholic drink served at family gatherings, most popular around the Solistice and Halloween. Queimada is part of a Galician ritual for warding off evil. Read more about Queimedia.
2) Drop the ground, whip out your chalk or salt, and draw Solomon's Circle. Get in it and lay face down until you're absolutely sure Santa Compaña is gone—I'd recommend waiting until daybreak.
3) If you happen to have a black cat with you, you're good. Nothing to worry about.
4) Make sure your hands are completely full (preferably with a large cross, but in a pinch, anything may suffice), drop to your knees, and start praying. When the leader approaches and tries to hand you the cross, reply with, "I already have a cross."
5) Give them a solid hand fig. This is the same hand gesture many Westerners call the "got your nose" sign. It is considered obscene in many parts of the world and is also commonly used to ward off the evil eye, insult someone, or deny a request—in this case, denying the request to become Santa Compaña's new leader.
6) Metal music fan? Throw up horns. 🤘🤘🤘 Why does this work, though? The 🤘 horn, aka Maloik, hand sign has a long history of warding off evil, including that time when Gene Simmons claimed he invented it and tried unsuccessfully to trademark it. Ronnie James Dio did it first. (Okay, not first, but Dio was responsible for making it popular in music.)
7) Scream and run away as fast as possible. You might make it. You'll never really know, though, because if you are cursed, you won't realize it.
Overall, I think the best bet here is to stay home. Just don't go out after midnight. But, if you have to, be sure you have Queimada prepared with the Esconxuro, carry a clowder of black cats, and you and the clowder all throw 🤘🤘 up.
George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" & Santa Compaña
Okay, I'll admit that I search around on the Internet all the time in languages I know nothing about, but that's the power of modern technology. For languages in widespread use, it's pretty simple, but things can get more difficult for languages that represent only a tiny percentage of the world. Google Translate doesn't know how to pronounce Galician, for example, though it does a decent job of translating Galician to English. I was researching Santa Compaña in Spanish and Galician and stumbled across a few articles with information that I couldn't manage to locate in English.
El origen gallego de los zombis modernos: la Santa Compaña on Quincemil from A Coroña and Los muertos vivientes de la tía Pura on El Mundo. El Mundo is the second largest printed daily newspaper in Spain and is considered one of the country's newspapers of record.
"El origen gallego de los zombis modernos: la Santa Compaña" meaning "The Galician origin of modern zombies: the Santa Compaña", and "Los muertos vivientes de la tía Pura" meaning "The Walking Dead of Aunt Pura". Both articles describe how the original Night of the Living Dead was partly financed by George A. Romero's aunts in A Coruña. The two articles also report that George's aunts, Nena and Pura, filled him with folklore and stories of his family's home in Galicia, including the legend of Santa Compaña—which had a considerable influence on the film.
If you can read Spanish, use the links above. If you can't, here are links that should automatically translate the articles into English for you.
From what I can tell, El Mundo seems to be the original source of this information. Both articles include different Romero family photos, some of which include George's father and the two aunts, Nena and Pura. Perhaps this information exists somewhere in English, but I couldn't find it.
Relevant & Related
- Learn about the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia that dates back to medieval times.
- The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries by Carlo Ginzburg, a famous Italian historian. Part II of the book covers processions of the dead.
- If you can manage to find somewhere to watch it, a 2012 stop motion animation film from Spain titled O Apóstolo contains Santa Compaña. If you find it, drop me a note and let me know so I can check it out.
- Spanish folk metal band Mägo de Oz has a song titled "Santa Compaña" on their 2002 album Folktergeist. It's available for free on the Mägo de Oz official YouTube channel: Santa Compaña · Mägo de Oz · Carlitos · Folktergeist