The Santa Compaña, or Santa Companha (“Holy Company”) is probably one of the most deep-rooted mythical beliefs in rural Galicia, and also in Asturias, where it is called Güestia. It is also known under the names of “Estadea”, “Estantiga'” (estantigua in Spanish, from Latinhostes antiquus, confounding the meaning of “ancient enemy”, a euphemism for the Devil, and “host”, a military troop), “Rolda”, “As da noite” [The Night Ones], “Pantalla”, “Avisóns”, “Pantaruxada”… all of these are terms that show us the presence of the dead in the world of the living.

Many different versions of the “Santa Compaña” can be found in any bibliography, and that is probably why it is so difficult to define it with precision. However, there are a number of features mentioned by all authors: a procession of the dead or souls in torment wander the path of a parish at midnight. A living person carrying a cross and a cauldron of holy water leads the procession followed by all the souls with lit candles, although not always seen, the smell of wax and the breeze which appears when they pass warn of their presence. The person carrying the cross must never turn around or renounce his duty in leading the Santa Compaña; he can only be freed from his duty if he manages to find another person to carry the cross and the cauldron. To avoid this obligation the person who sees the Santa Compaña pass by must draw a circle on the ground and enter it, or he can also lie face-down. Other ways to evade Santa Compaña is to tie a black cat in the middle of Santa Compaña and run away from it, or realize diverse symbols with both hands as a horn gesture (extending the index and little fingers and to contract the rest of fingers) or the fig sign (which consists of closing the fist and putting the thumb between the index and middle fingers). The person leading the procession can be a man or a woman — this all depends on whether the patron saint of the parish is male or female. To conclude, the Santa Compaña is an announcer of death, its one mission is to visit the homes where death is due.

It may be related to Odin‘s Wild Hunt, or the Celtic westward processions of the dead to the End of the World. It is equivalent  to the Irish Banshee and Briton Ankou.

[*a4 – Referenced]