Rites, the mise-en-scène of tradition
Purifying, fertility and protecting rites… These ceremonies have been performed since ancient times by the people as part of their folk wisdom, as a clear evidence of the importance that popular legends still have in As Rías Baixas. Here, you will be seduced by the magical and mysterious symbolism of these rituals, just between tradition and occultism, and evoke other periods, and worlds where anything is possible.
Discover some of the traditions that are still preserved in the province. Believe and see the world with new eyes, the eyes of those who still believe in magic, mystery and dreams!
Fertility rituals and rites against the evil eye
One of the most popular and widespread rituals in Pontevedra, especially for those who want to have a baby, is performed on the beautiful A Lanzada Beach, in the town of Sanxenxo. Of pagan origin, according to some theories, or linked to the goddess Venus, legend has it that to become a mother a woman must be struck by nine waves on a full moon night and then lie on the Cama de la Virgen (bed of the Virgin), a set of stones next to the shrine of Nosa Señora de A Lanzada. This tradition is reflected in a Spanish copla:
“I took my wife
to A Lanzada, to the nine waves
I took her to be cleansed
and cast the demons out”
There is no agreement on the dates this ceremony should be held. Many people say that June 21 should be the date, others affirm that Saint John’s Eve, on June 23, is a more propitious day, but experts such as the anthropologist Xosé Ramón Mariño Ferro point out that the best date is the last Saturday of August, coinciding with the Feast of the Virgin Mary. Why nine waves? This may have a Celtic origin. Sea waves break on the coast in series of nine, being the ninth the largest and most powerful. These waters are also said to have healing and therapeutic properties.
But in this magic land, which has been the origin of many castros and fortress remains with only the tower left standing, you can also cast off the evil eye. To be protected against this curse, you have to enter the shrine at dawn and sweep the back of the altarpiece, the altar and around the vault, three times. Another option, especially if you do not want to sweep the floor, is to lay naked on the grass on Saint John’s Eve.
Wishes and remedies against witches on Saint John’s Eve
A whole sea of bonfires lights up the province of Pontevedra on Saint John’s Eve, on June 23, and the aroma of roasted sardines fills the air. According to tradition, to protect yourself against evil, you need to jump nine times over the fire. In addition, before dusk you should collect medicinal plants, popularly known as “Saint John’s plants”, namely lemon verbena, mint, honeysuckle, rosemary, chamomile, and yellow everlasting. These plants should be dipped in a vessel with water and left outside overnight. On the following morning, people use this water to wash their faces, so as they will be healthy the rest of the year, and also to be protected against evil and witches, since as the popular Galician saying goes: “habelas, hainas” (I don’t believe in witches, but they really exist).
Castros (Celtic hill-forts) have been preserved for about 2,500 years on the hills of Cuntis, and they have left their mark on the culture of the town. An example of this type of constructions is the castro of Castrolandín, a site of more than 1,000 square metres having a museum. Since 2002, Saint John’s bonfires have been celebrated in this place, as a ritual of fertility to communicate with the Moorish inhabitants who, according to legend, have been watching over us from the subsoil to protect the castros from flooding and bad weather.
As part of the ritual, locals collect branches with pinecones attached to the tip and place them on the ground, around a bonfire. Then, children light the pinecones using wooden sticks with oil, and turn them into lamps to create a scene of magical beauty. Then, if you want to make a wish come true, you have to think of one in secret and throw a pinecone to the flames, and your dreams will be fulfilled.
A ritual of fertility in Pedra da Serpe
The town of Campo Lameiro boasts one of the most important collections of rock art in Europe, and it is a place connected with nature and the history of our ancient people. The castro Penalba, from the 8th century BC, stands on a 423-metre high granite hill. On the upper terrace of the hill is the petroglyph Pedra da Serpe, a stone with two ophidians that seem to have been carved while mating. The rock, bent at an angle of 80 degrees, is located on the east in a privileged setting, where you can enjoy an incredible panoramic view of the land by the Lérez River.
An abundant motif in Galician rock art for its magical nature is the serpent. A good example of this is the stone of the castro of Penalba, dating from the 8th to the 7th century BC. According to legend, the couples with no children who want to solve their fertility problems should have sex on this stone on Saint John's night and offer the cobras a cup of milk.
Songs for a good harvest in Mondariz
During April, in the regions of Mondariz and O Condado-A Paradanta locals used to sing while planting. Moreover, they celebrated every day the end of the working day with more music and dance. They used to improvise songs, and perform traditional music with the help of farming tools, such as hoes, which were turned into particular musical instruments for the occasion.
After this curious cultural tradition linked to the farming work, popularly known as aña, in the late afternoon the serán (“dusk” in the Galician language) was held. This was a festive event, celebrated at the end of the working day, where people sang and danced spontaneously until the early morning. In some areas, the “bouquet dance” was also held; young men took young women out to dance, while holding a bouquet of laurel adorned with cloths, doughnuts and ribbons.
A magical route in the company of the King Sun
According to legend, there are several tunnels scattered around the archaeological site Costa dos Castros, in the town of Oia. There, the castros of A Cabeciña, Chavella and Cano dos Mouros serve as vantage points with views of both the land and the sea in a beautiful natural setting. Nearby, you can also visit the pools pozas de Mougás, the cork oaks of O Faro, known as the westernmost Mediterranean forest in Europe, and the area of giant ferns, on the banks of the Vilar River.
The last stop is the castro of the Cano dos Mouros, standing on a 300-metre high hill in Viladesuso. This construction was the setting of a peculiar story which would be the origin of a festival which takes place in September.festival which takes place in September. It is said that the King Sun sat every evening on a stone of the hill, today popularly known as the “King Sun’s chair”, to see how the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean.
The Magical Route of Oia is an 18-km trail with 17 stops between Mougás and the Santa María de Oia Monastery, a Site of Cultural Interest since 1931. The trail starts at the Santa María de Oia Monastery, and runs through the places of Pedornes, Viladesuso and Mougás; the petroglyphs of A Pedreira; the rock art carvings of O Viveiro, Outeiros do Mouronzo and A Pousadela; the cork oak wood Sobreiras do Faro; the Cano dos Mouros; the pool Pozas de Mougás and the carvings of A Cabeciña, one of the most impressive prehistoric sites in Galicia.
A door to the underworld in O Seixo
The viewpoint O Seixo, in O Cando Hill, offers stunning views of the towns of Forcarei, Cerdedo and A Lama. This is a magical place boasting a large number of burial mounds, menhirs and stones with peculiar shapes. Among them, it stands out the menhir Marco do Vento, where the powers of the universe are said to converge. It is also worth mentioning the Porta do Alén or Portalén, a group of granite fractured rocks on top of a large flat rock which form a lintel, which is said to be a door to the underworld.
Legend has it that this megalithic monument, considered a temple of worship to nature or to the stars, is a gateway to the kingdom of the dead. There, you can ask the spirits whatever you want to know. To do so, you have to enter through the Porta do Alén from the north to the south in silence, so that you can hear the reply through the wind blow, but be careful because you may lose your voice or become ill. You should walk out the door quickly, otherwise you will be trapped in the kingdom of cruel Hades forever.
A funeral procession to give thanks for life
Every 29 July, the church of Santa Marta de Ribarteme, in the town of As Neves, is the starting point of a procession considered one of the weirdest in the world by the The Guardian newspaper. After the religious services in honour of Santa Marta, the church bells toll, and the coffins are carried out with those who escaped death inside.
People chant the psalm "Virxe Santa Marta, estrela do Norte, traemos-che os que viron a morte" (Virgin Saint Martha, star of the North, we bring you those who escaped death) while devotes and those who suffered or are suffering a severe disease or that of a relative are carried inside coffins so as to be cured or to express their gratitude to the Virgin when they recover. In the case of children, the coffins are always empty, although records state that in the past there used to be children inside. The procession is followed by other penitents that do not wish to lay in a coffin and cover their clothes with white gauzes and carry candles. This experience will leave you unforgettable memories.
Dances and handmade attires
Every year in January, the parish of Aldán, in the town of Cangas, celebrates the Dances of San Sebastián, declared Festival of Galician Tourist Interest. The dancers consist of ten galáns (gallans), five damas (dames) and a guide, who leads the procession that starts in the church of San Cibrán. The event begins with a bow to Saint Sebastian and the Cross. Then, the dancers, who always dance face to bace, bow six times before each image: three times when they approach and another three when they return to the initial position. The guide directs the movements of the group, who dance to the tune of the bagpipe and the tambourine, accompanied by the rhythm of the castanets.
Other long-lasting tradition is the carnival of the Xenerais da Ulla. These characters wear elaborate costumes with thousands of hand-sewn beads. In the case of the xenerais, the distinguishing features are a peculiar three-cornered hat, adorned with peacock feathers. This peaceful and peculiar army take the audience to a dazzling world of beauty and fun.
Stones to leave you speechless and keep the witches away
The Miño River, a natural border between Spain and Portugal as it flows through the province of Pontevedra, was haunted according to the Romans. It was home to numerous Galician mythological characters who lived in its basin: the "feiticeiras" (sorcerers) who lived in the same river, the "xarcos", who hid in wells, and fish-men capable of living both inside and outside the water. All these creatures fill with mysticism the banks of the river.
The Romans said the end of the Earth or finis terrae was located in the mouth of this river and hidden in the mist. A popular belief is that the men and women who dared to cross it at the town hall of Arbo had to carry a stone in their mouths to avoid speaking during the journey, since their speech could free supernatural spirits such as the witches that inhabited those waters. If they came across these witches, their journey and lives would end.
A godfather for Alberta or Alberto
Rivers are magical spaces that have been the source of many stories that belong to our tradition. There is a legend linked to the Umia River as it passes through Ponte Arnelas, near Vilanova de Arousa. There, you find the "bridge of the godfathers", better known as "ponte dos padriños", which has been the setting of a curious rite of fertility and prenatal baptism for mothers who have not finished their gestation period or have lost their babies during pregnancy.
The woman should approach the bridge accompanied by their loved ones so as to prevent any animal or person from crossing the bridge after midnight. She should also ask the first man who crosses it to pour some water from the river over her belly. Then, they invited the man to a dinner. After this baptism, the crockery used for the dinner was thrown to the river. If nine months later a stork knocked on the woman's door, the man would be the godfather of the newborn, who would be called Alberta, if a girl, or Alberto, if a boy, in honour of the stone statue of the saint of the cruceiro (stone cross) by the bridge.
These are just some examples of the incredible richness of the intangible heritage of As Rías Baixas. These are rites and traditions that, whether true or not, reveal a world of hope, beauty and absolute connection with nature and the magical beings that inhabit it.