Monster Monday: Santa Compaña

We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about the Santa Compaña.

Illustration to Robert Blair's The Grave
Illustration to Robert Blair’s The Grave

The Santa Compaña (“Holy Company” in Spanish) is a legend in rural areas of northern Spain. It is a procession of the dead that wander through the villages beginning at midnight. The souls wear white hooded cloaks and carry lit candles. They are led by a living person who carries a cross and a cauldron of  holy water. The purpose of the procession is to visit homes where death is due.

The living person is under a curse and doesn’t realize they are leading the procession. Every night at midnight, they enter a trance and lead the procession through the village and surrounding countryside before going back to bed just before morning and waking up exhausted, without any recollection of what they did. They can pass the curse to someone else if they encounter someone willing to take the cross and the cauldron. In some legends if they cannot find someone to take the curse, they will gradually grow weaker until they die.

Most people cannot see the spirits, only the living leader of the procession, although some can, and in some legends, the spirits cannot be seen, but their lit candles can, making them similar to the legends of the will-o’-the-wisp or the jack-o’-lantern. Usually the Santa Compaña is experienced as a cold chill or a sense of extreme unease. Sometimes the smell of burning wax indicates the procession is near. To avoid the curse, a person encountering the Santa Compaña can lie face-down on the ground until it passes, make warding gestures with their hands, or draw warding symbols on the ground.

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