On a chilly night, amidst the verdant countryside of northwestern Spain, a local who has stayed late into the evening visiting a friend or perhaps a tourist who has wandered off the beaten path, meanders happily down a rural road to his home or place of lodging. The night is pitch black and an unseasonable cold permeates the air as thick mists roll in from all directions. The traveler notices in the distance a long line of what first appear to be flickering lights but as they draw closer are clearly seen to be human figures. At first the traveler is perplexed but quickly assumes these robed candle bearing nightwalkers to be on some sort of pilgrimage and he is not entirely wrong. It is a pilgrimage from beyond the grave known as the Santa Compaña, a manifestation of the Holy Souls in Purgatory who remind the locals of the fleetingness of life and the need to ever pray for their dead departed to help them on their journey to Heaven. As these unearthly pilgrims draw close, our traveler will see that they perhaps have the face of a skeleton or the pallid features and blank eyes of those not of this world and doubtless he will not stay long. If he is a local, he may make the sign of the cross and trace a sacred symbol into the dirt and lay there with his eyes closed until the spectral procession has passed or if he is unfamiliar with local customs, he may just run in the opposite direction. Either way he will never forget his encounter with the Santa Compaña.
This otherworldly procession is common in northwestern Spain in the regions of Galicia, Asturias and parts of northern Castilla and León and is known by many names including “As de nuite” or The Night Ones and “La Estantigua” or Ancient Host but its most common name by far is the Santa Compaña which translates to English as the Holy Company. No matter what these ghostly night walkers are called, there is no denying that they are a manifestation of the dead in the world of the living. Many country dwellers in northwestern Spain even today claim to have witnessed the Santa Compaña and similar beliefs exist in Brittany, in northwestern France, regarding nocturnal ghostly processions. This is perhaps due to these locations’ shared ancient Celtic roots. The Santa Compaña is believed to be led by a living person who is called forth from his sleep by a mysterious force to roam the country side carrying a cross or cauldron of holy water followed by suffering souls who come forth from Purgatory. The person in question can be male or female depending on the gender of the patron saint of the local parish church and he or she will return to bed at dawn and awake feeling tired but with no recollection of his or her nocturnal wonderings. The role of Santa Compaña leader can be passed on to another person if they happen to come into contact with the ghostly procession. At times the Santa Compaña can be felt but not fully seen. In these cases it can manifest in the form of a chilly patch of air on an otherwise mild night or sometimes the faint flickers of lights can be seen in the distance and the unmistakable scent of candle wax wafting in on the night air will be detected when the Santa Compaña is afoot. There are several ways to protect oneself from potential harm brought about by an encounter with the Santa Compaña. The quickest and most effective defense is to make the sign of the cross and lay flat on the ground until it passes avoiding eye contact at all costs as this is the means by which a person may be compelled to become the new leader of the Santa Compaña. In Galicia, many villages have stone crosses mounted at crossroads and other rural locations called “Cruceiros.” If you can make it to the nearest cruceiro, you will surely emerge unscathed from this otherworldly encounter. It also never hurts to carry with you a small cross or holy symbol in case you are caught off guard by any type of supernatural manifestation.
People have asked me if I believe in the Santa Compaña and the answer is yes, without a doubt. In fact I believe I may have seen it on All Saints’ Day in 2001 as I was riding on a bus through Galicia on my way to Portugal. Galicia and northern Portugal are hotbeds of spiritual activity and witchcraft flourishes there, but that is a topic for another post. It was a beautiful night and we passed many rural graveyards that were glowing with lit candles people had placed on the graves of loved ones. As we rounded a bend on the edge of a mountain I remember looking down into the valley below and seeing a line lights floating in midair and meandering through the dense forest. I did not get a close look, but my psychic sense did tell me that it was something not of this world and I do believe I had a fleeting encounter with the Santa Compaña albeit from the relative safety of the inside of a moving tour bus.
The Santa Compaña may seem frightening but I assure you it is nothing to be feared. It is simply a manifestation of souls who are undergoing purification that are in need of prayers and reach out to those of us still alive to pray on their behalf. In Catholic theology, there exists an intermediate state between this earthly life and Heaven call purgatory where the souls of the departed are purified and cleansed of the imperfections of this life before entering Paradise. Similar states of waiting exist in Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam before the final judgement and in Hinduism and Buddhism before a soul’s next incarnation, but in Catholicism a greater emphasis is placed on purification. Souls call me helped through purgatory more quickly by means of prayers, masses and indulgences (a special remission of time in purgatory granted by the church for performing certain prayers and pious acts) offered for them by the living faithful still on Earth. In my personal experience, many cases of “hauntings” are in fact souls in Purgatory reaching out to the living for help in order to speed their purification and entrance into Heaven. This is the case with the Santa Compaña. The belief about the bewitched living person leading the procession is most likely a colorful embellishment on the part of imaginative country folk, but the procession of Holy Souls I’m convinced is completely real and serves as a reminder of the fleetingness of this life and the need to pray for those who have entered eternity. It is incredibly important to pray for the dead and help them on their passage to a happy afterlife and they in turn will not forget us but become our powerful friends and benefactors and help us in this life and the next.
I hope you have enjoyed this post and I thank you for taking the time to visit my blog. As always, I wish you peace, happiness and abundant blessings!