Galicia and Asturias

Update 10 April 2020

Hellhounds and Hero Horses: Beasts of Myth and Legend is now available.

Update 15 December 2018

I got side-tracked adding chapters to my A World of Tricksters, completed two years ago. Also, the Celtic Spain book morphed into Hellhounds. The urco, an especially Galician manifestation of the hellhound, is in it, along with the Irish púca and other black dogs and good and bad beasts from around the world, including the wolfs-and-pipers tales below.

(A World of Tricksters is also available now.)

The subtitle of Hellhounds could almost be Beasts of Celtic Myth and Legend, as most of the stories are from Ireland, Britain, Galicia and Asturias, which is a much-neglected part of Spain. Next to Galicia, both geographically and Celticly, Asturias is a fount of living folk traditions.

A lot of the research for the Celtic Spain book into who the Celts are and where they came from is in the section about Nart horses of the North Caucasus in Hellhounds.


This blog page was the start of a book with the working title of “Legends and Tales of Celtic Spain”, consisting of stories mainly from Galicia but also Asturias and elsewhere in the former Roman province of Gallaecia, which encompassed the northwest quadrant of the Iberian peninsula. This page had 266 hits between 7 and 12 July 2017 when I posted.

Galicia is the most Celtic part of Spain. It is an autonomous community with its own language, Galician, which is a sort of hybrid of Spanish and Portuguese and is spoken as the mother tongue by a majority of the people. The landscape resembles Ireland, and the character and personality of the people are very similar to the Irish. It rains a lot.

Santiago de Compostela,
donde la lluvia es arte
y la mujer es poesía
(where rain is an art
and woman is poetry)

Galicians claim to have a Spanish heart and a Celtic soul. They are very aware and proud of their Celtic, and especially Irish, connections. A man told me he knew a man who could literally see Ireland from the top of a mountain in the south of Galicia, more than 600 miles away. The bagpipe (gaita) is the most characteristic instrument.

Bagpipers and Wolves – Three Stories

Los dos gaiteros y el lobo

A piper and a drummer were returning from a religious procession (romería) at night, came to a woods and were confronted by a wolf. They ran for their lives. The drummer happened to have a sack of sardines, and he threw them to the wolf, hoping to distract him. But the wolf quickly devoured the sardines and continued chasing the men. As they ran towards an abandoned house, the piper collided with a tree, and the impact caused the pipes to sound. The wolf was so scared that he ran away faster than anyone had ever seen a wolf run.
(Retold from the Spanish in Cuentos populares [de Galicia], Luis Alonso Girgado, Tambre Narrativa, A Coruña, 1993)
El lobo y los gaiteros

A band of pipers from Requeixo were returning from a fiesta at Rendal de Camba at night, when they heard wolves howling.
“Come on, lads,” said the master. “We have to retreat.”
“The cottage of Fanado is nearby,” said one of the pipers. “It has straw and wood, and we can make a fire.”
They went into the cottage, barred the door, and accommodated themselves in the straw, intending to sleep. But the howling of the wolves came closer, and soon they were just outside the door. One wolf jumped on to the roof and began removing the tiles with its paws. They could see its eyes gleaming and hear its growls, desperate to enter. Then another wolf jumped on to the roof, and soon the roof was tumbling down.
“Lads,” said the master. “The hour has come. Take out your instruments, and let’s play the Muiñeira [a popular dance] de Chantada. At least we’ll die happy.”
As soon as the pipes and drums began, the howling and growling outside stopped. The wolves had fled, and the musicians made a fire and settled in for the night in comfort and safety.
(Retold from the Spanish in Cuentos gallegos de tradición oral, Camiño Noia Campos, Nigratrea, Vigo, 2003)
O gaitero e os lobos da Fraga do Eume

One day a man was travelling to Fraga do Eume between the villages of As Pontes and A Capela in the northeast of Galicia. He was a labourer by day and a piper in the evenings.
Caught out by darkness one night on his way home, he decided to take a shortcut over the mountain, but his way was encumbered by rocks and thick vegetation. Then he heard wolves, and then he saw them – lean and hungry. He instinctively climbed a tree in spite of suffering from vertigo. He grabbed his pipes, intending to use them as a club to fend off the wolves if they tried to climb the tree, but then it occurred to him to play them to attract someone’s attention and bring help.
As soon as he started to play a muiñeira, the wolves stopped howling and growling and disappeared. But the people in Fraga do Eume enjoyed the music.
(Retold from the Galician in De lenda en lenda [from legend to legend], Esperanza Piñeiro de San Miguel and Andrés Gómez Blanco, Galician government publication, Ferrol, 1999)

(Google Fraga do Eume to see the thickness of the woods. “Fraga” means “woods”. Eume is a river.)

Illustration by J. M. González Collado (click to enlarge) from De lenda en lenda. The caption reads, “There were some lean and hungry wolves.”

Rafael Beltrán Llavador and Marta Haro Cortés have a couple of recently collected Asturian versions and a French one in El cuento folclórico en la literatura y en la tradición oral (2006) in which the piper accidentally squeezes or falls on the bag, which makes the pipes squawk, startling the wolf/wolves. In one he says: “Oh, they’re afraid of the pipes.” So he plays a tune and they leave. There is also a Portuguese version.

A version of this story, “El buner d’Ordino”, is so famous in Andorra that the French postal service issued a stamp depicting it in 2002. The Spanish version at “El buner d’Ordino – Wikipedia, la enciclopedia libre” and the Andorran at “El buner d’Ordino — El web de la parròquia d’Ordino –” are the same as the English at “El buner d’Ordino – Wikipedia”.

Galician Urco and Irish Púca

Cervexa Suevia in Vilagarcía de Arousa, Galicia, Spain, no longer produces Urco, a dark strong ale. Perhaps the graphic label on the bottle scared off the drinkers.

The urco, from the Latin orcus meaning the Underworld, is a presage of death. The Irish púca, which is also an unusually large black dog with fiery red eyes, is casually accepted as a neighbourhood pet, except when it’s a warning of danger – a sort of presage of an avoidable death.

Urcos and púcas have their own sections in Hellhounds and Hero Horses: Beasts of Myth and Legend, along with Black Dogs (who are not urcos or púcas) and Ordinary and Extraordinary Real Dogs.

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