Galician Faith in the Enchanted Mouros and Mouras: Is There Reality Behind the Fairytales
Numerous folk stories in Galicia, Spain, tell of supernatural spirits that dwell in forests, among the waters of the rivers, or on sandy beaches. Many of them are related in some ways to ancient Celtic stories but it is not the only source of their inspiration. In fact, the folklore legends that remain alive in this area are a mixture of different traditions that originate with the local Portuguese and Spanish, as well as the older sources, like the Celts and Romans.
According to some of these legends, the Mouros and Mouras were important spirits that inhabited the lands of Galicia, as well as North Portugal and Asturia, many millennia ago. Nobody knows from where they came, but they are famous for their mesmerizing craftsmanship in silver, gold, and precious gemstones. While they were making jewels, the female form, known as Mouras, were like mirrors of fairies, and supposedly could be seen combing their long, beautiful hair while sitting somewhere in nature.
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Legends say that the Mouros live far away from any human settlements, and it is very hard to meet one because they leave their safe places only if they need food or due to very special events, like Midsummer. Nevertheless, awareness of their existence was always strong.
The authors of the article ‘Myths, Legends and Beliefs on Granite Caves’ described the “os Mouros” as follows:
''Mythical people with singular features and behavior. They live in deserted places –old ruins that are said to be built by them- and in uninhabitable worlds –under the water, under the ground, inside the rocks-. This is “Mourindade”. They are also known as Enchantments, Gentlemen and Gentile, and even French, Vikings, Celts. They are said to have supernatural powers. They are not visible unless they want to. They control magic, are pagans, sleep during the day and can even eat people. They are skilled in building tunnels and underground palaces. They have a lot of gold; even their oxen and carts are golden. They themselves are enchanted treasures. On the contrary, their daily domestic activities such as cattle, farming and games, music and dancing are the same as those in Galician peasant society. Nevertheless, from the cultural anthropology viewpoint, “os Mouros” have been considered as the inverse image of peasants; as the paradigm of The Other (the non-humane) or just as the reminiscence of old Galician settlers or those gods and beliefs previous to the arrival of Christianity. They have parallelism in traditions such as those of Breton Korrigans, the Scotch Pictos, the Follets of the Catalan caves, etc.”
One of the theories says that the Mouros were the opposite spirits to Galician peasants. However, there is a very mysterious species called Mouros Encantados, which have been described as giant warriors who fought impressive battles with all who tried to conquer their lands.
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The etymology of the name Moura has its origins in Celtic and Latin words, created from the words Mrvos (Celtic) and Maurus (Latin). However, the first meaning of the word Moura seems to be more related to Celtic roots.
Stories of Mouros and Mouras may have their roots in Celtic legends, obviously pre-Roman times, when the lands of Galicia belonged to a strong society of people whose life and religion still remains a mystery to researchers. Yet, there is no single legend about the Mouras. Every region has its own version of the story. It may sometimes even vary between adjacent towns.
In general, stories about the Mouras are very similar to those of the legendary nymphs - beautiful women that can apparently be seen in caves, rivers, wells and places where treasures were hidden. They also seem to be similar to the Mairu, who are important elements in Basque mythology. Both, Mouras and Mairu are said to have built ancient dolmens, stone circles, and other prehistoric monuments.
Nymph by Gaston Bussière.
What connects all of these stories is that they all describe a beautiful female being with long, flowing hair. There are variations of her story, however. The most popular are the accounts of Pedra-Moura who lives among the stones, Princesa Moura, who is a beautiful blonde woman and spends much time with her pet – a snake, and the Moura fiandeira, who is known as a great builder of hillforts.
Belief in Fairies
Faith in fairies is not only something to be found in fantasy books. In certain towns and villages on the Atlantic coast of Spain and Portugal, there are many people with a deep understanding of the relationship between the world of humans and the world of spirits, and who still carry a belief in the existence of the Mouros and Mouras.