Spain is made up of unique cultures and complex history spanning surprisingly diverse regions. Because of this, few Spanish myths and legends are country-wide. Rather, the country is made up of local folklore particular to the different regions of Spain, as well as different periods in its long history.
We’ve put together a list of the best Cantabrian, Andalusian, and Catalonian myths and legends. As well as some Spanish mythology so popular that you’ll find them anywhere in the country!
Popular Spanish legends
Spanish legends have their roots in real stories and periods in history. But considering the presence of dragons, undead horses, and other mythical creatures, you can imagine there’s been a smidge of exaggeration over the years.
These are the most fascinating and popular legends across Spain.
The legend of San Jorge
Celebrated across various regions of Spain is Saint George’s Day. One of the main celebrations of this event is the commemoration of the legend of San Jorg (Sant Jordi, Saint George).
According to the legend, there was a fierce dragon wreaking havoc on the people of Montblanc (although that place name changes depending on where you are). It breathed poison, capable of killing with a single snort. It also ate all the livestock, and just generally caused a great deal of trouble.
To appease the dragon, the people of Montblanc offered it two sheep every day. This worked for a while until they started to run out of sheep, and it once again became a looming threat.
So, the villagers decided that rather than have a dragon running rampant and killing whoever it pleased, they would offer as sacrifice one person every day. The villagers would draw lots to see who it would be, so that it always remained fair.
One day the princess drew the losing straw. The king was devastated, but he would not interfere, and she went off to the dragon’s cave. Just when she was about to be eaten (and in some versions, when she was already in the dragon’s gullet), a knight came to save her. He stabbed the dragon in the neck, killing it and freeing the people from its terror.
Where the dragon’s blood fell a bush of blood-red roses grew. Saint George, a new hero, plucked one of the roses and gave it to the princess.
What’s more, when this young hero was offered all the riches he could conceive of for saving their lives, George asked that it be given to the kingdom’s inhabitants instead. Truly a day to be celebrated!
Comte Arnau/ Comte Mal
The story of Comte Arnau is a famous Catalonian ballad from the 16th century. The story revolves around a legendary and lecherous nobleman from Ripollès.
This nobleman committed two terrible sins. He had sexual relations with an abbess, and he refused to pay his vassals for work they had done for him. Now, apparently this was quite enough wrongdoing for the most wretched punishment. And so, Count Arnau is cursed to wander the earth for all eternity on an undead horse, accompanied by demonic hounds and fire that burns his flesh.
It’s quite the topic for a popular song, and one that would certainly encourage piety and prompt payments.
The Lovers of Teruel
These are the tombs of two mummified corpses thought to be the famous lovers
A legendary and tragic love story, the lovers of Teruel are the subject of many artworks. The lovers – Isabel and Diego – knew each other since childhood and were madly in love with one another, although very young. But Diego was the second son of a family on hard times, and Isabel’s family was wealthy and noble.
Isabel’s father insisted that they could not get married due to their difference in wealth and stature. But Diego told him that if he could just give him five years to make his name, he would return as a suitable partner for his daughter. After all, she was still young.
Diego left, and for five years his love heard nothing from him. But finally, he had amassed his wealth and waited the allotted time, and they could finally be married. But Diego returned a day late – and in that single day, Isabel’s father had married her off against her will.
Devastated, Diego snuck to her window, and begged her to kiss him, or else he would die. She too was heartbroken, but insisted that she could not, as she was now a married woman and had to be faithful. He asked again for a final kiss, but she was firm in her duty. So, shattered and having lost all that he sought, Diego fell at her feet and died.
Isabel was so struck with grief, that at his funeral she opened his casket, kissed him in death as she could not in life, and died there, embracing him.
Los amantes de Teruel by Antonio Muñoz Degrain – the Romance-era painting inspired by the tragic lovers
Spanish folklore and myths
Similar to legends but without any firm footing in reality, myths are a beautiful form of symbolic storytelling. In Spain, like in many other countries around the world, they’re used to scare kids straight, make a point, and just make for a damn good story round the fire.
These three stories are long-time Spanish favourites – and for good reason!
El Coco is a well-known Spanish myth popular throughout the Spanish diaspora. It’s quite the scare tactic – Coco is a child-eating monster that wanders the streets with a black bag, searching for misbehaving children to kidnap and eat.
Coco only eats naughty children (must be a difference in texture), which is probably why the myth is so popular among parents. He’ll gulp up a child without a trace, or steal them away to devour later.
Interestingly, he’s quite a shapeless figure with no distinctive features. In some communities, El Coco is a hairy monster. In others its a dragon. And in still others, like much of Portugal, Coco is a ghost monster.
Caballucos del Diablu
A myth from Northern Spain, Caballucos are the damned souls of sinners. Every magical San Juan Night (23 June) the Caballucos are released.
A bonfire is lit as part of the celebrations, and the Caballucos’ burst from the ashes, screaming out their rage and regret at their misdeeds, and fury at being contained for the year.
Caballucos del Diablu (the little horses of the Devil) look much like dragonflies or winged horses, and each is a different colour according to their sins. The devil rides atop one of them, and they go in search of trouble, not coming near the bonfire again while they’re free – avidly avoiding it, in fact.
The creatures steal four-leafed clovers to take the luck from others. They trample and burn crops (although how they can cause much trample destruction with their tiny little hooves, I don’t know). And they sometimes attack people – so clearly, they haven’t learnt from their punishment.
Known by a lot of different names, the Santa Compaña is a procession of the undead among the living. You’ll find the Santa Compaña in our Portugal mythology post as well, as the two countries share the Iberian peninsula and many of the same cultural traits and history.
This procession of souls in anguish is led by a local parisher under a curse. He carries a cross and a cauldron in his hands, and is followed by the dead, who sing haunting songs and foreshadow death in the community.
A traditional ghost story, the Santa Compaña can be identified by a heavy fog and the smell of wax in the air – as the procession carry burning candles.
They themselves are not violent. But if you see them, the stories say to lie face down on the ground. Because spotting them means that either you will die, or the curse will fall onto you. In which case, you’ll lead the dead, and then you’ll die – from exhaustion and sleep deprivation.
L’ Home dels nassos
The Man of the Noses is a curious character that you’ll find joining the Spanish New Years celebrations every year. Barcelona’s parade includes a giant figure of him, so if you’re in the city around this time, be sure to keep an eye out for him.
According to the folktale, this nosey man has one nose for every day of the year – 365 noses – and loses one every day. However, he only leaves his home on the 31st of December, so this is the only day you can hope to spot him.
Parents used to send their children out to search for the man of the noses on Old Years Eve – and at some points in history, a man would actually be sitting in a prominent place, with his sheaves and sheaves of toilet paper to blow all 365 of his noses. It’s a cute, random story mostly meant for kids, and a good bit of fun for the imagination.
Spanish mythical creatures
While many ancient Spanish myths have been lost, we still know a little bit about their mythological creatures. Whether because of artworks, lullabies, tales or any number of references.
These creatures and figures are from various regions in Spain – and some spill over into neighbouring Portugal. They’re brilliant, so be sure to give them all a read and let us know your favourites!
The Cuélebre is a serpentine dragon-creature with bat wings. Like the well-known dragon, the Cuélebre guards fantastical treasures.
It is an immortal being, but continues to grow throughout its life, its scales growing thick and heavy. One day, when it grows too heavy for this world, the Cuélebre flies off to another land or buries itself deep in the sea – depending on the various myths.
This dragon-creature seldom moves but can create a great deal of trouble for the people near it, making a terrible whistling sound and devouring innocents. So according to the myths, people had to bring it food to spare their lives, unless some brave hero slew the serpent.
An Asturian god or dwarf-figure (depending on the local folklore), Nuberu had power over the weather. His appearance differs quite strongly depending on where you are. But as a dwarf, he’s usually old and very ugly, and can even appear in stories with wings. As a god, he rides a wolf-drawn chariot and wears a patch over his eye.
Nuberu can be cruel and callous with humans, but also kind (fickle as the weather). So ugly or not, it’s best to be generous with him.
A Duende puppet from a Spanish festival
You may know the Duende from Portuguese mythology – the sprite-like creature is one of the most famous mythical figures from Iberia. It’s a mischievous house spirit who can be helpful (but never seen). More often though, it causes lots of sneaky trouble, and can be easily irked.
Aloja & Xana
A Catalan myth, Alojas are beautiful and benevolent ‘water-women’. They live near or in freshwater sources, and are said to represent the lifegiving nature of the water. Prideful but kind, Alojas bring prosperity to the areas they live in.
They live for thousands of years, and are usually considered nocturnal and bright-eyed. They are also shape-shifters, turning into blackbirds to explore unwatched.
Similarly, the Asturian Xana is an enchanting water-woman with a hypnotic voice. There’s a lot of variety in their lore, but they can be malicious, stealing people or switching their babies with human children. They can also be generous, giving gifts of treasure to good passers-by.
Spain has a long and sad history of mistrust and violence towards women who were perceived as witches. Basque, Spain, is the site of the biggest witch trial in history following the Spanish Inquisition.
In Spain, witches were considered to have made a pact with the devil for their powers. They would sow evil herbs to ruin crops, and curse people. In Catalan tradition, they bore the mark of the devil. You could identify a witch by washing her mark with holy water – if she was indeed a witch, it wouldn’t wash off, and bad luck to anyone with a birthmark.
A lovely drawing of the basajarau by mrkamehameha
Also known as Bonjarau or Bosnerau, this peaceful giant is considered ‘lord of the woods’. Huge and hairy, the Basjarau hollers to let shepherds know when threats are near. In return, he collects a bit of bread from the sleeping humans at night.
Despite this peaceful coexistence, the Basajarau also bears the Catalan and Aragonese mark of the devil – one lame leg. He walk with a tree trunk as a walking stick, leaving giant circular prints in his wake. In some folk stories, it’s his feet that are circular.
Translating to mule-woman, the Muladona is a mule with the head of a woman. According to the myth, she’s a woman cursed to this body for being irreverent. In some versions she also has wings, and in all, she is very unfortunate-looking.
This funny little creature is as small as a grain of sand, and was considered an excuse for bad memory. The Nitus enters the ear and burrows its little body into the brain, eating at the memory and creating fatigue.
The Ramidreju is a weasel-like creature in Cantabrian-Spanish mythology. Green and with little tusks and snout, the long-bodied creature is only born once every hundred years.
It’s one of the few mythical creatures you’d seek out rather than avoid. Its green fur is all-healing, and it has a pleasant tendency to seek out gold and treasures.
A few lesser-known figures
Such a folkloric place, Spain is sure to have hundreds more mythological creatures. These are just a few:
- Dip – an emissary of the devil, Dip is a hairy black dog which is lame in one leg (a mark of the devil)
- Marraco – a dragon with a fantastically wide mouth which makes it easier to eat humans whole
- Tartalo – a Basque giant with one eye and a taste for young people (the kind of people who’d want to stray into the mountains and need to be warned away)
Last Thoughts on Spanish Myths
Clearly, Spain has some fantastically interesting and unique myths! And you’ll find that no two villages have exactly the same folk stories and mythical figures. Particularly across the once-separate regions, you’ll find few similarities. But this only makes travelling Spain more exciting.
If you can delve deep into the stories of Spain – of Catalan, Basque, Cantabria, Aragon, and Asturias, among others – you’ll come out with a brightened imagination and a new appreciation for the varied Spanish culture.