La Queimada and the Witches of Galicia
The incredibly beautiful region of Galicia in Northwestern Spain, right above Portugal, has a long tradition of all things magical due to varying factors. From the land’s past with the Celts, the Roman Empire and Christianity. All of these influences have left footprints on traditions, superstitions and festivities like what we will explore today with the traditions of the beverage la queimada y las brujas or las meigas in the Galician language.
Witches, called meigas in the Galician language, are a still to this day very present in the Galician culture. The popular wisdom says “I don’t believe in witches, but they certainly exist”. They were usually women who had a deep knowledge about the use of medicinal herbs and other remedies for diseases of body and soul. There were good and bad witches, some who would bring you luck and others that might curse you by just looking at you.
There are many myths and mysteries linked to Galicia's magical Celtic past surrounding the ritual of making the traditional drink la queimada. This drink is prepared mainly during festivities or parties but can sometimes be seen in restaurants and bars. The drink is also often prepared during Samhain and Saint John’s Eve. Samhain is essentially the festival to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker-half” of the year. It is held on November 1st with celebrations beginning on October 31st. Saint John’s Eve which is San Juan in Spanish or San Xoán in Gallego takes place on the 23rd of June with lots of bonfires, fireworks and some traditional foods like coca.
The magic ritual is performed by a meiga dressed to resemble a Druid priest. A druid was a member of the high-ranking class in ancient Celtic cultures. For the preparation of the drink, you need a large fireproof clay pot or a hollowed-out pumpkin and a very long-handled wooden spoon to stir the queimada. Sets of clay pots and glasses made specifically for this purpose are available through stores and websites specializing in Spanish food, but any clay pot or pot should work. One of the main ingredients is orujo which is a Galician spirit similar to the Italian spirit called grappa. Orujo is distilled from the leftovers of the winemaking process just like grappa.
The orujo is mixed with sugar, a few coffee beans, herbs, cinnamon sticks and some fruit peels, usually lemon or orange. While preparing the beverage, traditionally a spell, which is called conxuro da queimada, in Galician, is recited so that special powers are transferred to the drink and those drinking it. The ingredients are set on fire and create blue flames, hence the need for a long ladle-like wooden spoon. The goal of the ritual in the preparation of this beverage is to distance the bad spirits. Check out the spell, el conjuro, below in the Galician language, el gallego, and the translation in English.
Mouchos, curuxas, sapos e bruxas.
Demos, trasgos e diaños,
espíritos das neboadas veigas.
Corvos, píntegas e meigas:
feitizos das menciñeiras.
Podres cañotas furadas,
fogar dos vermes e alimañas.
Lume das Santas Compañas,
mal de ollo, negros meigallos,
cheiro dos mortos, tronos e raios.
Ouveo do can, pregón da morte;
fuciño do sátiro e pé do coello.
Pecadora lingua da mala muller
casada cun home vello.
Averno de Satán e Belcebú,
lume dos cadáveres ardentes,
corpos mutilados dos indecentes,
peidos dos infernais cus,
muxido da mar embravecida.
Barriga inútil da muller solteira,
falar dos gatos que andan á xaneira,
guedella porca da cabra mal parida.
Con este fol levantarei
as chamas deste lume
que asemella ao do Inferno,
e fuxirán as bruxas
a cabalo das súas vasoiras,
índose bañar na praia
das areas gordas.
¡Oíde, oíde! os ruxidos
que dan as que non poden
deixar de queimarse no augardente
quedando así purificadas.
E cando este beberaxe
baixe polas nosas gorxas,
quedaremos libres dos males
da nosa alma e de todo embruxamento.
Forzas do ar, terra, mar e lume,
a vós fago esta chamada:
se é verdade que tendes máis poder
que a humana xente,
eiquí e agora, facede que os espíritos
dos amigos que están fóra,
participen con nós desta Queimada.
Owls, barn owls, toads and witches.
Demons, goblins and devils,
spirits of the misty vales.
Crows, salamanders and witches,
charms of the folk healer.
Rotten pierced canes,
home of worms and vermin.
Wisps of the Holy Company,
evil eye, black witchcraft,
scent of the dead, thunder and lightning.
Howl of the dog, omen of death,
maws of the satyr and foot of the rabbit.
Sinful tongue of the bad woman
married to an old man.
Satan and Beelzebub’s Inferno,
fire of the burning corpses,
mutilated bodies of the indecent ones,
farts of the asses of doom,
bellow of the enraged sea.
Useless belly of the unmarried woman,
speech of the cats in heat,
dirty turf of the wicked born goat.
With this bellows I will pump
the flames of this fire
which looks like that from Hell,
and witches will flee,
straddling their brooms,
going to bathe in the beach
of the thick sands.
Hear! Hear the roars
of those that cannot
stop burning in the firewater,
becoming so purified.
And when this beverage
goes down our throats,
we will get free of the evil
of our soul and of any charm.
Forces of air, earth, sea and fire,
to you I make this call:
if it's true that you have more power
here and now, make the spirits
of the friends who are outside,
take part with us in this Queimada.
After the spell is complete, the performer dramatically ladles the flaming mixture high into the air. As the flames burn, they caramelize the sugars in the peels, coffee beans and alcohol, creating a sweet and aromatic hot beverage that is then shared among the participants.
The first sip of the queimada is believed to banish evil spirits, the second sip will cleanse the mind of prejudice, while the third is believed to evoke passion within the soul.
Practice your Spanish and read a sample recipe for la queimada below.
La Receta de la Queimada
- Un recipiente de barro o una calabaza hueca
- Un cucharón de madera
- Tazas para servir
- 4 tazas de orujo
- 9 cucharadas de azúcar
- Cáscara de un limón
- 1 puñado de granos de café
- Cáscara de una naranja
- 2 palitos de canela
- Echa el orujo junto con el azúcar en el recipiente de barro y mezcla.
- Añade la cáscara de limón y/o naranja, los granos de café, palitos de canela y la hierbas si lo deseas y mezcla.
- Con el cucharón mueve la queimada, recoge un poco del líquido sin cascara, palitos, hierbas ni granos de café, añade un poquito de azúcar y prende fuego a la mezcla.
- Cuando está ardiendo, introduce el cucharón en el recipiente grande.
- Mientras está ardiendo, mueve con cuidado la queimada con el cucharón.
- Antes de comenzar a apagar el fuego, recita el conjuro.
- Espera que se apague el fuego para beberla.
- La queimada se debe servir caliente y típicamente en vasos de barro.
We hope you enjoyed this reading about La Queimada and the Witches of Galicia. If you found these words and phrases helpful and interesting, you can learn more about our content at Down to Earth Spanish, where you will find a variety of self-paced online Spanish courses and free printables and digital worksheets