It is also known under the names of "Estadea", "Estantiga'" (estantigua in Spanish, from Latin hostis antiquus, meaning "ancient host"), "Rolda", "As da nuite" (The Night Ones), "Pantalla", "Avisóns", "Pantaruxada"; all of which are terms that denote the presence of the dead in the world of the living. In Asturias it's prominently well-known as Güestía, an Asturian variation from the Spanish word "hueste" (host in English language).
Many different versions of the "Santa Compaña" can be found; however, the common image is a procession of the dead or souls in torment that wanders the path of a parish at midnight involved in white hooded cloaks.
The procession is led by a living person carrying a cross or a cauldron of holy water (sometimes he carries both), followed by several souls with lit candles, although they are not always seen; the smell of wax and the breeze which appears when they pass warn of their presence. This living leader in the dead procession is forced to get out every night to walk by towns, villages and forests, not remembering it the next day. In the same way, this person can't turn around or renounce his duty in leading Santa Compaña due to a curse that forces him to lead the procession; he can only be freed from his curse if he manages to find another person to carry the cross, the cauldron or both if he has the two. If the leader doesn't pass the curse swiftly, eventually he will turn pale and thin and ultimately die.
To avoid this curse the person who sees the Santa Compaña pass by must draw "Solomon's Circle" on the ground using chalk (a circle with Seal of Solomon inside a -six pointed star-, which can be changed by a cross) and enter it, or he can also lie face-down. Other ways to evade the Santa Compaña is to tie a black cat in the middle of the Santa Compaña's path and run away quickly from it, or realize diverse symbols with both hands as a horn gesture (extending the index and little fingers and to contract the rest of fingers) or the fig sign (which consists of closing the fist and putting the thumb between the index and middle fingers). The person leading the procession can be a man or a woman—this all depends on whether the patron saint of the parish is male or female. The Santa Compaña is an announcer of death, its one mission being to visit the homes where death is due.
According to the popular belief, those who can see Santa Compaña are people who were wrongly baptised by the priest of the town using oil of the dead instead of holy water, although in other versions it's supposed that there are people with special sensibility who too can see. Often times the procession can't be seen but can be felt, eliciting a shiver or shudder as it passes, accompanied with a sensation of intense danger. Some people are able to see not the procession but only the light of their candles, floating in the air like ignis fatuus or will-o'-the-wisp (similar to the "spook lights" in the rural USA or "jack o'lantern" in the rural UK).
- Paredes, Xoan (2000). "Curiosities across the Atlantic: a brief summary of some of the Irish-Galician classical folkloric similarities nowadays. Galician singularities for the Irish". Dept. of Geography, University College Cork, Ireland. Retrieved 2008-08-14.
- J. Cuveiro Piñol, Diccionario Gallego, Barcelona, 1876: Compaña: entre o vulgo, creída hoste ou procesión de bruxas que andan de noite alumeadas con osos de mortos, chamando ás portas para que as acompañen, aos que desexan que morran axiña…
- Elisardo Becoña Iglesias, "La Santa Compaña, El Urco y Los Muertos", A Coruña, 1980
- Paula Cristobo, La Santa Compaña. Entre el mito, la realidad y la superstición. Revista Investigación, 2002
- Santiago Compostela Website