Moura encantada (the enchanted Moura) is a supernatural being from Portuguese and Galician folklore. In the stories about her, she will typically be spotted by a human as she is combing her beautiful long hair – which is either golden, red or pitch black. She is under a spell and will promise a rich reward to anyone capable of breaking the spell and setting her free.
Almost every Portuguese or Galician village have a tale of a Moura encantada said to inhabit the local area. In the 19th century, archaeologists would use the local stories to pinpoint the location of old remains of historical interest, especially long-since abandoned Lusitanian settlements, since the stories about Moura would often be connected to such spots. The Lusitanians were an Indo-European people inhabiting the Iberian Peninsula prior to its conquest by the Roman Republic.
Before archaeology and modern historical research, the local Medieval populations on the Iberian peninsula commonly regarded Paleolithic hill forts, megalith monuments and dolmens and as structures built not by humans but by Moura Fiandeira. The ancient coins sometimes found by the hill forts were consequently known as “medals of the mouros”. Similar notions exists throughout Europe, where paleolithic remains have often be seen as the creations of supernatural creatures.
On the Iberian Peninsula, funerary monuments that are no longer in use are often associated with the Moura, and rock-cut tombs are known as Covas da Moura (Moura’s cave), Cama da Moura (Moura’s bed) or Masseira (the place where the Moura kneaded bread).
The roots of the stories about Moura encantada are believe to go back all the way to pre-Roman times. There is a possible connection between Moura and Indo-European Celtic female divinities associated with water.
The origin of the name Moura remains unknown, and several different explanations have been offered by scholars.
- The name Moura might be directly derived from the Celtic word *MRVOS, which ultimately comes from the Indo-European mr-tous.
- The Indo-European mr-tous gave us the Latin word mortuus which means dead, and it is possible that the name Moura is derived from this Latin word rather than directly from the Indo-European mr-tous. In both Portuguese and Galician, the word morto means dead.
- Traditionally, the word Mouro has been used as a synonym for Moor or Muslim on the Iberian Peninsula. It is possible that the name Moura (the feminine version of Mouro) is linked to an idea about the Moors having created these old non-Christian monuments with which the Moura encantada is commonly associated. For many centuries, the Iberian Peninsula was home to the Moors.
- The Celtic word mahra means spirit.
Examples of Mouras encantadas
Mouras encantadas who reside inside stones are known as Pedra Mouras (pedra = stone). The unfortunate person who sits down on one of these stones will be enchanted. If you bring one of these stones into your home, all the animals of that household will die soon. Still, these stones are appealing to humans, because they are believed to contain treasures.
Moura-Mãe (Mother Moura) appears as a beautiful young pregnant woman. She is looking for a midwife and can give a great reward to the human who can help her.
Frades (friars) are white stone pillars, and Moura Frades are Mouras encantadas who appear like frades, all dressed in white.
Moura Fiandeira (spinning maiden Moura) appears carrying a stone on her head. She is carrying stones to build a hill fort while she spins yarns with a distaff carried at ther waist.
Moura serpente (snake Moura) is a shape-shifting creature who can take the form of a snake. You can appease this creature by giving it milk.
In some of the stories, the snake has wings. There are also stories about the moura taking the shape of partly snake, partly woman.
Local stories about a Moura serpente are often linked to a fountain, and magical properties will be attributed to the water of the fountain. Under special circumstances, drinking the water from the fountain can make a young man fall in love with the Moura.
Princesa moura (princess Moura) looks like a snake but with long, blond hair.
In many stories, especially those of Portuguese origin, she starts her life as a mortal: a beautiful Muslim princess who falls in love with a Portuguese Christian knight during the time of the Reconquest.
In another fairly common version, she is a magical princess who lives in a castle under the earth and falls in love with a Moor.
Many of the legends told about Princes Moura attempt to explain the origin of a city or other settlement, and the events in the legend take place in the real world and within a specific time frame. Often, real historic facts have been blended with supernatural elements.
Moura Velha appears as an old woman.
Moura Lavadeira appears as a washerwoman putting clean white clothes out in the sun to dry.
Moura encantada and gold
Many stories about Mouras involve gold. This gold can appear in many different forms, including gold skirts, golden yarn, golden hair, golden tools (such as the golden comb) or golden animals. Sometimes the gold will look like ordinary coal or figs.
The gold can be hidden inside buried containers, such as vases and pans. This might be linked to actual real-world findings of gold inside urns in ancient graves on the Iberian Peninsula. When locals stumbled upon a hidden treasure like that, the Moura legend would help explain its existence.
In some stories, the Moura guards three pots: one pot of gold, one pot of silver and one pot of plague.
Moura encantada and St John’s Day (Midsummer)
Many stories about the Moura will tell you that she will only show herself with her treasures on St John’s Day and that this is the only day of the year when you may successfully break the spell.
In some legends, the Moura will spread figs on a large rock in the moon light.
In some regions of the Iberian Penninsula, figo lampo (a type of white fig) is harvested during this time of year and traditionally offered as a gift on Saint John’s Day.
St John’s Day falls on June 24, which means that it is closely associated with the summer solstice. The idea about the summer solstice (Midsummer) being bestowed with special importance and supernatural significance goes back to pre-Christian times and is present in many different cultures.
Who put the spell on the Moura? The answer to that question varies from one legend to another, but it was usually her father, brother, lover or another male figure who cast the spell to force her to stay put and guard his treasures.
How can I break the spell of the Moura?
In the legends about the Moura, she will often ask for something in an attempt to break the spell laid upon her. What she asks for varies, and can for instance be a kiss, milk or bread without salt. Mouras in the form of snakes are especially likely to ask for milk.
In some stories, the spell is broken when the human says a certain word or fulfill a certain test (e.g. not looking at something hidden).
If the human attempts to free the Moura but fails, the spell is doubled.
What’s my reward?
In some stories, the person breaking the spell is rewarded with treasures. In others, the Moura turns into a human woman and marries her savior (sometimes also giving him gold and other treasures).