#6 Beautiful guardians of the Otherworld…

A sneak peek at some of the denizens of fairyland you’ll meet in The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies…

#6 Mouras Encantadas

Shapeshifting female fairies of Galician and Portuguese folklore.

Illustration ©Andy Paciorek
Illustration ©Andy Paciorek

Generally described as beautiful females, singing and combing their long locks, Mouras Encantadas sometimes appeared in the guise of a serpent, dog, horse, or goat. Dwelling by wells, springs, fountains, caves, lakes, and ancient monuments, they guarded the entrances to the Otherworld. Some believed they were the souls of young maidens left to protect the treasures of the mouros, a race of beings who inhabited the land before withdrawing underground to the fairy realm or Otherworld known as Mourama.

Portuguese archeologist, ethnographer, and writer José Leite de Vasconcelos described the mouras encantadas as spellbound beings, condemned to live in a state of numbness or sleep unless the enchantment could be broken. Offerings of bread or milk were sometimes said to break the spell and allow a moura to become human. Should a mortal succeed in “disenchanting” a moura, she might take him as a husband. Or she might simply vanish.

Variations of the mouras encantadas included the mouras fiandeiras, spinning maidens, who were said to have constructed the ancient hillforts and monuments of Galicia and Portugal, carrying stones on their heads as they spun yarn with a distaff carried at their waist. The moura velha appeared in the form of an old woman, while the moura lavaderia was a washerwoman. Tales of these magical beings are spread throughout Galicia and Portugal, with almost every town having its own variant of fairy local lore concerning the mouras encantadas.

Check back to meet a fairy a day in the run up to the release of The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies on 28 August, 2014.