It occurred to me today that I didn’t know much about Spanish monsters. I didn’t know about their equivalent of the bogeyman… or even the humphries that terrified me as a child (look out look out there’s a humphrey about).
I guess it’s because I’ve not spent much time around kiddies since moving to Spain. No doubt if our grandson was here, we could reassure him that the bogeyman would have been left back in England. But what if he asks about the Spanish monsters? Well… after a bit of digging – here are my personal favourites.
This chap is possibly the closest thing to a bogeyman. He is part ghost, part monster. El Coco is the male version, while La Cuca is his female version – although you won’t always be able to distinguish between the two.
El Coco is supposed to represent your darkest fears, and pays special attention to naughty children… sitting on roofs and keeping an eye out. Think of him as the opposite to a guardian angel. Once the said child is spotted, El Coco kidnaps them, terrifies them and eats them.
Spanish legend claims that El Cuco is Francisco Ortega, also known as El Moruno. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Ortega was so desperate to find a cure for his tuberculosis that when he was told to drink the blood of children, he kidnapped a 7-year-old boy named Bernardo.
However Portuguese folklore say he is much older and there are various poems about that parents sing to their young ones. The following is included in a 17th century book by Juan Caxés.
“Duérmete niño, duérmete ya…
Que viene el Coco y te comerá.”
(Sleep child, sleep now…
Here comes the Coco and he will eat you)
El Coco doesn’t have a specific appearance. Described as a shape-shifter, he will appear as whatever terrifies you most. However, he is commonly depicted as having a skull-like face.
This cheeky little fella is more of a mischievous imp than a true monster. Somewhere between a fairy and a poltergeist, he will inhabit your home and mess around with whatever is in it.
In Latin American, however, he is seen more as a positive friend… helping people in need and being quite supportive. In Portugal things get darker. He is believed to be a short chap with a big tall hat. He whistles a mystical song, while walking in the forest. This special tune is believed to lure young girls and boys to the forest causing them to lose their way… never to return home.
But in Spain, his cheeky and fun side is more apparent. It’s not The Borrowers that have your keys and safety pins, it’s more likely to be El Duende.
El hombre del saco (Sack man)
This charming individual os often described as a wiozened and skinny old man who carries children away in his sack, before eating them. Predominantly, these are naughty or selfish children.
In South America, he is not considered merely a myth or fairytale, but more as a madman or psychotic murderer. This madman has been accepted by society and parents allow him to take a child that is being very naughty or doesn’t come home in time for tea.
The “Sack Man” was likely inspired by a very real man who, during the 16th and 17th centuries, was in charge of collecting orphan babies in order to take them to the orphanages: he would put them in a huge bag or in wicker baskets, and carry them all through the province collecting more children. Most of them usually died before reaching the orphanage due to the lack of care and the obviously insalubrious conditions in which he transported them: the lingering memory of this figure may well of inspired the bogeyman as envisioned in modern lore.
Mantequero / Sacamentacas
This monster is a bogeyman or baddie that kills people for their blood or fat. There are various stories of these abominations.
In his study of Alcalá de la Sierra, Julian Pitt-Rivers describes the monster as a man, disguised as a beggar, who is hired by a rich lord… stealing the village babies. The blood of the babies is then used to cure the ill child of the rich man.
Gerald Brenan, however, describes the mantequero as a monster that lives in deserted places and feeds on human fat. Brenan first heard about the humanesque monster when he visited the Alpujarras. He had sublet his home to a British writer, Dick Strachey. Strachey was out walking in the mountains when he saw three men acting suspiciously. Feariong they were bandits, he ran away. The men chased him with knives. One of the men wanted to kill him and use his blood, but the eldest decided they should deliver him to the local mayor. Strachey claimed to be related to King George V and was released.
Another friend of Brenan’s said that in Torremolinos, the local girls all believed in mantequeros.
Catalan legend describes the pesanta as a huge doglike (or occasionally catlike) black and hairy creature with steel paws. This beastie creeps into your bedroom at night and sits on your chest, making it very difficult for you to breathe… whilst simultaneously giving you nightmares. How lovely?!
The steel paws are huge, and used to hit anyone or aything that gets in its way. But those paws also have holes, which make it impòssible for the pesanta to grab anything and take it away.
This hairy beast make its home in ruins or abandoned churches. Each night it creeps into your homes via keyholes and under doors. You’ll rarely get to see more than its shadow because when you awake it moves rapidly, leaving you only with the memory of your nightmares and a feeling that you can’t breathe.
All is not lost however. If you spread some millet in your bedroom doorway or pop a broom next to your bed, it can’t get you. Alternatively, you can recite some magic words which trick it into counting all the stars in the sky instead of sitting on you.
The Asturian Xana can come in two forms… each of which has very different characteristics.
The first, the tall Nordic-looking beautiful version, sits by the sides of rivers singing beautiful sings and offers hope and assistance to weary travellers as well as to those with a pure heart. However the shorter, darker and equally stunning Xana will promise treasure but deliver nothing and have also been known to break into homes to steal food. The latter is likely to leave you with an empty soul, whereas the former will leave you full of peace and joy.
Xanas have children, which are called xaninos, but because they cannot take care of them personally (xanas cannot produce milk to feed their babies), they will steal a human baby from his cot and put their own xanín in instead. The human mummy realizes this within a few months. To reveal the xanín, one must put some pots and egg shells near the fire, and, if the baby is a changeling, he will declare, “I was born one hundred years ago, and since then I have not seen so many egg shells near the fire!”
So – now you know a little more about Spanish monsters. Be afraid… and behave yourselves!