Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Monday, 25 June 2012

The burning of witches

Midsummer falls around the same time as the fiesta of San Juan here in Spain - or is it the other way around? So many festivals - pagan and sacred - share similar dates or times of the year. La Fiesta de San Juan - or St. John's Eve - is celebrated all over Spain by the lighting of bonfires, particularly on beaches and famously in Alicante and Valencia. As we might expect, the fiesta-rich little town of Alcala la Real would not like to miss the opportunity to observe this particular tradition.

Having watched the football match earlier in the evening, in which Spain beat France 2-0, our menfolk were far too exhausted to join Romy and I, so we two set off up the steep hill, in temperatures still over 30 degrees to see what fun we might find. We had heard tales of witch burning and couldn't possibly miss seeing it.

At first, the streets seemed very quiet and we wondered whether we'd got it wrong - it happens! However, as we staggered up the last, almost vertical, hill, we were hit by a real blast of heat and crowds of people moving into the Plazeta outside the church of San Juan.





With little subtlety, I followed Romy as she weaved her way to the front of the crowd - she was really keen to see a witch being burned...






This is the lovely little church. I have never been inside as yet but have been told that it has a little museum - must make sure we go to visit that one day.

However, it was from the bell tower that all the fun was to begin.

And even better than a front line view would be a view from the terrace of a house that overlooks the square.


And we were lucky enough to know some people who lived in such a house and we were able to escape from the crowds and get a bird's eye view - and a drink and some nibbles - from our friends' house! Good to have friends in high places...


At the stroke of midnight, things started to happen...

And after a little teasing, the witch appeared on her broomstick. (She flew fast, so some of pictures are rather blurred...)

She flew around, teasing the crowd.


She started to fly dangerously close to the fire...
  
Very near though for a little while, we thought she might get safely to the other side.


Then her foot seemed to be alight...

But no, she had escaped again.


Oh no, this time she won't escape.

And as she caught fire and started to burn, the moment was celebrated with an unexpected burst of fireworks and we were so close that the ashes and little bits were falling right on top of us.


And she went on to completely disappear - not exactly in a puff of smoke - but not before she got stuck on a neighbour's fence. I did have a moment's concern for both the house and the man trying to free her - there was absolutely no way the fire brigade would have got to the scene but there was no harm done.
(If you watch the video, suggest you turn down the volume a bit to avoid being deafened...I found out that it's quite loud the hard way.)




After the witch had disappeared, the tradition is for people to throw papers into the fire, on which should be written up to three 'wishes'. The wishes can be positive or negative - i.e. things you want or want to happen or vice versa. We duly wrote down our wishes and threw them into the fire. I noted that Romy didn't want any more ants.

Not sure that will be completely fulfilled, though we don't seem to have any at all in the house today...

My wishes... well, not wanting to be too specific, they all involved houses. I can't afford to miss any opportunity to ask for a little luck. Especially as the one we had our eye on is now OFF the list.

16 comments:

  1. Annie - this is great. I love the fiesta culture that you're immersed in. Celebrate them all!

    Andy X

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    1. Hi Andy! This town celebrates everything possible - except the cherry harvest, and that is celebrated in the next village! There's never a dull moment - it really is a very cheerful little place we've found. Love it.
      Axxx

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  2. Fascinating. Fun to see a witch in summer, given their strong association with Halloween!

    (The video was a bit noisy, thanks for the warning!)

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    1. It's true, Annie, I hadn't thought about the incongruity before. Apparently, it's not an ancient custom, but one thought up - quite arbitrarily, I think - by a man of the town about 25 years ago!

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  3. What a great view you had of this, and I wonder if the crowd's enthusiasm was heightened by the good mood of having beaten France earlier in the evening. I dont think witch burning would have been as popular in Caunes that night, unless it had been clearly a Spanish witch. Fabulous post Annie, a great spectacle, although personally I doubt she got a fair trial.I hope those wishes come true soon, and I'm not referring to the ants. Jxxx

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    1. Thanks Janice - I'd forgotten it was the foul French team that 'we'd' beaten just before this. (Hope you don't feel quite as close to your new home team as I do to mine!)
      Being more than slightly sympathetic to witches myself, I also guess she wouldn't have had a fair trial but this witch seemed to fly to the fire all by herself - she wasn't pushed. Agreed, there was no attempt to put her out...
      And I too hope at least a couple of our wishes come true - though I bet right now Romy is kicking herself that she didn't wish to get rid of mosquitoes as we've had a couple of biting nights - usually they're not too bad. Perhaps they're ant supporters. Axxx

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  4. Oh dear! I must remember to keep well away from Alcala La Real on Midsummer's Day...

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    1. What are you telling me here, Nilly! Axxx

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    1. Thanks Celia! We did too. Axxxx

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  6. Oh, what fun, Annie. I love all your fiesta posts - a real glimpse of a culture so different from my own.

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    1. We have a lot of fiestas here, so I could almost have a fiesta blog! It's still very different for me too.
      Axxx

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  7. Brilliant post Annie and great to have photos and video to go with it. Thanks for sharing xx

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    1. Thank you Ayak - hope the video didn't deafen you. So glad you enjoyed it. Axxx

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  8. I found this so, SO fascinating.......... would love to have seen it in real life! Wonderful, thank you.

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    1. Thank you MPM - it was great fun, though as I have said before, real life here is sometimes a little surreal! Glad you enjoyed it. Axxx

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