The Güestia is a group of wandering souls which visit the dying shortly before their decease at night. It is normally formed by old acquaintances of the dying person who embarked in the trip before him. They usually bear lit bones and wear white shrouds and, occasionally, they carry a coffin wherein they will take the soul of the dead person. The purpose of the Güestia is not to provoke fear in the living, but to merely act as carriers of the soul of the future deceased. Although they are not dangerous, if a living unwittingly happened upon them and touched them, he would die as well, so in this case he would have to draw a circle on the ground and step inside.
In San Xuan de Beleño, it was also considered a protective act to hold or tie yourself to a male calf.
Verses chanted by the Güestia:
Cuandu nós yéramos vivos
andábamos a estos figos
y agora que somos muertos
andamos per estos güertos.
hasta’l tueru la figar!
When we were alive
we scrumped these figs
and now that we are dead
we roam these orchards.
until the fig’s trunk!
The procession or group of souls encircles three times the house of a dying person and, upon finishing the third round, the person dies and their image appears in the coffin carried by the spectres, or the form carried by the phantasmal beings morphs into the image of the deceased. Thereupon, the Güestia shrieks, the lights go off and it disappears.
The round usually lasts for seven nights, and dismal chants can be heard. The image of the moribund forms part of the procession, so as if a neighbour is seen therein, their death is foreboded. Aurelio de Llano relates the following events occurred in Caravia.
And they say that one night, a woman who lived in La Teyera heard the sound of a bell, so she looked out of the window and saw in the distance two files of people with lit candles approaching the village. Assuming that they were after giving the last rites to some neighbour, she took a candle and approached a member of the group who lit it for her, and then followed them until the house of a sick person.
Once the ceremony was finished, the woman returned to her house and the cortège continued towards the Convent of St. James. The following night, the good woman heard the bell again, went to take the candle that she kept in her chest and she found a bone instead. She went out, approached him who had lit her candle the previous night and said:
– “Ghost of the Güestia, take this bone and give me my candle!”
– “Cursed be he who taught you” – said the one from the cortège; and handed the candle to the woman. It so happens that the candle alleviated the sorrows of that soul, therefore he kept it.
(Aurelio de Llano, ‘Del folclore asturiano’, IDEA, 1977).
Asturian to English translation:
Sergio Fernández Redondo.
1st.- The Güestia. Author: unknow.
2nd.- The Güestia. Author: Luís.