THE UNVEILED MEANING OF [*A]MOURA by Dr. A. Pena Dean of the Galician Institute for Celtic Studies

To my beloved Eva Merlán Bollaín, master painter of the Mouras of Gallaecia


Matres Galas

Matres Galas


A Moura é o trasunto das Matres Celtas, uma divindade triple, Nova na primaveira quando na Candeloira o 1º de Fevereiro despertava a terra, casavam os passarinos, fundia a neve no monte, voltaba o leite as ovelhas, abria-se a temporada de pesca e anunciavam as prímulas com as suas flores a vindeira primaveira; era em Agosto Mater, mãe fecunda, tempo de comelhadas quando a terra brindaba aos lavradores os vizosos frutos, e, já recolhida a colheita, e as frutas das árvores, o 1º de Novembro, quando voltaba a friaxe e frio Inverno, se fazia com o ano escura e Moura Velha.

– YOUNG VIRGIN of extraordinary beauty, embodiment of the State, choose the king to rule the Treba or Toudo after undergoing a test, marries him, grows old with him, and on the death of the king becomes young again, and finds another husband, another king, to rule the land.


estela picta

 The comb and mirror are a dead hero gift (A. Pena) to the [A]Moura, Mother Goddess

The comb and mirror are a dead hero gift (A. Pena) to the [A]Moura, Mother Goddess


Para os Celtas do Atlántico nossa [A]Moura foi também uma jovem de extraordinária beleza que escolhia um homem o fazia rei e casava com el. Com ele vivia e envelhecia durante o seu reinado. Mas ao morrer  seu esposo ela se tornava de novo jovem e começava, mais uma vez, o ciclo (Pokorny, 1984: 74-76).

(Cf. A.  Pena  56 ss). Download Caza Salvaje y petroglifos gallegos



representing the fruits and emergence of summer

Virgin Mother-001

Mother Goddess of Gaul with her son

– OLD WOMAN Caileach (cf. Latin caelum “sky” and caeluleo ‘the color of the sky, blue’, and also “The Old Woman with a blue veil (representing sky)”. Builder of the landscape and the megalithic monuments.

The Old Lady builder of megaliths, holding the Pena Molexa with the little finger

The Old [A]Moura builder of megaliths, holding the Pena Molexa with the little finger. By Carlos Alfonzo ex A. Pena Caminhos Milenários.

The fanciful granite formations staked up along Europe’s Atlantic headlands, according to the popular beliefs of the Celts, were created by an old [A]Moura woman, called a Velha [The Old Lady] a supernatural, elfic, feeric Lady (= Old Caileach), who constructed megaliths, dolmens, mounds, forts, mountains, lakes and islands in Galicia as in Celtic Europa. Such features found along the road to Santo André de Teijido form the basis for an extensive body of folklore and include the Pena Molexa in Vilasuso (O Val, Narón), an impressive stone [Galician ‘penedo’, psbl. Old  Celtic *pen “head, head of the earth, rock” + suffix -eto/-edo (Pena Granha)] around fifteen feet wide and fifteen feet high, an astonishing megalith, oriented to the  methonic year, set between two boulders. It is said in Vilasuso the Pena Molexa was “Made by an old woman with her little finger”.


Na Irlanda, e Escócia chama-se-lhe Cailleach, “Velha do velo ou do mantelo”. A Cailleach do lugar de Bheara,  adoptava levar no seu mandil enormes pedras com as que fazia os dólmens e as montanhas. A nossa Moura Velha galaica leva uma gigantesca rocha numa mán e é quem de assentá-la com um só dedo. Outras vezes leva o penedo sobre a cabeça e com as más livres fia num fuso, ou numa roca. A Velha escocesa é também a causante do aparecimento de muitos lagos e ilhas, como as Ilhas Hébridas. E na Galiza nos faz o Arco da Velha, pelo que sobe e baixa para reparar a abóbada celeste que é de pedra. Por isso os celtas tinhamos pânico a que se desplomase o céu sobre nossas cabeças. 


Always dressed in rich cloth and covered with precious jewels [A]Moura means psb. “The inhabitant of the under-sea world”. Following Koch:  cf. Tartessian *omuŕika*[ [J.16.2] < *u(p)omorikā ‘the under-sea world’, cf. Gaulish Aremorica ‘the land by the sea’, Welsh arfor-dir ‘coast’. J. T.  A Case for Tartessian as Celtic Language [ ActPal = PalHisp 9 p 343]


This belief, common to the Celtic lands of the European Atlantic and present in many parts of Galicia, is on display along the  Caminho Milenario, Ancient Way, in Covas, in O Val, and in Meirás. ” A Velha”, or “ A Moura Velha” of the Galicians, could effortlessly carry gigantic stones with one hand or on her head, setting them in place with one finger, while using her other hand for spinning with a spindle. The Irish and the Scots call her Cailleach Bheara, psb. “Old Lady blue veiled from Bheara”. In Ireland, she carries enormous stones in her apron to create dolmens and mountains. It is said that the Celts feared nothing except the supernatural.  Their greatest fears were that they would be swallowed by the earth (earthquakes) or having the sky fall on their heads, which they believed was “a dome made of stone”.

Children in Galician villages pile up stones into little mounds, which they leave on the ground each time a rainbow appears in the sky (Arco da Velha). These are left for A Velha “the Old Maid”, who descends and ascends again on the rainbow and uses the stones to repair the celestial dome.

Pena da Noiva Moura. Rock of the Moura Bride in St. Anton's beach. Espasante. Ortigueira. Galiza

Pena da Noiva Moura. Rock of the Moura Bride in St. Anton’s beach. Espasante. Ortigueira. Galiza

Na Europa Atlántica a residência subterrânea dos mouros adopta aparecer associada a um resto prehistórico. Os mouros são senhores de monumentos feitos pela mán do homem como dólmens, curros ou pedrafítas, do Neolítico ou da Idade do Bronze, aos que se atribui uma origem sobrenatural.

All kinds of monumental constructions are in Galiza attributed to the Mouros [mythical beings, always very fair skin and blond hair, have nothing to do with the African Moors never invaded Galicia], including formations that are the result of human endeavors as well as natural phenomena such as fjords, lakes, mountains, etc., all of these being imbued with supernatural origins.

O Val. Narón. Galiza

Pena Molexa

Such is the case with certain stones affected by erosion, or purposely built, such as the Pena Molexa. In Atlantic Europe, the Mouros’ subterranean domain is almost always thought to be associated with prehistoric ruins, Iron Age forts,  mounds, dolmens, etc., because country farmers have long believed that such remains were the work of such beings.

Many of the Mouros’ sites were Christianised by having crosses placed or carved on them, in order to dispel any indications of paganism. At others, the Moura (both the young and the old one)  was replaced by the Virgin Mary.

Many of the Mouros' sites were Crhistianized

Many of the Mouros’ sites, like this one in Monte do Seijo, near Pontevedra, Galiza,  were Christianized by having crosses placed or carved on them, in order to dispel any indications of paganism.

According to Galician anthropologists, the Penedo Gordo of Fumaces in Verín, was worn down by the Virgin when she spun thread on a stone, and the Virgin also left a stone (penedo) on the O Cairo hill in Vimianzo when she was spinning thread in the air. The Pena Morcegueira (Meirás, Valdovinho, close to Pena Molexa) is also held up by the Virgin’s finger, and when he removes it the stone will fall and the world will end.

The appearance of the Virgin at her own ‘pena’ takes place at many sanctuaries on top of or next to stones in many Celtic lands, such as the Virgin of Chamorro, appearing on a balancing stone or Logan Stone (Pena de Embade, Pena de Avalar), or on an offering table with Early (and also Late, both at the same time) Bronze  Age petroglyphs, at the Chapel of Our Lady of Penamaior (A Capela, Corogne), or on a rock found at the hermitage of the Virgin of Cadeiras (Pinhol, Sober, Lugo),  where, according to Blanco Prado, the Virgin appears in the morning to bathe in the Sil river. This tradition reflects the memory of morning-evening appearances of the Moura woman, busy with dressing and hair combing, etc., such as the ones who appear on the morning of Saint John’s Eve at the Pena Molexa, laying out gold in the sunlight.


The Pena Molexa is an extremely ancient megalith, intentionally set or mounted between two boulders.

The elfin being, the powerful lady of supernatural beauty, the Amoura or Moura, resident of a subterranean paradise, a manifestation of the Celtic Mother Goddes, coming to this world, on Midsummer,  or Saint John’s eve, at dawn, from the hill, from the fort, from a spring, or from a tumulus or dolmen, in search of a young husband. Among the Celts sovereignty is chosen. The Amoura or Moura shows the suitor the treasure, asking him to choose the most valuable. If the suitor chooses her, he will pass the test and gain it all. If he chooses the gold, the Moura will disappear, turning the gold to petty coal, or into a broken piece of pottery.

The Pena Molexa is not assembled on a whim of nature.

Na Câmara municipal de Narón, na freguesia de O Val, imediata ao castro e lugar de Vilasuso, e ao lado duma prehistórica corredoira que remata sobre o mar, perto da espectacular, ilha chamada Pena Lopesa, muito dominante sobre os esgrevios cantís do Oceano, e próxima à célebre mámoa chamada Pena da Arca dos Vilares, enterramento possivelmente calcolítico, encontrasse um outeiro (de lat. altarium, altar, lugar de culto), trebopala e penhasco, chamado pela forma que adopta de molexa de ave, Pena Molexa, do latín Mollicula, ‘molexa’,  aquí um penedo não figurativo, que a mão do homem extraindo e trabalhando o granito, encabalgou a mantenta entre dois blocos, sinalizando o ponto da  saida da lua -Reve ‘risign moon-‘ no ano metónico.

Boy reading the legends of the Pena Molexa

Boy reading the legends of the Pena Molexa

This place it is one of the Galician sites with the highest concentrations of Lendas de Mouros, Mouros’ legend’. One legend relates that the Pena Molexa was created by A Velha with her little finger. They say the day when she removes her finger, the stone will fall, and it will be the End of the World, while another legend says that a young Moura, machtmaker, Virgin of extraordinary beauty, comes to the Pena Molexa with a treasure on Midsummer Night, or early in the morning to lay out gold in the sun on Saint Jonh’s Day.

Lenda da Pena Molexa en Contos e Lendas de Trasancos de Eva Merlán

The Pena Molexa’s A[Moura] by Eva Merlán. Always dressed in rich cloth combing her hair with a golden comb, exhibits in Midsummer Night a treasure. The test. in Contos e Lendas de Trasancos

” I

Contam que em algumas madrugadas de São Joám, na hora misteriosa em que a lua ainda não se meteu e o sol já vai querendo sair, pode-se encontrar na Pena Molexa, peiteando os compridos e formosos cabelos, una belísima Moura que mostra ao abraiado mortal que a contempla um enxoval maravilhoso: olas e xerros cheios a reverter de moedas e jóias, colares e diademas e brazais, peites e tesoiras, armas e adobíos de antigos guerreiros, e até uma galinha com os seus sete pitinhos, tudo de resplandecente ouro” [in Eva Merlán Contos e Lendas de Trasancos]”

The Moura often appears to the young men who pass by the Pena Molexa that night to ask them to choose between her and an object of a fabulous treasure.

Seeking gold piece with more value and weight

The greedy can not be chosen for Sovereignty Pena Molexa legend. By Eva Merlán


A Moura convida-o a admirar com detemento cada uma das peças que compõem o enxoval e logo pede-lhe que escolha entre todo quanto vê aquilo que ache do seu gosto. Engaiolado e dubidoso ante tais riquezas, o coitado acaba assinalando alguma das jóias que se oferecem à sua vista; as vezes a que encontra mais feitinha; casque sempre a que lhe parece de maior peso e valor.

Então escuta-se à Moura lamentar-se e chorar, recriminándolle a sua cobiça” [In Contos e Lendas de Trasancos by Eva Merlán]”.

When the boy chooses the large, heavy piece of gold, the woman disappears and the object the have chosen turns to coal.

Punishment for greed.In the best case, gold becomes coal or broken clay pots

In the best case, gold becomes coal or broken clay pots. By Eva Merlán. Contos e Lendas de Trasancos


O aparecimento desmaia-se num espelhar de luz que se delonga na claridade nacente do dia. O cobiçoso vê tornar-se-lhe preto carvão nas mãos a alfaia que apreixara com tanto devezo. I é que a Moura espera em vau desde o fondal do tempo que um homem, com mais coração que anseia de ouro no peito, a desencante elegendo-a a ela como o mais formoso e mais desexable dos regalos.

Então redimida do feitiço, marchará com o seu libertador, levando consigo todo o tesouro. Até o de agora nenhum dos que viram à Moura a preferiram ao ouro. De modo que alá deve seguir enfeitiçada, esperando uma manhã propícia de São Xoão para mostrar-se de novo na Pena Molexa” [In Eva Merlán. Contos e Lendas de Trasancos].

In the worst cases, the greedy noble young man is cursed and turned to stone for failing her test.

A king who was turning to stone. The other surrounding stones are his horsemen. By Eva Merlán

A king who was turning to stone for failing her test. The other surrounding stones are his horsemen. Eva Merlan ex A. Pena  (ex Historia Ilustrada de Narón)

The other surrounding stones are his horsemen. On Midsummer Night, San Seoane’s, São Jõao, or San Xoán eve, they all regain their human form and ride again, protecting the land, jus for one day, every year.

It is also said that on the night of Saint John a treasure is carried away from the Pena Molexa on three golden mules.  The mules march in to the sea if nobody can break the spell.

Finally, there are those who say that the Pena Molexa was made, as mentioned before, by an old woman with her little finger, and that on the day she takes away her finger, the End of the World will have arrived.

While she waits for the deserving groom to share with her the buried kingdom and its treasures, she lays out the gold in the sun and combs her blond hair with a golden comb.

The garimpeiros, secretive professional  tomb (tumuli) raiders from the times of proto-history to present times, knew the score. They could avoid angering the (A)Moura before the spoils, digging holes at night with the help of a priest “endlessly reading and unreading the Gospels”, or of a witch (a meiga or a meigo), reading and unreading the book of São Cibrám, the ‘Ciprianillo’, while they dug into the tomb.

The Second Oldest Profession in the World

At the appearance of the Moura, they quickly insisted that she marry them. Carlos Alfonzo (ex A. Pena in Caminos Milenários)

When failing at their discovery, at the appearance of the Moura, they quickly insisted that she married them, according to their testimony (Martinez Salazar, 1909) before the judge:

“Hilario Alonso had found there a woman with her hair dishevelled [- hair worn down was then a symbol of lust-] and a brown woven dress [luxurious fabric] and loose hair, and this at bocanoche [‘in the mouth of the night’, at 12 pm] […] and she carried in her hand a few  hairs [of gold], and she asked which seemed better, what she had in her hand, or her, and he responded that it was her […]: and then she told him to go up the hill of the mámoa ‘mound’ of Segade and that there would find a treasure […]

As in Ancient Egypt, and from the Neolithic to the Iron Age, tombs (mámoas, ‘mounds’) troughout Europe have been plundered as part of what might be considered “The second oldest profession in the world” (Steuer, 1979) sometimes as soon as the day after the burial. Today it is the work of archaeologists, but with the goal gaining knowledge of our past in a has cases of pillaging include the excavation of 890 tombs in the Hallstatt necropolis over the course of 17 years, or the 1846 disinterment of 19.490 objects by mining supervisor Johan Georg Ramsauer.

A Princesa Marie de Windisch-Graetz (Marie Gabriele Ernestine Alexandra, * 1856 Viena - † Ludwigslust 1929) Grande Grande Duquesa de Mekenburg

A Princesa Marie de Windisch-Graetz (Marie Gabriele Ernestine Alexandra, * 1856 Viena – † Ludwigslust 1929) Grande Duquesa de Mekenburg excava en Hallstatt

But the pillaging of Hallstatt is just an anecdote compared to what has occurred in Galicia. The priest Pedro Vázquez de Orjás, lord of the Couto de Recemil, in Lugo (Martinez Salazar, BRAH III 1909, pp 218-9), obtained a Royal Warrant in 1609 from king Filipe III to open tombs and remove the treasures of the “Galli-Greek gentry”. His plundering involved over three thousand chambers.

In the Middle Ages, the Codex Calixtinus considered the pillaging of tombs, to steal the Gold of the Mouros, to be a part of the practice of mining, stating that “Galicia is rich in gold, silver […] and other riches”, […] “but above all in gazis sarracenicis [Sarracenicus it’s a popular ethimology, a mistaken medieval translation for Mouros]”, in other words, in “treasures of the Mouros”, feeric beings from Galiza. Such ‘mining’ was surely also regulated by the Crown.

Treasure of Caldas, a product of The Second Oldest Profession in the World

Treasure of Caldas, asresult of violations of many chalcolithic mounds (Museo de Pontevedra)

We will never know what Don Pedro found. At the beginning of the 17th century, neither the lord of Recimil nor the science of his day were concerned with making inventories, let alone with dating an classifying the antiquities from the tombs. Nor was he interested in recording excavation journals like supervisor Ramsauer, or in making drawings like the watercolours of his friend Isador Engel.

Judging by the scope of his exploits, six times greater than those of Ramsauer at Hallstatt, and greater than that of a modern-day archaeologist who may excavate various tombs already pillaged hundreds of times, the Lord of Couto de Recemil had an extraordinary, if unscientific, career. Using the experience he acquired through his practice, perhaps he was able to predict which tombs would be productive and which would not. Were those tombs great dolmens? Were they Bronze Age arks? Were they  Iron Age tombs, now gone [almost] without a trace?

Fivela luso-galaica de Bragança

Galician and Lusitanian brooch called “de Bragança”. Lost the long crossbar and part of the original iconographical program, representing the twelve labors of Hercules III century BC.
By an unfortunate Belle Epoque reconstruction the original damaged Neme Lion representation, the original lion became now a wolf. That fact does not obscure its interpretation. The amazing brooch shamefully left the Iberian Peninsula to the British Museum.

The historians describe, according to their own inveterate customs, how the Lusitanians [close to Galicians] interred Viriato in a vast an splendid tomb. Why was it not preserved until today? Because it was probably looted by the pickaxe’s greed an disappeared without leaving behind any sign of its memory, as were the monumental statues of the princes who were crowned, as shown by the Medieval documents, and as took place in our Celto-Atlantic cultural region.

In Narón, Terra de Trasancos.

Dr. André Pena, Dean of the Galician Institut for Celtic Studies.

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