Dia da Espiga | A Magical Portuguese Tradition

by | May 21, 2020 | Animism, Bioregional Animism, Portuguese Folklore

Hi friends! Today I would like to share with you about another ancient portuguese tradition that not many people know about. It’s called Dia da Espiga and it is still celebrated today in many places all over Portugal.

Origins of Dia da Espiga

Dia da Espiga translates directly to “Day of the (cereal) Ear”. It coincides with the Catholic festivity of Ascension Thursday, although it is very likely that this is yet another old pagan Spring ritual that ended up being absorbed by Christianity. When we make a espiga, we send out our wishes and hopes for good harvests, abundance, growth, peace, love and bread on the table. We also celebrate Spring’s explosion of beauty and diversity.

dia da espiga

What is exactly the Espiga?

The Espiga is a bouquet made out of a mix of wild and domestic plants, each one with a very specific symbolism. The plants are collected around midday on Ascension Thursday, a special time of the day when the Sun is high and the power of the plants is the strongest. It is also a magical hour because suddenly everything stays still… the rivers stop flowing, the cheese doesn’t curdle, the bread doesn’t grow and even the leaves do not move.

Espigas include cereal ears, poppy and daisy flowers as well as branches of olive tree, rosemary and grapevine. Usually they are harvested in odd numbers, specially the cereal ears. Once the bouquet is made, it is hanged upside down in the kitchen, in the living room, behind the main door or else by the praying altar. If a thunderstorm is nearby, a little piece of the bouquet can be burned in the fire to keep it away. The bouquet is only substituted when a new one is made on the next Dia da Espiga a year later.

The meaning behind each plant

Each plant has a specific symbolism or magical property:

  • Cereal Ear – Bread
  • Daisies – Fortune, Silver & Gold
  • Poppy – Love & Life
  • Olive Tree – Light, Peace & Olive Oil
  • Rosemary – Health & Strength
  • Grapevine – Happiness & Wine

Why is this tradition important?

As you might have noticed, all Portuguese traditions I share about have something in common: they all have other-than-humans in the centre. Those are the local traditions that interest me the most because they are a reminiscence of a more Animistic way of relating with the world. In the case of Dia da Espiga, we can see – in the symbolism and in the fact this tradition still lives today – how important these plants were (and still are) for the human people. There’s a relationship between Humans, these Plants and the Sun that is special and sacred, and still lives today.

It’s true that many might harvest these plants without giving too much thought about who these plants are and how we can further deepen our relationship with them in meaningful ways. Nevertheless, the fact this tradition and other similar traditions are still alive is incredibly important because they can work as a foundation to help us rebuild our ancient (almost) lost animistic way of relating with the Other-than-Human community. This is why I share about these local folk customs, in the hope they can help us here in Western Iberia – as well as others in other places of the world – to reclaim the Old Ways and relearn how to respectfully engage with all the other amazing beings we inhabit this Land with.

dia da espiga

Our Espiga hanging on the fireplace nearby two windows and in line with the main door of the house

Any similar tradition in your country?

Is there a similar tradition where you live? I would love to hear about it! I love the fact that so many of these traditions actually overlap in many different places and end up having similar meanings. Feel free to share on the comment section bellow or via Instagram if you know of any other folk custom with similarities to Dia da Espiga.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might enjoy my other stuff, such as Caretos | The Ancient Entrudo Tradition of Portugal and Adufe | The Portuguese Square Drum. Oh, and if you feel like drinking one of the most delicious and refreshing homemade drinks in the world, don’t forget to check my latest post out »» Delicious Homemade Elderflower Cordial Recipe!

Much love and take care,
Filipa 🌸

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