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What is a Vákner?

A well known Camino myth, part of the Galician lore, and probably the most brazen brag by a 15th century pilgrim who, we assume, never left Rome.

If you walked from Santiago to Muxia or Finisterre, you might have met him. The Vákner, a wolf or werewolf, standing there at the intersection of the two ways to either town.

Ancient, Jacobinian, lore talks about this beast, a fearsome forest dweller that inhabits the misty and dark peaks of the Galician hills and comes for everyone who strays, metaphorically or physically, from the true way towards the chapel in Muxia.

Lycantropy, the mythical belief in wolf-men or men turning into wolves, is as old as time. Wolves were always regarded as the apex predator of the night in European civilizations and used in many tales and mythologies as adversary.

The legend probably predates Jacobinian and other Christian events in the area. Nordic mythology, probably imparted around 400 CE by tradesmen passing through, already had their wolf based stories, and the hills if Galicia, as dark and mist woven as they are, lent themselves perfectly to such lore.

The Armenian bishop Martiros (1491) describes it thus in his travel diaries:

I received the blessing of Santiago, I set out on the Camino and arrived at the end of the World, at the beach of the Holy Virgin, where there is a building built by his own hand by the Apostle Saint Paul and which the Franks call Sancta Marie de Finibusterrae. I suffered many jobs and hardships on that trip, in which I met a large number of wild and very dangerous beasts. And I met the Vákner a, wild animal, large and very harmful. How, they told me, were you able to save yourself, when groups of twenty people cannot pass? I immediately passed to the country of Holani whose inhabitants also eat fish and whose language I did not understand. They treated me with the greatest consideration, taking me from house to house and admiring that I had escaped from the vakner .

Martiros tall tale became soon part of the book of Camino legends and with it part of Camino culture. The statue above was erected in 2018, there are Vákner Festivals in the area, and if you’re very, very, lucky, you’ll run into one of the few local Vákner aficionados carrying a unique stamp to commemorate the meet.

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