The end of Christendom

When Darwin came to the archipelago of Chiloé in 1835 he described it as ‘the end of Christendom’. He was referring in part to its location at the end of the world, but also drawing on what the Spanish Conquistadors had struggled with centuries before, the ancient pagan traditions of the native peoples. These involve haunting legends of trolls, mermen, witches and ghost ships, which incredibly are still relevant and widely believed around the island today. Just beside our cabin are two weathered stone figures set in the dense undergrowth and surrounded by bubbling spring water that runs down towards the pebbly beach. The figures are enclosed by a rickety gate and appear to be tended to by some of the superstitious locals. Millalobo is a ‘frightful apparition’ with the body of a seal and the head of a human mixed with a fish. His name means ‘gold wolf’ and he controls the animals of the seas around the archipelago. Just behind Millalobo is a very sinister small disfigured creature, most probably an Invunche, a deliberately deformed human with its head twisted backwards, along with twisted arms, fingers, nose, mouth and ears. It walks on one leg and two hands, as one of its legs was broken at birth and stitched to the back of its neck. Invunche are often seen protecting the entrance to a warlock’s cave. (Right, so that’s where I was standing… no wonder I felt a tad uncomfortable). Indeed warlocks, male witches, or Brujos, are also a common feature of local mythology.

And no community on Chiloé is complete without a Caleuche, a ghost ship staffed by drowned fishermen who are carried along by a magical sea horse. Right… residents to this day swear that they hear the sound of onboard music and revelry deep into the night, especially foggy nights so common around these parts.  Of course you could say that’s more likely a party over the sound in Castro, but that would be disrespectful wouldn’t it. No, ghost ships definitely.

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