The Game of the Goose is a very popular board game in Spain. All children have played it lots of times and it´s one of their favorites. However, not everybody knows that “El juego de la Oca” has got its origin in Celtic tradition and in the Camino de Santiago.
La Oca (the female goose) is a symbolic animal that predominates on the Camino. Just as the scallop shell was a symbol for the pre-Christians, it seems that La Oca was also a symbol since the foot of the goose and the mark it leaves on the ground resembles a scallop shell.
This idea of La Oca stretches across the entire Camino and dates back to the pre-Christian era of the route. The Celts used the image of this bird as the goose is a migratory bird , and legends and myths point to the possibility that the Celts looked at these animals for guidance and protection as they were travelling toward to seacoast of Finisterre. They were considered to be keepers of spiritual wisdom and to be the guardians of homes. Celts considered the geese as sacred guides and these creatures were sent to advise human beings. This is the reason why their migratory path was a journey to be followed. The geese migration route coincides with the Camino, also leading out to sea. The geese could be considered the guides accompanying the travelers along the Camino Francés, Camino Primitivo or Camino Portugués. It´s believed that travelers followed the geese at daylight and they followed the stars at night.
Moreover, there are many place names along the Camino that are related to the Oca. For instance, Villafranca Montes de Oca (Village of the Franks of the Mount of the Goose), with the small chapel named Our Lady of the Goose, the town of El Ganso (Male Goose) and the mountain Montes de Oca (Hills of the Goose).
As I have mentioned above, there are clear connections between the Camino and the board game of the Goose. There are several theories, for example: some have connected the game to the knights and templar and their stations, mainly castles, along the route from whence they would protect pilgrim. Another claims that the game represents the journey to and from Santiago, each square representing a specific town or area.
I feel that this game seems to have several symbols of Celtic spiritually connecting it to the pre-Christian route. The game is generally of square shape with a spiral drawn on it that is divided into 63 squares. The oldest boards mainly have images on 21 squares. These are geese, a bridge, an inn or refuge, dice, a water well, a jail, a maze and one square symbolizing death. These staple images, their placement, and the game rules associated with them, continue to appear on the modern-day boards.
In the game there are 13 squares with geese on them. When one player lands on these squares, they are able to jump ahead to the next goose and roll the dice again. The geese serve as a guide to successfully completing the game. Interestingly, the 13 squares with geese also correspond with the 13 stages of the ideal medieval Christian pilgrimage,presented in Book V of the 12th Century pilgrim guide, the Codex Calixtinus. Also, Celts has a calendar wheel which represents the 13 lunar cycles with 13 different species of trees. Two other interesting Celtic connections to the game are the water well and the maze.
The board game is divided into three equal sections of beginning, middle and end, similar to how the Camino is divided. Finally, the square that represents death falls within the end section of the route (square number 58) as metaphor of the Camino, this final stage represents the spiritual piece of the pilgrimage and arrival to the city of Santiago de Compostela. Some theories say that square of death is Santiago de Compostela and the last square (number 63) is likely to represent Finisterre. This final square shows a goose swimming in water and beautiful landscape. This means the physical end of the pilgrimage at sea and the metaphorical rebirth of the traveler.
I encourage you to play this entertaining board game and found out what the squares mean to you. It is a funny family board game and you can even buy it in any souvenir shop or toy shop and play it with your family or friends.
Buen Camino, amigos!