13 Curiosities About the Royal Game of the Goose and El Camino de Santiago

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The Royal Game of the goose is not a simple game. Under its childish and easy  appearance, in fact it hides lots of symbols and mysteries that transport us to a time when the terrestrial and tangible were linked to the mysticism. Even if we are not in that time any more, the Game of the goose has not lost its meaning, on the contrary, each pilgrim that starts walking El Camino, starts its own exciting game. Do not miss the 13 points that will make you see El Camino de Santiago in a different light.

1. Do you know to whom is attributed the creation of the Royal Game of the Goose?

Its creation is attributed to the Templar knights, although there is another hypothesis that claims that it was created by the Greek army during the Trojan siege, and based on the Disc of Phaistos.

2. Why did the Templar knights create the Royal Game of the Goose?

The Templar knights started with the aim to defend and protect all the pilgrims during their journeys to Holy places such as Rome, Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela. The latter being the one that made the Templars strong and powerful. They achieved such power and wealth over the Christian and not Christian population, that king Philip IV of France asked of Pope Clement V to dissolve the Order of the Templars, and in 1312 he gave in to the petition and it caused them to be persecuted afterwards.

The Royal Game of the Goose is, in fact, the map of El Camino from Somport, in France. The 63 playing fields in the game are remarkably similar to different stages and landmarks in El Camino.

3. What are the identifiable points of El Camino in the Royal Game of the Goose?

Some of the outstanding ones are:

  • Puente la Reina in Jaca, first bridge of the game.
  • Puente la Reina in Navarra, goose playing field.
  • Estella, second bridge.
  • Hospital de San Marcos en León, jail in the game.
  • O’Cebreiro, goose playing field.
  • Santiago, playing field of the death.
  • Finisterre, the mother goose and final stage.

4. What about the inn, the dice, the well and the labyrinth?

On the game-board there are also symbolic playing fields. The inn represents the shelters, that already existed in El Camino; the dice represent “chance” and the going forwards and backwards chance causes; the well are the black days during your journey; and finally, the labyrinth represents the physical loses. They did not have Vojo in those days…oh dear!

5. Why make a game of this?

Most of the population was illiterate, not being able to write or read, so the only way to pass this information in an easy way was to create a game-board full of figures distributed in a number of numbered fields with symbols, so it was easy to remember and replicate, making coincide the places where the Templar order was already established and also the landmarks of El Camino.

6. What symbols are hidden within the Royal Game of the Goose?

El Camino de Santiago is considered an initiatory journey, a journey that runs in the physical world and a personal journey in the interior. The game is a symbolic representation of this journey and the goose is the key part.

7. The Goose?

Well, yes, the goose is an old symbol of knowledge and the animal in charge of taking the souls to the afterlife, given that the goose is a migratory bird that travelled from east to west, following the Milky Way towards “the land of the dead” and the Finis Terrae (the end of the land). Also, the goose was an everyday animal, they were used as wardens of the land because they are very territorial and noisy. Even today, the goose is very visible throughout El Camino.

8. Where?

There are a few familiar names: Villafranca Montes de Oca ( a town which name translates to something like Town of Goose Mountains), El Ganso (a town called The Goose),  Castrojeriz (City of Geese), Manjarín (Man of geese), Ocón ( Big goose), Puerto de Oca (Port of Goose) or the Río Arga (where Puente de la Reina, remember the first bridge in the boardgame?). Geese also appear, outside the strict Camino de Santiago, in the cloister in the Catalan church in Barcelona Saint Eulalia, where 13 white geese camper around freely.

9. Why 13?

The church attributes this number to the 13 martyrdoms suffered by Saint Eulalia, but it is a coincidence that there are also 13 geese within the game, even more so when 13 in the Tarot cards is symbol for death or transformation. In numerology the Royal Game of the goose is very important, particularly number 9.

10. What is special about the number 9?

Number 9 is the last of the one digit numbers, is the end of a cycle and the start of another. I could write the whole post about number 9, but I’ll leave only a few remarks as a sample:

  • The playing fields with a goose are distributed every 5 or 4 fields.
  • The Mother Goose is the finale ( a symbol of wisdom), which is in the field 63 (6+3+9).
  • The founders of the Order of the Templars were 9.
  • Number 9 in the Tarot cards represents the Pilgrim, the hermit that walks with a stick and makes his way through the darkness and towards the light in order to reach a fountain of wisdom.
  • The master builders of the Cathedral of Santiago designed both the cathedral and the Portico de la Gloria around number 9.

 

11. Ei! Stop there! What do the master builders of the cathedral have to do with El Camino?

Everything! They were a key part of the Camino that we know today. For the apprentices of the master builders of the Cathedral of Santiago it was an initiatory journey, since they had to do ten years on the way like a life school, and once they reached Santiago (playing field number 58 on our game-board) they would sculpt a tomb in which they had to spend the night in order to awake in the morning as a new rebirth, they had to carve their name in granite and continue as a new person until the end, until Finisterre and the Mother Goose (playing field 63), the end of El Camino. By the way, the master builders used as their standard symbol in all their constructions the leg of a goose.

12. But, what do you mean that the end of El Camino is not Santiago?!

No, the end of El Camino is not Santiago (at least not in my book). If you take El Camino as an initiatory journey, the purpose of El Camino and the board-game is to go beyond the symbolic death (playing field 58=5+8=13=death) and to transcend Ultreia et Suseia (forward and upwards). It means the rebirth of the individual as someone better than the one that started the journey and therefore attain a greater state of conscience and wisdom, almost by alchemy. If the journey finished at Santiago and therefore at the death, we would be missing the point of the journey which is to attain a transcendental transformation, and we would have to start all over again.

13. Also Alchemy? Surely that is too much, now!

It is well known that many alchemists were settled along El Camino and others ( amongst them the famous Nicolas Flamel) travelled along this initiatory journey in search of the secrets of Alchemy, looking for places that were full of wisdom and sacred, this places were marked with geese. Contrary to what we might be inclined to think, that they were in search of how to turn things into gold, or the formula for the eternal life (having said that, the body of Nicolas Flamel and that of his wife’s were never found), they were in fact in search of a transformation that will allow them to have the greatest wisdom, or what they called the Philosopher’s Stone, the Greatest Work, The Golden Goose, the Gold Work…does Obradoiro sound familiar?

It is clear that this is a matter of interpretation, but I am sure that many of you who have read this post have had this board-game shaped like a spiral in which you advance towards the finish line with the steps the dice dictate. Sometimes we get helped along with bridges that take us along, sometimes we move with the number of the dice, sometimes magically by the power of the goose, but always trying to avoid falling in the well, the jail or death, and not being taken to the square one. And I think to myself…isn’t this what life’s all about? An aggregate of mysteries and finds, crisis and recoveries, fears and joys, in short, a set of trials and tribulations that we need to experience sometimes on our own guided by strong convictions, sometimes with the help of those making the journey of life with us, all of it to try and wake up every morning a better person.

Who has not felt like that in El Camino?

I hope that these 13 points will work a little transformation in you, even if only a ninth part and that now you look at El Camino with differents eyes.

Ultreia friends!

Translation: Elvira Sánchez.

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About Author

Isaac Martínez

Soy diseñador multimedia, hiker experimentado y arquitecto de Rutas en Vojo. Un día descubrí el Camino de Santiago y ya no me lo pude sacar de la cabeza. Me gustaría compartir con todos vosotros la experiencia y conocimientos que he podido adquirir a lo largo de cientos de kilómetros recorridios por esta y otras rutas, y dar a conocer consejos, historias y curiosidades que te ayuden a disfrutar mucho más tu Camino.

4 Comments

  1. Luije Carretero on

    Aquí tienes otro hermano peregrino, de a los que al final llamó el camino y desde Almería, me vine a vivir a Samos, y sólo quería agradecerte la entrada e invitarte cuando gustes a nuestra morada..
    Proyecto O Couso.
    Sería un lujo compartir experiencias y conocimientos contigo. Ahí estamos, con el camino iniciático y la madurez que va llegando a los 42 años.
    Un abrazo sentido y sostenido hermano del camino.

    • Isaac Martínez
      Isaac Martínez on

      Hola Luije,

      Muchas gracias por tus palabras. He estado viendo vuestro proyecto y me parece algo apasionante. Te agradezco la invitación, y espero poder visitaros pronto y compartir esa experiencia con vosotros.

      Un fuerte abrazo.

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