Taken from "Folklore and
Traditions", one of the series of "The Basque Country, Come and
then pass the word" 2nd edition, January 1993 Author: Angel
Murua, Published by: Gobierno Vasco, Departamento de Comercio,
Consuma, y Turismo. Viceconsejeria de Turismo.
Even most primitive Man felt the
need to give meaning to the phenomena and natural cycles which
conditioned his existence. He interpreted them, named them,
found an explanation for them, and with these answers built up
his own myths, legends, and religions. These formed the
framework for his relation with nature and with anything else in
his environment which was incomprehensible or supposedly magic.
Primitive Basque man was converted
to Christianity very late. He was also all but cut off from
other cultures by an inhospitable and very inaccessible
geography. Thus he came to invent a vast collection of myths and
legends which still exist today thanks to the great Basque oral
tradition. For him the mountains and valleys developed an almost
human significance, and in the bowels of the earth ran rivers of
milk, out of the reach of mortals. Two powers ruled nature and
their designs conditioned human life: the god of the firmament,
"Ost" or "Ortzi" - equivalent to the Roman god
Jupiter, the Greek Zeus or the Germanic Thor, and "Ilargia",
the moon, a feminine force which emerged from the world of
hidden things. "Ost" and "Eguzki", the light of
the sun, belonged to the day, to the earth, since it was from
the earth that the sun rose and to the earth that it returned
every day. "Ilargia" though, belonged to the world of the
deceased, of souls, to the hidden side of existence and nature.
The Basques are very closely in touch with the moon and its
cycles, and this figure appears in numerous myths, rites and
legends. The female divinity of the ancient Basques was "Mari",
the lady or gentlewoman who lived in the caves which reach deep
down to the centre of the earth. Although she could take on
different forms, she showed herself as a breathtakingly
beautiful woman, and moved from one mountain to the next
crossing the sky like a fireball. Any area which holds itself in
esteem will have a model of the dwelling of Mari placed
on its highest peak, for example the mountains of Gorbea, Anboto,
Aketegi or the Aralar range...
Important characters somewhere
between gods and men are the lords of the wood, the "basajaunak",
uncommonly strong shaggy beings, who worked the land before man.
Man gained the right to cultivate the land when San Martin,
having won a bet, seized the seeds from the lords of the wood.
Beside brooks and on shores, the "lamiak", or "lamiñak"
comb their long hair with golden combs. These seductive
creatures resembling mermaids - or who have bird's legs - can
tempt mortals to their downfall. The house, "etxea" is
the refuge and temple of the Basque people - the element which
gives them their identity and their name, and which is preserved
generation after generation. The home is protected against evil
spirits by fire, laurel, ash leaves or dried thistle heads, "eguzki-lorea",
literally, flower of the sun. The home, every home, was
perpetuated - after the arrival of Christianity - in the church,
where every family had its place reserved, the "yarleku", just
as in a graveyard there is a family tomb.
The arrival of Christianity
diminished the public circulation fo these beliefs, but they
continued to be shared in private. When Jesus Christ, "Kixmie"
arrived, the super-natural beings to whom the Basques, before
Christianisation, attributed almost miraculous abilities and
deeds, disappeared. And the beliefs began to become myths and
Places Where Spirits are Seen in
In the mountains which surround
Oiartzun there are some mysterious circles of stones set
into the earth. These are the work of Intxitxu, the
invisible spirit who builds cromlechs.
In Ataun, if you go towards
the openings of the grottos of Armontaitz and Malkorburu, you
can see the strange prints of Irelu, the underground
spirit who seizes anyone who bothers him. On the summit of Ubedi
you can catch the strains of his song, mingled with the
Between the Peñas de Orduña
and the caves of Balzola (Dima) and Montecristo (Mondragon),
lives a dreadful snake, Erensuge, who attracts human
beings with his breath, only to devour them.
Sometimes in Albistur and
Zegama you may be surprised by a sudden jolt of the flock of
sheep and at the same time the disturbing ehco of distant cries.
This is how the Basajaun, the lords of the wood, announce
their presence, thus warning the shepheres of the area that
there is a storm on the way.
Round about the caves of Santimamiñe, Sagastigorri and Covairada,
you might come across a completely red-haired bull, cow, or calf
with a fierce expression in its eyes. This is Beigorri,
guardian of the houses of Mari, the principal spirit or
goddess of Basque mythology. The animal is depicted in the
prehistoric paintings on the walls of the Santimami&nitildee