10 Basque Legends Full Of Ancient Mythology

Basque legends

The myths and legends of a town explain to a large extent how its first inhabitants have interpreted and tried to give a symbolic explanation to the phenomena and moments that they have experienced and for which at the time it was unknown why they occurred.

Only within the Iberian Peninsula can we find a great variety of traditions, myths and other attempts to explain the world from cultures such as the Roman, the Visigoth, the Arab or the Christian and even earlier such as the Iberian, the Celtic or the Basque. . And one of the territories that has the greatest variety of myths and legends is the Basque Country. That is why throughout this article We are going to review a small sample of Basque legends all of them being of great cultural interest.

10 Basque myths and legends

Below we will see a dozen Basque myths and legends, in which we can find relevant elements of the traditional folklore of these lands

They generally refer to natural elements centered on the mountains, the forest and the creatures that live there, along with characters and mythological beings that emerged in ancient times, typical of the Basque culture (the inhabitants of the territories that make up the Basque Country in times prior to the Romans) although also with Celtic influences and adaptations typical of the change in religious beliefs (such as, for example, the arrival and adoption of Christianity as the majority religion).

1. The goddess Mari, in Txindoki

The religious beliefs of the vascons and the basque population until the arrival of Christianity included belief in various deities, one of the most important being the goddess Mari This deity was a female entity who had power over storms and nature (to the point that she was sometimes confused with the mother goddess of the Earth, Amalur) and who was usually cruel to lies or pride. S said that she had her main home in the caves of Mount Amboto, although she arranged and moved between the different mountains.

Legend has it that after several years without passing through Mount Txindoki, the deity Mari returned to visit her home on said elevation. The arrival of the deity was not something unknown: a flying horse on fire carried her, and her arrival was accompanied by rains until the deity arrived at his chambers.

One day a shepherdess led her master’s flock to the edge of the mountain, so that when the afternoon arrived they would gather them and return home. But when she counted them she realized that she was missing one of them, fearing that she had climbed to the top. Despite the fear that the deity would punish her, the shepherdess began the ascent in search of the animal, which she found at the entrance to a cave near the summit.

But the young woman also found the deity in her. The goddess was spinning, and she proceeded to ask the shepherdess for her collaboration in her task. In return, she promised him that she would reward her and that one day she would have her own flock. The shepherdess accepted, and she spent the next seven years learning not only how to spin but also things like animal language, as well as helping the goddess. After this time, the deity gave him a huge lump of coal before disappearing Upon leaving said cave, the shepherdess realized that the coal had turned into gold, with which she was able to buy her own house and herd.

2. The legend of Basajaun and wheat

In Basque mythology, there exists a large, hairy and very strong being, with one humanoid foot and another in the shape of a hoof, and who is often called the Basque yeti: the Basajaun. This being, of great strength and ingenuity, He is considered the protector of nature and livestock, and stars in numerous legends (sometimes considering a single creature and in others referring to two or more members of the same species of genius). One of them, in which the origin of agriculture is discussed, is the following.

In a time before humanity knew about agriculture or livestock and when the first populations were beginning to establish themselves in the region, one of the first Basque human settlements was formed on Mount Gorbea. The Basajaun also lived at the top of said mountain, who dominated agriculture and livestock and lived comfortably. Although humans suffered great famine, The Basajaun refused to share their knowledge with humans

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But one day young Otxando decided to do something to change it. Otxando approached the territory of the Basajaun, who were harvesting wheat in their fields and gathering them into sheaves. There, he challenged them to jump over the sheaves, claiming to be able to jump over the enormous beings. Surprised, they accepted the challenge. While the great and powerful Basajaun jumped without difficulty, Otxando kept falling on them, losing and receiving ridicule from said beings.

The young man returned to the village. However, when he took off his shoes and shook them, various seeds that had gotten stuck fell to the ground. These seeds would be planted, and thanks to them the first wheat fields planted by human beings would be born being the origin of foods such as bread.

Another version tells us how it was Martiniko who made the same challenge to Basajaun in a cave in order to obtain the grain, with the same result. Later, he would go to the same cave in order to understand how to plant it, something he would discover when listening to these creatures sing a song in which they inadvertently explained it.

3. The red bull: Zezengorri

Another mythological creature from Basque legends is Zezengorri, the red bull This being, a spirit that guards the entrance to its cave, is characterized by expelling fire from its mouth and nose and can attack those who disturb the caves, in which the treasures of the goddess Mari are kept. A legend mentions this being in relation to the Atxulaur cave, on Mount Itzine.

Legend has it that there was once a thief who lived in the Atxulaur cave, accumulating a great treasure over the years. However, the thief would travel to new lands (specifically French lands) to continue stealing, a trip in which he would end up being captured and finally killed.

After the death of the thief, There were those who wanted to enter the cave in search of the treasure However, the spirit of the thief appeared each time in the form of a red and fiery bull, scaring them away. These people ended up discovering that the thief’s remains were still far from their home.

They went to recover his bones and brought them back to the place where the man had lived: they threw them at the entrance of the cave, sinking instantly. Once this was done, the animal stopped frightening them and allowed them access, allowing the thief to rest in peace and those who were looking for his treasure to recover it.

4. The legend of Mariurrika

A legend that tells us the importance of the family and protecting it above material considerations, offers us a critique of greed and at the same time is linked to the geography of the Basque Country is that of the legend of Mariurrika, which reads as follows .

There was once a king of Navarre who promised to give his daughter Doña Urraca in marriage to the man who managed to defeat one of his subjects. Pedro Ruiz, lord of the house of Muntsaratz de Abadiano, would respond to this challenge, who managed to emerge victorious and obtain the hand of the princess. As time went by, the couple had two children, Ibon and Mariurrika.

Mariurrika was the youngest, at the same time she hated her older brother, who was the first-born and future heir. However, and in order to obtain the inheritance, The girl planned with a maid to end her brother’s life: They decided to take an excursion with him to Mount Amboto. There they got him drunk, and once in a state of drunkenness and sleep they pushed him so that he fell off the cliff, falling and dying on the spot. With Ibon dead, Mariurrika returned home pretending that her brother’s death had been an accident.

Although a group was sent to recover the body, it was never found. However, when night came, Mariurrika began to have strong pangs of conscience and once asleep she had nightmares in which her dead brother approached her and pointed at her, accusing her of her death. Upon waking up, the young woman was surrounded by a group of evil geniuses known as ximelgorris (evil spirits), who had come to look for her. Mariurrika disappeared that same night never to return, there being rumors that she lives on the mountain where she killed her brother or that she was thrown into the chasm of lost spirits.

5. The creation of the Sun, the Moon and the eguzkilorea

The Sun and the Moon are very important stars for human beings, and it is common for different cultures to have created myths and legends regarding the moment of their creation. Basque mythology is no exception. Curiously, the legend that speaks of its creation also refers to the creation of a typical and traditional flower in Basque culture: the eguzkilorea. Is about a flower that has been traditionally used by the Basque people as an amulet of protection against evil, being also known as the flower of the sun. The legend that tells us the origins of these elements is the following.

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Thousands of years ago, when humanity was only beginning to populate the Earth, the world was plunged into constant darkness: neither the Sun nor the Moon existed. The human being was terrified by the numerous mythological creatures with which he had to live and that did not stop attacking them from the complete darkness. For this reason they prayed desperately to Amalur, the great Mother Earth, in search of help and protection. The insistence of the humans made Amalur finally decide to help them by creating the Moon, as a luminous entity that would allow them to see.

Although they were terrified at first, they eventually got used to it. However, witches, genies and other creatures also got used to it, once again terrorizing humanity. She turned to Amalur again, praying for more powerful protection. The planet reacted by creating the Sun, and with it the day and the vegetables.

Humanity became accustomed to this star, while most of the creatures that harassed them did not. But they still came out at night, something that made people ask for help for the third time. The Earth decided to respond again, for the last time: created the eguzkilorea or flower of the sun which placed on the doors at night makes nocturnal creatures think that they are in front of the Sun and do not approach it, fearing its luminosity.

6. Baltzola’s snake

A legend that tells us a story centered on the Baltzola cave, in which elements such as the protection of nature are observed as well as the repercussions and retribution of one’s own actions over time.

Legend has it that two brothers, Joxe and Santi, approached the Baltzola cave one day attracted by the legend that said that the lamias kept a treasure in it. When they got there they saw a large snake, sleeping, at the entrance. Santi, the youngest and craziest, threw a stone at him with such luck that he cut off part of his tail before the snake managed to flee. Joxe, the eldest, reproached his brother for this act and forced him to leave the animal alone. They both decided to return home.

Many years later, Joxe had to emigrate in order to make his fortune. Although he grew up in that place, he did not stop missing his home. But one day a man arrived who was missing a leg and, taking him by the hand, he transported him back to Baltzola. There and before disappearing, the man told him that so that he would not have to leave again, he would give him a box of gold, while he gave him a belt for his brother. Joxe went in search of his little brother, telling him what had happened.

After realizing that the legless man had never used anything to support himself, Santi decided by chance to tie the belt to a tree, which suddenly started burning After looking at each other, they both understood that the man was none other than the snake whom Santi had mutilated years ago and whom Joxe had defended.

7. The legend of the black dog

The animals closest to humans also star in many legends. In the case of the dog, it has often been related to legends in which They become guardians of the spirit of the dead or even that they are souls in pain. One of the legends starring a dog is the following.

Legend has it that once upon a time a young man from Bizkaia about to get married was in the process of handing out wedding invitations. On his way he passed in front of the cemetery, in which saw a skull fallen on the ground The young man kicked her, mockingly saying that she was also invited. Soon, however, she realized that a large black dog was chasing her, looking at her in such a way that she became frightened. After returning home she told her mother what had happened, who recommended that she quickly go talk to the old witch of the city for advice.

The boy quickly ran to see him, and the old man told him that the dog was the guardian of the corpse to which the skull belonged and that he intended to avenge the offense committed. However, he told him that to make up for the mistake, he should take the dog and during the banquet always serve him first, before the guests. The wedding day arrived and the young man did as he was told, always giving the dog the best bites first despite criticism from the guests. After doing so, the dog told him that he had done well, because with that gesture his owner (the dead man) had decided to forgive him. After that, the dog disappeared.

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8. The legend of Paseo de los Caños

Some ancient Basque legends not only talk about natural elements, but also refer to the orography of specific parts of cities, such as the one that takes place on the Paseo de los Caños in Bilbao.

Legend says that on this walk you can see some strange footprints caused by the race between an angel and the devil for the soul of a local young woman The girl was an eighteen-year-old girl who had always lived in hardship and who used to pray to God to be reunited with him.

Although the devil always tried to tempt her, she never gave in. Upon her death, an angel was sent to take her to heaven, but the devil also came from her: they both ran after the young woman’s soul, leaving marks on the floor of the walk as they ran. Finally, it was the angel who reached the girl’s soul, taking her to heaven.

9. The lamia in love and the shepherd

Other of the most popular creatures of pre-Christian Basque culture are the lamias. Although in other cultures these beings are almost vampiric and demonic, those of the Basque culture differ in that originally These creatures were entities similar to nymphs or mermaids, often with anthropomorphic characteristics such as duck feet or fish tails and a benevolent nature, although they can become enraged if their comb is stolen and are unable to set foot on consecrated ground. There are many legends about it, the one we present here being a legend focused on love.

Legend says that a shepherd, after leading his flock to the mountain, He heard a melodious song that made him forget about his animals to look for whoever was singing He found a beautiful young woman in the middle of a river, combing her hair with a golden comb. The pastor immediately asked her to marry him, to which she agreed.

The pastor returned to the town and told his mother, who worriedly asked for advice. In response, she received the recommendation of that the son looked at the young woman’s feet before finishing deciding whether to marry, for the purpose of assessing whether she was human or lamia. The boy returned to the mountain to see his beloved, however observing that her feet were webbed and like a duck: she was a lamia. The young shepherd sadly returned home, where he became ill and became delirious for a time with his fiancée. Finally, he died.

The young lamia, after finding out, ran to her lover’s house to shroud him with a gold sheet and say goodbye. She attempted to follow the funeral procession, but she was unable to participate in the ceremony as she could not enter consecrated ground. The girl cried so hard that she would end up generating a spring in the place where her tears fell.

10. The unicorn of Betelú

Unicorns are creatures that are present in a large number of mythologies and are associated with virginity and purity, but within Basque mythology and legends there is only one known example of a legend in which they participate. The legend dictates the following.

The King of Navarre Sancho the Magnanimous and his wife Doña Aldonza had had two daughters of great beauty: Violante and Guiomar. One day, a knight arrived at the king’s castle and fell in love with Guiomar, a love that was reciprocated. However, The knight went to war and died during this something that depressed the young woman.

Some time later the queen died, something that left King Sancho in tremendous pain to the point that little by little he began to become seriously ill, becoming increasingly weaker. Although no doctor was able to help him, an old man indicated that the only way to cure him was to prepare a potion that he knew, but that required a special ingredient: it had to be drunk through the horn of a unicorn.

Fortunately, the old man knew where there was one: in the forests of Betelú But a unicorn is a being of great power and difficult to capture, who would only agree to approach a maiden who has not experienced love or its hardships. The only ones who could achieve it would be Violante and Guiomar.

The first approached the forest determinedly, but upon hearing the mythical being neighing, she would be terrified and would flee back to the castle. Guiomar then, given the king’s increasingly dangerous state of health, decided to go after the creature despite knowing that her suffering for the knight’s love put her in danger. Guiomar went with several crossbowmen to the forest, telling them that in case of attack they would shoot the unicorn. The woman found the unicorn, but when she approached it the animal attacked her and pierced her with its horn, killing her instantly before the crossbowmen could do anything.

They carried Guiomar’s corpse and the horn back to the castle. Although the old man was able to make the concoction and made the king recover from his illness, the monarch ended up dying a few years later due to the death of his beloved daughter.