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10 Basque legends full of ancient mythology

10 Basque legends full of ancient mythology

June 20, 2024

The myths and legends of a people explain to a large extent how their first inhabitants have interpreted and tried to give a symbolic explanation to the phenomena and moments that they have had to live and of which at the time it was unknown why they happened.

Already only within the Iberian Peninsula we can find a 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 a greater variety of myths and legends is the Basque Country. That is why throughout this article let's go over a small sample of Basque legends , all of them of great cultural interest.


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10 myths and Basque legends

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

They usually refer to natural elements centered on the mountain, the forest and the creatures that inhabit them, along with characters and mythological beings emerged in antiquity, typical of the Basque culture (the inhabitants of the territories that make up the Basque Country in times previous to the Romans) although also with Celtic influences and adaptations own of the change of religious beliefs (like for example, the arrival and adoption of the Christianity like majority religion).


1. The goddess Mari, in Txindoki

The religious beliefs of the Basques and the Basque population until the arrival of Christianity included the belief in various deities, one of the most important being the goddess Mari . This deity was a feminine entity which had power over storms and over nature (to the point that sometimes it was confused with the mother goddess of the Earth, Amalur) and who used to be cruel in the face of lies or pride. S said he had his main home in the caves of Mount Amboto, although he had and was moving between the different mountains.

The legend says that after several years without going through Mount Txindoki, the deity Mari returned to visit his home in that elevation. The arrival of the deity was not unknown: a flying horse in flames transported her, and her arrival was accompanied by rains until the deity reached his rooms.


One day a shepherdess brought her master's flock to the absence of the mountain, so that in the afternoon they would gather them and return home. But when he told them, he realized that he was missing one, fearing that he 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 of a cave near the top.

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

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2. The legend of Basajaun and wheat

There is in Basque mythology a large, hairy and powerful creature, with a humanoid foot and a hoof foot, and which is often called the Basque yeti: the Basajaun. This being, of great strength and ingenuity, 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 genius species). One of them, in which the origin of agriculture is discussed, is as follows.

In a time before humanity knew agriculture or livestock and where they began to settle the first populations in the region, one of the first Basque human settlements was formed in Mount Gorbea. At the top of this mountain the Basajaun also lived, which dominated agriculture and livestock and lived comfortably. Even though humans were going through a great famine, the Basajaun refused to share their knowledge with humans .

But one day the 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 in sheaves. There, he challenged them to jump over the sheaves, manifesting power to jump more than the enormous beings. These, surprised, accepted the challenge.While the great and powerful Basajaun jumped without difficulty, Otxando did not stop falling on them, losing and receiving ridicule from such beings.

The young man returned to the village. However, by removing their shoes and shaking them, several seeds that had become stuck fell to the ground. These seeds would be planted, and thanks to them would be born the first fields of wheat planted by humans , being the source of food such as bread.

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

3. The red bull: Zezengorri

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

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

After the death of the thief, there were those who wanted to enter the cave in search of treasure . However, the spirit of the thief appeared on each occasion in the form of red and igneous bull, chasing away them. These people eventually discovered that the remains of the thief were still far from their home.

They went to retrieve their bones and brought them back to the place where the man had lived: they threw them at the entrance of the cave, sinking these instantly. This done, the animal ceased to frighten them and allowed them access, the thief being able to rest in peace and those who sought his treasure to recover it.

4. The legend of Mariurrika

A legend that tells us the importance of the family and protect it over 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 the following .

There was once a king of Navarre who undertook 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, which managed to emerge victorious and get the hand of the princess. With the passage of time, the couple had two children, Ibon and Mariurrika.

Mariurrika was the smallest, at the same time that she hated her older brother, who was the firstborn and future heir. However, and in order to take over the inheritance, the girl planned with a maid to end the life of his brother : They decided to take a trip with him to Mount Amboto. There they got him drunk, for once in a state of drunkenness and asleep to push him in order that he would fall, falling and dying in the act. After Ibon died, Mariurrika returned home pretending that his brother's death had been an accident.

Although a group was sent to recover the body, it was never found. However, at nightfall Mariurrika began to have strong conscience and once she was asleep, she had nightmares about her dead brother approaching her and pointing, accusing her of his death. Upon awakening, the young was surrounded by a group of evil geniuses known as ximelgorris (evil spirits), who had come to look for her. Mariurrika disappeared that night to not return, there are rumors that he lives in the mountain where he killed his brother or was thrown into the chasm of the lost spirits.

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

The Sun and the Moon are very important stars for the human being, being habitual that the different cultures have realized myths and legends with respect to the moment of their creation. Basque mythology is not the exception. Interestingly, 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, also known as the flower of the sun. The legend that tells us the origins of these elements is the following.

Thousands of years ago, when humanity only began to populate the Earth, the world was plunged in a constant darkness: neither the Sun nor the Moon existed. The human being was terrified by the numerous mythological creatures with whom he had to live and who did not stop attacking them from the most 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 caused that in the end Amalur decided to help them creating the Moon, as a luminous entity that allowed them to see.

Although at first they were terrified, they ended up getting used to it. However, witches, geniuses and other creatures also got used to it, terrorizing humanity again. This again resorted to Amalur, praying for a more powerful protection. The planet reacted by creating the Sun, and with it the day and the vegetables.

Humanity got used to this star, while most of the creatures that harassed them did not. But these were still coming out at night, something that made people ask for help for the third time. The Earth decided to answer again, for the last time: created the eguzkilorea or flower of the sun , which put on the doors during the night makes the nocturnal creatures think they are before the Sun and do not approach, fearing their luminosity.

6. The Baltzola snake

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

Legend has it that Two brothers, Joxe and Santi, came one day to the cave of Baltzola attracted by the legend that said that the lamias kept in it a treasure. Upon arriving there they saw a large snake, asleep, in the entrance. Santi, the youngest and most crazy, threw a stone at him with such luck that he cut part of the tail before the serpent managed to escape. Joxe, the eldest, recriminated the act to his brother and forced him to leave the animal alone. They both decided to go home.

Many years later, Joxe had to emigrate in order to make his fortune. Although he lived in that place, he never missed his home. But one day a man arrived who had a missing leg and, taking him by the hand, transported him back to Baltzola. There and before disappearing the man told him that so that he did not have to leave again, he gave 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 man without a leg had never used anything to sustain himself, Santi decided by accident to tie the belt to a tree, which suddenly started to burn . After looking at each other, both understood that the man was none other than the serpent whom Santi had mutilated years ago and whom Joxe had defended.

7. The legend of the black dog

The animals closest to the human being also star in multiple 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 there was once a young bishopric about to get married was in the process of handing out invitations to the wedding. On his way he passed the cemetery, in which saw a skull fall on the ground . The young man gave him a kick, saying in a burlesque way that she was also invited. Soon, however, he realized that a large black dog was chasing him, looking at him in such a way that he was frightened. After returning home he told his mother what had happened, which recommended that he quickly go to talk to the elderly wizard of the city for advice.

Quickly the boy 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 correct the mess he would take the dog and during the banquet always serve him first, before the guests. The day of the wedding arrived and the young man did as he was told, giving the dog the best bites always in the first place despite the criticism of the guests. After doing so, the dog indicated that he had done well, because with that gesture his owner (the dead one) had decided to forgive him. After that, the dog disappeared.

8. The legend of Paseo de los Caños

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

The legend says that on this trip you can observe some strange tracks 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 join him.

Even though the devil always tried to tempt her, she never gave in. At his death, an angel was sent to take her to heaven, but also the devil came: both ran after the soul the young woman, leaving the race of both marks on the floor of the walk. Finally, it was the angel who reached the soul of the girl, taking her to heaven.

9. The enamored lamia and the shepherd

Other of the most popular creatures of the pre-Christian Basque culture are the lamias.Although in other cultures these beings are almost vampiric and demonic, those of the Basque culture are different to that originally these creatures were entities similar to nymphs or mermaids , often with anthropomorphic characteristics such as duck feet or fish tails and benevolent character, although they can be enraged if their comb is stolen and they are not able to step on consecrated soil. There are many legends about it, being that here we present a legend centered on love.

Legend has it that a shepherd, after taking his flock to the mountain, He heard a melodious song that made him forget his animals to look for who was singing . He found a beautiful girl in the middle of a river, combing her hair with a gold comb. The pastor immediately asked for her marriage, to which she agreed.

The pastor returned to the village and told his mother, who worriedly asked for advice. He received the recommendation of that the son looked at the feet of the young woman before finishing deciding whether to marry , with the purpose of assessing whether she was human or lamia. The boy returned to the mountain to see his beloved, noting however that his feet were webbed and typical of a duck: it was a lamia. The young pastor returned sadly home, where he fell ill and raved 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. He tried to follow the funeral procession, but could not participate in the ceremony because he 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 example of a legend in which they participate. The legend dictates the following.

The King of Navarre Sancho the Magnanimous and his wife Dona Aldonza had had two daughters of great beauty: Violante and Guiomar. One day, a knight who fell in love with Guiomar came to the king's castle, a love that was reciprocated. But nevertheless, the knight left for war and died during this , something that depressed the young woman.

Some time later the queen died, something that left King Sancho tremendously sore to the point that little by little he began to get seriously ill, becoming weaker and weaker. Although no doctor managed 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 must 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 creature of great power and difficult capture, who would only accept approaching a maiden who has not experienced love or the hardships of it. The only ones who could get it would be Violante and Guiomar.

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

They took Guiomar's corpse and the horn back to the castle. Although the old man could make the brew and got the king to recover from his illness, the monarch died soon after the death of his beloved daughter.

Bibliographic references

  • Calleja, S. (2011). Tales and legends of the Basque Country. Editorial Anaya. Madrid Spain.
  • Garmendia Larrañaga, J. (2007) .Apparitions, witches and gentiles: Myths and legends of the Basques- Eusko ikaskuntza. Donostia, Spain.
  • Martínez de Lezea, T. (2004). Legends of Euskal Herria. Editorial Erein.
  • Martínez de Lezea, T. (2016). Magical routes Administration of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country. Bilbao [On-line]. Available at: //turismo.euskadi.eus/contenidos/recurso_tecnico/aa30_folletos/es_def/folletos/2016/mitologia/rutas_magicas.pdf.

Mythstory #3 - Basque Mythology (June 2024).


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