Basque witches grease love candles with birch oil. Birch oil heals
skin and other diseases. According to the Tradition to give a branch of a birch
tree to a loved one was considered a sign of encouragement.
It meant: you may begin...
that has a name exists
Subterranean Mythology and primordial religion of the Basque People
The Basques think of themselves as the
inhabitants of what is, today, Spanish territory. Some scholars think that the
Basques may indeed be the descendants of the Cro-Magnon populations that
occupied the area in prehistorical times and that made the famous rock paintings
and graffiti discovered inside many caves in this territory. Physical
anthropologists think that modern Basques and ancient Cro-Magnon men share many
characteristics and physical traits.
The origin of the language called ‘Euskara’, spoken by the
Basques, is unknown. It is a pre Indo-European language, totally unique, that
shares only a few analogies with Caucasic and Berber dialects. The Basques call
themselves ‘Euskaldun’, from Euskara
"Basque language" and dun "somebody who speaks". Modern
linguistics try to discover the age of this language by investigating its most
ancient root words.
studies, the abbot Dominique Lahetjuzan (1766-1818) came to
the conclusion that the Basque language was the language spoken in the Garden of
Eden. He showed how the names of the main chapters of the Book of Genesis were
all Basque in origin and had their appropriate, specific meaning. For his
theories, the abbot has been called “one of the strangest characters of the
“theological era”. In 1825, the French abbot Diharce De Bidassouet wrote in his
"History of the Cantabrians" that Basque was the original language spoken by
God, a statement for which the abbot was soundly ridiculed. At about the same
period, the Basque priest Erroa stated that Basque was the language spoken in
the Garden of Eden. His colleagues thought he was a lunatic, but Erroa was so
deeply convinced of being right in his hypothesis that he caught the attention
of the Bishop of Pamplona: he, conversely, directed his appeals to the Chapter
of the Cathedral of Pamplona. The ecclesiastical institution considered Erroa’s
theories and, after many months of deliberations, established that Erroa was
right and publicly supported his theory. However, in a short time all the
reports and the registry containing the ecclesiastical deliberations disappeared
Many studies on the Basque people stress how deeply they are
different and separated from other cultures. However, if we look closely we can
see this is not completely true. In ancient times the Basques were known to the
Greeks, who called them Ouaskonous
(‘the people of the he-goat’), due
to their habit of sacrificing goats to their gods. Later on, the Roman armies
that passed through Iberia reported to have been in contact with a population
advent of Kixmi
Traces of this lost world can be found in the prehistory of the
Basque people: when ordered chronologically, these traces could offer an idea of
some of the most relevant traits of the Basque original religious beliefs. A lot,
however, can be reconstructed analyzing the ethnographic data, the rites
and the local folklore of the Basque people.
The Pyrenees are dotted with sacred
sites: caves, springs, wells,
valleys and mountain peaks. The mountains and the valleys were thought to be the
abodes of divinities and Genies: the earth was believed to contain beautiful
landscapes and green valleys hidden to mortals. The most famous of all these
sites is probably a plain named Akelarre in the province of Navarra. The name
comes from ‘aker’, he-goat and ‘larre’, pasture. For hundred of years, this
place was connected to witchcraft and it has been probably chosen as the place
where to celebrate ancient rituals and sacrifices. The Church has eradicated any
information related to the pagan religion of the Basques, and has even denied
the existence of such rituals. However, the Greek geographer Strabo reports
beyond doubt that sacrificing goats was a ritual crucial in the religious
beliefs of the Ouaskonous.
Due to the many mountains which characterize the Basque
the Romans -and later on the Arabs, Spaniards and French. were not able to gain
full control over the region. The Romans occupied only portions of the Basque
land and imposed on them Roman law, but they did not succeed in subjugating
completely the Basque people. It seems that the Basques have assimilated in
their own culture only few foreign words and customs: they have been the last of
all Western European people to be converted to Christianity. For centuries, the
Christian missionaries and their new religion were ignored by a vast portion of
the Basque people, who preferred to practice their traditional religion, full of
magical beliefs. In the 14th century the number of Basques converted to
Christianity had raised sensibly, but until the 17th century the non-Christian
living in the area were still considerably many.
In 1609, a controller sent from Bordeaux to check the state of the
Christian church in the Basque territory under French rule reported that
Witches’ Sabbath were often held in the churches themselves, with the approval,
if not the participation, of the local priest. The French controller was shocked
to see how sympathetic were the local Basque priests towards the old, pagan
religion. The majority of the population still practised a religion which was a
mixture of Paganism and Christianity. Such reports provoked strong reactions in
France and in Spain which led to the systematic destruction of the Basque
religion and culture. In this way the Catholic Church was able to reach the goal
which the Romans and the Arabs had missed: full control over the Basque
Pope Gregory IX instituted papal Inquisition in 1231 against
heresy. In 1478 Pope Sixtus IV authorised the Spanish Inquisition to fight
Jewish and Moslem apostasy. In 1483 he nominated the person who would organise
the Inquisition in all the regions of Spain. This was the great inquisitor Tomas
A hunting season was declared against
women, especially those that
gathered herbs, obstetricians, widows and spinsters. It has been estimated that
9 million people, above all women, were burnt or hanged in Europe at that
At Logrono many people were tortured until they admitted anything
they were ordered to say by the monks. It is recorded that one of the tortured
women, Mariquita de Atauri, after she had denounced while being tortured, a
great many innocent people she killed herself by throwing herself in the river
near her house and drowning . When the Inquisition was established in 1231, it
was the Dominicans who were in charge of the organisation and killing of
The Inquisition and the Dominicans concentrated themselves on the
Alps of northern Italy. The use of torture was officially authorised by pope
Innocent IV in 1252.
With the arrival of Christianity there also came the destruction of much knowledge of various rituals and magical arts that were common to all the valleys of Euskal Herria. Fortunately the Basques have a strong oral tradition that is celebrated even today with songs and competitions among storytellers. There is still a vast collection of ancient myths and legends although many of them have never been translated from Euskara.
According to the Basques there is a duality of beings and of worlds: on the one side the natural world (berezko), on the other the supernatural one (aideko); to operate in the first, one has to use natural instruments, one enters the second through magic. The magical means are many but they are all based on the ADUR, or magical virtue, that links things with their representations. Curses or birao are transmitted thanks to adur, to the person or thing which is signalled: a symbolic action towards an image emits its adur, that operates at a distance. Names are sound images of things. According to a popular Basque saying all that has a name exists "izena duen gutzia omen da".
The main gods are Ortzi or Eguzki, the sun god, Ilargia or Illargui, the moon goddess, Mari the earth goddess and Sugaar, the god both of the earth and of the sky. Ortzi, also called Ost or Eguzki, is the god of the sun, of the sky and of thunder and is often compared to Jupiter, Zeus and Thor.
Ortzi, and its western equivalent Osti are the first elements in a
dozen words like "cloud storm", "thunder" and "dawn". For example
Ortzadar (adar means horn)and "daylight" is Orzargi (argi means light).
The moon goddess Ilargia or Illargui appears in many myths and
legends. Because they are agriculturists and fishermen, the Basques are very
close to the moon cycles. Ilargia is the guardian of death; lshe accompanies
people on the way to the afterlife.
Ilargia regulates the world of the secret knowledge, of divination and magic.
Illargui like the
sun, is of a feminine gender; when she appears
on the eastern mountains one says:"Illargui amandrea, zeruan ze iberri?" (Lady,
mother moon, what news do you bring us?). Friday is sacred to her in the same
way as Thursday is sacred to the sky. According to an old belief, the moon is
the light of the dead and to die with a waxing moon is considered a good omen
for the afterlife. Sun and moon are children of the earth where they both go
back after their run in the sky.
In traditional tales it is said that the face of the earth is
unlimited in all directions and whoever wants to explore its borders is destined
to fail. The earth contains treasures hidden in caves and mountains that often
cannot be found because there are no precise indications useful to find them and
also because menacing genies intervene and terrify those who seek the treasures
and force them to abandon the search. It is the habitual dwelling of souls,of
divinities and of most mythical beings some of which take on the likeness of
bulls, horses, goats and other animals.
The mythical world of the Basques is peopled by genies or
divinities that take on the shape of animals or of half human beings who live
Among these one is particularly important.This is Mari, an
anthropomorphic goddess, one of the most ancient chthonic female deities.
The way the witches are called is
Sorgin. Do witches exist? " One
cannot say that they exist, one cannot say that they do not exist " according to
a popular saying.On the other hand the witches themselves confirm their
existence:" No, we do not exist, yes we do exist, we are fourteen thousand here
", thus they answered some women weavers at Eldauayen. In many popular tales
there is mention of the abduction of people who disbelieved in them.
Next to the subterranean and malevolent genies there are some who are helpful (familiarrak), some aquatic, rural, nocturnal, who fly, etc.
Between the world of the gods and that of man there is the Lord of
the Woods, the Basajaun. He is semi-divine and a strong, hairy being with animal
characteristics. Basajaun watches over the forests and all wild creatures. He is
a rural genie, the lord of the woods or also the Wild Lord. He is considered to
be the protector of flocks. When comes a storm he shouts warnings to the
shepherds; he prevent wolves from approaching flocks. He is the first to have
cultivated the earth. Human beings obtained the right to cultivate the earth
when a man won a bet with Basajaun. He stole the seeds that Basajun was sowing
and he came back to his peoples to teach them how to produce food.
The Lamie or Laminak have a particular
importance. They are genies
with a human shape although they have chicken, duck or goat feet.
Lamies often appear with a golden
comb, they willingly accept
offerings left by men on the window sill of houses; they fall in love and are
loved by human beings. If people enter per chance in their dwellings they greet
them kindly unless they are intrusive. In that case they abduct them.
Near the caves of Balzola and Montecristo lives
terrible snake that attracts people with its breath only to devour them. In the
area of Albistur and Zegama one can be frightened by the echo of strange laments
and by some sheep nearby that is running away. It is Basajun that announces its
presence and warns shepherds that a storm is about to come.
Near the caves of
Santimamine, Sagastigorri and Covairadea, look
for a cow that is completely red, a calf or a bull with ferocious eyes. It’s
Beigorri, the guardian of many of Mari’s abodes. This animal is represented in
many of the paintings found in the caves of this region.
The most important winter festival is
Carnival. In many cities
this festivity is announced by strange processions during which the participants
are dressed like gypsies, a reminiscence of the time when large tribes of
gypsies used to come to the Basque carnivals. In the province of Gipuzcoa the
children of the two villages of Amezketa and Abaltzisketa dance around all the
houses to awaken the generosity of their neighbours. In the city of Lasarte-Oria
the dance of the witches 'Sorgin Dantza' is performed on the Sunday of Carnival..
While the ancient rituals of the winter solstice have almost entirely been absorbed by Christianity, the traditions of the summer solstice have remained strong and intact. The celebrations emphasize the purification and the exaltation of summer and the sun. On the night of the solstice practically in all the villages, city or farm, a fire is lit. In the countryside these can be seen on the mountains and in front of the farms. In the towns they are lit in the middle of squares or in a nearby field. A very popular custom is that of jumping over the fire. In the country fires burning branches are taken from the fire and dragged in the fields to cast off any form of evil. The day after the summer solstice the markets of the towns exhibit " lucky branches", pieces of wood that have not been entirely burnt in the fires. These are considered to be protective against fires.
This is only a brief research on a very old and little known
Tradition. There is much to learn concerning the mythology and the
magic-spiritual practices of the Basque peoples. They contain the archetypes
from which all the knowledge of the world has emerged. Within the deep knowledge
of this people it seems that are hidden the keys to open the secret doors of all
the world Traditions.
The genetic and ethnic-cultural constitution of the
remote origin of their language that seems to stem directly from the ancestral
memory of the earth and possibly from words, sparks of life fallen from the gods
of heaven, allow us to perceive a remote enchanted garden, beyond
the barriers of time, inhabited by fantastic and wonderful
The attempts at erasing the signs of the Great Origin have not been capable of shadowing the intact consciousness of reality that appears in the folds of a world as modern as it is unreal and ferocious.
Lamies of the Baia still sing their melodious whispers in the gusts of winds
coming from the ocean and Mari still travels in the starry sky of the nights in
Euskal Herria, with her flaming chariot leaving behind her on the top of the
mountains tokens of her love for her wonderful kingdom.