Basque Legends and Witches
origins of both the story and the legend started with the man's desire
to explain phenomena and actions that take place in the world around
him. The Basque mind was rich with imagination when it came to creating
different legends in response to the questions that came from observing
nature and immediate surroundings. Ancient legends about spirits and
pagans, monsters and subterranean animals, and especially the human or
semi-human figure known by the names of Mari, Lamia, Lady, or
Dame-names that are always used to identify witches in Basque legends.
exist a large variety of forms and representations of Mari. She is the
beautiful woman seated at the mouth of the cave, combing her hair with
a gold comb. She is the one who starts storms who disguises herself as
different species of animals. She is also the judge who tries and
condemns certain less proper behaviors such as lying, stealing, and
being too proud.
is not surprising that Mari appears in various combinations in the
names for locations, caves, springs, and so on: Mariturri, Marizulo,
many of the spirits that were called Mari in the past, were called
Lami, Lamin, or Lamin (Lamia) later. Sometimes they are women with duck
feet in the mountains, and in the coastal villages they are sirens
whose bodies are half woman and half fish. There are places in Euskadi
named after the Lamias, places like: Lamiarri, Lamiako, Lamitegi,
There are many legends about Mari, Lamias and women or witches with the same characteristics of Mari.
certain king of Navarra once solemnly promised, "I shall give my
daughter in marriage to the man who vanquishes one of my black
subjects." A man from the Muntzas farm near Abadiano accepted the king
s proposal and managed to vanquish the black man. The king kept his
promise and gave him his daughter's hand, and the couple moved into the
Palace of Abadiano, located in the Muntzas district.
son and a daughter were the products of that marriage. Ibon was the
older, and Mariurrika was the younger, and as such she was quite
spoiled. One day, Mariurrika and a servant had the cruel idea of
killing Ibon to claim his inheritance. With that in mind, they took him
to spend the day at Amboto. During their meal, they gave Ibon too much
wine. After he had fallen into a drunken sleep, Mariurrika and the
servant hurled him over a cliff and he died.
Mariurrika returned home, she told her parents that Ibon had an
accident and had fallen over a cliff. But she could not silence the
screaming of her conscience, which accused her of her brother's death.
That night while Mariurrika was in the kitchen, she saw devils sliding
down the chimney.
died on the spot, and ever since then, she has spent eternity flying
from the mountaintop of Amboto to the mountaintop of Oiz in the form of
a fireball. She takes refuge in two caves, one in Amboto (the cave of
Mari), and the other in Sarrimendi.
The Witches of Xuritegui
to the story, when she was a little girl Maria de Larraburu had in her
house a servant from Lesaca. This was nearly seventy years ago. One day
the servant decided to go to Lesaca to visit her family. Since there
was no clock in the house, she got the hours mixed up and set off on
her journey at night, thinking that it was almost dawn. But before she
reached Xuritegi'ko Borda (a farm in Sara), she spied a group of
witches dancing to the music of the txistu (flute) and drum.
witches shouted an invitation, "Come dance with us!" But the servant
was very frightened, and instead of joining them she ran away from
there as fast as she could.
Do Witches Exist?
night a group of women were spinning when one of them declared that she
did not believe in the existence of witches. After they finished their
work, each one left for home. The one who had affirmed that witches did
not exist was suddenly besieged by a chorus of witches shouting, "We
don't exist, eh? Well, here we all are, except for Maripetralin."
And at the same time they spoke these words, they pulled her hair from her head until she was completely bald.
The Birth of Kixmi and the Origin of Olentzero
say that in the area of Martxabaleta in Aralar the pagans were dancing
once in celebration of one of their festivals. Suddenly, they spied a
luminous cloud approaching them from the east. Astonished by that rare
light, they consulted an ancient heathen who lived with them and was
famed for being well versed in matters of clouds and stars.
the old pagan saw the strange phenomenon, he addressed the assembly in
dramatic tones. "My children!" he began. "Kixmi has been born and our
end is near. I no longer wish to live, and I beg you to throw me over
And in fact they complied with his wishes and threw him over the cliff, so he died tragically.
luminous cloud continued to approach, closer and closer, blinding the
pagans with its light as they fled in search of refuge. They arrived at
a beech tree grove that stood in Arraztaran. As soon as the cloud
stopped and hovered over them, they all buried themselves beneath a
mound of stones that has been known ever since by the name
"Jentillarri," or Stones of the Pagans.
the language of the pagans, Kixmi meant Christ. But they did not all
die buried beneath the stones, for one of them survived to announce the
birth of Kixmi to the other pagans who lived in those parts.
This pagan was the first to announce the existence of Christ in the
Basque Country. The traditional Christmas character known by the name
Olentzero personifies the heathen who announced the birth of Kixmi and
who even now comes down the mountain every Christmas to proclaim the
birth of Christ to the people.
The Story of the Lamia
a man was employed as a highway worker in the vicinity of Mendaro. He
took lodgings at a farm along with some companions. There, he heard
tell that an old neighbor had once overpowered a lamia on the mountain
and had carried it home to the farm. According to the story, the lamia
looked like a monkey more than anything else. No one could make it
day they were sitting next to the hearth while a caldron of milk was
heating over the fire. The whole family left the kitchen, leaving the
lamia alone on a corner of the hearth.
Soon the milk began to boil over, and the lamia shouted, "Up with the white stuff!"
Having said that, it escaped through the chimney and left no trace of its existence behind.
The Lamia Who Asked for Help from a Man
years ago on Mount Behorlegui, there were many lamias' caves. On one
occasion, a shepherd spied a wild lady combing her hair with a golden
comb in one of those caverns.
calming the startled shepherd, the wild lady begged him to take her out
of the cave and carry her on his shoulders to the mountain of Apanize.
In exchange for this favor, she would give him all the money that he
shepherd acceded to the woman's demand with pleasure. He sat her on his
shoulders and had just taken his first few steps toward the cave's exit
when suddenly a large group of animals blocked his passage. The
shepherd was so frightened that he abandoned the wild lady on the spot
and fled as fast as he could.
The wild lady let out a horrible howl and said, "Poor me! Now I will have to spend the next one thousand years in this cave!"
And in fact she is still imprisoned in that cave, for there is not a shepherd who will dare to approach that place.
The Lamias of Aizpuru
the rocks of Aizpuru, near Ituren, there lived some lamias. One day,
one of them went into labor. The others approached the lady of the
Yoanea farm and asked for her help as a midwife. At first sight, the
lamias' entire house appear to be full of objects made of gold. When
the midwife her work, the lamias asked her what she would charge for
it. The midwife asked them for a teasel as payment. They gave her a
teasel made of gold, and at the same time commanded that she not look
backwards until she entered her home. Then the lamias accompanied her
home to the sound of music.
before she entered her house, with one foot inside and the other
outside, the lady of the house gave into temptation to look back. At
that very moment, the lamias tore half the teasel from her hands.
They say that with the other half, the Yoanea farm was built.