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Title: Basque Legends and Witches
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Registered: 11/21/2008

(Date Posted:02/08/2009 23:36 PM)
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Basque Legends and Witches

The 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.

There 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.

It is not surprising that Mari appears in various combinations in the names for locations, caves, springs, and so on: Mariturri, Marizulo, Marikutx.

Later, 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, Laminazulo.

There are many legends about Mari, Lamias and women or witches with the same characteristics of Mari.


A 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.

A 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.

When 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.

Mariurrika 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

According 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.

The 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?

One 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

They 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.

When 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 that cliff!"

And in fact they complied with his wishes and threw him over the cliff, so he died tragically.

The 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.

In 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.


1. 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

Once 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 speak.

One 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

Many 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.

After 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 could want.

The 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

Among 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.

But 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.

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