Cumberland Academy

Subterranean Mythology of the Basque People

 The origin of the Basque people were and still remain shrouded in mystery.  The most ancient remains discovered in the land today occupied by the Basques date to the Lower Palaeolithic period and can be assigned to 200.000 – 100.000 BCE. 

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.

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

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 inside caves.

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