Legends and Popular Tales of the Basque People

Legends and Popular Tales of the Basque People


Legends and Popular Tales of the Basque People By Mariana Monteiro

Format: Global Grey edition

Pages (PDF): 178

Publication Date: 1887

Illustrations: Yes, a few

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Pages (PDF): 178

Publication Date: 1887

Illustrations: Yes, a few

About The Book: Chapters include: Aquelarre; Arguiduna; Maitagarri; Roldan's Bugle-Horn; Jaun-Zuria, Prince Of Erin; The Branch of White Lilies. A Tradition; The Song of Lamia; The Virgin of the Five Towns--Ballad; Kurucificatuaren Canta (The Chant of the Crucified)--Ballad; The Raids; The Holy War--Ballad; The Prophecy of Lara--Ballad; and, Hurca-Mendi.


ON placing before the reader this collection of Basque legends, fairy tales, ballads, and popular stories having their origin in the ancient traditions which formed a portion of the sacred inheritance bequeathed to the Basque people by their forefathers, and handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation; I have thought that a few remarks would not be out of place concerning the moral and historical importance which these legends and tales possess, as being the reflection of the ideas and faithful echo of the sentiments of past generations.

If at one time these legends were viewed with contempt by superficial minds that could not perceive behind the simplicity of their form the great lessons which they inculcated, and the lofty sentiments they enclosed, these very tales and legends are in our day becoming the objects of the attention and study of deep thinkers who, by the meagre light which these tales alone afford them, are able to penetrate the shadows left by those ancient societies that have disappeared from the face of the globe, carrying along with them the secrets of their ideas, civilization, and life, because these traditions constitute the archives of the people, the treasures of their science and of their beliefs; they are the records of the lives of their forefathers, the landmarks of the grandeur of their past history.

The Basques, like all primitive races, separated from the common paternal family, and holding similar beliefs and customs, must necessarily possess many analogous points in common, independent of the effects due to difference of climate, mode of living, religion, and other physical and moral causes. Yet the Basques are singular in this, that, in the midst of the great revolutions which have agitated the whole of Europe, causing radical changes, levelling to the ground or converting into ruins great empires, powerful nationalities, monuments; sweeping away languages, and even the very races themselves--the Basques have known how to pass unscathed through the many storms of devastation, preserving intact their nationality, institutions, laws, language, and customs.

Impelled by their singularly energetic activity, and by the strength of their warlike spirit, they have fought on land, they have triumphed by sea, they have explored and conquered unknown regions; and, by the light of their unassuming but practical intelligence, have succeeded in consolidating with admirable harmony the elements of a wise rule which perhaps has no equal in the world. But following that traditional spirit which is the characteristic mark of the race, and trusting to that spirit for the preservation of their institutions and history, they have never sought to transmit in writing to their descendants the narrative of their great deeds, nor the keystone of their robust organization, nor, indeed, in one word, the secret of that immense sovereignty to which they attained, and which is scarcely comprehensible in our day if we take into account the now limited conditions of their territory and wealth.

What interest and importance must be attached to collecting, in view of all these circumstances, the thousands of scattered fragments of a nation's traditions and beliefs which, shining like vivid flashes of lightning amid dark shadows, rend the dense veils which conceal the mysterious secrets of the glorious history of the Basque people?

There are some who would fain put down all popular beliefs on the plea that they perpetuate superstition in the heart of the people. That the masses are superstitious is unfortunately a truth which cannot be denied; but, at the same time, it is true to say that the greatest men and the most illustrious people of the world have yielded to that weakness. Yet this fact does not prove that it is only in traditional beliefs where the origin of the evil is to be sought for. So long as we are unable to define the limits which separate truth from error in space and time, in the physical and moral worlds, man will ever allow himself to be carried away by the irresistible yearning for that which is unknown and incomprehensible, to seek in the mysterious regions of fancy for abundant food to satisfy his curiosity, and some explanation for that which he cannot understand.
By no other means is it comprehensible how superstition has always subsisted in every race, whatever be the religious profession or degree of culture it may have reached, or age in which it existed. The object may have changed, the form may have varied, as it has always done under the various influences exercised by religion, climate, customs, and other causes; nevertheless superstition has not ceased to pervade and dominate the spirit as powerfully now as it has ever done.

It is true that in our days the belief in witches is gone by, but, on the other hand, a world of spirits have risen up, or rather been discovered, as many spiritualists assert, who assume to live in perfect union with them.

We have among us mediums who have, so they tell us, legions of the dead at their command ever ready to appear at their evocation to fill with wonder and dread the most cultured city of Europe. And if all the world laughs at divination and the magic arts, there are few who do not shudder when some somnambulist, with brow bathed in perspiration and frame quivering in forced sleep, assures them that he can perceive through his closed eyelids the beginning of tubercule in the lungs of a patient, or some latent disease in the heart.
Ancient beliefs as a rule sprang from faith or some moral sentiment in such a manner that across their gross fictions there shone some great truth or deeply rooted virtue. Hence they always left behind some moral teaching or called forth some wholesome emotion. And in proof that the beliefs of our forefathers tended to inspire the noblest instincts in man, we have but to take any of the simplest of them. Who, for instance, has not heard hundreds of times in the Basque Provinces, in one form or another, the tales of the Arguiduna?
"The day has fled, and the poor cottager trudges sadly up the mountain path which leads to her house. She is weeping, her heart is torn asunder by grief, for she has lost her only child, who was the sunshine of her life.

"The shades of twilight, the silence which surrounds her, the sad mystery of night renew the wounds of her heart! She thinks of her child, she weeps, looks up to heaven and goes on her way!

"She proceeds, and reaches the graveyard where but a few days since she had laid the loved remains, and the poor mother on beholding the grave puts both her hands to her beating heart, feeling as though it must needs burst in twain under that wave of sorrow and bitterness which the recollection of her loss has raised.

"Suddenly a weird light, mysterious, leaps over the low wall of the cemetery and approaches to meet her, flickering in fantastic movements amid the shades. On beholding that light the mother falls on her knees, puts out her hands towards the flame, and, forgetful of her own pain, she asks in a faltering voice

"'Child of my heart, are you happy?'

"And the light, as though wishful of replying to her, becomes agitated and moves rapidly, and approaches nearer and closer to her, and stands still above her head. The woman, enraptured by an undefinable emotion, closes her eyes. Who knows? Perchance her ears have caught the sweet murmur of the words of her son--perchance she has felt on her lips the loving kiss of that idolized child of her heart!

"But the light begins to ascend and continues rising towards heaven until it becomes lost amid the shadows. The woman stands for a moment, her eyes fixed with fond looks on the spot where the light has vanished. She then directs to heaven a prayer, and starts on her way home, weeping still; but the tears she sheds are tears of resignation which comfort her. That night, sleep does not desert her eyelids as on previous nights, nor is she troubled by visions or phantoms. She sleeps calmly, awakes with peace of soul. And this is due to her having seen the spirit of her child; it is because she knows that the child so beloved and wept for has not forgotten his poor mother; it is that she feels that the soul of the child of her affections has gone to be reunited with its kindred spirits, the angels of heaven!"

What has all this been? If you question science it will tell you that it is due to a very simple phenomenon. Some gases emanating from the organic bodies of that graveyard have become inflamed on coming into contact with the air, and produced that flame which in its turn has caused an hallucination in the overwrought spirit of the poor mother.

The explanation is correct and exact, and science is quite right. But how much more consoling is it for that hapless mother, the hallucination which brought peace to the soul, than the cold explanation which would leave her in all the bitterness of sorrow!

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