Basque myths and legends: Mari, Ortzi and Ilargia

From: http://www.eitb24.com/new/en/B24_50678/fiestas_traditions/Basque-myths-and-legends-Mari-Ortzi-and-Ilargia/

May 28, 2007

Primitive Basque man was converted to Christianity very late, which produced the creation of a vast collection of myths and legends which still exist today thanks to the great Basque oral tradition.

Even most primitive Man felt the need to give meaning to the phenomena and natural cycles which conditioned his existence. He interpreted them, named them, found an explanation for them, and with these answers built up his own myths, legends, and religions. These formed the framework for his relation with nature and with anything else in his environment which was incomprehensible or supposedly magic.

Primitive Basque man was converted to Christianity very late. He was also all but cut off from other cultures by an inhospitable and very inaccessible geography. Thus he came to invent a vast collection of myths and legends which still exist today thanks to the great Basque oral tradition.

For him the mountains and valleys developed an almost human significance, and in the bowels of the earth ran rivers of milk, out of the reach of mortals. Two powers ruled nature and their designs conditioned human life: the god of the firmament, "Ost" or "Ortzi" - equivalent to the Roman god Jupiter, the Greek Zeus or the Germanic Thor, and "Ilargia", the moon, a feminine force which emerged from the world of hidden things.

"Ost" and "Eguzki", the light of the sun, belonged to the day, to the earth, since it was from the earth that the sun rose and to the earth that it returned every day. "Ilargia" though, belonged to the world of the deceased, of souls, to the hidden side of existence and nature.

The Basques are very closely in touch with the moon and its cycles, and this figure appears in numerous myths, rites and legends. The female divinity of the ancient Basques was "Mari", the lady or gentlewoman who lived in the caves which reach deep down to the centre of the earth. Although she could take on different forms, she showed herself as a breathtakingly beautiful woman, and moved from one mountain to the next crossing the sky like a fireball. Any area which holds itself in esteem will have a model of the dwelling of Mari placed on its highest peak, for example the mountains of Gorbea, Anboto, Aketegi or the Aralar range...