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Bertan > Corsarios y piratas > Versión en Inglés: The beliefs

THE BELIEFS

The world of Basque seaman is not as rich in myths and beliefs as it is inland. Traditional Basque seafaring mythology has almost always been similar to that of other seafaring areas, and Basque corsairs have always believed in the same as the other people of the sea along our coasts. Throughout the Basque Country, there has always been a strong tradition of witches, the ingenious world of sorcery which has little in common with satanism. These beliefs were deeply rooted, not only in the rural and interior Basque Country, but also on the coast.
Zarauz and Getaria...are towns with a deep tradition of "sorginak" (witches), whose traditions, legends and histories were intimately related to everyday life and to the very core of seafaring society. It was often a world half-hidden by fear and the error that these "sorginak", "laminak" or "gaizkinak" (other kinds of witches) inspired. "Direnik, ez da sinistu bear; ez direla ez da esan bear" (Don’t believe in them, but don’t say they don’t exist). The coastal fishermen never mentioned witches, and if women spoke about them while they were fishing, they never caught anything. According to this tradition, witches appeared chasing fishermen and sailors, in the form of waves. In Donibane Lohitzun (Saint Jean de Luz), the "wiches boasted of having flown (from their own village) to Newfoundland; they would climb to the top of the ship’s mast and put a curse on sailers and fishermen by sprinkling their bedeviled powder on them". They would also stir up stormy weather, proof of which was the sinking of the "Marticot" from Ciboure. This is what they declared to the French judge Pierre de Lancre in the process which he opened against them.
Virgen de Iciar.
54. The devotion of sailors to the Virgen of Iciar, goes back to ancient times. According to Juan de Esnaola, a "Sailor’s Guild" was devoted to her as early as the 13th century. When he died, Juan Sebastián Elcano left part of his belongings to this virgin and, according to Garibay, boats passing by the Iciar coast would shoot a salute in her honour.
© Joseba Urretabizkaia
Mermaid.
55. A mermaid. Wood engraving from the mid-16th century.
© Joseba Urretabizkaia
The Irish monk.
56. The Irish monk, Brandan, set sail in 484 together with another seventeen monks in search of "Delicious Island". When Easter Sunday came round, anxious to celebrate the occasion, they found an island on which to hold mass. When they finished they realised that the island was a whale sent by God so that they could celebrate the rite.
© Joseba Urretabizkaia
Other coastal beliefs were the existence of mermaids and "traganarru". This was the storm spirit who, according to Barandiarán, caused "fear amongst men of the sea in olden times and still amongst quite a few in this century".
With respect to mermaids, in 1673 –according to Resurrección Mª de Azkue, Father Feijoo had told her that- a neighbour from Liérganes went in for a swim in the Bilbao Estuary with some other boys. He threw himself into the water but... didn’t come back up to the surface and was thought to have drowned. However, six years later, some Cádiz fishermen saw "a human figure swimming through the waves with great skill. Burning with curiosity, they tired to catch the surprising being, which they succeeded in doing, although with difficulty”. They then discovered that it was the very same Francisco who had disappeared six years previously in Bilbao. On bringing him home, it is said that he lived strangely for nine years and then disappeared without trace.
I have also found a reference to a mermaid who used to play on the beach in Donostia-San Sebastian and who would sit combing her hair in the sunshine. But, when the English landed on the "Pico del Loro", she escaped.
Lastly, the "iraunsugue" was our ancestors’ dragon to which a maiden had to be sacrificed, since it would draw men to it with its breath and eat them. It was an "iraunsugue" that killed the Archangel Saint Michael in Aralar.
Triton.
57. Triton. Wood engraving from the 16th century.
© Joseba Urretabizkaia
The dragons of the Basque corsairs.
58. The dragons of the Basque corsairs mustn't have looked very different from this Leviathan drawn by Hans Baldung in 1515.
© Joseba Urretabizkaia


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