Mythologies and Urban Legends Still Engrossing the Pyrenees

The Aneto, a sleeping giant|
The Aneto, a sleeping giant| | © Faras/WikiCommons
Jennifer Migan

The astonishing scenery of the Pyrenees is mystical itself, so discovering that it is the origin of numerous myths and legends is everything but a surprise. Read on and learn more about the mythology of your next vacation destination.

A broken heart was the origin of Pyrenees mythology

Unlike other regional mythologies, it is hard to trace a specific root of its origin due to the variety of people who lived there throughout the centuries. Nevertheles, the story of Pyrène, daughter of the Ancient Greek king Bébryx, is often cited as one of the original myths in the area. The legend says that after Hercules abandoned her, Pyrène was desperate and disappeared into the forest where she was devoured by wild beasts. The story of Pyrène reveals a possible colonisation of the region by the Greeks. Also, the historian Diodore de Sicile from the 1st century BC, claimed that the mountains were once hidden by forests and that one day, the shepherds set all the forests on fire and they morphed into melted golden and silver streams. Many other literary archives from this era are a mix of these two legends. Later on, different historians argued that there was certainly more ancient divinities in the region, but it was never proven.

The mountains were once giants

Mountain chains are usually attached to religious status. Sometimes people worship their unique geological aspect and natural habitat and for others the mountains are personified. The Pyrenees‘ highest mountain summits are sometimes referred to as “sleeping giants”, which is the case of the Aneto summit in the Spanish Pyrenees. The people living there say that they could hear the mountain’s laments during storms. Another example of the animist influence in the area is the Puigmal summit that was described as a human being whose mission was to protect nature.

Les Encantats are believed to be giants turned into mountains|

Solar gods and mysterious divine creatures

If these legends encourage skepticism among historical experts, most agree that Abellio (also known as Abellion) was the most important deity of Pyrenees mythology. He was a solar god and is often associated with Apollo and the Gallic god Belen, which raises the question of its possible Celtic origin. Unlike other divinities whose fellowship was limited to a specific location, Abellio was worshipped in the whole region. Although Abellio was not represented on the vestiges found by historians, they believe it is his face that we can see on the Croix de Beliou. This stone cross is believed to be the grave of Millaris, the 1,000-year-old patriarch who is mentioned multiple times in the original tales about the region.

Other divine creatures contribute to the mythological folklore. They are depicted as mysterious, protective but sometimes ill-intended and scary characters. Tantugou, well-known in the Louron and Larboust valleys, had a human aspect and was in charge to protect the herds, pastures and the shepherds. The Basajun (wild lord) also a protective character, was more feared by the population due to his hybrid appearance; a mix between a man and an animal.

The drac had multiple attributes; it was designated as a dragon, a waggish leprechaun, but also as one of the forms used by the devil to lure people. It is also said that the daunas d’aiga, the female divinities with the appearance of mermaids or fairies, were regularly seen in the lakes, fountains and rivers before heading back to the caves they lived in.

Representation of a Basajaun|

Bears are still considered sacred

Animals also play their part in this mythological culture. Similarly to popular beliefs in the Balkan, Asian or Bulgarian traditions, the bear was considered the direct ancestor to Homo Sapiens, which confers it a god-like status. In the Béarn area, the locals used the terms lou pedescaou (the one who goes barefoot) or lou Moussu (the gentleman) to show their respect. Although the Christian church slowly erased the animist influence in the region, local festivals such as the Carnaval de l’Ours (the Bear’s fair) keep old traditions alive. The wolf, like many European mythologies is coined as a dangerous creature that only appears at night, while the wild horse and the “red ass” donkey are representations of the devil. Pets are also included in the Pyrenees legends, yet their role is often anecdotal.

Gigantic bear seen at local annual celebrations in the Pyrenees|
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