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buber.net > Basque > Folklore > Basque Mythology: Herensuge
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Basque Mythology: Herensuge

The following was translated from an article originally in Spanish at the Encyclopedia Auñamendi.

The Herensuge is a diabolical sprit that appears in form of a snake, as indicated by the second element of its name: sugue "snake". In some stories it has seven heads; in the rest, it has only one. Its more renowned dwellings include: the cavern of Ertzagania (mountain range of Ahuski,, the supposed abyss of Aralar (Sanctuary of San Miguel), Murugain in Mondragón, Peña de Orduña. The most well known names of this spirit in the Basque nation are: Erensuge (in Sara and in Zugarramurdi), Herensuge and Lerensuge (in Ezpeleta, Ainhoa and Tardets), Errensuge (Camou), Hensuge (Liguinaga), Herainsuge (in Ezpeleta), Edensuge (in Sara), Edeinsuge (Doneztebiri), Edaansuge (Uhart-Mixe), Egansuge (Rentería), Iguensuge (Zaldivia), Iraunsuge (Atáun), Ersuge (Ochandiano, according to the Dictionary of Azkue), Sierpe (Zubiri and Lequeitio), and Dragoi (Mondragón).

In stories in which it lived in the mountain range of Ahuski, the Herensuge used its breath to attract the cattle that grazed in the area. When it lived in Aralar, in Muragain and in Peña de Orduña, it fed on human meat. In stories told in Ezpeleta, upon forming its seventh head it bursts into flames and flies swiftly toward the region of Itxasgorrieta "region of the red seas", in the West, where it sinks. It produces a frightening noise when it flies through the air. In Alzay, they say that a son of the castle of Zaro (today in ruins) poisoned it. Then the snake was set afire and, engulfed in flames, flew to the Ocean, clipping off the tips of the trees of the forest of Itze "Arbailles" with its tail as it flew over them. In Mondragón there was a blacksmith who killed it with a bar of iron that he had previously made very hot in his forge. According to the legend of Orduña, there was an angel who cut off its head. The legend of Teodosio de Goñi is more explicit, explaining with detail how San Miguel put an end to the snake of Aralar.

The themes relating to Herensuge gave rise to the formation of various popular stories that were echoed by some writers, such as Chao in his description The serpent of Valdextre (" Biarritz between the Pyrenees and the ocean", p. 176 Bayonne) and Juan Delmas in his Historic-Descriptive Guide of the traveler in the Señorío of Vizcaya (Bilbao, 1864). Some of the themes centered around this spirit have intermixed with those of Sugaar or Sugoi, another spirit that adopts the form of a snake. In certain cases it seems that those of the Herensuge has replaced the others since they have an air of an older tradition in the country. In fact, the areas in which they speak of Sugaar appear encompassed, fragmented and/or confined by those of Herensuge, which is, possibly, an indication of its greater antiquity in the country.

Ref. J. M. of B. : Ikuska, t. IV, p. 259-278; Basque Mythology, pp. 77-78, Madrid, 1960; Webster, Wentworth: Basque Legends, pp. 20-41, London, 1879.-J. M. of B.

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