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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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