Asturian Folklore covers the superstitions, tales and legends of the Celtic part of Spain. Pagan beliefs lingered longer here than any other part of the country.
Asturias is a region of northern Spain between the Cantabrian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. Like the Basque Country, its isolation bred a distinct cultural identity. Under the Romans and Visigoths, Asturias clung to its Celtic roots. It was also the only part of Iberia to withstand the Moorish invasions and a partisan stronghold for twenty years after Franco won the Civil War. Today Asturias is one of the ‘Six Celtic Nations’, sharing much of its lore with Ireland and Wales. It is a land of green pastures, craggy shores and rugged mountain slopes. Today most Asturians speak Spanish though the native language still has 642,000 speakers.
Until recently, the Cantabrians were impassable in winter. Asturias was a backwater; Christianity, literacy and the Industrial Revolution were slow to spread. Asturian shepherds and fishermen clung to nature and old beliefs. As it was easier to travel by sea, Asturias kept closer ties with Brittany and Ireland than the rest of Spain.
Early Asturians were animists. Every tree, river and cave had a guardian spirit to be respected and feared. Rather than assimilate, the Catholic church denounced Asturian spirits as demons. Their priests, however, failed to extinguish the beliefs of shepherds who spent most of the year in mountain pastures. Belief in supernatural beings survived into the 20th century.
In Asturian folklore, Xanas were benevolent water spirits resembling Naiads of Greek mythology: beautiful women who guarded treasures at the bottom of lakes.
The culebre is a cave-dwelling dragon. It evolved from a nature god placated with animal sacrifice in pagan times to a bloodthirsty monster requiring human sacrifice in the Christian era.
The bogosu, half-man, half-goat is the Asturian satyr. The early bogusu was a guardian of the forests. Christians painted him as a demon to be feared and shunned, and through this lens, stories survive of the ‘devil’ helping Asturian peasants by building bridges and granting technologies.
The Nuberu is a bearded old man in a wide-brimmed hat who lives in the clouds. He controls the rain and lightning and likely derives from the Celtic weather god, Taranis. There are stories of Nuberu falling from the sky and blessing peasants who aid his return.
The trasgu is a mischievous house spirit who wears a red hat and has a hole in one hand. They like to steal household items and inconvenience families. If one moves house, the trasgu will follow. Today the Trasgu is the region’s unofficial mascot. Many businesses bear its name.
Asturian folk beliefs died out with the modern age. As cities spread and machines transformed the landscape the xanas and culebres were silent.
Sources: David Wacks – Some thoughts on Asturian mythology