Asturian Folklore

Asturias: Si vienes, te quedas - YouTube

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.

Cuélebre - Wikipedia

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.

Trasgu by Viejuno on DeviantArt

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

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Saint Francis

Saint Francis of Assisi (1181 – 1226, San Francesco in Italian) is a Catholic saint and founder of the Franciscan Order. Like the Buddha, he traded a life of luxury for one of poverty and spirituality. He was known for his love of the world and is regarded as the patron saint of the environment. San Francisco, California and the current pope take their names from him.

Francis was born the son of a wealthy cloth merchant and his French wife in the Italian town of Assisi. His name means ‘the Frenchman’. A strongwilled and fashionable young man, he originally followed in his father’s footsteps and gained a reputation as a partier and spendthrift.

During Assisi’s war with neighbouring Perugia, Francis was captured spent a year in a dungeon until his father ransomed him. He returned to his old ways until on impulse he embraced a leper and give away all the money in his pockets.

After an alleged vision from Jesus in a crumbling cathedral urged him to ‘rebuild the church’, Francis gave away some of his father’s gold to its priest. Furious, his father beat him and demand he return what he stole. Francis laid all his possessions, including his clothes at his father’s feet and disowned himself of any inheritance. They did not speak again.

Reinventing himself as a man of God, Francis travelled across Italy helping the poor and caring for the sick. He and his followers founded the Franciscan Order of friars for men and the Poor Clares for women, who dedicated themselves to lives of poverty in service to local communities in emulation of Jesus and the apostles. He allegedly performed miracles. Within ten years, the order swelled to 5,000 followers from all social classes. In 1231 he attempted to convert the Sultan of Egypt to Catholicism and end the Crusades but was captured instead. The sultan released him but did not convert.

Saint Francis and the wolf | Mark McMillion

Legend claimed Saint Francis could communicate with animals. It was said he tamed the voracious wolf of Gubbio by acknowledging its hunger and forging a pact between the wolf and the local village. They fed the beast and in return, it ceased its attacks. Francis was particularly fond of birds.

The Canticle of the Sun is a religious poem Saint Francis wrote towards the end of his life after he went blind. It venerates the sun, moon, natural elements, animals and finally death, whom he describes as his ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’. Francis believed the world was inherently good and beautiful but polluted by humanity’s misdemeanours. Pope Gregory IX canonised him in 1228. Before he was even dead, local towns were competing for his body.

Sources:, Catholic Encyclopedia

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Flag of Hungary |

Hungary is a landlocked nation in the heart of Europe and home to the Magyar people. It spans the plains between the Carpathian Mountains and the Alps and is known for its bloody history and unique culture. Hungary is an EU member and historically Catholic. Its official name has no kingdom or republic of before it; it is simply Hungary.

File:Hungary in Europe (-rivers -mini map).svg - Wikimedia ...That name comes from the Huns, who lived there in the 400s. Being the westernmost stretch of the Eurasian steppe, Hungary was often settled by nomads from the east. The last of these were the Magyars, who give Hungary its language and native name, Magyarország.

The Magyars (pronounced Madh-yar) were a coalition of tribes from the Ural Mountains who settled the Pannonian Basin in 895 under their leader Arpad. Over the following century, Magyar raiders terrorised Central Europe while the Vikings pillaged the west.

Saint Stephen I of Hungary Statue | Saint Stephen I ...St Stephen was crowned and baptised by Pope Sylvester II in the year 1000. The Magyars converted and settled down as a feudal kingdom far larger than the modern state.  Hungarians still celebrate their patron saint’s feast day as a public holiday. The crown of Saint Stephen’s characteristic bent comes from when it was dropped on the frozen Danube in the 1600s.

The Curse of Turan explains the tragedies of Hungarian history. According to legend, the Magyar shamans cursed St Stephen and his people for abandoning the old gods. The curse explains:

  • Hungary’s fall to the Mongols in 1241
  • Hungary’s fall to the Ottomans in 1526
  • The failure of the 1848 revolution against the Habsburgs
  • The 1917 Treaty of Trianon, which stripped 72% of Hungary’s territory
  • Hungary’s disastrous alliance with Germany in WW2
  • The failure of the 1956 revolution against Stalin

Budapest lies on the banks of the Danube. Hungary’s capital, it was once three towns – Buda, Pest and Obuda, which converged in 1873. The city houses notable landmarks and monuments, including:

  • St Stephen’s Basilica, built 1905.
  • Buda Castle (below), built 1265, expanded 1765. A UNESCO world heritage site.
  • Dohány Street Synagogue, built 1859. Europe’s largest.
  • Fisherman’s Bastion, built 1902

Buda Castle Pictures: View Photos & Images of Buda CastleHungarian is Europe’s most unique language. Belonging to the Finno-Ugric family, its nearest European relatives are Finnish and Estonian though even they are distant: German is closer to Hindi than Hungarian is to Finnish. Its bewildering phonology makes Hungarian one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn.

Roma form Hungary’s largest ethnic minority and have lived there since the Middle Ages. Official censuses count them as 3% of Hungary’s 10 million, though the actual number is likely far higher.

Crown of Saint Stephen – Budapest | Sygic TravelAfter King Louis II fell at the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the Hungarian crown passed to the Habsburgs of Austria. From 1867-1918 they ruled Austria-Hungary as a ‘Dual Monarchy’ on equal footing. Hungary became a parliamentary democracy in 1989. Since 2010, strongman Viktor Orban has ruled on an authoritarian and anti-immigrant platform.

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Related imageSantiago is the Spanish name for Saint James the Greater, one of the Twelve Apostles, patron saint, and mythical hero of Spain and Portugal. In Catholic Spanish iconography, Santiago is evoked not only as the humble fisherman from the Bible but a crusader knight and conquistador. Five cities are named after him, including the capital of Chile. He is Sao Thiago in Portuguese.

The Spanish Iago derives from the Hebrew Ya’akov, as Saint James was known in his lifetime. Like most Biblical names, it differs according to language:

  • Hebrew – Ya’akov
  • Greek – Iakobus
  • Classical Latin – Iacobus
  • Vulgar Latin – Iacobu
  • Spanish – Iago, Yago, Jacobo, Jaime, Diego
  • Portuguese –Thiago, Tiago
  • Italian – Giacobo, Giacomo
  • English – Jacob, James

The English Jacob derives directly from the Latin Iacobus, while the more common James is an Anglicisation of the Italian Giacomo.

Of the European languages, the Russian ‘Yakov’ is closest to the original Hebrew.

Image result for saint james martyrdomAccording to the Bible James and his brother John the Apostle were cousins and early disciples of Christ. Santiago was known for his violent temper – once calling for God to rain fire upon a Samaritan town. He was beheaded by Herod Agrippa in 44 BC, and was thus the first Christian martyr and the only one recorded in the New Testament (Acts).

The 12th century Historia Compostelana claims Santiago proselyted in northwestern Spain (Galicia) before returning to Jerusalem, and was carried there by angels when he died.  The Bible makes no mention of these episodes however, and historians and theologians doubt its veracity.

By 700 AD, the Spanish had claimed Iago as their patron saint. His body is said to reside in the Galician city of Santiago de Compostella. A legend arose that Santiago descended from heaven and fought at the 9th century Battle of Clavijo against the invading Moors.  This earned him the moniker Santiago Matamoros, or ‘Saint James the Moor Slayer’.

In the Middle Ages, the Cathedral of Santiago was the most popular place of pilgrimage in Europe. The famous ‘Camino de Santiago’ or ‘Way of Saint James’ attracted thousands of pilgrims  in the 10th and 12th centuries.

In the 21st century the route has seen a significant revival. attracting not only pilgrims and tourists but avid hikers and seekers of spiritual growth, making it a European counterpart to the USA’s Oregon and Appalachian Trials. The Camino de Santiago was inscribed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1993.

Image result for camino de santiago

The Order of Santiago was a military order founded in 1175. Akin to the Knights Templar and Hospitallers of Palestine, the Order protected Christian pilgrims and, in the spirit of Santiago Matamoros, sought to drive the Moors from Spain. Like the Knights of Saint John, the Order of Santiago still exists today, though no longer in a military sense.

Reminiscent of Henry V’s ‘Cry Harry, England and Saint George!’, ‘¡Santiago y cierra, España!’ was the warcry of the Spanish Reconquista.

Santiago, Chile was founded by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdiva in 1541 on Incan land. Today it is a highly developed capital city of over 7 million inhabitants and the 7th largest city in Latin America. Its namesakes include Spain’s Santiago de Compostella and cities in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines. San Diego, California is named not for Saint James but Didacalus of Alcala, a 15th century missionary.

Sources: Behindthename, Catholic Encyclopedia, Santiago Compostela, The Guardian, UNESCO

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