Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Asturian Myth of Xana


According to Galician mythology and Asturian mythology, the Mouros are a race
of supernatural beings which inhabited the lands of Galicia and Asturias since the
beginning of time. For unknown reasons they were forced to take refuge under the
earth, and now they are usually seen by people in the surroundings ofcastros and
long barrows.
The Mouros work with gold, silver and gem stones with which they make up
enormous treasures that are protected by cuélebres. The Mouros do not usually go 
out of their dwellings, except for taking food, and also in special dates like 
Galician anthropologists had formed the theory that the Mouros are the opposite
character of traditional galician peasant.


Cuélebre (Asturian) or Culebre (Cantabrian), is a giant winged serpent-dragon
of the Asturian and Cantabrian mythology, that lives in a cave, guards treasures
and keeps xanas as prisoners. Although they are immortal, they grow old as the
time goes by and their scales become thick and impenetrable, and flag wings
grow in their bodies. They don't usually move, and when they do it, it is in order
to eat cattle and people. One can kill the cuélebre giving him as meal a red-hot
stone or a bread full of pins. Its spit it is said to turn into a magic stone which
heals many diseases.
In Midsummer, which is a magical night in Asturian and Cantabrian folklore, it
is possible for brave men to defeat the cuélebre, whose spells don't take effect
that night, and marry the xana and get the treasure. However in Cantabrian areas
it's said the night of Saint Bartholomew the creature increases his power and
unleashes all his fury against people in revenge.
When the cuélebre grows older its scale become thicker and thicker, and he must
flee Asturias and fly to the Mar Cuajada, a paradise located beyond the sea.
El Cuelebre


Asturian Mythology
The trasgu is the best known being of Asturian mythology, and is shared with
mythologies of Celtic origin, like Galicia's. It is a domestic goblin with a
mischievous and nervous character. It is often represented as a tiny man who
 limps with his right leg; he has dark skin, wears red clothes and a pointy red
hat. He has a hole in his left hand. He is described at times as having horns,
tail, sheep ears and long legs, and wearing a long black and gray cloak; at
other times he is described as small, with long thin legs and wearing a tight
 dark brown dress.
Nocturnal noises are attributed to him, and also small pranks like changing the
 location of objects. He enters homes at night when the inhabitants are asleep.
 If he is in a bad mood he breaks kitchen vessels, spooks cattle, stirs chests of
clothes and spills water. These activities do not cause material damage, because
the inhabitants find everything as they left it. On the other hand, when he is
treated well, he does house chores during the night.
In Asturias, the trasgu is known by different names depending on the location.
He is known as Trasno, Cornín or Xuan Dos Camíos in western Asturias. He is
known as Gorretín Coloráu or the one with the "gorra encarnada" (both
meaning "little red hat") in eastern Asturias.

How to Get Rid of Him

It is difficult to get rid of him when he annoys. If the house inhabitants decide to
move to a new house, he follows them. In a tale, the inhabitants of a house abandon
it because of the trasgu. On their way to the new house, the woman asks her
husband: "Have we left anything?" The trasgu, following them, answers: "You have
left the lamp, but I'm carrying it."
In order to expel a trasgu it is necessary to request of him an impossible task, like
bringing a basket of water from the sea, picking up millet from the floor (it falls
through the hole in his hand), and whitening a black sheep. Because he thinks
himself capable of doing everything, he accepts the challenge. In his stubbornness,
he will try until he becomes exhausted. When he fails to accomplish the tasks, his
pride is hurt. He leaves and does not return. He will also become spooked if someone 
falsely recreates actions proper of goblins.

Cantabrian Mythology

In Cantabria, the trasgu is a small goblin with black face and green eyes that
inhabits forests. His main activity is to mock people and carry out pranks,
especially against girls who are engaged in a specific activity, like shepherding.
Because he must hide from humans, his clothes are made of tree leaves and moss.

Presence in Literature

Trasgu's pranks are told with variations in numerous towns of the Iberian peninsula,
and his adventures are evoked in classical works of Spanish literature, like the
Lazarillo de Tormes, the short farces of Cervantes and the comedies of Lope de Vega.
Trasgos are also present in works like The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, where they are
represented as wretched beings who live in the mountains. They are sometimes
erroneously mistaken with the orcs in The Lord of the Rings and other works like
Dungeons and Dragons. In these works the word "trasgo" is applied to humanoid
creatures of great size; the beings that are equivalent to the trasgo are called goblins.


Besides exchanging other women's children for their own, the xanas promise
treasures and can be disenchanted. Some xanas also attack people and steal
their food. They live in fountains and caves.
A xana can be a beneficial spirit, offering love water to travelers and rewards
of gold or silver to those found worthy through some undefined judgment.
Their hypnotic voices can be heard during spring and summer nights. Those
who have a pure soul and hear the song will be filled with a sense of peace and
love. Those whose souls are not pure will feel they are being suffocated and 
may be driven insane.
Xanas are usually depicted in one of two ways. In one, they appear as young
Nordic girls, very beautiful, with long blonde hair. This image is usually
associated with xanas who possess a treasure or those under a spell. In contrast, 
in tales in which the xanas steal children and enter homes to bite or steal, the 
xanas are small, thin and dark-colored.


Xanas have children, which are called xaninos, but because they cannot take care
of them—xanas cannot produce milk to feed their babies—they usually take a
human baby from his cradle and put their own fairy child in instead. The human
mother realizes this change when the baby grows up in just a few months. In order
to unmask the xanín, one must put some pots and egg shells near the fire, and, if
the baby is a changeling, he will exclaim, "I was born one hundred years ago, and
since then I have not seen so many egg shells near the fire!"

Tales involving xanas

The stories about xanas can be divided into four broad categories. First, stories
in which the xana has a child. In these stories, the xana switches her baby for that
of another woman. Second, stories of xanas who suffer spells. In these stories, an
act performed according to a secret norm can disenchant them. Third, xanas who
possess treasures and riches. The xana may have acquired the riches accidentally,
or through donation or theft; sometimes the human character of the tale obtains
the treasure, but most of the times he does not. Finally, stories about xanas who
are malicious. The most important tales of this category are those in which the
xana enters a home through a keyhole; those in which the xana takes and enchants
someone; those in which the xana transforms into animals; and those in which the
xana provides a magic belt.

Xanas in Literature

Cuban writer Daína Chaviano uses the xana motif in her acclaimed novel The Island
of Eternal Love. When one of the characters encounters a xana while she is combing
 her hair, the dialogue between them will mark a crucial twist in the plot.

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