Welcome to our second post on Cantabrian mythology. Today’s post will be dedicated to some of the best well-known figures within these legends. Like in many other supernatural narratives, there are agents of good and evil. This is in a way characteristic of the Celtic tribes, and it is likely that it all roots from their ancient cults of the Sun and the Moon, their funerary rites and their ideas of life and death. Moreover, the Celts had deep connections with the land, particularly the woods. In other cultures, like the Irish, we have myths of fairies, and gnomish creatures. The Old Norse believed in trolls and giants, and so did many other Germanic cultures. This is also reflected in the two main protagonists of Cantabrian mythology: la Anjana and el Ojancanu.
The Anjanas are fay creatures of beautiful appearance and kind spirit. They are characterised by their long blonde hair that falls down their backs to the ground, creating highlights of gold under the sun on their blue mantles. They are very pale, and usually appear wearing a crown of flowers, and a magical staff which they use to cure and protect the sick, lead the way to those that get lost in the forest, and stop the evil doing of the Ojancanus. They are said to inhabit old secret caves, where they hide their wealth of gold and silver, which they use to help those in need. There are stories of pasiegos (peasants and farmers inhabitants of the area around the river Pas) who claim that at night, they have seen these fairies visiting their villages and leaving these gifts in the doorsteps of the houses of those who called for their aid and who showed good intentions. However, the Anjanas are not to be summoned lightly. They are mighty creatures, and if their help is used for ill-doing or their advise is contradicted, they will issue a punishment for the aggravation. The Anjanas are also believed to be protectors of the trees, and they are often seen by travelers through the Cantabrian woods. They are said to strengthen the roots so the trees grow stronger, delicately tend to the branches, leaves and flowers, and keep their seeds to help the forests grow. This is a clear reminiscence of the Celtic telluric tradition associated with the cult of the trees. As we have said previously, Cantabria is a region full of woodlands and green areas. Therefore, the tradition preserved with the figure of the Anjana is one of existing at peace with nature, being respectful of the land and the land of others.
On the other hand, we have the Ojancanu. This creature is similar to that of the cyclops of Greek mythology, which is known to exist in some other Indo-European traditions. The Ojancanu has a yellowy flesh, covered by reddish hair covering most of his body except his round one-eyed face. They are completely the opposite of the Anjanas in nature. They are mean, destructive creatures, known for stealing sheep, breaking over trees, blocking wells and rivers streams, as well as causing landslides. The Cantabrian farmers fear them the most, for not only their lands suffer but also their families. There are many tales of how an Ojancanu has come down the valley before dawn, and stolen away young maidens never to be seen again, killing or eating most of the cattle in the process of this kidnapping. However, it is said that all these ogres have one white hair hidden somewhere in their red beards, and if it was to be pulled from their skin, the creature would die. Yet, the people of Cantabria say that once every 100 years a good Ojancanu is born, and if taken in by the people of the local communities, this creature would warn the inhabitants against when his kin are near, so the villagers could protect themselves.
Nevertheless, the Ojancanu is not alone. This beast lives with another: the Ojancana, or Juancana. The Ojanca, however how has 2 eyes, long messy, dirty hair, and two enormous breasts that she puts over her shoulders when running or charging down the mountains. She is perhaps even worse than her husband. She steals children who she then devours, as she feeds on their blood. These evil ferocious creatures resemble in their aspect the giantesses of the Sagas. However, the most interesting aspect of this companionship is the way these creatures reproduce. It is said that when an Ojancanu is far too old, the rest kill him. Then they take those things inside him (treasures, body parts) that they desire and bury the body underneath a great oak. Then 9 months later from the oak spawn these yellow worms that the Ojancanas then feed with the blood of their breasts, nurturing more Ojancanus and Juancanas to roam freely in the mountains, caves and woods of Cantabria.
Therefore, we see in the shape of these creatures how the myths have evolved from ancient Celtic believes into allegories of the sociocultural anxieties of the rural Cantabrian communities. These formed mainly by farmers and peasants. If their livestock and lands were ruined so would be their livelihood. The Anjanas and Ojancanus of Cantabria are the embodiment of the forces of nature that had such a great impact in the lives of the Cantabros. Perhaps the reason why out of our entire mythos these creatures are the best remembered is due to their ordinary, yet mighty characters.In addition, these are entities common to all the localities within the region, thus perpetuating the tradition across different sectors and producing a continuity within the oral history, which is not always possible with more local legends, only relevant for the inhabitants of a certain district.
Now that you have got to known the more famous figures of La Montaña, please stay tuned to discover some of the most obscure, yet interesting characters of Cantabrian mythology.