Cantabrian Mythology: Into the Deep

Hi there! I come back with this third blog update on Cantabrian mythology for our month of local history. Today I am going to talk to your about folklore and creatures from the deep woods. As you may recall from my first blog post on the subject, Cantabria is a very green regions covers in forests, rivers and steep mountains. Due to the Celtic origin of the Cantabros, it only makes sense that a great part of the most mysterious stories of the region come from what happens in the forests and most isolated mountainous areas, as a residue of the Telluric tradition. In these areas of the region is where the more obscure and mysterious creatures and tales originate, evoking the isolation of sheep farmers, the unknown within the woods.

One of the most intriguing characters of the deep areas of Cantabria is el Musgoso. He is this solitary male figure that lives like a hermit in the forests, and who no one has ever heard speaking. But no words are needed from him. All the farmers and locals know him to be a kindred spirit, the keeper of the woods, the protector of nature. He is usually described as an elderly man, with a long beard and an outfit made of moss (hence the name musgoso: moss=musgo in Spanish). The also carries with him a flute of a very rare wood unknown to man. It is said he is always walking, and never stops, and he plays this flute on his way, warning the locals of any dangers that may come. But during the night he does not play, he only whistles. In this way he is supposed to not disturb the creatures of the forest but send this signal to the farmers that danger may be near. El Musgoso is not the only mysterious wanderer of the Cantabrian woods. A man of long ginger hair, who wears a white habit with purple paint splashes, he also has a green cross painted on his forehead, surrounded by keys and locks. Like the Musgoso, he always appears to be walking, and no one ever knows where he is going or where he came from. The one consistent thing in all stories about the Arquetu is that he dislikes people wasting their money. However, if he find in the woods someone who, because of their wasteful live style, has nowhere to live and is finding refuge with the trees, he takes pity and takes care of them. Then he opens this locked box he always carries around and gives them a couple of ounces of gold, so they can invest them in finding a job and a home. But if for whatever reason this wealth is wasted again, he condemns them to life of poverty, asking for charity and pity of others. 

In connection to wealth, there is another group of creatures that inhabit the rivers of Cantabria. I believe the reason why several of our creatures hold treasures is due to the very rural background of locals, who were mostly farmers or fishermen, people working the fields, who never had many earnings. Thus, these creatures of their legends reflected this social anxiety, in a land which is rich in other non material ways like its fertile vegetation. These creatures are known as Mozas del Agua: the water maidens. These girls share similarities with the Anjana regarding their beauty and wealth, but they are of a different kin. They live in luxurious palaces under the waters of the Cantabrian rivers. Their riches are displayed in their silver clothing, their many rings, and golden locks which they tie in long braids at their backs. A common characteristic of these women is that they are always said to be of small size, almost fay like. It is said that they only emerge to the surface on sunny days to dry reels of golden thread which they produce at night in their homes, for they do not sleep. While the threads dry, they hold hands and jump, sing and dance together always in a very jolly fashion. And it is said that while they play out of the water, wherever the step, little flowers grow, and if you were to catch one it would bring you eternal happiness. The tales say that when the threads are dry the go back into the water, but if a youngster was to catch the end of the thread, these water maidens will pull them into the river, but he would not drown. Instead, he would be taken into their palaces to live with them and marry, but they will never be able to live in the surface again. It is said they can then only emerge once a year with their otherworldly wife , for the purpose of leaving a jewell in the woods, visible only to maidens of virtue. These jewells are supposed to have healing qualities, and the folk say that the healers from Cantabria have acquire their powers from these supernatural gifts.

But not all the creatures that live in the depths of the Cantabrian region are of kindred spirits. Although these are not as well-known or as feared as the Ojancano, they are still regarded as malign spirits. Legends talks of a bird of yellow eyes that lives in the harsh mountain tops, particularly around the valleys between the rivers Nansa and Saja. Its said to be of different shades of blue feathers with red spots on his wings, and that his gaze would bring the death of any that would look into its eyes. The tales advise he was born from the unholy union of a bat and a barn owl. Oddly enough after 10 years this bird loses its wings, and seeks refuge under water, where it dies after a hundred years. Another strange creature of the deep wilderness is the Roblon. This was an old and common oak that developed a hollowness in its trunk. It is said one rainy eve, a beautiful maiden took refuge in the hollow part of the tree and its youthfulness activate the sap of the old tree, bringing it alive and absorbing the spirit of the girl. With time the Robon grew bigger and adopted human like features, and due to its size and need for life, it drained away other trees around leaving them dry and dead. A few years after this happening, it is said the Roblon got so big it felt the need to move so it pulled the roots out of the ground, and that since then he wonders the woods causing illness to the vegetation or smashing bushes while he walks. He is also made responsible for the mist in the forest and tremors of the land. However, it is a common story among the Cantabrian lumberjacks and hunters is that Roblon has now died, for some of this trade found the creature resting in the woods one day and manage to set it on fire…

Many other stories of strange wild beasts populate the deepest areas of the region, like the Monuca, and animal only known to Cantabria, born out of feral cats, blinded at birth and of fierce nature who lives of the blood of animals and children. Similarly, there are mythical creatures like the Alicornio: a unicorn with winged hooves, who lives in the most inaccessible mountain tops and drinks only from the purest water streams. It is said the only way of capturing such a wonderful creature is by the presence of a young fair maiden, and that if its horn is cut and you drink from it, you will never suffer any illness or evil. Nevertheless, this usually end with the death of the animal. Perhaps these reflect the fear of Cantabrian people to the wilderness which they ought to respect for their livelihood, but at the same time their will to control and use it for their own gain.

And thus I reach the end of my story today, but do not worry, I shall return perhaps once more, to tell you about the most feared monster that dwell in the Cantabrian caves…

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