The Basques, or Euskaldunak, are a preindoeuropean people who settled in the Pyrenees area, between present France and Spain, when the latter was conquered by the Visigoths (6th century c.e.); they call their own land Euskal Herria.
Their original religion had a strong feminine component; the most important goddess of their pantheon seemed to be Mari, whose name means "lady". Mari lived underground and ensured bountiful harvests, advice and help; she came to the surface of the earth through underground caves with her chariot drawn by four horses. Therefore, she was a deity of life on the earth, of Vital Energy, as stressed by the symbolism of the horses. Mari had a husband, Maju or Sugaar, who was honoured as "Male Snake", the masculine side of Vital Force. According to Basque legends, their love intercourses caused hail falling. The goddess of the earth was named Lur; she was gentle towards people who honoured her by leaving pieces of gold in caves, and she was also the protectress of plants and animals.
Lur had two daughters: the sun, Ekhi, who came back to her every evening and was honoured with libations especially on Solstice Days, and the moon, Illargui, who enlightened the dead souls and so was often depicted on graves; to die during the crescent moon phase was believed to favour life after death. In facts it was believed that the spirit of the dead would stay in the place where they had lived so they were often buried in houses.
The Basque religion recognized also the existence of many spirits of nature, some gentle towards men and often represented under the guise of animals, like Galtxagorri and Etxajaunak, some dangerous and represented like monsters: Torto had only one eye, and Herensugue was a snake with seven heads.
Like many other prechristian religions, the Basque religion too had some particular people practising magic: they were called Azti and gathered on Fridays under moonlight.
The Basque religion had also ethic prohibitions, a system of values in which the first place among forbidden behaviours was taken by theft, lie, going back on one's word, vainglory.
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