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The sacred mountain of Anboto is steeped in legend. The goddess Mari, tales of witches and an array of sanctuaries and hermitages make it one of the most mysterious and culturally rich places on Earth. Its caves and grottos have provided refuge for humans as far back as prehistory and have sheltered those accused of witchcraft and heresy.

Mari, the Great Mother

Mari is the most important goddess in pre-Christian Basque mythology. In the Pre-Indo-European worldview, Mari is the primary spirit of Basque mythology and is also referred to as Mother or Lady. Unlike the male deities, Mari offers universal protection, and her legend has endured from Palaeolithic times to the present day.

*Image: Nestor Basterretxea

Mari embodies the symbolism of the Great Goddess of matristic cultures from the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. She connects Basque mythology with other indigenous cultures of the world that believe our planet (Ama Lurra or Mother Earth) is a conscious living being.

The ancient inhabitants of the wider Basque Country or Euskal Herria believed that the spiritual dimension of nature was found beneath the Earth’s crust and that life on the surface developed in the uterus of the underworld (Mother).

Many places, many names

Mari embodies natural phenomena (storms, wind, rain, etc.) and also takes the shapes of animals. Her legend is tied to sacred rivers, springs, caves and mountains.

The deity Mari is known all across Euskal Herria, taking the name of the place or mountain she is connected to in each one: in Elduaien, she is Mari Maruko; in Gorriti, Aldureko Mari; in Oiartzun, Puyako Maya; in Zegama, Aketegiko sorgina; and many other names in other places.

In our particular region she also takes different names in different places: in Abadiño she is Mariurraka; in Garai and Berriz, Mariburrika; and in Durango, she is Anbotoko sorgina. For the shepherds of Urkiola, she is always just Mari.

Mari’s dofferent forms

Mari always has the body and face of a woman dressed in elegant attire, which is always red. However, she also takes the shapes of animals and trees, and is sometimes depicted as a woman of fire, depending on the stories in each place.

When underground, she generally takes animal form, and she uses her other forms on the surface or when travelling across the skies. Regardless of the form she takes, Mari is always female.

Mari is superior to the other deities and she also has a family: her partner or consort Maju or Sugaar (depending on the place), and her two children Mikelats (who represents evil) and Atarrabi (who represents good).

Mari’s cave on Anboto

Mari inhabits all peaks of the Basque mountains, but the ancient tales claim that her most important dwelling is the cave on the eastern face of Anboto, the most famous spiritual mountain in all of Euskal Herria.

Mari’s Cave sits 1,150 metres high and is just below the peak of Anboto on its eastern vertical face. The large access point to Mariurrika Kobea or Mariren Kobia, as it is known in the Basque language, is visible from below. It leads into a corridor that connects with the real entrance to the cave hidden in the rock.

The cave can be reached by climbing the Agindi col to the vertical wall where the main entrance is. There is a protocol to follow once in the goddess Mari’s dwelling place: leave the cave the same way you entered, do not sit down in the cave and do not take anything you find there.

Mari’s other dwelling places

Mari inhabits countless other places in the mountains of Euskal Herria: Txindoki, Murumendi, Gorbeia, to name just a few. Legend says that Mari spends seven years in each of her dwelling places, then travels across the skies to another in a chariot of fire.

Any time a particular type of cloud surrounds the peak Anboto, it is said that Mari is there. Some call this cloud amillena, the same name used to refer to a cold wind.

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