The Gods of Mount Teide:  Mythology and Folklore of Tenerife

The Gods of Mount Teide: Mythology and Folklore of Tenerife

Mount Teide, Tenerife – Public Domain

MOUNT TEIDE, TENERIFE

The Canary Islands are a popular holiday destination for many people from the United Kingdom and Western Europe and the most southerly of the autonomous communities of Spain. One of the most popular tourist attractions is Mount Teide, an active volcano on the island of Tenerife, whose last eruption was in 1909 and is visible from many parts of the island. A cable car takes tourists part of the way to the summit for the journey completed on foot with a permit. Those who have undertaken the trip to the top will probably understand why it meant the same to the Guanches as Mount Olympus meant to the ancient Greeks. It was the home of their gods and believed to hold up the sky.

ORIGIN OF THE GUANCHES

The Guanche people were the first known inhabitants of the Canary Islands. Their myths and legends still resonate through the ages giving small glimpses of these remarkable people. Some of their traditions and folklore still endure adding depth, color, and flavor to the modern culture of the islands. The Guanches inhabited the islands long before the arrival of the Spanish and are descendants of the Berber people on the African mainland who migrated to the islands about 1,000 BC or possibly earlier. Although the Guanches became culturally and ethnically assimilated with the Spanish, remnants of their original culture still survive today. For example, the people of La Gomera still use a traditional whistled language to communicate with each other over distances, and some of their mythology, legends, and traditions persist. Presented here is a brief discussion of their pantheon of gods and other supernatural entities and a look at some of the Guanche traditions found today.

ACHAMÁN

The supreme god of the Guanches of Tenerife was Achamán, their creator and father god, whose name means “the skies.” He was the immortal omnipotent creator of the land, air, fire, and water. All living creatures owed their existence to him. Achamán lived in the sky but would sometimes manifest himself on mountain tops to look upon the world he had created.

GUAYOTA

In Guanches mythology, Guayota was the equivalent of the Devil and shared similar characteristics to other divinities around the world associated with volcanoes. For example, in Hawaiian mythology, the goddess Pele, like Guayote, had her home in the Hawaiian volcano of Kīlauea and was believed to be responsible for causing eruptions. Guayota lived inside the peak of Mount Teide, known as Echeyde. It was a place similar to Hell and the entrance to the underworld and abode of certain lesser demons.

THE BLACK DOGS OF GUAYOTA

These lesser demons were called Guacanchas, or Jucanchas, depending on the island, and took the form of wild dogs with shaggy black coats and red eyes said to be the offspring of Guayota. On Gran Canaria, they were known as Tibicenas and made their home in the depths of hidden caves in the mountains. At night they emerged to ravage livestock and attack people they encountered. Guayota often appeared as a monstrous black dog leading a pack of these supernatural hounds across the countryside.

THE ABDUCTION OF MAGEC

In the Guanche pantheon, the god of the sun and light was called Magec and was the most important of their divinities. Although the gender of Magec is ambiguous, the name means “possess radiance” or “mother of brightness.” According to Guanche legend, Guyota kidnapped and imprisoned Magec in Mount Teide. With Magec incarcerated inside the volcano, the world fell into darkness. The people grew afraid and prayed to the supreme god Achamán to free Magec. Achamán heard the people and fought and defeated Guayota setting Magec free restoring sun and light to the world. He imprisoned Guayota in the volcanic crater of Mount Teide, where he has remained trapped ever since. Whenever Mount Teide erupted, the people would light fires on its slopes to taunt and frighten Guayota.

CHAXIRAXI

Another important goddess of the Guanche pantheon was Chaxiraxi, considered the Sun Mother and the Great Celestial Mother and associated with Canopus, the star. She may have evolved from Tanic, a goddess worshipped by their Berber ancestors. Mediation between Chaxiraxi and humanity was the task of minor gods or spirits called Maxios, or sometimes Dioses Paredros. These were also the guardians of hallowed places on Tenerife and were also the domestic spirits of the home. In recent times the worship of Chaxiraxi has been revived by the Church of the Guanche People, whose aim is to practice and promote the ancient religion of the Guanches.

ACHUGUAYO, THE FATHER OF TIMES

Achuguayo was the god of the Moon and the “Father of Times” who controlled time and seasons. According to tradition, he lived in the mountains, sometimes coming down to hear the prayers and supplications of the Guanches conducted under sacred trees or in caves in the mountains.

GUANCHE RELIGION

The Guanches had many sacred places that needed to be maintained, believing their maintenance kept Heaven and Earth in balance. Hallowed places may have been rocks or caves, such as the Cave of Achbinico, or natural features in the landscape where a variety of offerings were left. On Tenerife, the most important of these hallowed places was Mount Teide. Many offerings of tools and clay pots or vessels have been found, hidden in small nooks and natural cavities in rocks around the National Park Las Cañadas del Teide.

They left in the hope of appeasing or pleasing the gods or help the donor become one with nature. These votive offerings were often crude figures or sculptures which were idols and associated with health, fertility, animals, or people and often used by families. The Guanches on Tenerife had four major ceremonies; the proclamation of a new Mencey, a ceremony to relieve drought, their New Year Festival, and their Harvest Festival or Great Annual Festival of Beñasmen.

THE PROCLAIMING OF THE NEW MENCEY

Tenerife had nine small kingdoms, each ruled by a Mencey, the Guanches equivalent to a king, and the highest official in each realm. At times for the good of all the kingdoms, they needed to meet together. When a ruler died, the title did not necessarily pass from father to son. Sometimes it passed from brother to brother, but it was the task of the Council, known as the “Tagoror” that elected a new king

The proclamation came at a ceremony involving the oldest bone of the ancestor of the dynasty. This relic was venerated and carefully guarded and bought before the new Mencey for him to kiss in a special ceremony. Afterward, the members of the Tagoror recognized him as the new king, each saying,

“Agoñe Yacorán Iñatzahaña Chacoñamet”
(I swear by this bone of He who made you great).

THE RAIN RITUAL

Sometimes there were periods of drought, and the Guanches enacted a ceremony they hoped would bring rain. The people would fast and refrain from dancing and other forms of entertainment. Driving their flocks to high places in the mountains, they separated the lambs from the sheep and the kids from the goats, causing the animals to bleat piteously. The people also cried and wailed, hoping the gods would hear and look mercifully upon them and send rain to ease their plight.

THE FEAST OF THE NEW YEAR

The Guanches followed a lunar calendar, their year beginning towards the end of April or the early days of May. Many festivals with dances, feasts, and sporting events celebrating the arrival of Spring took place.

THE HARVEST FESTIVAL

Another important Guanche Festival was their Harvest Festival, or the Beñasmen, held between July and August. During this time, all conflict and wars between the nine kingdoms ceased, and a truce was put in place, allowing everyone to celebrate together and join each other in feasts, dances, and sporting events. During this period, the Menceys provided food for the entire population while the festivities and celebrations endured. The people wore flowers and leaves and also used them to decorate their villages.

SPORTS AND GAMES

Sporting competitions rook place with various athletic events such as running, throwing, and jumping competitions. There were also more dangerous events, such as throwing and avoiding spears, fighting with poles, and many other types of competitions. There were also wrestling matches similar to those practiced in ancient Greece and Rome. The winner had to throw their opponent to the ground or wrestle him out of the fighting area.

MUSIC

Although the Guanches had few musical instruments, they did use conch shells, small pebbles in clay pots, and beat sticks together to create rhythm and they also sang and danced. In the XVIth century, one version of a Guanche dance called “El Canario” became fashionable in the courts of Europe. Another traditional dance, called the “Tajaraste,” is still performed today.

© 20/10/2021 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 20th, 2021 zteve t evans

Canarian Folktales: The Legend of Gara and Jonay

La Gomera, view towards Teide

From Wikimedia Commons – La Gomera, view towards Mount Teide – Image by Tamara Kulikova – CC BY-SA 4.0

La Gomera

La Gomera is one of the seven Canary Islands which are an autonomous community of Spain situated to the west of Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean  The original inhabitants before the arrival of the Spanish were the Guanche people who were believed to be related to the Berber people of North Africa.   Although much of their culture has been lost some still exists and can be found in legends and traditions of the islands.  Roughly situated in the middle of the island is the Garajonay National Park which is a mountainous region of lush wild evergreen laurel forest. There is a folktale said to be of Guanche origin that tells how the Garajonay National Park was named after two lovers named Gara and Jonay.

The Legend of Gara and Jonay

Gara was a princess of Agula that was known as a place of water on La Gomera and looked across the sea to Mount Teide on Tenerife.  Jonay was a prince and the son of the Mencey of Adeje a ruler of Tenerife known as the place of fire.  This was because of the great volcano Mount Teide that the Guanches called Echeyde or Hell, that was situated on the the island.  Presented here is a retelling of the legend of Gara and Jonay garnered from several other versions.

Los Chorros de Epina

chorros_de_epina

From Wikimedia Commons – Chorros de Epina – Photo by Noemi M.M. – CC BY-SA 3.0

On La Gomera, there was a tradition that there were even places where magic waters could be found.  These waters had special properties beneficial to health and good fortune and were said to be able to foretell the future.   One such place was called Los Chorros de Epina which is a natural spring that local legend says has healing powers and can also reveal the future to an extent.  The spring water is fed through seven wooden tubes which turn the flow into seven jets of water each of which has different attributes.

According to tradition men should drink from the odd numbered jets starting from left to right and women should drink from the even numbered jets.  It was said the first two pipes were for health, the next two pipes were for love and the next two were for fortune. The seventh jet should only be used by witches.  It was a tradition that the Epina jets were visited by local girls to discover who their future husband or lover would be.  They would take a drink and look into the water. If it was clear they would meet their true love within one year.  However, if it appeared cloudy then the girl would not find a lover.

Princess Gara went to the jets and took a drink and looked into the water.   At first, she just saw her reflection in the clear water.  Then to her alarm, her face turned into a fiery ball like the sun and the water bubbled and hissed as steam rose and the flames tried to mix with the water.  This frightened her and she went to a wise man of the island named Gerián, to ask his advice.  He told her that this was a bad omen saying fire and water could not mix and warned her of trouble brewing in the future.

The Festival of Beñesmen

The festival of Beñesmen was a popular and important festival in the Canary Islands. The Mencey of Adeje, who was one of the kings from the neighboring island of Tenerife, visited La Gomera to take part in the celebrations and with him he brought his son, Prince Jonay.
There were many competitions taking place where the young men of the islands competed against each other, showing off their physical prowess to the girls hoping to impress them.  Jonay took part in many competitions and excelled in all and caught the eye of Gara who cheered him wildly.   Her cheering caught the eye of Jonay and as their eyes met they fell in love.

Every day Jonay would sail across to La Gomera from Tenerife to see Gara.  Their love blossomed and spent many happy hours together walking in the enchanted laurel forest.  After a time the two lovers asked their family for permission to marry which was gladly given and the engagement was publicly and formally announced and all the people rejoiced.

Fire and Water

During the night, Mount Teide the great volcano on Tenerife began sewing forth flame and lava.  A great plume of smoke rose high in the sky and the sea turned red as blood and bubbled and heaved.  As the volcano became increasingly fiery and the sea more dangerous the people grew afraid.  Gerián the wise man who Gara had asked for advice went to see her parents and told them of what she had told him of the vision at the Epina jets.  He warned them that fire and water cannot mix and told them about her relationship with Jonay.  Then he went to Tenerife to see the Mencey of Adeje and warned him of his son’s relationship with Gara.

The two families forbade their son and daughter to meet again.  The lovers were devastated and heartbroken but reluctantly obeyed their parents.   This appeared to satisfy the volcano which ceased spewing out lava and flame and as Mount Teide grew quiet the skies cleared and the seas became calm and the people were glad.

Despite the appeasement of the volcano Jonay could not get Gara out of his mind.  One night while his parents slept he stole down to the sea and tied two goatskins around his waist which he had inflated.  Plunging into the sea he swam from Tenerife to La Gomera in the night.  Gara was overjoyed to see him again and the two vowed that never again would they be parted.  Gara’s parents soon missed their daughter and began searching for her.  Realizing they had been discovered the two lovers fled through the tangled laurel forests of La Gomera until they reached the highest mountain.  The same morning in alarm, Gara’s father called out his army who quickly hunted the two runaways down and by evening had them surrounded.  The setting sun set the sky aglow turning the sea as red as blood.

A Vow of Love

Knowing they would be caught and forced to separate the two made a vow of love.  Jonay took his knife and cut a straight branch from one of the laurel trees and sharpened both ends.   The two lovers positioned the spike to press upon their hearts.  As the soldiers surrounding them advanced the two lovers pressed together in one final embrace and as the fiery sun sank into the bloodred ocean, fire and water became one.

© 07/03/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright March 7th, 2017 zteve t evans