Human Flower Project


In Basque country, look for a dried thistle tacked by the door.

imageFlor del sol

In our part of the world, one may approach a house and spot a little shoo-away sign: “No soliciting.” In Basque country, the message is more profound, beautiful too. A dried thistle or eguzkilore (also called flor del sol) may be discreetly hung near the front door. It’s a pre-Christian custom meant to ward off all manner of evil spirits (including, we suppose, some solicitors).

In Basque folklore  it was believed that before people got wise to agriculture “uncommonly strong shaggy beings…worked the land.” San Martin “seized the seeds from the lords of the wood,” giving them to the first human farmers, and understandably the spirits of the wild have held a grudge ever since.

Houses, being human refuge, are ever under threat from “sorcerers, lamia (mermaid-resembling creatures with bird’s legs), the spirits of illness, storms and lightening.” The eguzkilore, a bright bristly eye, stares back at all such encroaching spirits and keeps them from daring to pry open a window or even ringing the bell. (The Romantic poets and Pre-Raphaelite painters of England developed a hate-love thing for the Lamia, though it seems the Basques never fell under her spell.) 


Photos of eguzkilore are scarce. If any readers are in the Basque region, please keep your eyes open and send us a stronger photograph. And if anyone knows which variety of thistle qualifies as eguzkilore, send word. The bloom looks more like a spiny sunflower than the purple tufted thistles we know (beloved in Scotland, not so well admired by farmers in the Kentucky Bluegrass).



Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/18 at 10:34 AM



Eguzkilore also called “ekilore” means sunflower literally, but as you point out, is a thistle. The reason for the name is that all Basque farms face east, toward the rising sun, to Asia, where the Basques came from 30,000 years ago. Ekilore greets the sun as it appears each morning, but that’s rhetorical. Many days the Basques don’t see the sun at all, because it is rainy or heavy overcast.

The sun is called ‘amandre’ or grandmother, and according to old tradition, when she “goes down” for the night, people say “badoa bere amagana,” she is going to her mother (the earth).

Your story on San Martin is cute, but it is certainly a Christian addition. In some stories he is Mattin Ttiki or Little Martin, who fools the big, advanced farmer pagans who live in the mountains. In other words, the opposite of what prehistorians tell us, that agriculture was developed in the valleys; the herders in the mountains were supposedly more backward. The stories tell that Mattin and his people were poor Christians, who live in the valleys, and don’t have agriculture. Again, the opposite.

The Basques place at the entrance of the farmhouses several other tree branches for protection, like lizar (ash) and erenotz (bay leaf), etc.

Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe

Posted by Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe on 08/19 at 12:57 PM
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