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Uomini e orsi

Enrico Comba
Daniele Ormezzano

Bear Ceremonialism in relation to three ritual healers: the Basque salutariyua, the French marcou and the Italian maramao

Le cerimonie dell’orso in relazione con tre guaritori rituali: il basco salutariyua, il francese marcou e l’italiano maramao

Roslyn M. Frank


Il presente lavoro prende in esame tre esempi di guaritori dotati di potere sovrannaturale. La prima sezione si concentra sulla figura del salutariyua, nei Paesi Baschi, e delle sue controparti Catalana e Valenciana, i saludadors. La seconda sezione è dedicata a un altro tipo di guaritore settimino, il francese marcous, e include anche le figure analoghe dall’altra parte della Manica, in Gran Bretagna. Successivamente, l’attenzione si sposta sul tentativo di documentare il ruolo di un altro guaritore-sciamano assai rappresentativo, un personaggio che si ritrova nell’arte performativa europea. Il lavoro si concentra specificamente sulle scene della Visita della Buona Fortuna, nelle quali un attore interviene per riportare in vita un “orso”, o un personaggio ad esso strutturalmente omologo. A questo punto, si potrà proseguire per esaminare l’enigmatica etimologia della parola italiana maramao, accumulando una serie di evidenze linguistiche ed etnografiche a supporto dell’ipotesi secondo cui tale espressione è un elemento chiave per cercare di comprendere meglio quell’antica e arcaica cosmologia che ritiene gli uomini discendenti dagli orsi.
In una serie di lavori che precedono questo, l’Autrice ha esplorato i vari aspetti di questo complesso culturale, ponendo particolare importanza sulle diverse varianti fonologiche del termine Hamalau. Tale espressione, che in senso letterale significa “quattordici”, è anche il nome che viene attribuito alla figura ibrida, metà uomo e metà orso, che compare come personaggio intermediario e la cui natura duale serve a costituire un legame tra gli umani e i loro antenati orsi. Inoltre, la figura dell’Hamalau e la visione del mondo ad essa associata sembrano costituire una componente chiave in un insieme di credenze arcaiche pan-europee che considerano gli orsi come gli antenati degli esseri umani, una credenza che è sopravissuta tra i Baschi fino al xx secolo. Infine, Hamalau è anche il nome del Figlio dell’Orso, il bambino nato dall’unione di una donna con un grande orso, le cui avventure sono narrate in un vasto ciclo di racconti popolari europei.

Texte intégral

If there are seven boys or seven girls in one family, then one of them will be a nightmare, but will know nothing about it.
(Kuhn & Schwartz, 1972 [1848], p. 16)

In Cornwall, the peasants and the miners entertain this notion; they believe that a seventh son can cure the king’s evil by the touch.
(Chambers, 1869)

[…] the word does not forget where it has been and can never wholly free itself from the dominion of the contexts of which it has been part.
(Bakhtin, 1973, p. 167)

1. Introduction

  • 1 Writing in 1924, Bloch observed: «La croyance sous cette forme a été et est sans doute encore très (...)

1Throughout all of Europe we find examples of folk-belief assigning special qualities to the seventh-born son or daughter of a family. At times these attributes were positive, at times negative. However, they always had a magical aura about them (Bloch, 1983 [1924])1. For the most part, these beliefs have been written off as superstitious residue from times past and as a result little attention has been paid to documenting the concrete social practices associated with them. An exception to this tendency is the work of Marc Bloch, who in 1924, called attention to the supernatural powers attributed to the seventh son and at times, to the seventh daughter, born after an uninterrupted series of children of the same sex, remarking that seventh-born children were credited with a “particular supernatural power” (Bloch, 1983 [1924], pp. 293, 296).

2Specifically, Bloch noted that from at least the 16th century onwards, children born into a seventh position in their family supposedly had the power to heal by touch. Such extraordinary people, often deemed sorcerers, even devils, were also referred to by a variety of expressions such as mahr (German) or murawa (Polish) and consequently they had the ambivalent privilege of tapping into powers that were inaccessible to normal humans. Specifically, they were viewed as having healing and divinatory powers, which could entail shape-shifting (Vaz da Silva, 2003). That is, those individuals were endowed with the ability to take the form of an animal. From the point of view of modern Western thought this belief causes the dividing line between humans and animals to become blurred. Nonetheless, that blurring or fusion of two natures would be in accordance with the cosmology of native peoples in other parts of the world, especially contemporary hunter-gatherers, where such animistic beliefs also prevail (Bird-David, 1999; Brightman, 2002; Ingold, 2000; Willerslev, 2007).

  • 2 For a positive evaluation and hence more nuanced contemporary discussions of “animism”, ones that d (...)
  • 3 An Italian translation of chapters 2 and 3 of this study, published in «Insula» in 2008 and 2009, i (...)
  • 4 The expression hamalau is a compound, composed of two elements: hamar “ten” and lau “four”.

3It is quite clear that the qualities assigned to the seventh-son or daughter harken back to an earlier animistic mindset, notions of nonhuman personhood and social practices that in turn connect back to shamanic modes of healing2. At the same time, as noted in the earlier chapters of this study (Frank, 2008a, 2008c, 2009a)3, the fused nature of the Bear Son, the half-human, half-bear being known as Hamalau “Fourteen” in Basque4, reflects a similar blurring of the Western human-animal divide and related cultural conceptualizations. And as Bertolotti has demonstrated in his detailed and extraordinarily well researched study Carnevale di Massa 1950 (1992), European versions of the Bear Son folktales, e.g., Giovanni l’Orso, may well reproduce much earlier beliefs, more in consonance with the cosmovision of hunter-gatherers who inhabited these zones in times past.

4More concretely, the fact that the figure of Hamalau is grounded in the belief that humans descended from bears allows us to consider the significance and symbolism of this character’s own genesis: he is born of a human female, but his father is a bear. In this sense, he is a double-natured intermediary occupying the ontological ground between humans and bears. Speaking of the set of pan-European narratives categorized under the rubric of Bear Son tales, Bertolotti offers this pertinent reflection:

  • 5 “The bear may ultimately be born from the union of a man or a woman with a deity, as is told in an (...)

L’orso può infine nascere dall’unione di un uomo o di una donna con una divinità, come racconta un mito Ainu, oppure con uno spirito della foresta, secondo varianti registrate presso Samoiedi, Voguli e Ostiachi. Attraverso la forma immediata della metamorfosi o quella mediata del matrimonio, ciò che si viene a stabilire è in ogni caso un legame di parentela tra l’orso e l’uomo. Grazie a questo legame, un ponte è gettato dal mondo degli uomini verso l’altro mondo, ove si trovano le fonti della prosperità. Ora gli uomini dispongono di un alleato che può penetrare nell’altro mondo e attingere a quelle fonti per renderle loro disponibili. (Bertolotti, 1992, p. 186)5

5I should mention that when Bertolotti (1992, pp. 174-200) describes the house visits and related performance art found across Europe in which a bear and its retinue of actors take part and whose purpose is to bring good fortune, health and well-being to those who are on the receiving end, the Italian researcher does not refer to them generically utilizing the term Good-Luck Visits as I have done (Frank, 2008a, 2008c). However, both of us are talking about the same phenomenon. At the same time, it should be emphasized that the Italian ethnographer asserts that in European performance art l’Uomo selvatico is a stand-in or counterpart for the bear and is linked to the half-human, half-bear character of the folktales. For instance, Bertolotti writes:

Nel Vallese e a Tesero (Trento) l’Uomo selvatico cui si dava la caccia per carnevale era vestito di pelli di capra, anziché di foglie. In Asia egli era detto orso. A Eger, in Boemia, la caccia all’Uomo selvatico era chiamata l’uccisione dell’orso. Esistono inoltre somiglianze molto forti tra le cerimonie con l’Uomo selvatico che sono state appena descritte e le rappresentazioni della caccia all’orso […]. (Bertolotti, 1992, p. 171)

6Bertolotti finds additional evidence for his hypothesis in Pyrenean folk beliefs and related performance art, the well-known Fêtes de l’Ours, as well as the wide-spread practice of Good-Luck Visits where an actor dressed as a bear dances, dies and is resurrected by another actor. Special emphasis is also placed on the role of s’Urzu in Sardinian performances, past and present. While Bertolotti draws striking analogies to similar ursine linked ritual practices attested among hunters and gatherers of other parts of the world, in doing so he is unaware of the Pyrenean belief, retained by the Basques into the 20th century, that humans descended from bears. However, this ursine genealogy only serves to strengthen the hypothesis put forward by the Italian ethnographer.

7In the previous three chapters of this investigation various aspects of this cultural complex were explored with special emphasis being placed on what I argue are regional phonological variants of the term Hamalau (Frank, 2008a, 2008c, 2009a). This expression which taken literally means “fourteen”, is also the name given to the half-bear, half-human figure who acts, in turn, as an intermediary being whose dual nature serves to link humans to their bear ancestors. Moreover, the figure of Hamalau and the cosmovision associated with it appears to constitute a key component in a set of archaic pan-European beliefs that held that humans descended from bears, a belief that survived among Basques well into the 20th century. In addition, quite significantly, Hamalau is also the name of the Bear Son, the off-spring of a human female and a great bear, whose adventures show up in a vast cycle of European folktales (Frank - Ridderstad, 2013; Frank - Silva, 2012).

8In the present chapter, the analysis of semantic data will play a major role in establishing linkages between regional manifestations of a group of individuals endowed with supernatural healing powers and the fearful ability to shape-shift (Bloch 1983, pp. 293-294). Furthermore, we shall discover the multiplicity of ways in which the avatars of the shaman-healer, known in Basque as Hamalau, manifest themselves in European folk belief. At the same time we shall see how, until only a few centuries ago, seventh-sons and daughters continued to perform their duties under the protection of ecclesiastical authorities, while at the same time their pagan counterpart survived as the central character in European ursine-informed performance art, where the actor’s miraculous shamanic “healing” abilities continued to be put on display before the public.

9In the current study three examples of healers with supernatural powers will be analyzed. The first section will concentrate on documenting the figure of the Basque salutariyua as well as the Catalan and Valencian counterparts, the saludadors. The second section is dedicated to another type of seventh-born healers, the French marcous, including their counterparts across the channel in Great Britain. Then our attention will turn to documenting the role of another representative shaman-healer, a character found in European performance art. Our approach will concentrate specifically on the scene from the Good-Luck Visits where an actor intervenes to bring the “bear” (or its structural homologue) back to life. At that juncture, we will be ready to examine the enigmatic etymology of the Italian term maramao by bringing together linguistic and ethnographic evidence in support of the hypothesis that this expression is a key element when it comes to gaining a better understanding of the earlier and much more archaic cosmology that held humans descended from bears. Finally, when reading the present study, the reader should keep in mind that it represents the fourth part of a series of articles which have been dedicated to the exploration of pan-European phenomena associated with Good-Luck Visits. Consequently the current discussion builds on the information presented and analyzed in the previous chapters of the investigation.

2. Seventh-sons and daughters among the Basques: the salutariyua healer

10Among the Basques the belief in the special status of the seventh-son or seventh-daughter born to a family was commonplace among rural populations into the 18th century, if not even later (López de Guereñu, 1966). Moreover, in contrast to some other zones of Europe, the supernatural endowments assigned to these individuals translated into them actually being required to exercise a specific profession. The name of this individual was saludador, “healer”, which is the term used in Spanish to describe the Basque health practitioners. According to modern texts, the term that continued to be employed in Basque was salutariyua, clearly cognate with the Spanish expression (Ataño, 1979). Since the entries in municipal records which speak in detail about this profession were written in Spanish, the exact terminology used by Basque speakers to refer to these popular healers cannot be determined.

  • 6 I would note that the Basque language has no grammatical gender or other indications of “natural” g (...)

11With respect to the special attributes assigned to those exercising this birth-right profession, we find that the special “gift” of curing (or preventing) rabies in animals and people was the exclusive duty of the seventh-son born to a family. Yet this profession was not the exclusive domain of seventh-born males. Rather the municipal records often refer to the healer using the Spanish term saludadora, the female form of saludador. So it is clear that both seventh-sons and seventh-daughters were included in this category of healers. The lack of specific gender assignment (in favor of males or females) for this role is confirmed explicitly in other cases where the healer is said to have been born with other special attributes6. For instance, according to a source cited by López de Guereñu (1966, p. 164):

  • 7 [“Healers can be those who are born at midnight on Christmas Eve and who for that reason have [the (...)

Saludadores pueden serlo los que nacen a las doce de la noche de Navidad que por ello tienen una cruz impresa debajo de la lengua y esta gracia particular es común en ambos sexos.7

  • 8 Guereñu’s study was limited to the records of the Basque province of Araba. That similar records co (...)

12The earliest written record identified for this practice dates from 1463 while similar records have been found extending through the 18th century when, at least officially, the obligatory payments that were made to the saludador(a) were no longer recorded in the municipal account books, at least not in those that have been examined to this point. As a caveat, I would remind the reader that until now the only published study dedicated to these seventh-born healers is that of López de Guereñu (1966)8. In other words, to date there has been no systematic effort to gather evidence for the presence of this particular social-medical phenomenon in the municipal records and archives of the Basque Country.

  • 9 In this respect of particular interest are the names given to a class of Basque women “healers” who (...)

13Yet the disappearance of entries concerning these healers from the official record does not necessarily imply that the seventh-sons or daughters no longer performed their duties. Indeed, other documents from the end of the 18th century suggest that such figures may still have been quite active. Moreover, old belief systems tend to retain their force long after the actual practices originally informing them have fallen into disuse. At the same time it is possible that certain responsibilities assigned earlier to the seventh-born healers were reallocated to others. For example, some of the functions and responsibilities were probably taken over by the Christian priest, his female assistant called a serora and/or her helpers9, while other functions were eventually reassigned to members of the emerging medical professions.

14In the case of the seventh-born healer, according to the archival records, the individual along his/her horse and helper traveled about the local region, often being paid in wheat collected by the members of the judicial district or municipality in question. At times the records speaks of the saludador(a) being accompanied by a parent, e.g., “by his father”, which would suggest that the healer was still quite young when he began his practice. In one instance the child was only fourteen when we find him already engaged in his trade, accompanied by his father. Although there is evidence among the Basques that the age at which a youth entered into adulthood was fourteen, for example, when the person’s testimony was considered valid, there is not enough information to determine the age at which the healer practitioners were expected to begin their duties. Other entries speak of payments for the female saludadora, her husband and helper as well as for their horses. However, there is no information concerning how these individuals were trained to perform their duties, e.g., how they acquired their knowledge of the spells as well as the medicinal plants and herbs which they must have utilized. How this knowledge was transmitted from one generation to the next has not been documented.

  • 10 For example, as Zamora Zamora (1997) has noted, in Murcia, saludadores were contracted by the munic (...)

15The archives contain frequent references to the obligations that fell to such an individual. The duties of the seventh-son or daughter included conducting ritual healings of people, cattle, and crops. Although the precise formulas used in such healing rituals are not recorded, it is clear that the services of this person were called upon when there was danger of an outbreak of rabies. The healer’s task appears to have been preventative, at least in part, and in that sense, not far different from his Christian counterparts who in other places (and times) performed public ceremonies intended to protect the crops from insects and other plagues, as well as to insure that domestic animals were safe from harm and remained healthy10. Christian priests were also in charge of storm conjuration and special locations were set aside for the performance of these duties, i.e., warding off hailstorms, sites that suggest the substantial continuity between pre-Christian and Christian practices (Frank, 1977, 2001a, 2001b).

  • 11 The healer received one fanega of wheat while the friar got only half a fanega. The above descripti (...)

16From an analysis of details found in the accounting entries we can conclude that in the zone under study seventh-born traditional healers enjoyed at least the same level of social acceptance and prestige as schoolteachers and priests; and that the local municipality contracted formally for their services. More specifically, the social status of these healers can be deduced by comparing the salary of one of them with that of a friar from the nearby abbey of Piédola who was also hired by the same municipality to provide similar services. Concretely, in the village of Atauri we find that the salary of the second individual was only half of that of the traditional healer (López de Guereñu, 1966, p. 167)11.

  • 12 The dry measure as well as the size of the land planted varied significantly. For the region in que (...)

17A closer examination of the documents reveals that at the beginning of the 18th century, the annual salary paid to the individual by a given municipality amounted to una fanega de trigo, i.e., the amount of wheat needed to plant a fanega of land.12 When calibrated in the coinage of the times, a fanega of wheat was equivalent to approximately 16 reales. This was the standard annual salary for the healer. It was based on a minimum of two obligatory visits per year and required the individual to be on call throughout the rest of the year; additional visits were paid for at the rate of 6 reales per visit, plus remuneration for the expenses incurred, food and housing in the village, stabling the livery along with compensation for the expenses of those who accompanied the healer, his/her assistants and/or family members. In short, the annual salary with the obligatory two visits included, was supplemented by fees the healer received for additional visits. In the case of the latter, the costs of room and board for the healer, his/her helper and horses were also covered.

  • 13 «Haremos resaltar los emolumentos asignados al saludador, treinta rs. por un par de visitas, más ga (...)

18Assuming that the services of the healer would have been required on numerous occasions throughout the year, between the base salary and the compensation received for additional unscheduled visits, say, two visits per month, the person easily could have obtained the equivalent of 150 reales or more per year, for a total of only 26 trips to the same village, including the two obligatory ones. This is the payment the healer would have received from only one village, whereas there are indications that the person might have been under contract to several municipalities at the same time. We can contrast this level of remuneration with the annual salary of the local schoolteacher who carried out his duties without any additional perks for food or housing. Indeed, besides teaching the village children, he was required to take charge of the town clock and function as bell-ringer. For all this work, much of it full-time, he received 30 fanegas per year, the equivalent of 500 reales13.

19More concretely, the contractual duties of these seventh-sons and daughters obligated them to come on a regular schedule, twice a year, on the first of May and on Saint Michael’s day (Michaelmas, September 29th). In addition, the agreements imply that the healer was contractually “on call” to the municipality in question throughout the entire year and was required, contractually, to come when notified. As for the two obligatory visits we notice that one of them coincides with the first of May which might be explained in part by the fact that it was on the first of May when the shepherds began taking their flocks up to the high pastures and the animals needed to be blessed before they left. As for St. Michael’s day being the date assigned for the second obligatory visit, that custom probably was linked, at least in some fashion, to the fact that in the Basque region, as in many other Catholic countries of Europe, St. Michael’s Day was one of the quarter days when rents and bills would come due each year. Finally, when viewed objectively, the two annual visits conducted by the healers are quite reminiscent of similar ceremonies carried out by priests and other members of the Church hierarchy to insure the well-being of their parishioners as well as guarantee the health of the animals and crops under their jurisdiction and subject, therefore, to their “blessing”. In this respect, the ritual activities carried out by the two classes of individuals must have overlapped to a significant degree.

20In conclusion, the figure of the seventh-son and daughter healers casts a long shadow where belief in the special powers conferred by the concept “seven” are clearly in evidence. Since the social practices associated with this belief continued into modern times we might assume that they were viewed with approval by the communities in question: that the practitioners were not marginalized or otherwise stigmatized by the members of the local populace. Rather they were recognized as important and productive members of society, providing important services. Indeed, the persistence of these practices might be explained by the continuing strength of much earlier cultural conceptualizations associated with the number “seven”. Still the exact nature of the sociocultural matrix in which this belief was once embedded is unclear. Should we assume that Hamalau “Fourteen” was part of the same network? Certainly, the shamanically-coded aspects of the plot structure of the Bear Son tales have been noted by other researchers (Lajoux, 1996; Panzer, 1910; Sarmela, 2006; Stitt, 1995).

2.1. The saludadors of Catalunya and Valencia

21In Catalunya evidence for seventh-son and daughters functioning as saludadors is also abundant. Indeed, descriptions of them are quite similar to the ones we find in the Basque Country. For instance, in Catalunya they were regularly hired in an official capacity by local authorities. Writing in 1909, De Copons, citing F. Maspons, states that saludadors «son los que han nascut en la nit de Nadal, losquals tenen una creu en la llengua y tenen la facultat de curar la rabia». He goes on to state that they are called Setès and that their healing powers derive from them being seventh-sons: «Le septième enfant d’une famille qui n’a eu que des garcons jouit aussi de ce don: on l’appelle Setè» (De Copons, 1909, p. 140). As Bloch ([1924] 1983, pp. 303-304) points out, drawing on the earlier writings of Sirven dating from 1864, the specialty of the Catalan Sets, in addition to curing rabies, was in their ability to prevent animals and humans, in advance, from getting the disease.

22In her investigation of extra-academic medical practitioners in Valencia, López Terrada (2009) brings forward the following fact about the role of saludadors in this zone of the Iberian Peninsula, namely, that the healers had been relatively successful in distancing themselves and their activities from accusations of witchcraft and black magic. This fact also allows us to see that over time the practitioners themselves along with those who sought their services had been able to negotiate a middle ground where they were relatively safe from the Inquisitorial arm of the Catholic Church.

23The saludadors were considered “charismatic” and hence quite different from curanderos. They were individuals

who possessed a supposedly superhuman ability to cure certain illnesses, principally rabies (rabia). This power did not result from a pact with the devil, but was a sign of divine grace. Despite being faith healers, they were not bothered by the authorities in the least; neither did they encroach upon the professional terrain of academically trained practitioners, nor were their practices considered heretical. (López Terrada, 2009, p. 15)

Another factor contributing to their acceptance by the Church has to do with the way that at some time in the past they had acquired the protection of a particular Christian saint, namely, Saint Quitèrie, a legendary 5th century virgin martyr whose origins might well be more pagan than Christian and who, not surprisingly, was known for her efficacy in curing rabies.

24Although the popular healers were renowned for their ability to deal with a specific disease, it appears that they also practiced a kind of preventative medicine that involved blessing humans, animals and crops, the latter against predation by insects. Moreover, in line with the conceptual structures undergirding the cult of saints, the nature of the “gift” which such healers supposedly possessed was somewhat ambiguous. Having a patron saint, allowed the individual healer to draw upon the “excess grace” attributed to the latter. Thus, the natural-born “gift” of the saludadors was Christianized. On the other hand, the populace continued to believe in the efficacy of the special “gift” of the practitioner. This created a situation where both parties benefitted, those in charge of the religious sites dedicated to the saint in question and the seventh-born healers themselves. As the fame of individual healers increased, so did the belief in the curative powers of their patron saint. Miraculous cures attributed to the particular saint by those going on pilgrimages to her sanctuary (or by those in charge of the site) would feed quite naturally into the same belief system, reinforcing, in turn, the popularity of the healers operating under the auspices of the same saint. Consequently, the cures, incantations and other healing rituals performed by the saludadors were sanctioned by the excess “grace” of this saint, and as we shall see, a similar mechanism for gaining approval operated in the case of the seventh-son and daughter healers of France.

  • 14 [“it is said that they heal with the saliva from their mouths or with their breath, saying certain (...)

25Even though López Terrada (2009) asserts that saludadors were not persecuted and enjoyed the approval of the Church, and, indeed, this might well have been the case in certain locations and time periods, there are indications that the relationship between the Holy Office and the popular practitioners was not always so amicable. For example, by the early 16th century we encounter a treatise written by Pedro Ciruelo called Reprovación de las supersticiones y hechicerías (1538) in which he denounces superstitious practices. In this work Ciruelo casts saludadores in a negative light, defining them as follows: «[…] dizen que sanan con su saliva de la boca y con su aliento, diziendo ciertas palabras: y vemos que mucha gente se va tras ellos a se saludar… El hecho de los saludadores principalmente se emplea en querer sanar, o preservar a los hombres, y bestias, y ganados del mal de la ravia»14.

26Valencian folk healers were able to portray themselves in a positive light to ecclesiastical and civil authorities as having «on the one hand “grace”, a gift from God, and on the other, a charismatic ability to cure, a power he is able to transmit to any substance he wishes, in this case, oil and water» (López Terrada, 2009, p. 17). This, however, did not mean that in the Iberian Peninsula they did not have not run-ins with the Holy Office, particularly as the activities of these popular healers started to compete with those of the emerging class of medical practitioners, who on the one hand consisted of physicians and surgeons directly affiliated with the Inquisition and on the other there were non-affiliated members of that profession whose clientele occasionally overlapped with that of the saludadors (Walker, 2004).

27In contrast to what appears to have been the case in the Basque Country, in 17th-century Valencia saludadors exercised their profession not only with the approval of the local authorities, but also the enthusiastic support of higher echelons of the Church hierarchy:

  • 15 According to López Terrada (2009, p. 16), the examinations were conducted «in the same way that exa (...)

Saludadores were highly esteemed and were contracted by local governments large and small, in Valencia and in the other realms of the peninsula. Enguera, a small community in the interior of the kingdom of Valencia, had its own saludador to whom the municipality paid four pounds yearly in exchange for his curing any person or animal bitten by a rabid dog. This position was occupied in 1631 by a woman named Josefa Medina, who had previously been given a licence confirming her powers by the Archbishop of Valencia. In the city of Valencia, the situation was somewhat different. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there was an “examiner of charismatic healers” (examinador de saludadores), that is, a public functionary hired by the government after he had passed an examination, whose job it was to determine the ability of those who desired to work as saludadores within the city. (López Terrada, 2009, p. 16)15

Investigations of saludadores in other parts of the Iberian Peninsula suggests that by the late 17th and 18th centuries they were coming under increasing attack from ecclesiastical authorities and being subjected more frequently to ridicule by laymen. In short, even though they continued to enjoy significant acceptance among the popular classes, pressures were being brought to bear on these charismatic healers. Their actions and clients increasingly became subject to criticism, although as a whole the services of healers continued to constitute an alternative to the medicine practiced by physicians and surgeons, certainly in part because people of low income were unable to pay the relatively high fees charged by physicians and surgeons (López Terrada, 2009; Walker, 2004).

3. The seventh-born in the rest of Europe

28Our examination of the Basque, Catalan and Valencian data has shown that the belief in the supernatural attributes of seventh-born sons and daughters was not merely a superstition, but rather translated into a set of concrete socially-sanctioned healing practices which by the 19th century in other more urbanized parts of Europe would have been viewed as “quackery” at best and in other circles as “witchcraft”. In this respect the data suggests that we could be looking at a network of cultural practices that existed in other parts of Europe outside the Iberian Peninsula. In other words, what were collected and reported as merely superstitions in the 19th and 20th centuries were grounded in actual social practice, folk memories of the earlier veneration of the seventh-born of a family who then, in turn, regularly went about the community carrying out ritual healings.

  • 16 This wide-spread belief system resonates strongly with the stories of the so-called benandanti, rec (...)

29Naturally the powers attributed to such a person would have set the individual apart from the rest and because of the person’s alleged supernatural abilities, that person could have been feared. As is well known, in other parts of Europe being a seventh-born son or daughter could be dangerous for it could confer unwelcome shape-shifting powers on the individual as well as the ability to visit others in their sleep. For example, in Germany, 19th century folklorists record the belief that «[i]f there are seven boys or seven girls in one family, then one of them will be a night-mare, but will know nothing about it» (Kuhn - Schwartz, 1972 [1848], pp. 418-420). While we see that the person is assigned special powers, these are represented as harmful and therefore viewed in a negative light. Specifically, such a person was destined to be a mare, a murawa, etc., that is, a “night-mare”, a topic discussed at length in the previous chapters of this study (Frank, 2008a, 2008c, 2009a). Such an individual, according to popular belief, was double-skinned, capable of appearing to be asleep, yet at the same time going out and about, and when doing so, often taking the shape of some other creature16. In this fashion the “night-mare” could appear to others who were sleeping, in the form of a menacing “night-visitor”.

  • 17 Dialectal variants also include mare (Germany), mahrt (Pommerania) and mahrte (North Germany).

30Stated differently, folk belief, particularly among German and Polish-speaking populations, reveals that, in addition to having supernatural powers of healing, seventh-born sons and daughters were attributed another remarkable ability: they were viewed as shape-shifters and had the ability to appear, often in a sinister fashion, to others while the latter were sleeping. More concretely, the second element of the English expression “night-mare”, i.e., -mare, is the English equivalent of the German word mahr found in nacht-mahr and meaning “goblin, demon, spirit” (Grimm - Grimm, 1854, p. 1166)17. The same semantic element is found in the French compound cauchemar. The German reflexes, as well as other etymologically linked terms encountered in Slavic languages, such as the Wendish expression Murraue (Ashliman, 1998-2005; Kuhn - Schwartz, 1972 [1848], pp. 418-420), all refer to this supernatural being: a disturbing night visitor, often described as an ominous “presence” or “intruder” (Cheyne, 2001, 2003; Cheyne, Newby-Clark - Rueffer, 1999; Hufford, 2005). According to Thorpe:

Under all these denominations is designated that spectral being which places itself on the breast of the sleeping, depriving them of the powers of motion and utterance. (Thorpe, 1851-52, vol. 3, p. 154)

  • 18 For a more detailed account of this aspect of the data, cf. Frank (2008c, pp. 106-118).

31Furthermore, attributing to seventh-born children not only shape-shifting powers but specifically those of the “night-mare” brings us back to Basque variants, such as mamu, mahuma and marrau, commonly used to refer to this ‘night-visitor’ and which are, simultaneously, phonologically eroded variants of hamalau, “fourteen”, which is also the Basque name of the half-bear half-human, shaman-like healer. These terms also refer to a more sinister being who, according to Basque belief, was said to appear to people when they were asleep. Concrete testimonies of such nocturnal visits continued to be recorded into the late 20th century (Satrústegi, 1981, 1987). The attested dialectal variants of the word hamalau appear to include mamalo, mamarrao, mamarro, mamarrua, marrau, mamu, mahumahu and mahuma among others (Azkue, 1969 [1905-06], II, pp. 11-12, 19; Euskaltzaindia, 1987, XII, pp. 52, 57-60). The fearsome night visitor was also the creature called upon by parents to make their children behave. In the case of Sardu, this particular being is known as marragau, marragotti and mammoti18.

  • 19 I would note that it was Graziano Fois (2002b) who first brought to my attention the similarities b (...)

32Although I am not aware of Sardinian folk beliefs alleging that seventh-born children were destined to become a “night-mare”, a closer examination of the lexical field in Sardu demonstrates that the stem of the terms has three variants. The roots appear in the shape of mamu-, momo-/mommo-, momma- and marra-.19 In the case of the root form mamu-, we find mamuntomo “spauracchio”; mamuntone “fantoccio”; mamuttinu: “strepito”; mamudinu “Belzebù, demonio, diavolo, strepito, zurlo” mamuttone “spauracchio, spaventapasseri”; mamuttones “maschere carnevalesche con campanacci”; mamutzone “spauracchio” as well as mamus “esseri fantastici che abitanoi nelle caverne”. In the instance of the root stem of momo-/mommo-/momma-, we find: momotti “babau, befana, spauracchio”; mommoi “babau, befana, fantasma, licantropo, orco, pidocchio, spauracchio, spettro”; mommai “befana”; and from the stem marra- there is: marragau “orco, gruccione”, marrangoi “babau, mostro, spaurrachio”; and marragotti “befana, biliorsa, bilioso, fantasma, mangiabambini, mannaro, orco, ragno, spauracchio, spettro” (Fois, 2002b; Rubattu, 2006). In these examples we find different personifications of the figure of the night-visitor, as a spettro alongside a shape-shifted human, the mannaro. Also found among the variants of this cross-linguistic morpho-semantic field are terms such as mamau / babau and marmau / barbau (Sainéan, 1905, p. 70). These items appear to be cognates, differentiated primarily by the exchange of the bilabials: m b, as discussed earlier (Frank, 2009a, pp. 122-124).

33In summary, it appears that regional variants of the word hamalau may have given rise to expressions used in various European languages to refer to seventh-sons and daughters in their manifestation as shape-shifters. It therefore follows that the shamanic characteristics attributed to the Bear Son, the half-human, half-bear protagonist, his vision quest and adventures that allow him to acquire his spirit animal helpers and later shape-shift into them may have been transferred in some symbolic fashion to these seventh-born healers (Frank, 2008a, 2008c, 2009a).

  • 20 The following comment is also relevant: «[…] pero estimamos que con lo reseñado es más que suficien (...)

34Despite this rather negative portrayal of seventh-sons and daughters, that is, equating them with disturbing otherworldly shape-shifting “night-visitors”, we need to keep in mind that, as López Guereñu discovered in his study of the records of Basque municipal councils from the 16th to the 18th centuries, these members of society – even at this late date – were still held in high esteem, as much or more so than Christian priests and medical practitioners of the time. In the eyes of those serving on the municipal councils whose duty it was to set forth the conditions and terms of the contracts and vote in favor of hiring the healers, the seventh-sons and daughters were viewed as legitimate health providers, even though we can identify admonitions by authorities of the Catholic Church inveighing against the saludadores. Nonetheless, even members of the Catholic clergy were often fully complicit in the hirings. For example, in one case, specifically in the village of Lagrán, the individual that the city council wanted to hire as a saludador was illiterate and hence wasn’t capable of signing the contract they had prepared for him. So the healer asked his local priest to sign for him which the latter did (López de Guereñu, 1966, p. 169)20. In other words, the priest was fully in agreement with the hire.

35However, the approval that the Basque healers seemed to have enjoyed at the local level was not necessarily reflective of the opinions held by the Catholic hierarchy. The latter repeatedly sent out inquisitors (“visitadores”) to the local parishes in what turned out to be vain attempts to stamp out practices which they deemed dangerous, if not heretical. The villagers were told that they should not hire such individuals. Yet, as López de Guereñu himself laments, these implorations fell on deaf ears. In short, there is evidence that for several centuries the admonitions of these authorities went relatively unheeded by the local populace and the healers continued to be contracted as before. For example, López de Guereñu indicates that decrees, similar to the following one from 1550, were sent out repeatedly by various bishops to the villages of Alaba:

  • 21 [“And since the healers and conjurers regularly hired are suspicious and immoral people and of bad (...)

Ytem por quanto los saludadores y conjuradores alquilados comunmente son personas sospechosas y banas y de mal ejemplo, mandó el señor Visitador a los vecinos del pueblo no alquilen ni tengan saludadores ny conjuradores ny hechiceros ny adebinos ny ensalmadores ny personas que cortan letra ny curan la rosa ni haran [sic] cosas banas ni con subpercisiones ni echen nomynas ni agan otras cosas banas reagradables del dro. dibino y humano […] (López de Guereñu, 1966, p. 164)21

In later sections of this essay we will see that the high status afforded to the Basque seventh-sons and daughters in the 18th century may well be reflected in social practices found in other parts of Europe where, nonetheless, over time the belief in these healers was eroded until they were viewed as nothing more than charlatans preying on the sick and gullible. In the case of the Basque salutariyua there is no indication that the practitioners sought to justify their official duties and legitimatize their status by plying their trade under the protection of a Christian saint. Rather they seem to have maintained their autonomy. As we have seen, this contrasts with what occurred in the case of Cataluyna and Valencia where the healers were taken under the wing of the Catholic Church and allowed to continue to carry out their duties with a kind of Christian dispensation.

4. The French marcou: another seventh-son healer

  • 22 Bloch ([1924] 1983, p. 303) comments on the survival of this belief: «[…] on lit dans la Revue des (...)

36In France, the seventh son (or daughter) was called a marcou. He was said to have a magic sign (birthmark) on his body, sometimes identified as a fleur-de-lis, and that he had the power to cure certain maladies22. Although great effort has been exerted to pin down the etymology of the expression marcou, its ultimate origin is still rather obscure. Nonetheless, given the significance of these French healers, we need to examine the French data more closely. First, we find that French dictionaries give the following definition of the word: «Marcou: Homme portant un marque magique sur le corps et qui possédait, croyait-on, le pouvoir de guérir certaines maladies» (Dictionnaire Encyclopédique pour Tous: Petit Larousse, 1963, p. 432). It is noteworthy that this 20th century definition of the term makes no mention of the need for the healer to be the seventh-son. However, other evidence points to the fact that the “magic mark” was only one sign that revealed these seventh-sons and daughters had curative powers. Moreover, the notion that the seventh-son or daughter healer was endowed with some kind of special physical sign fits into the wider pan-European matrix of belief in the supernatural powers of the seventh-born. Opie and Tatem (1989, pp. 246-247) cite one British mid-13th-century source relating to the healing powers of seventh sons while they present sources dating from the 16th century forward that explicitly attribute to such children the ability to heal the so-called King’s Evil which consequently links them to the figure of the marcou (cf. also Bloch, 1973, 1983 [1924]; Vaz da Silva, 2003).

37Additional important information on the marcous is brought forward in a brief note by Honoré de Mareville which includes an abridged translation of an 1854 article from «Le Journal du Loiret». In Mareville’s discussion he mentions specifically that the marcou has special healing powers: that of curing the King’s Evil. The latter expression was used to refer to a malady called Scrofula (Scrophula or Struma), composed of a variety of skin diseases; in particular, a form of tuberculosis, affecting the lymph nodes of the neck. Mareville’s summary of the article from «Le Journal du Loiret» is as follows:

We have more than once had occasion to make our readers acquainted with the superstitious practices of the Marcous. The Orléanais is the classic land of marcous, and in the Gâtinais every parish at all above the common is sure to have its marcou. If a man is the seventh son of his father, without any female intervening, he is a marcou; he has on some part of the body the mark of a fleur-de-lis, and, like the kings of France, he has the power of curing the king’s evil. All that is necessary to effect a cure is, that the marcou should breathe upon the part affected, or that the sufferer should touch the mark of the fleur-de-lis. Of all the marcous of the Orléanais, he of Ormes is the best known and most celebrated. Every year, from twenty, thirty, forty leagues around, crowds of patients come to visit him; but it is particularly in Holy Week that his power is most efficacious; and on the night of Good Friday, from midnight to sunrise, the cure is certain. Accordingly, at this season, from four to five hundred persons press round his dwelling to take advantage of his wonderful powers. (Mareville, 1859, p. 59)

38From the text of the article in Le Journal du Loiret we see that this is not the first report that the newspaper has dedicated to the topic of the activities of the marcous. Moreover, from the way that the article begins, i.e., «the Orléanais is the classic land of marcous, and in the Gâtinais every parish at all above the common is sure to have its marcou», there is reason to believe that the marcous were once found throughout this geographical region, if not in all of France, although by the middle of the 19th century they were perhaps less common in other districts. This conclusion is reinforced by the wording of phrase: that the Orléanais is «the classic land of marcous». There is also a strong indication that each parish had its own marcou. Whether that individual was paid out of the municipal coffers cannot be determined, at least not on the basis of the scant data afforded by this newspaper article.

39Mareville (1859, p. 59) then says that «[t]he paper then goes on to describe a disturbance among the crowds assembled this year, in consequence of the officers of justice having attempted to put a stop to the imposture». The article concludes thus:

The marcou of Ormes is a cooper in easy circumstances, being the possessor of a horse and carriage. His name is Foulon, and in the country he is known by the appellation of Le beau marcou. He has the fleur-de-lis on his left side, and in this respect is more fortunate than the generality of marcous, with whom the mysterious sign is apt to hide itself in some part of the body quite inaccessible to the eyes of the curious. (Mareville, 1859, p. 59)

40Then there is a rendition of the same news item, from 1854, written by Robert Chambers whose negative attitude toward the marcou is quite obvious. In fact, the same attitude, laced with sarcasm and disbelief, is detected on the part of the writer of the original French news report as well as in Chambers’ reflections upon it. By their choice of phrasing both writers reveal their strong disapproval of what they view as superstitious practices. Yet at the same time we can see that at this point in time the healers were still attracting large crowds in this region of France. Here is Chambers’ commentary on the 1854 article:

France, as well as our own country, has a belief in the Seventh Son mystery. The Journal du Loiret, a French provincial newspaper, in 1854 stated that, in Orleans, if a family has seven sons and no daughter, the seventh is called a Marcou, is branded with a fleur-de-lis, and is believed to possess the power of curing the king’s evil. The Marcou breathes on the part affected, or else the patient touches the Marcou’s fleur-de-lis. In the year above-named, there was a famous Marcou in Orleans named Foulon; he was a cooper by trade, and was known as ‘le beau Marcou.’ Simple peasants used to come to visit him from many leagues in all directions, particularly in Passion week, when his ministrations were believed to be most efficacious. On the night of Good Friday, from midnight to sunrise, the chance of cure was supposed to be especially good, and on this account four or five hundred persons would assemble. Great disturbances hence arose; and as there was evidence, to all except the silly dupes themselves, that Foulon made use of their superstition to enrich himself, the police succeeded, but not without much opposition, in preventing these assemblages. (Chambers, 1869)

41Since we do not have access to the original French, there are several aspects of the account by Mareville (1859) and Chambers (1869) that catch our attention. The first is that the belief in the special powers of the seventh-son continued to be quite widespread at this juncture in time in both France and England. In both locations the healing ability of the individuals had come to be focused narrowly on a particular disease, namely, a form of tuberculosis which afflicted significant numbers of the population (Barlow, 1980). Then, although there is substantial repetition in terms of the basic facts, the reason that Chambers found this item of special interest lies elsewhere, namely, in his concern with the survival of the belief in the special powers of the seventh-son, a belief he would define as “a superstition”.

42Chambers’ attitude contrasts with that of Mareville whose gloss is more respectful. Nonetheless, it would appear that the original author of the news item shared the opinion of Chambers, namely, that this was a superstition that needed to be rooted out and that those who believed in the curative powers of the marcous were being deceived. In short, he held that the marcou of Orleans was a fraud and should be seen as nothing more than a “quack doctor”, one who was intent on lining his pockets with ill-gotten goods obtained from “the silly dupes” who flocked to him in droves for cures. Both authors openly express their contempt for these popular practitioners, portrayed by them as imposters who thrive upon the gullibility of their overly credulous patients. In this respect, we should recall that even the newer, officially sanctioned members of the medical community with their blood-sucking leeches and vacuum tubes were not necessarily immune from criticism. They, too, were often viewed by the public with suspicion and mistrust. In summary, by the 19th century there are indications that the shamanic trappings and charismatic aura that had enveloped the marcous in times past were beginning to fall way.

43However, also evident in the 19th century news account is the fact that far from being social outcasts, among the popular classes, the activities of these marcous formed part of a revered tradition of curative practices which appear to have been even more widespread in centuries past. In other words, if Orléanais is defined as “the classic land of marcous”, we can intuit that marcous were formerly found in other regions, although perhaps by the mid-19th century they were not as common in other parts of France.

44In order to better understand Chambers interest in the French marcou, we can turn to the section in which he discusses this social phenomenon in reference to the magical powers attributed to the number “seven”, namely, a brief essay entitled Seventh Sons and their Seventh Sons.

There has been a strong favour for the number Seven, from a remote period in the world’s history. It is, of course, easy to see in what way the Mosaic narrative gave sanctity to this number in connection with the days of the week, and led to usages which influence the social life of all the countries of Europe. But a sort of mystical goodness or power has attached itself to the number in many other ways. Seven wise men, seven champions of Christendom, seven sleepers, seven-league boots, seven churches, seven ages of man, seven hills, seven senses, seven planets, seven metals, seven sisters, seven stars, seven wonders of the world, – all have had their day of favour; albeit that the number has been awkwardly interfered with by modern discoveries concerning metals, planets, stars, and wonders of the world.
Added to the above list is the group of Seven Sons, especially in relation to the youngest or seventh of the seven; and more especially still if this person happen to be the seventh son of a seventh son. It is now, perhaps, impossible to discover in what country, or at what time, the notion originated; but a notion there certainly is, chiefly in provincial districts, that a seventh son has something peculiar about him. For the most part, the imputed peculiarity is a healing power, a faculty of curing diseases by the touch, or by some other means. (Chambers, 1869)

The English author then provides a series of examples for this belief:

The instances of this belief are numerous enough. There is a rare pamphlet called the Quack Doctor’s Speech, published in the time of Charles II. The reckless Earl of Rochester delivered this speech on one occasion, when dressed in character, and mounted on a stage as a charlatan. The speech, amid much that suited that licentious age, but would be frowned down by modern society, contained an enumeration of the doctor’s wonderful qualities, among which was that of being a ‘seventh son of a seventh son,’ and therefore clever as a curer of bodily ills. The matter is only mentioned as affording a sort of proof of the existence of a certain popular belief. In Cornwall, the peasants and the miners entertain this notion; they believe that a seventh son can cure the king’s evil by the touch. The mode of proceeding usually is to stroke the part affected thrice gently, to blow upon it thrice, to repeat a form of words, and to give a perforated coin or some other object to be worn as an amulet. (Chambers, 1869)

Then we find that in Bristol,

about forty years ago, there was a man who was always called ‘Doctor,’ simply because he was the seventh son of a seventh son. The family of the Joneses of Muddfi, in Wales, is said to have presented seven sons to each of many successive generations, of whom the seventh son always became a doctor – apparently from a conviction that he had an inherited qualification to start with. In Ireland, the seventh son of a seventh son is believed to possess prophetical as well as healing power. A few years ago, a Dublin shopkeeper, finding his errand-boy to be generally very dilatory in his duties, inquired into the cause, and found that, the boy being a seventh son of a seventh son, his services were often in requisition among the poorer neighbours, in a way that brought in a good many pieces of silver. (Chambers, 1869)

Chambers adds this other example:

  • 23 Belief in the supernatural powers of the seventh son of seventh son gained a new lease on life in 1 (...)

Early in the present century, there was a man in Hampshire, the seventh son of a seventh son, who was consulted by the villagers as a doctor, and who carried about with him a collection of crutches and sticks, purporting to have once belonged to persons whom he had cured of lame-ness. Cases are not wanting, also, in which the seventh daughter is placed upon a similar pinnacle of greatness. In Scotland, the spae wife, or fortune-teller, frequently announces herself as the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, to enhance her claims to prophetic power. Even so late as 1851, an inscription was seen on a window in Plymouth, denoting that a certain doctress was ‘the third seventh daughter,’ – which the world was probably intended to interpret as the seventh daughter of the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. (Chambers, 1869)23

In summary, the curative abilities ascribed to seventh sons and daughters in the Basque Country, Catalunya and Valencia coincide with the miraculous powers attributed to the marcous in France while the underpinnings of the continental datasets converge even further when they are compared with Chambers’ review of folk beliefs concerning the seventh-sons and daughters in England, Scotland and Wales. In fact, the various datasets we have examined so far lead to the following conclusion concerning the continuity of belief and to the strong possibility that the English Quack Doctor, the stock character found in the abbreviated plays of English mumming tradition, the so-called St. George Plays, belong to this same tradition, albeit their comic counterpart. Moreover, there is reason to believe that the popular belief in the curative powers of the seventh son of a seventh son was alive and well even into the late 19th century, to such a point that members of the medical profession were obliged to berate those who lent public support to it. They were outraged by the continuing support given in the daily and weekly press, both secular and religious, to “the traveling medical quack” whose license to practice consisted only in the claim that he was a seventh son of seventh son (n.a., 1884).

4.1. Competing healing traditions: Royal and popular representations

45As has been noted earlier, the King’s Evil was the term used to refer to a skin disease called Scrofula (Scrophula or Struma), in particular, a variant form of tuberculosis, affecting the lymph nodes of the neck. The medical term itself was morbus regius in Latin which in “the Middle Ages was translated into the vernacular: into French as le mal le roy and into Anglo-Saxon as cynelic adl. In Middle English it became the king’s evil – ‘evil’ as in the Lord’s Prayer, where translating malum – and in this context simply meaning illness or malady” (Barlow, 1980, p. 4). In the late Middle Ages monastic writers were applying it not only to leprosy and other wasting and scabious diseases but also to swellings, such as carbuncles and other eruptions, wherever they might occur on the body. While there is a great deal of confusion concerning what is fact and what is fiction with respect to the point in time in which the kings of France and England began practicing this type of ritual healing, there is little doubt that by 1272 there were those among the populace who thought that both the kings of France and England were curing the so-called king’s disease by their touch, and, moreover, that the disease was called royal because kings cured it. The logic was circular: kings cured scrofula because it was the royal disease and scrofula was called the royal disease because kings cured it (Barlow, 1980, p. 13). Moreover, as we shall see, by the close of the Middle Ages the cult of a particular saint had come to be involved in granting the gift of the “royal touch” to the sovereigns of France, the same saint, it should be noted, that was linked to the curative powers attributed to the popular healers called marcous.

Fig. 1 Scrofula in the neck

Fig. 1 Scrofula in the neck

Source: Wikipedia (2007)

46Across the channel we find evidence of the same healing tradition being attached to the members of the royal family. For instance, it was the practice of Charles II to give sufferers his healing touch every Friday in the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall. Samuel Pepys records that Charles conducted the ceremony with the utmost reverence and gravity while James I, in contrast, was said to touch unwillingly, and refuse to make the sign of the cross on the ulcers of those who were paraded before him. The custom reached its zenith during the Restoration. For example, Charles II is said to have touched more than 90,000 victims between 1660 and 1682. In 1712, we find Queen Anne touching 200 victims, among them a young boy who was to become Dr. Samuel Johnson. But King George I put an end to the practice considering it to be too Catholic.

47In the case of France, according to popular tradition, by the late Middle Ages the miraculous healing powers of kings to cure the King’s Evil were being explained by their devotion to a particular saint, St. Marcoul (or Marculphus). In fact, this saint has played a major role in explanations that have been put forward to elucidate the origins of the name given to the popular healers themselves. And in France, too, truly miraculous feats of healing were attributed to the rulers. For example, it is said that Henry IV of France often touched and healed as many as 1,500 individuals at a time. On this side of the channel the custom persisted until Louis XV stopped it in the 1700s, although it was briefly revived by Charles X between 1824 and 1830 (Barlow, 1980; Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011; Hitchings, 2005, p. 11).

4.2. Observations concerning the etymology of marcou

48The etymology of the term marcou has been subjected to considerable scrutiny over the years (Bloch, 1983 [1924], pp. 261-267, 308). Some have theorized that its origins go back to St. Marcoul, the name of an otherwise legendary abbot from Nanteu, in Normandy. According to the pious legend that grew up around him, he lived in the 6th century and was famous for his miracles. Indeed, there is a possibility that the site chosen for the monastery founded in his honor was a pre-Christian one and that veneration for the tomb of the saint on display there goes back to earlier religious practices. In any case, the name of this saint does not surface until some three hundred years after his alleged death, in a 9th century document where the life of the saint is recounted. Bloch characterizes the document in these terms:

[…] n’offre rien que les fables hagiographiques les plus banales. […] En somme il faut nous résigner à ignorer tout, ou presque tout, du saint homme de Nant. A en juger par les Vies, on ne devait pas, dès le IXe siècle, être sur son compte beaucoup mieux informé que nous. (Bloch, 1983 [1924], pp. 262-263)

By the time that the name of the abbot first appears in print he has become Saint Marcoul (or Marculphus) and in the following centuries his relics would come to be revered for their healing properties. Indeed, conflicts over who would possess his bones would become a major source of controversy and competition. Initially, his powers were of a general nature and only later, in the 13th century, began to be focused on a single disease, namely, scrofula. By the 15th century, his tomb was the object of pilgrimages and the monks attached to it were selling prophylactic amulets with an image of the saint on them.

49Although tradition held that once they were crowned the kings of France, starting with St. Louis, made an obligatory pilgrimage to obtain the saint’s blessing, it is more likely that this ceremony did not come to be observed until the beginning of the 16th century. For example, Bloch suggests that it was not until the 16th century that members of the royal families of France began to openly seek to attribute their power to heal the King’s Evil to this saint, while at the same time it was in this period that the monks in charge of the holy site of St. Marcoul started to reach out to the popular healers, asking them to report back to them when they had performed a “miracle” so that the monks could record it and in doing so further enhance the reputation of their saint. Thus, a custom of ambiguous significance, maintained by popular pressure and connived at, even encouraged, by monastic and ecclesiastical elements produced a situation in which both groups profited. In other words, it would seem that at some point the popular healers had come under the protection of this saint and, consequently, by their actions ended up promoting the efficacy of his cult (Bloch, 1983 [1924], pp. 260-308). What initially motivated this association is less clear.

50Finally there is the problem of the specialization itself for although many shrines gained a reputation for being exceptionally efficacious in some field or other, some of these associations were verbal and based on puns or legends (Barlow, 1980, p. 16). Thus, we might ask whether the French marcous came to be associated with the shrine of St. Marcoul simply because the name of the saint happened to sound like the name that had been given already to the popular healers. In any case, by the 16th century, both the popular healers and the kings of France and England were conducting their healing ceremonies under the auspices of a particular Christian saint, although in England that saint was St. Remigius. More specifically, the English kings were thought to have received this power because of their descent from Edward the Confessor, who, in turn, according to some legends, had received it from St. Remigius.

51In conclusion, while there is a clear historical connection between the popular healers known as marcous and the figure of St. Marcoul, the etymology of the term marcou can be subjected to a very different interpretation, as we shall see shortly. For now let it suffice to say that special healing powers were attributed to two different types of individuals: those who came to the profession because as their birthright as seventh-sons or daughters and then those who were said to have the same powers but only because they were transmitted through the royal lineage and reconfirmed through the intercession of a Christian saint. With these facts in mind, the morphology and functions of the lower-class marcous are far more in keeping with those of the Basque, Catalan and Valencian seventh-son and daughter healers even though by the 19th century the duties assigned to the marcous appear to have been more limited and less structured.

5. Weaving together the threads of evidence

52So far in this analysis little attention has been paid to cognitive import of the semantic artifacts carrying numerical connotations related to the number “seven”. The points made in this section will serve to shed further light on the complexity of the problem under analysis. Specifically, it lays out additional lines of converging evidence for the explanatory model being proposed. As stated earlier, the research model argues that the wide-spread European belief in the magical powers of the number “seven” with respect to the special endowments of a seventh son or daughter (as well as those of the seventh-son of a seventh-son or daughter) is closely linked to a broader cognitive framework of belief encountered in the same geographical zone that revolves around the complex psycho-social embodiment of a “sensed presence”, that is, the “night-mare”.

53Assigning magical qualities to the number seven is a wide-spread belief, found in many parts of the world, and even the belief that a seventh son or daughter has special powers is not uncommon elsewhere. However, here we are talking about a dataset that has an additional characteristic, namely, linguistic clues that confer other characteristics to the same individual. Concretely, a cross-linguistic analysis of the meanings of the names used to refer to the seventh son or daughter suggests that their supernatural abilities extended to them taking on the qualities of the “sensed presence” and hence becoming “night-mares” with the ability to shape-shift and go out and about at night while their physical body remained at home in bed and apparently asleep.

54And, even more striking is the fact that, as has been discussed previously, in many European languages names used to refer to the “night-mare” appear to derive from a common root, terms that I allege represents phonological variants of a pre-Indo-European etymon, hamalau “fourteen”. We should recall that Hamalau is also the name of the half-bear, half-human protagonist of the Bear Son tales who acts as the intermediary between the world of humans and the world of bears; the being who, as a young shaman apprentice, undertakes a “vision quest” (Frank, 1997, 2007, 2010).

  • 24 With the exception of inguma which evolved from mahuma, all these variants show “nasal spread”, tha (...)

55Although phonological variants of hamalau have been treated in detail elsewhere, at this juncture we still cannot state with certainty whether the French term marcou belongs to the same set of regional variants discussed earlier which, viewed cross-linguistically, is a morpho-semantic field with stems in mamu-, momo-, mar-, mara-, marra-, mora-, mura-, maro- and contains as well as Basque variants of the term: mamalo, mamarrao, mamarro, mamarrua, marrau, mamu, mahu, mahumahu, mahuma, and even inguma24.

56Terms that refer to the ‘night-mare’, as mentioned earlier, include the Germanic variants in Mare, Mähr, Polish variants spelled as mórawa, myrawa, mürawa, murawa and morawa and the Bulgarian variant in Maroc, among others. The etymology of the French term marcou is more obscure, since none of the other regional variants studied to date do show the development of a stem with a consonant cluster in /rc-/. On the other hand, the process of phonological erosion that took place could be reconstructed as: hamalau > *mamalau > *mamarlau > *marlau > marcou. With this sequence the cluster /rl/ would have produced /rc/. In this respect, it should be noted that in French there are four other variants that refer to “night-mares” or croquemitaines, namely, mamau / babaou alongside marmau / barbau, the latter with consonant clusters in /rm/ and /rb/. The meanings of the terms are essentially identical to those of the Sardu words mommoi, mommai, marragoi and marragau.

57Sainéan, citing Jaubert, explains the meaning of the word this way: «Marcou, le septième garçon d’une mère, sans fille interposée… le marcou passe pour sorcier» (1905, p. 79). The variants Sainéan lists for marcou include marlou, maraud and macaud. The variants suggest that the term was an expression without a fixed pronunciation and that the variations represent repeated attempts on the part of speakers to hit upon the “correct” pronunciation. As long as the term was known only orally, there was a certain level of uncertainty as to how it was supposed to be pronounced and even more so in terms of how it was to be written down. Over time, a written canonical form would emerge and be agreed upon, that is, marcou, the one regularly used in textual references to describe this seventh-born sorcerer. However, as Sainéan noted, quite curiously, the four variants cited above are used to refer to a “tom-cat” as well as to the miraculous seventh-son or daughter.

58In addition, Sainéan attempts to explain marcou as a variant of French words meaning “night-mare”:

Il est donc contemporain de cauchemar (xve s.: quauquemare et cauquemarre, Nicot: cauchemar et chaucemare), dont le terme final paraît remonter à la même notion de chat-sorcier (cf. plus haut maraud). […] et le wall. marc, cauchemar (Liège chotte-marque = chauquemarc), â côte de mar […]. (Sainéan, 1905, p. 80)

59He compares the stem mar- found in marcou and as well in the second element of the compound cauchemar to «Sic. mazzamarro (mazzamareddu), cauchemar, et Napl. mazzamaurielo, lutin, est le chat (démon ou sorcier) […]» (Sainéan, 1905, p. 80). Finally, he cites a curious belief associated with these sorcerer-cats, a superstition which links their activities to a specific day, concretely, Martedi Grasso: «Le soir du mardi gras, les chats-sorciers allaient faire le sabbat à un certain endroit […]». Jaubert, quoted by Sainéan, states the superstition in a slightly different fashion and with a slightly different spelling for the items under examination: «On prétend que le jour de mardi gras, les macauds ou marauds vont faire bombance avec le diable» (Sainéan, 1905, pp. 79-80).

60In summary, although the etymology of marcou is still unclear, if one examines the content of the French morpho-semantic field more carefully, a pattern emerges. The set of meanings contained in it organize themselves around concepts we have seen before in the case of the Sardu terms: shaman-healer, sorcerer, bogey-man, night-mare. And the variants of night-mare cited by Sainéan, namely, marc and chauquemarc, suggest that a variant in marc- was in use with similar meanings. Then, just as one of the components of the field of meanings found in Sardu includes the mamuthones / mamutzones, we might ask whether the reference to the belief in marcouds going out the night of Mardi Gras is a reminiscence of actual past ritual practices celebrated on that day.

61While recognizing that until now the etymology of marcou has often been traced back sounds made by tom-cats, there is another approach. Even though the senses found in the semantic field the term marcou and its phonological variants coincide closely with the meanings contained in the morpho-semantic field of terms referring to the “night-mare”, we are left with the question of why this semantic field also contains the notion of a “cat”. Sainéan explains that terms such as marcou and margou are imitations of the sounds made by a cat (or a pig).

MARC ou MARG, particulier au Centre et au Midi de la France.
marc, matou, H.-Saône; Vosges marcâ, H.-Bret. marcaou (Creuse margaou); marco, Nièvre, etc. (Corrèze margo), et marcou, Loire-Inf., margou, Tarn, Aveyron (les deux derniers aussi en anc. Fr.); marco (= marco), matou, Char, Nièvre […]. Ce dernier type exprime la notion de ‘gronder’, commune au chat et au cochon: marcou ou margou, chat mâle, signifie simplement ‘grondeur’ […]. (Sainéan, 1905, p. 19)

He then argues for a semantic pathway constituted by a sequence involving the following two cognitive steps: (1) the sounds made by a tom-cat became a way of naming the animal that emitted them, then; (2) since cats were viewed as familiars of witches and used in rituals, the name of the familiar was transferred to the witch or sorcerer. Although there is a certain logic in this sequence, it does not explain why the same semantic stem produces words meaning specifically “night-mare”. An alternative approach would be one that accepts, on the one hand, that the sequence of sounds in marcou and margou was the basis for referring to a “tom-cat” using these and similar sounding terms, but which then argues that the meanings of “sorcerer”, “bogey-man” and “night-mare” derive from a different source, the knowledge of which was lost over time by speakers of the language.

6. Quack doctors and Mummers’ Plays in England, Scotland and Wales

62The scene in which the Bear character is killed and then resurrected is a standard component of the Good-Luck performances all across Europe. In Mummers’ Plays, the central incident is the killing and restoring to life of one of the characters. The characters may be introduced in a series of short speeches (usually in rhyming couplets) or they may introduce themselves in the course of the play’s action. The principal characters of the plays, presented in a wide variety of manner and style, are a Hero, his chief opponent, the Fool and a Quack Doctor. As mentioned earlier, a defining feature of mumming plays is the Doctor, and the main purpose of the fight is to provide him with a patient to cure. The hero sometimes kills and sometimes is killed by his opponent; in either case, the Doctor comes to restore the dead man to life. The reenactments are found throughout much of England, Scotland and Wales.

63In the English tradition the “hero” is most commonly Saint George, King George, or Prince George. His principal opponents are the Turkish Knight (in southern England), or a valiant soldier named Slasher (elsewhere). In English Mummers’ plays featuring St. George (St. Nicholas and/or Father Christmas), the cast of actors has been modified so that the performer who is killed and resurrected is no longer a “bear”, but rather a fully anthropomorphic being in a plot that speaks of the hero being killed by a villain or vice-versa, while the ploy used to bring about the character’s death is often a combat that pits the defender of Christian values, e.g., St. George, against his pagan enemy, e.g., a Turkish knight and/or a dragon.

64The following is a typical description of the performance piece:

Each Mummers’ play was different, with different scripts and characters. What remains central to all the plays is the death and resurrection theme. So a doctor always appears, Saint George is usually present, as is his nemesis, the Turkish Knight or the dragon. […] At the heart of the piece is the central (most humorous and most archaic) moment of the play: the bringing back to life of the slain hero by the quack doctor. (BBC, [n.d.])

The salience of this scene is such that Peter Millington, one of the leading authorities on Mummer’s Plays, has argued that

the common linking factor [of the plays] is the presence of a quack doctor. Indeed it would not be out of place to call them Quack Doctor plays to distinguish them from other English folk plays […]. There were earlier quack doctors in plays, the Doctor having been a stock character in stage drama for a long time. Perhaps the most important is the Doctor in early English Pantomimes, which owes its origins to the Italian Commedia dell’arte.

In fact, Millington goes so far as to propose a new term for such plays: «To define the textual scope of this study I have introduced the new term “Quack Doctor Play” to replace the traditional terminology of “Mummers’ Play” or “Mumming Play”» (Millington, 1989).

65In the Mummers’ Plays the portrayal of the healer is clearly comedic. For example, there is not a hint of the respect that was paid to the popular healers of times past, the seventh-sons and daughters that we have discussed. In these performances, the character has become a kind of parody of his profession, reduced to nothing more than a boastful charlatan, even though in the Doctor’s speeches there are echoes of the supernatural healing powers attributed to the seventh-son or seventh-son of a seventh-son. In this way the figure of the Quack Doctor has survived and continues to be an integral part of these highly abbreviated yet ritualized performances in which his miraculous powers, albeit comedic ones, are highlighted and used to bring the dead back to life.

66In the performance art of other parts of Europe, it is relatively clear that over time the role of the shaman-healer in resurrecting the Bear character was taken over by a Quack Doctor, although, quite remarkably, in some locations both characters appear to have survived, right alongside each other, concretely in Bagnères-de-Bigorre in the south-western Hautes-Pyrénées. In other locations, in representations of the scene of the Death and Resurrection of the Bear, the shaman-healer and the Bear have disappeared entirely from the stage. The scene has been restructured so that the audience witnesses a fight between two historically situated and fully anthropomorphic characters with recognizable names whose identities are, therefore, no longer ambiguous (e.g., the Turkish Knight and St. George) to the members of the audience. That encounter in turn produces the death of one of the actors which in turn justifies the intervention of the Quack Doctor who revives the victim. Whereas the outer trappings of the scene have changed, the basic script has remained the same: one of the characters falls down, dies and is attended to by a healer who miraculously brings him back to life. Indeed, according to Millington, this scene is not peripheral to the dramatic actions carried out during the performances, but rather a fundamentally essential component of them (Millington, 1989).

7. Resurrecting the Bear

As was discussed in Frank (2008c), one of the central scenes in the Good-Luck Visits has been the scene of the Death and Resurrection of the Bear. In the case of the Sardinian performances, similar terms have been employed to describe this aspect of the performance piece (Fois, 2002a). In the picture (fig. 2) showing the Mamutzones of Samugheo in a performance at Gavoi, we see the domadore who is the “owner of the bear”, next to the dead Bear. However, he does not intervene to revive the Bear. In contrast, in Mamoiade the bear mask itself had disappeared by the end of the19th century.

Fig. 2 Scene of the “Death before Resurrection” of s’Urtzu as performed by the Mamutzones of Samugheo

Fig. 2 Scene of the “Death before Resurrection” of s’Urtzu as performed by the Mamutzones of Samugheo

Source: Fois (2002a)

67As will be discussed shortly, it appears that in most archaic versions of the performance the act of resurrecting the Bear was the responsibility of the Bear Leader, that is, the domadore. In the case of the performance of the Mamutzones of Samugheo there is no longer any Quack Doctor among the members of the cast. Yet the Bear and the scene of Death before Resurrection continue to be an integral part of the play. In reference to this scene and the visual narrative embedded in it, Fois obtained this report from an elderly gentleman from Samugheo, referring to the period just after World War II. The informant’s description of the dramatic action included these details: that the man dressed as the Bear was tired and fell down dead. Then the others gathered around the animal, that is, there were four or five domadores who spoke about who had killed the Bear, who was responsible for its death. And everyone pointed the blame at someone else (Fois, 2002a). Bertolotti (1992) also speaks of this aspect of the performance referring to it as ‘la commedia dell’innocenza’ and comparing it to similar scenes acted out, often quite comedically, in Siberian Bear Festivals which celebrate the death of a real bear which the hunters have killed.

68At this juncture we can begin to explore in more detail the way that the scene of Death and Resurrection is performed in other venues and more importantly why an instrument such as a chalumeau, bellows or syringe might play a major role in the events represented visually in this particular scene. In Bagnères de Bigorre, Hautes-Pyrenées, France, a slightly different version of this scene of the play is encountered, as witnessed and photographed by Jean-Dominique Lajoux in 1975. His description of this aspect of “la sortie de l’ours en Bigorre” is as follows:

Fig. 3 Resurrecting the bear in Bigorre, Haute Pyrénées

Fig. 3 Resurrecting the bear in Bigorre, Haute Pyrénées

Source: Lajoux (1996, p. 90)

Une troupe de masques va de maison en maison, présenter un ours savant conduit par un oursaire. Lors de la représentation, l’ours est tué par méprise. Le médecin de la troupe ne saura ramener l’animal à la vie, mais l’oursaire réussira dans cette entreprise en utilisant son grand bâton comme un chalumeau pour souffler au cul de l’ours mort et le ramener à la vie. (Lajoux, 1996, p. 91)

In this instance, after the Bear is killed, the Quack Doctor comes to revive him, but is unsuccessful and it is the Bear Leader who brings the creature back to life, by blowing into his anus, using his long staff as if it were a chalumeau, a kind of counterpart of a bellows. The slight discrepancy in the distribution of roles is probably explained by the fact that previously the Bear Leader was the actor in charge of resurrecting the animal: his role was still shamanic and therefore it included him being assigned the role of healer. Over time recognition of the shamanic nature of this character was lost, and this aspect of the his role was taken over by a Quack Doctor who arrived with his portmanteaux filled with special instruments and set about bringing the deceased Bear back to life. In the particular case of the performance in Bagnères-de-Bigorre, the transition is not complete for while the Quack Doctor appears on the scene, the duty of resurrecting the animal ends up falling back on the Bear Leader who was, in all probability, the actor originally in charge of this aspect of the drama.

69In other locations, such as Barèges, a very scruffy Quack Doctor appears carrying his instruments in a black leather satchel. But in addition he is outfitted with a large wooden phallus and matching pair of wooden testicles, not exactly what one would expect a member of the medical profession to be wearing in the 20th century, much less displaying in front of the public (Dendaletche, 1982, pp. 83-84). Chronologically speaking, this combination of accessories evokes two different interpretative frames, one more archaic than the other, one more in accordance with modern sensibilities and the other less so.

70Before continuing with this discussion of the actions of the shaman doctor, we need to explore the symbolism behind the scene itself. To do so requires us to reflect a bit on the hibernation cycle of bears and consider the symbolic projections of the bear’s apparent supernatural ability to hibernate in the first place. Paul Shepard has suggested that it was the bear’s remarkable capacity to go underground, so to speak, go into a rather death-like state and be resurrected months later that caught the attention of humans early on. In other words, this aspect of the bear’s life cycle was what humans fixated on while at the same time recognizing the striking anatomical similarities holding between the two species: humans and bears. They both walked upright; the foot print left by a bear was much like that left by a bare-foot human, albeit much larger; they ate the same things, craved honey, sought out the same luscious berry patches and fruit trees. Salmon and even trout fishing were passions held in common (Shepard, 1999).

  • 25 Certain small mammals, called true hibernators, spend most of the winter in a state similar to deat (...)

71Witnessing the apparent death and resurrection of the bear year after year, must have left a deep impression on the humans who shared the same habitat, living off the same resources, but unable to pass the winter months of scarcity in the same way: comfortably snuggled into a bed of spruce boughs and moss without needing to eat or drink. And the same was true of the young cubs who during their first two or three years of life would den with their mother while there was no concern on her part with laying up a supply of winter food for them or herself. In short, humans would have noticed that bears never bothered to fill their pantry for winter as chipmunks, ground squirrels and some other hibernating mammals seem to do25.

72Equally amazing must have been the fact that bears not only did not eat or drink for the duration of their dormancy, they never urinated or defecated. Rather than finding a den filled with bear scat once the bear abandoned it in the Spring, the most that was found would be a single relatively small “fecal plug”, the size of which depended on the length of the animal’s hibernation and species of bear, ranging from one inch up to 7 ½ inches. The latter is usually found near the entrance of the den or nearby. Shortly after awakening the creature voids this anal plug, an act accompanied by a prolonged and odoriferous bear fart. Then after the fecal plug is discharged, the bear’s digestive system slowly returns to normal. Attention must have been paid by hunters to this bear fart for it signaled that the bear was waking up: sluggishly coming back to life. It indicated both a juncture in time when the bear was more vulnerable to hunters and at the same time, a signal that Spring was on its way.

73Interpreting the meaning of a ritual resurrection by means of blowing into the anus of the creature is somewhat more complicated. However, it does appear to have something to do with archaic beliefs concerning the bear fart which occurs just as the animal awakens from its long winter sleep. Because of the animistic cosmology of times past, this action appears to have been linked symbolically to the releasing of the souls of plants and animals: fecundating nature. Also there are the other beliefs that linked letting air to the release or escape of a soul-like substance: one’s breath being expelled in a sneeze or breaking wind in farting. Hence, involuntary emissions of air, such as sneezing, were considered dangerous and verbal ritual protection was required when they took place.

  • 26 There is a reference to farting in Gargantua et Pantagruel and we find that souls “depart by the ba (...)

74Even today, when a person sneezes it evokes a particular kind of verbal response from the other person present, a reaction grounded in what is now a totally out-dated belief. The person needs to be blessed or otherwise protected with ritual sayings, such as “Bless you,” “God bless you” or “Gesundheit”. Other acceptable blessings to ward off the evil forces are “Long may you live,” or “May you enjoy good health” and the even older saying, “The Devil get behind you!” The latter traditional saying is clearly motivated by the notion that when one sneezed, the devil or some evil spirit was trying to steal the person’s soul. In short, drawing an analogy from Native-American beliefs we could argue that the magical reinsertion of “breath” or “wind” into the Bear by the shaman-healer was equivalent to reinserting the “soul” into the body (Brown, 1990, 1993). Upon death, it is this “spirit” that leaves us, this magical wind that we otherwise draw in and out of our bodies, quite unconsciously. Thus, in the scene of Death and Resurrection, the shaman-healer can be seen reinserting this vital force into the animal’s body26.

75Also, we should remember that in the case of real bears, in the spring hunters were often able to locate the “tute” of the bear, that is, its snowy winter den, by following the very pungent smell of the bear’s fart, a prolonged fart that, as we have discussed, coincided with the bear’s awakening and the reactivation of its digestive track. Today the reasons why bears neither urinate nor defecate are understood, although they still do not cease to amaze 21st century researchers. But there is more to this story because in the Pyrenees popular tradition also holds that the when the bear goes into hibernation it takes up the souls of all creatures into its belly. In the spring, these souls are released. Although it is not explicitly stated that the expulsion of these spirits coincides with the monumental bear fart that accompanies the bear’s awakening from its profound winter sleep, that assumption would seem to be logical. Moreover, in their discussion of this Pyrenean myth, Gaignebet and Floretin fuse together two different but closely related types of actors under the rubric of psychopomp: the figure of l’homme sauvage on the one hand and on the other, bears. Concretely, they state that:

Carnaval marque la dernière nouvelle lune d’hiver, correspondant au Mardi Gras-Chandeleur (variable et clef antérieure). On célèbre essentiellement à cette date la déshibernation de l’ours.
Cet animal porteur dans son ventre des âmes des morts (le pet de déshibernation de l’ours es connu d’Aristote), les libère alors. Il est accompagné de son fils, mi-homme, mi-ours, homme sauvage. Les récits médiévaux de l’homme sauvage (Merlin) et de Jean de l’Ours […] sont les mythes qui se rapportent à cette date. (Gaignebet - Florentin, 1974, pp. 10-11)

76In their discussion of the performance art associated with February 2nd, known as Candelmas in the Christian calendar and as Bear Day in the earlier one, Gaignebet and Floretin remind us that it is at the Chandeleur-Carnival period «that for the first time we see the rise of the psychopomp, the wild man or the bear that emerges from hibernation, bringing from the underworld in his belly or his bladder, in the form of farts or urine, the souls of the departed» (Gaignebet - Florentin, 1974, p. 123).

Nous retrouvons ici en jeu dans les coutumes et les fêtes ce que nous pourrions appeler la loi d’alternance quarantenaire. C’est à la Chandeleur-Carnaval que peut surgir une première fois l’être psychopompe, homme sauvage ou bien ours qui déshiberne, ramenant du monde souterrain, dans son ventre ou dans une vessie, sous forme de pets ou de vesses, les âmes de l’au-delà. (Gaignebet - Florentin, 1974, p. 123)

At this juncture we can take up once again our analysis of the scene from the performance in Bagnères-de-Bigorre in which the Bear Leader shaman-healer is putting his chalumeau to use. In it we seem to be witnessing a ritual replenishing the dead bear’s soul though the use of a device that simulates a fart. This in turn enlivens the body of the animal at this juncture in the performance. Thus, the action may well be related in some fashion to the sacred bear fart that commemorates the end of bear’s hibernation and acts to «liberate [the souls] at this moment» (Gaignebet - Florentin, 1974, p. 11). In this case, it would be the Bear Leader shaman doctor who expels the fart into the body of the other, re-awakening in this way the bear character who then jumps up, alive and healthy once more. Moreover, when this scene was reenacted during Carnival, we might assume that the audience would have identified in it the theme of Death and Resurrection.

77Although a detailed study of the Italian variants of this scene is outside the scope of this introductory essay, I would like to cite Bertolotti’s summary of what are relatively contemporary renditions of the scene. As can be seen, in some instances there appears to have been an effort to make explicit to the audience the cause of death:

  • 27 “The custom of subjecting Carnival, represented by a man of flesh and bones or a puppet, to a surgi (...)

L’usanza di sottoporre Carnevale, rappresentato da un uomo in carne e ossa o da un fantoccio, a un intervento chirurgico è attestata in varie regioni d’Italia, dall’Ottocento ai giorni nostri. In una mascherata calabrese della fine del secolo scorso, il poveretto moriva prima che i due chirughi, armati di spiedo, padella e altri arnesi da cucina e da macello, potessero mettergli le mani addosso. Nella maggior parte di casi che ci sono noti, la morte di Carnevale risulta invece come diretta conseguenza dell’operazione. A Staffolo (Ancona) ove s’usava operare Carnevale ancor pochi decenni fa, il chirugo concludeva l’intervento con le rituali parole: “L’operazione è andata bene, ma l’ammalato è morto”. (Bertolotti, 1992, pp. 73-74)27

According to Bertolotti, there are three characters who can play the role of the deceased: a bear, a stuffed figure or a gypsy woman:

  • 28 “[…] In Carnival performances from Reatino, the victims, in addition to the puppet of Saint Carniva (...)
  • 29 In the case of the latter character, in Basque performances, she seemed to have had a rather differ (...)

[…] Nelle rappresentazioni carnevalesche del Reatino, le vittime, oltre al pupazzo di San Carnevale, potevano essere la maschera dell’orso oppure la pucca (una grossa bambola di pezza) o la zingara incinta, che il medico aiutava a partoire squarciandone il ventre a coltellate e sbudellandole; ma sia le partorienti che l’orso erano talora riportati in vita da un nuovo intervento dello stesso dottore28 (Bertolotti, 1992, p. 74)29

78As has been noted, the scene in which an actor dressed as a bear falls down dead and is subsequently revived by another actor is a key component of the Good-Luck Visits, where the retinue visits individual houses or goes about the streets of the village and at the same time it is a scene that is reenacted during Carnival. In this respect the role played by the Bear in Sardinian performance art is quite significant, as documented by Moretti in the 1960s and further elaborated upon by Bertolotti in his remarkable study of the Italian Carnival (Bertolotti, 1992; Moretti, 1963, 1967). Moreover, in the next section, the survival of the Bear in Sardinian ritual performances will become a significant piece of ethnographic evidence as we move forward in search of the etymology of Maramao.

8. In search of Maramao: Semantic and ethnographic evidence

79The task of pinning down the etymology of Maramao has occupied Italian ethnographers and linguists for many years. Over a century ago, Sainéan composed an exhaustive study called La création métaphorique en français et en roman: Le chat (1905), in which he argued for the polysemic rather than homonymic nature of expressions such as maramao. His work started from the assumption that onomatopoeic expressions evoking the sounds of a cat gave rise to the other meanings documented for the terms he examines, such as those associated with a “night-mare”. For example, he lists the meanings of “scarecrow” and “bugbear” among the senses that derive logically from a sound characteristic of a domestic feline. The deductive logic he employs in reaching this conclusion is based on the assumption that the association between cats and witchcraft – their role as familiars – or their use in other pagan rituals was what established the semantic linkage. While there is no doubt that cats occupy a special place among animals associated with witchcraft and sympathetic magic, in this section I shall argue that in the case of the etymology of the terms listed by Sainéan as cognates, we are dealing with two separate sets of meaning that fell together over time.

  • 30 The compound term croquemitaine, written also as croquet-mitaine and croquemitain, when translated (...)

80Speaking of terms referring to êtres imaginaires which Sainéan views as generated by the sound made by a cat, he lists the following expressions as sharing both meanings. On the one hand, according to Sainéan, the words refer to the croquemitaine, a mythical being roughly equivalent to the “bugbear, bogeyman” in the rest of Europe30. That is, on the one hand, the terms enumerated here by Sainéan cover the same semantic ground as spauracchio, mangiabambini, and fantasma in Italian and, when viewed more closely, correspond closely to l’Uomo del sacco, the frightening creature with a sack who carries off misbehaving children, also known as l’Uomo nero or the Babau / Babou (Bracchi, 2009; Canobbio, 1998, pp. 74-75; 2006, p. 140; Frank, 2009a, pp. 116-124). Then there is the second meaning of the terms listed by Sainéan which refers to “caterwauling” or “meowing”.

81More specifically, his examples are the following:

épouvantail: It. mao (Bergame); [Occ.] Prov. mamiau; (Sic.) mamau, mamiu” (Sainéan, 1905, pp. 67, 70). Once again the words are said to refer to a type of “goblin” or “bugbear”: “espèce de lutin: [Occ.] Prov. marmau (barbau), ogre (= chat qui miaule); Venise marmutone, mamutone, bête noire, répondant au [Occ.] Lang. marmoutin, chat. (Sainéan, 1905, p. 70)

82Again we see reference made to the variants for “ogre” in mamau / babau and marmau / barbau discussed earlier. While examining these linguistic examples, we need to keep in mind the dialectal variants found in Sardu, mentioned earlier in section 3.0 of the current study, and their definitions as supernatural beings such as spauracchio, mangiabambini, monstro, babau, mannaro, and spettro. At the same time, as discussed previously, in Sardu we find three stem types in mamu-, momo- and marra- which carry similar meanings alongside Sardinian terms such as mamuttone and mamutzone which today refer to a specific set of masked performers connected to Carnival.

83Sainéan also gives these examples, again assuming all the meanings (“scarecrow, bugbear, devil, etc.”) derive from the meowing of cats: “épouvantail: Côme mamao (maramao), Sic. marramau (marramamau, mirrimimiu), propr. miaulement (It. morimeo “voici di dolare”, Fanfani); Sic. maumma, diable (cf. Gênes mduma ‘fatto straordinario compiuto a caso’), propr. chat qui miaule (Sic. mamau)” (Sainéan, 1905, p. 71). With respect to the Italian examples of maumma and mduma, we might compare them to the set of Basque phonological variants discussed earlier, used to describe the fearsome “night-visitor” or “night-mare”. These include the following: mamu, mahu, mahumahu, mahuma and inguma. In Basque it is also known by the far less phonologically eroded compound expression hamalau-zango (hamalau-zaingo) which still reveals the original shape of the etymon hamalau (Frank, 2009a, pp. 121-129). In comparing these and other examples, one needs to keep in mind that the lexical representations of words – their spellings – are always approximations of what the speaker has heard, not exact phonetic transcriptions of the sounds themselves.

  • 31 For more details on the use of ‘black cats’ for such rituals in the Basque region, cf. Frank (1989, (...)

84More recently Masson (2008) speculated, much as did Sainéan before him, that meanings associated with terms such as maramao are polysemous and derive etymologically from the onomatopoeic source: that the etymology of expression the goes back to the sounds made by the cat but that later a secondary meaning arose through the association of felines with witchcraft and other types of rituals associated with the charivari performances celebrated at Carnival time (Masson, 2008)31. In short, Masson is in full agreement with Sainéan. On the other hand, I would argue that the two sets of meanings attached today to the word maramao have totally separate origins and that the resulting semantic confusion is nothing more than the consequence of a fortuitous phonological convergence and the resultant semantic bleaching of the original meaning of maramao, i.e., as a shaman-healer, as a kind of Spirit of Carnival; and furthermore that the etymology of the Sardinian carnival characters – the Mamutzones along with s’Urzu, their bear – belong to the same cultural and linguistic complex and harken back to the much more archaic pan-European belief in an ursine ancestry.

85Another odd member of the group of frightening otherworldly beings is the terrorific Gatto Mammone whose characterstics dove-tail with those of other mangibambini such as the Sardinian marragau and mommoti who were also regularly called upon by parents (Fois, 2008; Frank, 2008a, pp. 108-111; Paulis, 1997, p. 173). However, while the marragau and mommoti continue to be scary, they are quite undefined, rather amorphous creatures that over time did not fully morph into cats. The Gatto Mammone was described to me recently as

  • 32 According to Grosskopf, these sayings were still commonplace in the 1950s, but today are no longer (...)

an invented mythological creature, called upon by the parents of very little children in order to make them behave well and keep quiet: “Fai il bravo bambino, altrimenti chiamo il Gatto Mammone!” “Sta’ attento, altrimenti viene il Gatto Mammone e ti mangia!” (Grosskopf, 2011)32

86Leaving aside the feline characteristics of the creature, the rest of the adjectives used to describe it could be applied quite easily to the Sardinian marragau and mommoti.

  • 33 As for the etymology of maimone, Paulis (1991) prefers to derive the term from similar sounding wor (...)

87As far as I have been able to determine, the activities of the Gatto Mammone are limited to being a mangiabambini who goes out at night. That is, the creature doesn’t take an active part in Carnival or show up on Shrove Tuesday. On the other hand, in Sardinia, specifically in Ogliastra, we find another cat-like creature called Maimone, rather than Mammone, who does. Represented as a fantoccio di stracci, topped off with a cat-like head, Maimone is said to be the personification of Carnival. Paulis states that in Ierzu and Ulassai it is called su maimúlu while in Neoneli the fantoccio di stracci is referred to also as su maumòne33.

88Paulis also discusses house-visits carried by children in this zone. When a drought would occur, the elderly women of the town would implore the children to carry out a particular ritual which had them going about the village, door to door, carrying an image of Maimone. Stopping at each house, the children would sing a song, a kind of prayer, an invocation directed to Maimone whose intervention was being solicited to bring down rain. While Paulis records several variants of the song, there are two that stand out. In the first, the Christian deity is not mentioned and it is only Maimone who is supplicated and praised, whereas in the second variant, we find two different figures being petitioned simultaneously:

1) “Maimòne, Maimòne / Ábba gère su laòre / Ábba gère su sikkáu, / Maimone laudáu (‘Maimòne, Maimòne, i seminati vogliono acqua, la terra arida vuole acqua, Maimòne [sia] lodato’); and 2) Maimòne, Maimòne, / Ábba gère su laòre / Ábba gère su sikkaáu, / Déu sia laudau (Maimòne, Maimòne . . . Dio sia lodato’; così a Tadasuni). (Paulis, 1991, pp. 53-54)

89We might speculate that earlier this ritual was in the hands of adults and that over time a kind of generational down-grading occurred, as often happens in the case of rituals that for one reason or another are abandoned by the adult members of a community (Frank, 2009a, pp. 110-111).

90Finally, in terms of an interpretation that would equate Maimone with a pre-Christian divinity, a supernatural being with the power to bring rain, we might keep in mind the words of the Basque ethnologist and linguist Patziku Perurena who in a radio interview, dating from 2000, stated that perhaps the best interpretation of the figure of Hamalau would be to compare him to the Christian notion of God. In short, Perurena suggested that Hamalau might be understood best in following way: that for Basques this creature was their pre-Christian deity (Hamalaua, gure Jaingo “Fourteen, our god”) (Perurena, 1993, pp. 265; 2000).

91In the same location in Sardinia, namely, in the zone of Ogliastra, we find another menacing cat-like figure who is out and about on a specific day, namely, Mardi Gras, a behavior reminiscent of the alleged activities of the French marouds and marcouds who were said to go out on the same day. Moretti describes the creature and its activities on this day as follows:

  • 34 “The same name that stands out in the country on Tuesday of Carnival ‘marti perra’ (perra = half) b (...)

Lo stesso nome che nel paese distingue il martedi di Carnevale ‘marti perra’ (perra = metà) ci riporta l’eco di un’altra antichissima convinzione: il popolo personificava il martedi grasso in un gatto che assaliva, squartandoli addirittura, coloro che si recavano a lavorare nei campi disertando la mascherata.
In altri centri come Ulassai (Nu) ‘
martis berri’ (berri = dolore) elargiva invece improvvisi, quanto violenti, dolori fisici agli incauti intenti ad un lavoro, qualunque esso fosse. Contemporaneamente il dolore era accompagnato da una voce tonante che diceva: “deu soi martis berri, beniu po ti ferri”. (Moretti, 1963)34

92Moretti continues describing the retinue that accompanies the figure of Martisberri which includes the maimulus:

  • 35 “But let us pay attention to the procession as villagers recall it who are no longer very young. A (...)

Ma fermiamo l’attenzione sul corteggio così come lo ricordano i paesani non più giovanissimi. Un araldo, ‘su cuadderi’, a cavalcioni di un bastone sulla cui sommità era conficcato un cranio equino, annunziava con rime allusive il passaggio delle maschere ‘is maimulus’. (Moretti, 1963)35

93The figure known as Martiperra or Martisberri has a particular role: that of acting as a kind of guardian of Carnival and insuring that everyone takes part in it. In describing the performance in Gairo, celebrated in 1961, Moretti adds these comments:

  • 36 “Throughout that entire day in the village there existed the obligation to refrain from any activit (...)

Per tutto quel giorno vigeva nel villaggio l’obbligo di astenersi da qualunque attività, specie agricola. Alla rigorosa osservanza di questo tabù del lavoro, era preposto secondo la convinzione populare, un grosso gatto (spirito della vegetazione) che puniva spietatamente gli aggressori. (Moretti, 1967)36

94And once again, there seems to be something going on off-stage in terms of how this creature – the personification of Carnival – came to acquire its cat-like features. Could these feline features derive from a name that sounded to speakers like the meowing of a cat but that was at the same time was viewed by members of the same community of speakers as the personification of Carnival and identified with the effigy that they carried about? An otherwise opaque expression similar to Maramao whose original meaning had been lost?

  • 37 Recognizing that the sounds m , b and p are often confused, we find in addition to the more commonp (...)
  • 38 Canobbio explains that her theory is based on the following hypothesis: «[…] celle de l’existence d (...)

95Finally, in her review of the croquemitaines that inhabited the Piedmont region, Canobbio describes a number of horrific creatures, among them two that go by the names of Maramaou and Marmòu. They are spauracchio or mangiabambini, that is, “night-mares” but seem not to have any association with cats.37 Then there is another “night-mare” which does have a feline form, called the Gatta Marella. In her work Canobbio (1998, pp. 70-71, 80) suggests that the etymology of all these terms, that is, all these expressions displaying the stem mar-, belong to a larger translingual semantic field to which the second element of the English compound “night-mare” also belongs38.

  • 39 Cf. Pauvert (2012, 2014) for two recent publications that explore a similar hypothesis in considera (...)

96While I am in basic agreement with her hypothesis, I would argue that at this stage the Basque data, complemented by the Sardu linguistic and ethnographic data, allow us to take further step backwards and move to an even deeper level of analysis. This approach takes us back in time and opens up the possibility of recuperating the tenets of a much earlier cosmology typical of hunters and gatherers, more concretely, speakers who held that humans descended from bears. As noted at the beginning of this chapter, Bertolotti (1992) argues that the ritual drama of Carnival revolves around the figure of the l’orso ucciso and therefore should be traced back to a much earlier European conceptual template, one that would parallel in many ways the belief system undergirding Bear Ceremonialism in other parts of the world, the intimate human-animal relations, the veneration and respect for bears, and the animistic world view that characterizes the worldview of many native peoples still today39.

8.1. Maramao / Marameo, perché sei morto?

97Apparently, over time in an effort to assign meaning to the name Maramao, speakers developed a folk etymology, turning Maramao into a “cat”, that is, because the sounds composing the name Maramao evoked, by analogy, the sounds made by a cat. Later, this conceptual blend would gain a wide audience across Italy when what had by then degenerated into a mere children’s song was popularized by the Trio Lescano, in 1939. The popularity of their song further reinforced what had already become the semantic convergence of two different meanings, on the one hand, an onomatopoeic expression mimicking the meowing of a cat and, on the other, a carnival character called Maramao. Thus, in composing their tune, the song-writers Mario Panzeri and Mario Consiglio took advantage of what had survived as a carnival lament, an expression of mourning sung by children that spoke of the death of a creature – or being – called Maramao (Bertolotti, 1992, p. 106) The rhyme seems to have been recited on Shrove Tuesday, during the funeral of Carnival, while the figure was being carried in its coffin to be burnt. The first stanza of the song begins with the words: “Maramao, perché sei morto?” However, as it is sung today the song continues and we discover Maramao being mourned by a group of love-sick cats. At the end of each stanza, the syllables of the word Maramao are repeatedly broken down in such a way that they comically represent the forlorn meowing of the felines, as in the following examples.

Maramao perché sei morto?
pane e vin non ti mancava,
l’insalata era nell’orto,
e una casa avevi tu.
Maramao maramo
mao mao mao mao mao

  • 40 Maramao why did you die
    bread and wine you do not lack,
    the salad was in the garden,
    and you possessed (...)

Le micine innamorate
fanno ancor per te le fusa
ma la porta è sempre chiusa
e tu non ritorni più.
Maramao, Maramao,
fanno i mici in coro,
Maramao, maramao
mao mao mao mao mao.

  • 41 For examples of popularity of the cat cartoon character, cf. videos such as the following ones: htt (...)
  • 42 In all fairness, we also need to mention what is perhaps one of the most popular theories concernin (...)

98In part as a result of the tremendous popularity of this tune, there is little question that Maramao is imagined by many today exclusively as a kind of feline cartoon character41. Maramao became a conceptual blend, taking on the characteristics of a cat, and yet at the same time, because of the socio-political context of the song sung by the Trio Lescano, it came to be identified with the anti-fascist movement of the time. In some contemporary contexts the figure of Maramao seems to be applied generically to despots, a cognitive process of meaning-making that perhaps draws on the judgment and condemnation of the central figure of Carnival. As is well documented, all across Europe, Carnival was an occasion in which the populace regularly held up a real person or entity to ridicule by subtly (or not so subtly) conflating the act of judging and punishing the main character or straw effigy with the flesh and blood human being or authority that was the real target of their social critique and the object of their veiled threats of violence. Thus, the Carnival period afforded the populace a means of expressing their disapproval structurally in a way similar to the popular judgments dramatized when a charivari was acted out. In this sense, Maramao could be viewed as a place-holder for the object of parodic derision by the social collective, just as appears to have been in the case in 1939 and even earlier42. If viewed from this perspective, Maramao would have been a double-voiced being, generating a polyphonous symbolic discourse pointing several directions, simultaneously, and filled with Bakhtinian heteroglossic innuendo (Bakhtin, 1981; Danow, 1984).

99In order to comprehend the way that the word Maramao came to be associated with a cat, more specifically, with the meowing sound made by a cat, we need to formulate a hypothesis concerning the cognitive path that led speakers to bring about the convergence of two quite distinctive meanings: one of which refers to a frightening otherworldly semi-human-like being while the other refers to the sound characteristic of an innocuous domesticated feline. The evidence suggests that this fusion or confusion is not recent; that it took place many centuries ago. To do this, first let us assume that the term maramao forms part of the larger and conceptually much more archaic morpho-semantic field discussed previously which resonates strongly with archaic beliefs in an ursine genealogy. Stated differently, we could consider that the term maramao is a phonological variant of other terms found in other European languages and furthermore, that it can be traced back to the etymon hamalau. Viewed from this perspective, the resulting translingual morpho-semantic field becomes a repository containing substantial evidence for past cultural practices and hence a means of establishing the evolutionary path taken by the etymon over time and across different regions of Europe. Based on this interpretive framework, in each region dialectal variants of the term and social practices associated with it were developed and over time left their distinctive mark on the semantic artifacts themselves and the distinctive performance art of each zone.

  • 43 We find that something similar occurred in the case of the English term “night-mare”, as Caprini (1 (...)

100In the case of the Italy, the particular cognitive pathway taken by the semantic artifact maramao led to a kind of phonological convergence that brought two conceptual frames into contact with each other. On the one hand there were the onomatopoeic expressions associated with the meowing of a domestic feline and on the other there was a similar sounding expression with an increasingly opaque meaning associated with it. That is, this process of phonological and conceptual convergence was accompanied by the bleaching of the semantic content and referentiality of the term maramao itself. Over time this resulted in an expression that had two etymologically unrelated meanings43. Maramao was supposedly the sound made by a cat but at the same time we find it connected to the character mourned on Shrove Tuesday of Carnival. Moreover, there is a semantic fusion of two concepts: the Death of Carnival is made equivalent to the Death of Maramao. Certainly, the tremendous popularity enjoyed by Panzeri and Consiglio’s composition from 1939 onwards, acted as powerful mechanism for the diffusion of what has now become an iconic cultural artifact in Italy. At the same time the song contributed to the belief that Maramao was merely a cat, for it promoted a plot-line in which a bunch of felines comically mourn the death of their beloved.

101Before concluding this section, it is worthwhile examining in more detail the nature of the hypothesis that has been put forward. Until now, investigators have assumed that maramao has two meanings; that the word is polysemous. Simply put, polysemy is a term referring to a word that has two or more related meanings. The various senses have a central origin, that is, the various meanings making up the semantic network have developed from the same source: they share the same etymology. Thus, the inner or earlier meaning of the term allows one a better understanding of the outer or later senses attributed to the expression. If a word is considered to be polysemic, then the next step is to attempt to order its senses so that they can be viewed as representing points along the evolutionary cognitive pathway that allowed the expression to develop over time (Frank, 2008b, 2009b, 2011, 2013, 2014, in prep.; Frank - Gontier, 2010), for example, as Sainéan and Masson attempted to do.

102In contrast, there are words that have several meanings. However, the explanation for their meanings lies not in a single etymology, not in a single etymon, but rather in the fact that the meanings evolved from two different and distinct sources. Such words are classed as homonyms: they sound the same but do not share the same origin. Thus, the hypothesis put forward here is that maramao has two unrelated meanings, one meaning being related to the sound made by a cat and the other meaning encompassing a creature or character related to Carnival. So we are talking about two words that are homonyms; they sound the same but do not share the same etymology.

  • 44 The ethnomusicologist Giovanni Grosskopf (2011) has suggested that a study of the geographical dist (...)

103The conclusions, albeit tentative, that can be drawn from the data discussed above could be summarized briefly as follows. At some point in the past the etymology of the expression maramao became obscured. In an effort to assign meaning to the term speakers attempted to link it to the sounds made by a cat, a logical step, although if the etymology proposed here is correct, ultimately a misguided one. If we assume that the feline etymology contributed to a reformulation – a re-etymologization – of the “Spirit of Carnival”, then the cognitive process itself should have left behind ethnographic and linguistic residue, such that the developmental pathway leading to the fusion of the two meanings can still be charted and the earlier cultural complex reconstructed at least to some extent. An indication that this semantic fusion affected the nature of the main character of Carnival is found in the case of one of the names attributed to Shrove Tuesday and consequently to the creature ruled, so to speak, that day44. This example also underscores the possibility that in this zone Maramao was once associated with Shrove Tuesday, but with connotations far more in line with those of the frightful supernatural beings discussed by Sainéan.

104In his work, published in 1905, Sainéan lists a number of interjections that apparently were in use at that time and which seem to incorporate maramao as an exhortation. Clearly, by that stage it had become a frozen, relatively opaque expression but which nonetheless suggests that earlier a being named Maramao was being invoked. «Interjections: Milan Marmao! (Maramao! Mamao!), Jamais! Propr. chat; Parme maraméo! Peste! Naples Marramao! (Sic. Marramau!), Jamais! Allons donce! […] Que Dieu nous en preserve!» (Sainéan, 1905, p. 71). In order to shed further light on the discursive implications of the exclamations collected by Sainéan I contacted the Italian ethnomusicologist Giovanni Grosskopf and asked him to comment on them. He responded, saying:

This is interesting. The word “Marameo” is still used (at least here in Milan, especially by aged people) as a merry exclamation of mockery, of teasing. It means something like: “You see, I managed to play a trick to you, and you can do nothing about that, ha-ha…” Usually it is accompanied by a hand gesture, known as fare marameo, made by putting one’s thumb on the tip of one’s nose, and, at the same time, wiggling all the other fingers of the same hand (one after the other). (Grosskopf, 2011)

Grosskopf gives the following glosses of the expression. It may also convey meanings such as: “Forget it!” “Not in your life!” However, these glosses do not tell the whole story.

105At this stage we have the term Marameo contextualized by linguistic data and complemented by a specific corporal gesture. The combination of the two elements allows us to further explore the meaning of the phrase and elucidate the socio-cultural situations and contexts which, in the past, could have evoked this response and, hence, to speculate on the earlier social practices that might have given rise to it. In order to further illustrate the meaning of the exclamations, Grosskopt provides several contextualized, albeit invented, examples of when someone would employ the saying and the gesture associated with it. The first example he gives is the following one:

A local well-known politician meets a group of people in a public square, expounding his views. But, as soon as he turns away and is not looking, one person makes the gesture and says “Marameo!”, meaning: ‘You can forget having my vote!’ (Grosskopf, 2011)

In his second example the underlying theme of trickery is more apparent:

Two children are eating slices of cake. Each one has his own slice. Suddenly, one child steals the other’s piece of cake and runs away. “Give me back my cake slice!”, shouts the other. But the first child, laughing, says “Yes… sure… Marameo!” and runs away with his plunder. (Meaning: ’I’m smarter, you’re a fool, the next time be careful and watch your cake slice!’). It seems to me that one of the meanings of this exclamation is ‘Yes, I know, I am behaving like a bad boy, but, now, for once, i have the right to be a bad boy!’. [emphasis in the original] (Grosskopf, 2011)

Another informant, the Italian linguist Marianna Bolognesi, recalls that in the mid-1980s, as a child living in Milan, her grandmother (b. 1924) who was in her late 60s at the time, would play with her saying “Marameo” and “thumb her nose” at her:

When I was young I remember my grandma playing with me saying ‘marameo’ with her thumb on her nose and her hand spread flat, and making a fanning motion with the fingers, and then running away, so that I had to catch her. Then it was my turn to run after her saying ‘marameo’. (Bolognesi, 2011)

Curiously, the same quite distinctive gesture is well known in other parts of Europe. For example, in English it has been converted into the idiomatic expression “to thumb one’s nose” which refers to precisely the same non-verbal act, but is understood figuratively as acting disrespectfully, especially by flouting the object of disrespect. The significant difference is that in English the speaker who does the action, does not complement it verbally by saying “maramao”.

106In Basque there are similar expressions in which the name Hamalau appears. While they are not accompanied by the hand gesture, as occurs in Italian, they are used to criticize someone who is judged to be acting improperly, trying to get away with things, and more specifically, attempting to impose his will or desires on others when he does not have the right – permission or authority – to do so. In such a situation, the following comment would be typical: “Who does he think he is, Hamalau?” Such sayings should not be interpreted as a criticism of Hamalau himself, but rather are best understood as directed at the individual who tries to act like Hamalau, emulating the prerogatives once ascribed to the latter (Frank, 2008c, pp. 72-76).

107In summary, the specific type of discursive and gestural information attached to the word maramao reflects its previous socio-cultural situatedness and at the same time reaffirms Bakhtin’s observation about the force of tradition in language: «[…] the word does not forget where it has been and can never wholly free itself from the dominion of the contexts of which it has been part» (Bakhtin, 1973, p. 167). The invocation of the name Maramao in the exclamations discussed here could well be a case in point. The interjection is elicited as a reaction to a complex socially-situated scene that the speaker participates in or otherwise comments upon. Grosskopf concludes his discussion of the topic with a question:

So would it be possible to connect this exclamation (“Marameo”) with a former Carnival custom? Maybe. We know the Carnival is traditionally a season for playing tricks to people. Perhaps to say “Marameo” was a declaration that the trick had been played in the name of the King of Carnival? (Grosskopf, 2011)

Keeping in mind the ritually authorized transgression of social norms that reigns during the Carnival period as well as the fact that violations and criticisms of authorities were not punished, the mocking attitude communicated by these expressions along with the associated hand gesture could harken back to much earlier but equally socially approved customs. Certainly in times past Carnival was a time of revelry in which ordinary life, its rules and regulations were temporarily suspended, reversed and virtually turned upside down.

108Bakhtin stressed the multi-layered nature of language, which he called heteroglossia. Words and expressions are nuanced with socio-ideological contradictions carried forward from various periods and levels in the past. He emphasized that

Language is not a neutral medium that can be simply appropriated by a speaker, but something that comes to us populated with the intentions of others. Every word tastes of the contexts in which it has lived its socially-charged life. (Holcombe, 2007)

This seems to be the case of expressions involving Maramao: the word itself is multi-layered and its various meanings are replete with the intentions of past speakers.

109For those living in orality, there was no centralizing authority that set language norms, determined how a word was to be pronounced, much less written down. Rather what operated was a loose network of alliances, speakers with overlapping and shifting frames of reference which were constantly being modified – by chance, ignorance, personal experience and conversations with others, particularly elders whose memory of events and the meaning of words could help the younger generation better fix their meaning and pronunciation. This situation undoubtedly gave rise to phonological variants as speakers attempted to articulate an expression, such as Maramao, whose meaning was increasingly opaque and whose proper pronunciation they could not quite capture.

8.2. Maramao and Carnival lamentations

  • 45 “Many funeral songs, especially from Abruzzo, begin with [the plaintive cry] mara mè or marameo” (B (...)

110Among the theories put forward to explain the etymology of the word maramao, the theory with the most currency today is probably the one that derives the name from an expression found in a lament, or more concretely from the phrase mara m’ajje, recorded in lamentations in the dialect of the region Abruzzo, in Southern Italy: «Molti canti funebri, specialmente abruzzesi, cominciano con [l’invocazione lamentosa] mara mè o marameo» (Bracchi, 2009, p. 181)45. This theory alleges that the dialectal variant mara mè, that is, amara me, understood as equivalent to “trista me” or “you make me sad”, was misinterpreted by speakers and that the resulting phrase spread across central Italy where it was eventually adopted as the first part of a Carnival lament (Toschi, 1976, p. 319). Di Nola has summarized this position:

  • 46 “A version collected at Amatrice by C. De Bernardinis demonstrates a distinctive characteristic in (...)
  • 47 With respect to this etymology, in his 1995 work Di Nola presents the theory less as a possibility (...)

Una versione registrata ad Amatrice da C. De Bernardinis rappresenta un tipo particolare che contiene una prima parte iniziale con Mara mè! Mara mè! Pi’cche si mortu?, ed elenca tutti i beni materiali di cui il difunto marito poteva liberamente godere e cui ha insensatamente rinunziato; e una seconda parte recitata dai parenti, nella quale si lamenta il morto ma si ricorda che egli ha raggiuto i suoi antenati nel regno della luce […]. Un secondo modello è quello indicato come lamento della vedova di Vasto […]. Mare majje, scura majje ‘amara me, oscura me’, che probabilmente sono la vera genesi del termine marameo utilizzato nei lagni dell’Italia centrale. […] A questi fondamentali esempi bisogna aggiugere che nel territorio di Milano appariva un canto infantile ‘Marameo, perché sei morto’ e Marameo nel linguaggio infantile era un gatto fiabesco.46 (Di Nola, 1987, p. 109)47

This interpretation of the etymology of the expression marameo is repeated in many works. For example, Bracchi refers to it not as a theory, but as a proven fact. And we have writings Paolo Toschi, dating back to the 1950s, who after citing the Abrruzzo variant that begins “Carnivale, pecché sei morte?” (De Nino, 1881, p. 200), and mentioning that the quatrine in question has «numerose varianti è diffuso per tutta l’Italia centrale fino alla Romagna […]», reached the following very categorical conclusion about the etymology of Maramao:

  • 48 “In many villages where the meaning of the word maramao is not understood, marameo is also said alm (...)

In molti paesi ove il significato della parola maramao non viene compreso, si dice anche marameo quasi come sberleffo di Carnevale, o genericamente a qualcuno: ma non v’è dubbio che maramao o marameo, è la parola iniziale dei canti funebri dell’Italia centrale e vuole dire amara me, povera me. (Toschi, 1976, p. 319)48

And given the authority of Toschi as a researcher, it is not surprising that his theory has been picked up and repeated by other investigators.

111Bertolotti, in turn, cites the ditty “Marameo, perché sei morto?”, affirming that the initial word «Marameo è fusione di un originario amara me», and was based on a widely circulating lament dating back to antiquity (Bertolotti, 1992, p. 106). However, at the same time investigators also recognize that the song of lamentation invoking the name of Maramao / Marameo and sung by children

  • 49 “For the death of the carnival curiously mimicked the late funeral complaint: ‘Carnival, why have y (...)

per la morte del carnevale imitava curiosamente il compianto funebre: “Carnevale, perché sei morto? / Pane e vino non ti mancava. / L’insalata tenevi nell’orto” […]. Il confluire da più parti versi un unico nodo denuncia intrecci operanti in tempi molto lunghi e ramificati fino alle latitudini più disparate. (Bracchi, 2009, p. 181)49

While Bertolotti appears to agree with Toschi that the expression maramao / marameo in the children’s funeral lament comes from the phrase amara me, his discussion of the significance of the funeral lament used at Carnival is more nuanced. He interprets the variant in “Carnavale, perccé scí morto?” as if it reflected deeper layers of meaning that take us back to the propitiation of the orso ucciso. In his analysis, Bertolotti brings into focus symbolic convergences between three types of ritual lamentations: those expressions of sorrow and grief intoned by Altaic hunters to gain forgiveness from the animal they have killed, medieval laments addressed to the dead ass and the plaint addressed to Carnival itself.

  • 50 “Also in reference to the complaint that hunters are often make over the remains of the bear that t (...)

Anche a proposito del pianto che spesso i cacciatori levano sulle spoglie dell’orso ucciso verrebbe spontaneo parlare di ipocrisia o di contraddizione, se non fosse evidente che esso fa parte integrante della commedia dell’innocenza, convalidando, per cosí dire, la sinceretá di quelle dichiarzioni di discolpa cui si accompagna. “Nonno, Nonna, / Perché sei morto(a)?”, chiedevano piangendo all’orso i cacciatori altaici: la domanda che abbiamo già incontrato nella lamentazione medievale del contadino per l’asino morto (“Oimé, perché sei morto, asino?”), e che ricorre anche nei pianti rituali per Carnevale (“Carnivale, pecché scí morto? / Pane e vino non te mancava ecc.”), si rivela qui inequivocabilmente un tentativo di mistificazione rivolto a carpire la benevolenza dell’orso. (Bertolotti, 1992, p. 140)50

Consequently, by taking Bertolotti’s interpretation one step further, it would be quite logical to assume that the slot filled by the name of bear in the case of the Altaic lamentation, would be filled in the Italian versions by the old name of the bear figure whose death is being mourned and whose forgiveness is being sought. Viewed in this fashion, the position occupied by the word “Carnivale” in the song that begins “Carnivale, pecché scí morto? would have been filled previously by “Maramao” or one of its phonological variants. Thus, the two versions become equivalent, one where Maramao is being addressed explicitly and another in which the abstraction “Carnevale” is addressed instead. In both instances, as Bertolotti has intuited, we have a lament directed, simultaneously, to the dead bear and to the main protagonist of Carnival itself. Moreover, we might keep in mind that the animistic cosmology that underpins Bear Ceremonialism and which is discussed at length by Bertolotti (1992), is one in which mortuary rites held for the bears were performed in part to help them regenerate, but also as a means of showing the bears respect and preventing their retaliation against the living (Losey et al., 2013; Sarmela, 2006; Zachrisson - Iregren, 1974).

112In conclusion, the expression mare majje / mara mè which begins the lamentations recorded in Abruzzo may or may not have been based originally on amara me” and may or may not have given rise to a new lament beginning with the expression Maramao / Marameo. The exact nature of the process is shrouded in the mists of time. What we can say with some degree of certainty is that these Abruzzian formulaic plaints must have played some role in lending legitimacy to the expression “Maramao / Marameo perché sei morto” and to its adoption as a funeral lamentation intoned during Carnival in honor of the main character of that event.

8.3. Maramao as a healer: the Quack Doctor

  • 51 For instance Donald Posner in his highly respected investigation of Callot’s prints does not discus (...)

113Until now we have not seen the figure of Maramao portrayed explicitly as a healer. Instead, references to this aspect of his supernatural powers have been indirect, e.g. the invocation of his name in certain circumstances as well as the possibility that he might be identified with the Bear Leader who resurrects the Bear. In this section an additional piece of socioculturally situated linguistic evidence will be brought forward, one that supports the hypothesis that Maramao should be identified structurally not only with the central figure of Carnival, but also with the shaman-healer in charge of resurrecting the bear character. In this instance, Maramao is represented in the form of a Quack Doctor, concretely in the guise of a lesser known character from the Commedia dell’Arte, whose first recorded appearance on stage is connected to southern Italy, probably Naples51. To my knowledge, until now the name of this character has not attracted a great deal of attention from researchers who have investigated the etymology of Maramao. A 1622 etching by Jacques Callot (1592-1635) has immortalized this performer.

Maramao, fully dressed, wears a typical half-mask with a false nose. He is captured by Callot just as he is about to plunge the syringe into the anus of Captain Cardoni. The instrument identifies him as a Quack Doctor whose apparent comic intent is to administer an enema to the other man who is essentially nude, sporting a mask with a long ugly nose and holding a feathered hat in one hand. He wears a holster, hanging from one shoulder, and some sort of string contraption around his waist, perhaps meant to hold a dagger. He has his right hand extended behind him as if he were either helping Maramao insert the chalumeau into his butt cheeks or perhaps trying to prevent him from doing so. It is not clear from the illustration exactly what kind of liquid is spewing out of the syringe. In short, it is evident that Maramao is playing the role of a Quack Doctor and the other is his patient. So the question is where did this character come from? Why is his name Maramao?

114Furthermore, if Maramao were viewed here as the counterpart of the shaman-healer or Quack Doctor who resurrects the bear, would this make the Capitan somehow the surrogate of the bear character? In other words, should we imagine that in much earlier renditions of the scene the character who is on the receiving end was recognized as the counterpart of the Bear? Or is Maramao’s use of the anal penetrating instrument merely fortuitous? Only a way to identify Maramao as a Quack Doctor but without any archaic allusion to the earlier ursine identity of Captain Cardoni?

  • 52 Cf. Bertolotti (1992, pp. 98-112) for further discussion of the charivaric aspects of Carnival and (...)

In another etching of what appears to be the same scene, the figure of Maramao shows up as Captain Babeo while Captain Cardoni becomes Cucurucu. Whether there is a relationship between the name Babeo and the entity known as Babau is unclear. Assuming Captain Babeo is the counterpart of Maramao, the latter is no longer portrayed holding a syringe in his hand. However, in the background we see the iconic charivaric figure of l’asino with it backwards-seated rider, being pursued by another character with a set of bellows in his hands, as if the rather phallic looking instrument Captain Babeo / Maramao holds in his hand, is being commented upon visually by the action seen in the background frame of the etching52. However it is interpreted, the scene leaves little doubt that Captain Cardoni / Cucurucu is the “victim”. In summary, whatever symbolism was once associated with this scene, whatever its relationship to Good-Luck Visit performances and to the itinerant troupes of performers and popular street theater antedating the Commedia dell’Arte, the scene’s structure parallels in many respects elements found in the scene of the Death and Resurrection of the Bear, and these structural parallels are even more suggestive if the other ethnographic and linguistic data discussed in this study are kept in mind.

9. Reframing the plot

115In his remarkable investigation of Carnival Bertolotti brings to bear a wealth of information concerning Bear Ceremonialism among hunting and gathering peoples in support of his thesis that the central figure of Carnival was originally a bear; that the cognitive template for understanding European Carnival requires one to move back in time, to a different plane and acquire a non-dualistic interpretative framework more in consonance with the cosmovision of native peoples where the animal-human divide was no longer present. More succinctly put, Bertolotti argues for the conflation of the abstract notion of Carnival with the Bear. Thus, when mourning the Death of Carnival, the lament was directed in times past to the Bear, as a way of honoring the being who had been hunted and killed and thus had given its life to succor those who would feast on its flesh and blood. And in return the hunters would hold a celebration in the animal’s honor to which the animal itself was invited.

116As Bertolotti describes the evolution of la morte di Carnevale, the latter entity, that is, Carnevale itself, has come to be viewed as an abstraction. He argues that as one strips away the intervening layers and moves back in time, what is revealed in a hunting ritual, a celebration centered on honoring and finally propitiating the soul of the bear that has been killed in order to guarantee the well-being of the social collective and Nature itself. He views the process as having gone through three stages. Starting with the most recent layer in which Carnevale is understood, in general, as an abstract concept:

  • 53 “1) A ceremony corresponding in its overall structure as well as in its details to the death of Car (...)

1) Una cerimonia correspondente nella struttura generale oltre che nei dettagli a quella morte di Carnevale, ma che comincia una battuta di caccia come i riti venatori dell’orso; il protagonista […] è un personaggio umano come Carnevale; 2) un gruppo di cerimonie anolaghe […] in cui il protagonista è un personaggio umano che vive tuttavia nelle selve, l’Uomo selvatico; 3) un gruppo di cerimonie analoghe a quelle dell’Uomo selvatico, in cui il protagonista è un animale, e precisamente un orso. (Bertolotti, 1992, p. 173)53

117Bertolotti’s stripping away of the interpretive layers is remarkably insightful. However, it does not take into account how the belief in an ursine genealogy could act to readjust the lens we employ to understand the performance art under study. Keeping in mind the double-nature of Hamalau himself, his role as an intermediary between the world of humans and bears, we can see that his appearance as Bear Leader shaman-healer would form only one half of the equation, his “human” half, while his other half would be symbolized by the “bear” itself. Indeed, there is reason to believe that we should conceptualize Hamalau as incarnate in both natures. As a shaman, he simultaneously “personifies” the Bear Leader and the Bear. In the form of the latter, he carries away the illness, disease and bad luck of the social collective or households who receive the Good-Luck Visits. And in the guise of the former, among other things, he brings the dead back to life.

118In order to comprehend the cosmology that undergirds the fused nature of Hamalau, we need to turn back to our earlier discussion of animism, recognizing the fact that the set of cultural understandings upon which the drama is grounded is an unfamiliar one, quite alien to Western thought with its deeply engrained dualisms separating humans from animals, and Nature from Culture (Betts - Hardenberg - Stirling, 2015; Frank, 2005; Hallowell, 1963; Losey et al., 2013; Willerslev, 2007). Hallowell (1966), for example,

describes a world in which agency was potentially found in any number of objects and phenomena, and one in which personhood was not limited to humans. Bears and other animals were clearly among these “other-than-human” persons, and in Hallowell’s account were ontologically equivalent to humans, having souls and social relations. (cf. Losey et al., 2013, p. 88)

119Hallowell concludes that animism projects a cosmology in which, «man and animals instead of being separate categories of being are deeply rooted in a world of nature that is unified» (Hallowell, 1966, p. 12). Indeed, it is difficult for us to appreciate the profound implications of a cosmology that is rooted in the non-anthropocentric belief that humans descended from bears and in which shape-shifting would have been viewed as normal, grounded in the associated yet equally unfamiliar animistic belief that outward appearance is only an incidental attribute of being.

120The cultural conceptualizations discussed so far this investigation have had conceptual existence as well as linguistic encoding. In this sense, language becomes a central aspect of cultural cognition in that it serves as a “collective memory bank” (Frank, 2003, 2005; wa Thiong’o, 1986) for cultural conceptualizations, past and present. Cultural conceptualizations that prevailed at different stages in the history of a speech community can leave recognizable traces in the linguistic practice and non-verbal behaviors of the group (Sharifian, 2008, 2009). In this sense we can argue that language can be viewed as one of the primary mechanisms for storing and communicating cultural conceptualizations. It acts as both a memory bank and a fluid vehicle for the retransmission of these socioculturally embodied cultural conceptualizations, particularly when the latter are linked to ethnographically identifiable practices which in turn are invested with value as symbols of group identity and consequently characterized by their status as cultural icons, a situation that tends to make them more resistant to change.

121Yet cultural cognitions are dynamic in that they are constantly being negotiated and renegotiated from one generation to the next and passed on in a slightly modified form to the other members of the cultural group. Throughout this process the cultural conceptualizations are slowly being reshaped and updated, so to speak, to bring them more into harmony with the emergent societal norms. As part of this process, understandings that once were part of the interpretative grid of the collective can become eroded, partially forgotten or disappear entirely, e.g., the belief that humans descended from bears, that an animal needs to be asked for forgiveness by the hunter or that humans and animals are equals, in short, understandings that were once commonplace and integral to a complex animistic cosmology. In summary, the cognitive phenomena discussed in this study might be viewed as reflecting as well as embodying characteristics of historically bound sociocultural relations while the linguistic data along with the ethnographic materials themselves become a means of reconstituting these preterit relations and reconstructing the cognitive phenomena that informed them (Lucy, 1987; Vygotsky, 1978).

10. Conclusions

122This investigation began with an analysis of the evidence for the embeddedness of the social practices relating to the seventh-son or daughter in Basque-speaking zone and across much of Europe. Then we continued following along this same evidential path. When we did so, the converging paths of evidence, most especially the semantic data, led us to conclude that the cultural complex in question formed a single highly reticulated network. There was a type of tripartite linkage connecting together the various components: the status conferred by being the seventh born son or daughter gave rise to a human with supernatural powers, e.g., second sight and healing abilities, who was viewed as a “healer” and then there was the fact that such an individual was also portrayed as a ‘night-mare’. Moreover, in other parts of Europe additional linguistic and ethnographic clues can be detected which reinforce this interpretation and which seem to fit together to form what is a much larger translingual cultural matrix. These clues seem to be deeply entrenched in a similar psycho-social framework, one that gives rise to shared beliefs and social practices that are grounded in an animistic cosmology.

  • 54 Although outside the scope of this paper, a Google search reveals a significant number of people wi (...)

123Next, when all the linguistic and ethnographic datasets were compared and contrasted they provided us with a basis for zeroing in on the original name of the healer in question. Although the British materials relating to the Quack Doctor did not offer any linguistic clues concerning the older name of the character, the French, Italian and Sardu linguistic materials certainly did.54 And names such as marcou and maramao, along with other cognates, when examined alongside the ample documentation of the miraculous qualities attributed to the seventh-born led us to the conclusion that there are several strands of archaic belief embedded in the performances where Bear Leaders and Quack Doctors make their appearance.

124Then, attached to this traditional belief we found substantial linguistic evidence which indicated that at some point in time the expression hamalau and/or one of its phonological variants was the term used to refer with such healers. Furthermore, that linguistic evidence when combined with the ethnographic data and cultural conceptualizations linked to this figure allowed for a tentative mapping of the geographical diffusion of the belief system across Europe.

  • 55 Of particular note is the recent work by Fréger (2012) which documents the European ‘wildman’ by me (...)

125The evidence now available, both linguistic and ethnographic, suggests that the figure of Maramao should be identified with the same cultural matrix: the same highly networked set of beliefs that led us back to the figure of a shaman-healer whose supernatural powers were exteriorized in one of the central scenes of the performances that took place in conjunction with the Good-Luck Visits55. As noted earlier, whereas previously Good-Luck Visits appear to have taken place whenever there was a need perceived that would require the performance of a cleansing ritual at a given location, the Good-Luck Visits were also performed during specific ritually-sanctioned periods, most particularly during Carnival (Frank, 2008a, 2008c, 2009a). Today dates for the performances vary from country to country and region to region with Candlemas Bear Day (Feb. 2) and the Monday before Shrove Tuesday (‘Fat Tuesday’ or Mardi Gras’) or even Shrove Tuesday itself being among the favorites.

  • 56 For additional commentary on the relationship of meanings associated with the Basque expression mar (...)

126Indeed, the example of Maramao represents one of the most significant pieces of evidence identified so far in support of the theory that the figure of Hamalau “Fourteen” was incarnate in the shaman-healer who brought the bear character back to life. Moreover, the fact that in Italian the origin of the name of this carnival character can be derived with such ease from the much earlier etymon is quite remarkable. The developmental pathway is quite clear, as long as one assumes that at some stage an exchange of liquids, i.e., l > rr, took place: hamalau > *mamalau > *mamarrao > marramao as well as the more canonical Italian spelling of maramao. The exchange of /m/ and /rr/ produces the final change needed to produce: mamarrao – marramao56.

127Moreover, the ethnographic data is equally revealing. In Callot’s rendition of the character, we find Maramao taking part in a scene that appears to correspond closely to the traditional one found, not only in performances associated with Good-Luck Visits, but also in the Carnival performances themselves, as is well documented in various parts of Europe. For instance in his study of European Carnival with particular emphasis on Italy, Bertolotti – who is well aware of the central importance of the bear – recounts this scene from the Carnival in the Balkans:

  • 57 “The main character, called mainly Kuker, wearing a garment and a tall hat made of fur (it is an ex (...)

Il personaggio principale, chiamato per lo più Kuker, indossava un vestito e un alto copricapo de pelliccia (è un esemplare del tipo del peloso), aveva il viso annerito con fuliggine e portava dei campanelli appesi alla cintura e un fallo o un bastone in mano. […] insieme a numerose altre maschere (tra cui spesso anche quella dell’orso), formavano un corteo e facevano una questua. La mascherate principale era quella dell’uccisione del Kuker. […] La Baba [la Vecchia], talvolta insieme a tutti gli altri personaggi, l’uccisore compreso, piangeva sul suo cadavere. Ma spesso interveniva poi un medico che lo faceva risusitare. (Bertolotti, 1992, p. 87)57

While these observations still leave us with a number of unanswered questions, if we combine the linguistic and ethnographic data, the figure of Maramao takes on increased importance. In the Basque materials, it is clear that Hamalau is the half-human, half-bear shaman apprentice whose adventures are narrated in the folktales. Furthermore, it is relatively obvious that in this capacity he acts as the intermediary between two worlds. At the same time, as detailed previously, when analyzing the performance art associated with the same cultural complex, that is, the Good-Luck Visits, a key scene in the healing rituals involves a shaman-healer, portrayed later as a Quack Doctor, who resurrects the Bear. In the more archaic versions of the play, this is the same character who functions as the Bear Leader in charge of taking the bear from place to place and making sure it performed the healing ritual properly.

128In summary, there is an aspect to the Italian and Sardu data that facilitates the unraveling of the hermeneutics surrounding the main character: the fact that Maramao seems to be identified with the figure of Carnival who carries off the negative influences and therefore acts to protect the social collective from evil, so to speak. In some instances, the cleansing effect is achieved by burning a straw figure, a fantoccio di paglia. Viewed from this perspective, the dual-nature of Hamalau is expressed in the following way: he is a being endowed with the power to reanimate the Bear and at the same time, because of his own ursine nature he is equated with the character representing the animal itself whose death and resurrection we witness. Hermeneutically, the linguistic and ethnographic materials relating to Maramao allow us to contemplate the quite remarkable possibility that the old name of the central figure of Carnival was Maramao (Hamalau) as well as the possibility that the Mamuthones and other Bear Leaders who interact with the Bear should also be identified with Maramao (Hamalau) in their role of shaman-healers. In short, the Italian and Sardu materials have opened a window on the past. And in doing so, they have allowed us to formulate a series of hypotheses about the nature of this much earlier animistic cosmology which appears to have left a deep imprint on the ritual performances that have continued to be celebrated across Europe into the 21st century.


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1 Writing in 1924, Bloch observed: «La croyance sous cette forme a été et est sans doute encore très largement répandue dans l’Europe occidentale et centrale: on l’a signalée en Allemagne, en Biscaye, en Catalogne, dans presque toute la France, dans les Pays-Bas, en Angleterre, en Escosse, en Irlande […]» (Bloch, 1983 [1924]).

2 For a positive evaluation and hence more nuanced contemporary discussions of “animism”, ones that do not suffer from the conceptual defects imposed by earlier anthropological biases, cf. Howell, 1996.

3 An Italian translation of chapters 2 and 3 of this study, published in «Insula» in 2008 and 2009, is available online at: [link not available 5/07/2016].

4 The expression hamalau is a compound, composed of two elements: hamar “ten” and lau “four”.

5 “The bear may ultimately be born from the union of a man or a woman with a deity, as is told in an Ainu myth, or with a forest spirit, in variations recorded among Samoyeds, Voguli and Ostiachi. Through the immediate form of metamorphosis, or mediated by the wedding, what comes to be established is, in any case, a bond of kinship between bears and humans. Through this link, a bridge is established connecting the world of men to the other world, where the sources of prosperity are. Now people have an ally that can penetrate into the other world and tap into those sources to make them available” (Bertolotti, 1992, p. 186).

6 I would note that the Basque language has no grammatical gender or other indications of “natural” gender, that is, endings that in other languages serve to distinguish females from males.

7 [“Healers can be those who are born at midnight on Christmas Eve and who for that reason have [the sign of] a cross imprinted under their tongues, and this grace is common in both sexes.”]

8 Guereñu’s study was limited to the records of the Basque province of Araba. That similar records could be found in the municipal archives of the other Basque towns seems highly likely, even though in recent years detailed archival research has not been carried out on this topic.

9 In this respect of particular interest are the names given to a class of Basque women “healers” who assisted the Basque serora and which give us another method for identifying socio-medical practices and traditions linked to female folk healers. Specifically, the terms rendered in French as braguine, brayine and braine in the archival records of the Cathedral of Bayonne derive from the Basque compound belhargin, ‘herb-worker’ (belhar “herb” and (e)gin “worker”). Another popular variant of this Basque expression is belhargile, from belhar “herb” and (e)gile “worker”. The latter expression has, on occasion, acquired the referential meaning of “witch”. For a detailed account of this etymology and its socio-cultural entailments, as well as its connections to the Beguines and their movement in Europe, cf. Frank (2001a).

10 For example, as Zamora Zamora (1997) has noted, in Murcia, saludadores were contracted by the municipalities to get rid of a plague of locusts.

11 The healer received one fanega of wheat while the friar got only half a fanega. The above description is based on: «Tenían asalariado un saludador, pero al mismo tiempo venía un fraile del vecino convento de Piédrola, en Santa Cruz de Campezo, que bendecía el ganado, aunque el saludador tenía más importancia para los vecinos de Atauri, ya que cobraba una fanega de trigo, mientras al religioso le daban tan solo media fanega» (López de Guereñu, 1966, p. 167).

12 The dry measure as well as the size of the land planted varied significantly. For the region in question the fanega dry measure probably was in the order of 55.5 liters (1.6 bushels) of wheat. Cf.

13 «Haremos resaltar los emolumentos asignados al saludador, treinta rs. por un par de visitas, más gastos pagados en el desempeño de su misión, no sólo personales si que también de criado y caballerías, comparándolos con los atribuidos al maestro de escuela, que en este mismo año de 1711 cobraba treinta fanegas de trigo anuales (poco más de quinientos reales a los precios de aquellos tiempos) sin ninguna gratificación extraordinaria, aunque sí con la exigencia suplementaria de tener que cuidar del reloj y ejercer de campanero» [“We will point out the fee schedule contracted with the healer, thirty reales for a pair of visits, plus payment for the expenses associated with carrying out his/her duties, not only personal expenses, but also those of his/her servant and livery, compared to the salary paid to the [local] school teacher, who in that same year of 1711 earned thirty fanegas of wheat annually (slightly more than five hundred reales in those times) without any extra remuneration, although, yes, with the supplemental duty of having to take care of the clock and function as bell-ringer”] (López de Guereñu, 1966, p. 169).

14 [“it is said that they heal with the saliva from their mouths or with their breath, saying certain words: and we see that many people seek them out for healing […] The saludadores’ principal task is to heal or preserve people, animals, and livestock from rabies”] Cf. Ciruelo (1538) cited in Campagne (2000, p. 433) and also López Terrada (2009, p. 16).

15 According to López Terrada (2009, p. 16), the examinations were conducted «in the same way that examiners of physicians and surgeons did: they were open to all applicants and were held in the presence of the municipal authorities. The test consisted of curing rabid dogs using only the applicant’s own saliva. In addition, those being examined would have to extinguish a red-hot bar of metal and a piece of glowing silver by placing their tongues upon them. If they were able to pass these tests, and after taking an oath, the city granted them a legal licence to practise». And, indeed, López Terrada cites examples where the saludador passed the exam and obtained the corresponding license to practice.

16 This wide-spread belief system resonates strongly with the stories of the so-called benandanti, recounted by Carl Ginzburg (1966).

17 Dialectal variants also include mare (Germany), mahrt (Pommerania) and mahrte (North Germany).

18 For a more detailed account of this aspect of the data, cf. Frank (2008c, pp. 106-118).

19 I would note that it was Graziano Fois (2002b) who first brought to my attention the similarities between the Sardinian and Basque data sets, particularly items having the root of mamu- and consequently the relationship between the mamuttones / mamutzones and their Basque counterparts (cf. Frank, 2008c).

20 The following comment is also relevant: «[…] pero estimamos que con lo reseñado es más que suficiente para hacernos cargo de lo extendida que estuvo esta plaga en los siglos xvi al xviii, poniendo de relieve que los saludadores gozaban, aparte del sueldo, de una categoría social tan respetable, o más, que la de maestros o médicos, celebrando con los Concejos contratos como servidores del municipio, algunos de cuyos documentos copiamos a continuación como muestra de la importancia que llegaron a tener en pasados tiempos estos personajes desaprensivos, que tan bien sabían aprovecharse de la credulidad humana» [“[…] but we consider that what has been reviewed is more than sufficient to makes us aware of how extended this plague [of healers] was from the xvi to the xviii centuries, emphasizing that the healers enjoyed, in addition to their salary, a level of social acceptance as respectable, or more so, than that of teachers and doctors, signing contracts with the councils as employees of the municipality, some of which we reproduce below as an example of the importance that these unscrupulous characters came to have, who well knew how to take advantage of human gullibility”] (López de Guereñu, 1966, p. 168).

21 [“And since the healers and conjurers regularly hired are suspicious and immoral people and of bad example, the Inquisitor ordered that the inhabitants of the village not hire or have healers, conjurers, wizards, diviners, quacks or persons who cut letters, cure the rose [a rash caused by herpes], do immoral things, with superstitions, nor do other immoral things unbecoming to divine and human law….”]

22 Bloch ([1924] 1983, p. 303) comments on the survival of this belief: «[…] on lit dans la Revue des Traditions populaires, IV (1894), p. 555, no 4: dans le Bocage Normand: “quand il y a sept filles dans une famille, la septième porte sur une parties quelconque du corps un fleur de lis et touche du carreau, c’est-à-dire qu’elle guérit les inflammations d’intestin chez les enfants”».

23 Belief in the supernatural powers of the seventh son of seventh son gained a new lease on life in 1988 with release of an album entitled Seventh Son of a Seventh Son by the heavy metal band Iron Maiden, renowned for its gothic dark sound and predilection for the occult. The widespread popularity of the musical group insured that the eerie, quite ominous sounding words intoned at the beginning of the song were heard by millions of young people: “Today is born the seventh one; born of woman, the seventh son, and he in turn of a seventh son, he has the power to heal; he has the gift of a second sight, he is the chosen one […].”

24 With the exception of inguma which evolved from mahuma, all these variants show “nasal spread”, that is, the word ends up having two /m/ sounds. In order to understand what has taken place with the phonological shape of the expression hamalau, we need to keep in mind that in many Basque dialects the letter /h/ is silent. Therefore, in these dialects hamalau would have been pronounced as amalau (as it is today in Batua, the Basque unified standard). This means that because of the phenomenon of nasal spread, the word ended up with two /m/ sounds, the /m/ which starts the second syllable spread to the beginning of the word: amalau > *mamalau. Also, I would remind the reader that since Basque has no gender, a variant form such as mamalo should not be interpreted through the grammatical lens of a speaker of a Romance language. In other words, while the -o ending on these variants might appear (to some Romance speakers) to be indicative of masculine gender, in Basque this is certainly not the case.

25 Certain small mammals, called true hibernators, spend most of the winter in a state similar to death, their body temperature approximating that of the environment. In contrast, the bear’s body temperature decreases by only 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, approximately 2-5 degrees Celsius. So relatively speaking, bears don’t hibernate that deeply and are therefore still aware of their surroundings. Nonetheless, a bear rarely emerges from its den in the middle of the winter. Rather during its winter dormancy period, the bear’s life processes go into economy mode. Its heart rate drops from 55 to less than ten beats per minute, and the metabolic rate declines. Yet if disturbed, as hunters well knew, a bear would wake up.

26 There is a reference to farting in Gargantua et Pantagruel and we find that souls “depart by the back passage” (Bakhtin, 1981, p. 189). Indeed, there is an entire chapter dedicated to letting wind and where at one point Pantagruel farts little men. Also, there has been speculation that the book itself was inspired in some fashion by French folktales concerning the character Jean l’Ours, portrayed in those tales as a half-human, half-bear figure of gigantic proportions and great appetite.

27 “The custom of subjecting Carnival, represented by a man of flesh and bones or a puppet, to a surgical intervention is attested in various regions of Italy, from the nineteenth century to the present day. In a Calabrian masquerade from the end of the last century, the poor man died before the two physicians, armed with skewers, a pan and other tools for cooking and butchering, could lay hands on him. In most of cases that are known to us, the death of Carnival is [portrayed] rather as a direct consequence of the operation. At Staffolo (Ancona) where, even a few decades ago, there existed the custom of operating on Carnival, the Surgeon concluded his speech with the ritual words: ‘The operation went well, but the patient died’” (Bertolotti 1992, pp. 73-74).

28 “[…] In Carnival performances from Reatino, the victims, in addition to the puppet of Saint Carnival, could be the bear masker [the masked figure representing the bear] or the pucca (a big rag doll) or a pregnant gypsy [zingara] who the doctor helped to give birth ripping open her belly with a knife and disemboweling it, but whether [the victims were represented by] pregnant women or at times by the bear they were sometimes brought to life by a new intervention by the same doctor” (Bertolotti 1992, p. 74).

29 In the case of the latter character, in Basque performances, she seemed to have had a rather different role.

30 The compound term croquemitaine, written also as croquet-mitaine and croquemitain, when translated literally, means “mitten-biter”. This excerpt from Wikipedia recounts the legend that seems to have motivated the term: «Dans les régions où l’hiver peut être rigoureux, un croque-mitaine (Jan del Gel, en Val d’Aran) mange le nez et les doigts de l’enfant (les parties du corps les plus exposées aux gelures). La crainte provoquée par la menace de tels personnages crée une peur qui n’a plus besoin d’être motivée: le croque-mitaine se cacherait sous le lit ou dans le placard et attendrait qu’un pied ou une main dépasse du lit pour tirer dessus, l’enfant serait alors aspiré sous le lit et disparaîtrait pour toujours» (Wikipedia, 2011). Cf. Loddo and Peten (1998) and Betemps (1998) for examples of various types of these “bogeymen”, such as the babao / babou, known today collectively as croquemitaines.

31 For more details on the use of ‘black cats’ for such rituals in the Basque region, cf. Frank (1989, 2005).

32 According to Grosskopf, these sayings were still commonplace in the 1950s, but today are no longer employed by parents.

33 As for the etymology of maimone, Paulis (1991) prefers to derive the term from similar sounding words meaning “baboon”.

34 “The same name that stands out in the country on Tuesday of Carnival ‘marti perra’ (perra = half) brings us back the echo of another ancient belief: people personified Shrove Tuesday in [the form of] a cat who attacked, dismembering right away, those who went to work in the fields abandoning the masquerade.

In other centers such as Ulassai (Nu) ‘martis berri’ (berri = pain) lavished rather sudden, as well as violent, physical pain on those who recklessly attempted to work [rather than take part in Carnival], no matter what kind of work it was. At the same time the pain was accompanied by a booming voice that said, ‘I am Martis berri, I came to hit you’’’ (Moretti 1963).

35 “But let us pay attention to the procession as villagers recall it who are no longer very young. A herald, ‘su cuadderi’ (= the horseman), astride a stick on top of which was stuck a horse skull, announced allusive rhymes with the passage of the masks ‘is maimulus’” (Moretti 1963).

36 “Throughout that entire day in the village there existed the obligation to refrain from any activity, especially related to agriculture. According to popular belief, a large cat (the spirit of vegetation) was in charge of the strict observance of this taboo against working and mercilessly punished the aggressors [those who violated the norm]” (Moretti 1967).

37 Recognizing that the sounds m , b and p are often confused, we find in addition to the more commonplace Babau / Barbau, the following names of the “night-mare” recorded in Occitania, all of which appear to belong to the same translingual word field: Babarau, Baranhau, Maranhau, Marònha, Barònha, Maragònhàs, Baragònha, Paparònha; Piparaunha, Pataranhau, Babòta and Pòpòu (Loddo & Pelen, 1998, p. 83).

38 Canobbio explains that her theory is based on the following hypothesis: «[…] celle de l’existence d’une famille nombreuse et composite de croquemitaines, répandus sur une zone très vaste et diversifiée du point de vue ambiant et culturel, qui peuvent tous être ramenés à une commune racine mar-. Racine que nous savons, par ailleurs, être étonnament productive […] pour former des mots qui renvoient à l’idée de “cauchemar”, “angoisse”, “fantôme”, “sorcière”, etc. […] à partir de la Gatta Marella piémontaise jusqu’à la Marabecca sicilienne, du S’attu Marruda de Sardeigne à la Gatamora du Frioul […] qui pourraient représenter une re-étymologisation de formes nées, justement, sur la base de mar- “cauchemar”, devenues par la suite complètement opaques» (Canobbio, 1998, p. 71). Cf. also Canobbio (1996, 2006).

39 Cf. Pauvert (2012, 2014) for two recent publications that explore a similar hypothesis in considerable depth.

40 Maramao why did you die
bread and wine you do not lack,
the salad was in the garden,
and you possessed a house.
maramao maramo,
mao mao mao mao mao
The enamoured pussy cats
for you are still purring
but the door is always closed
and you do not come back.
Maramao, Maramao,
do cats in chorus,
Maramao, Maramao
mao mao mao mao mao.

41 For examples of popularity of the cat cartoon character, cf. videos such as the following ones:;; and

42 In all fairness, we also need to mention what is perhaps one of the most popular theories concerning the origin of the phrase “Maramao, perché sei morto?”, reproduced on the web site of the Ministero della Difesa: «Nel 1939 ebbe grande successo una canzonetta (di Panzeri e Consiglio) dal titolo apparentemente innocentissimo: Maramao perché sei morto? I versi erano allegri e accattivanti: “Pane e vin non ti mancava, / l’insalata era nell’orto”. Ma non erano affatto originali. Più o meno identici, erano contenuti in un sonetto di Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, scritto nella prima metà dell’Ottocento. E Belli metteva Maramao in relazione con il papa. Qualcun altro sostenne che il morto non fosse un gatto, ma lo spirito del Carnevale. Ma l’ipotesi più suggestiva è che l’espressione fosse, all’origine, una parafrasi del più noto “Maramao, tu uccidi un uomo morto”. Maramaldo infatti veniva anche indicato con il nome di Maramao (o Maramaus, come nella Storia di Guicciardini). La ferocia usata contro Ferrucci a Gavinana pare fosse da addebitare a un precedente incontro fra i due sotto le mura di Volterra, dove Ferrucci fece uccidere un araldo del nemico e poi lo dileggiò chiamandolo Maramao. Quando morì, poco tempo dopo, ricco e con la possibilità di soddisfare ogni desiderio, qualcuno avrebbe intonato per la prima volta quel ritornello. Avevi tutto, non ti mancava nulla; “Maramao, perché sei morto?”» [“In 1939 a song had great success (Panzeri and Consiglio) with the apparently very innocent title: Maramao, why did you die? The verses were cheerful and engaging: ‘Bread and wine you do not lack, /the salad was in the garden.’ But they were not original. More or less identical verses were contained in a sonnet of Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, written in the first half of the nineteenth century. And Belli associated Maramao with the pope. Someone else claimed that the deceased was not a cat, but rather the spirit of Carnival. But the more interesting hypothesis is that the expression was, originally, a paraphrase of the famous ‘Maramao, you kill a dead man.’ In fact Maramaldo was also referred to by the name of Maramao (or Maramaus, as in the Historia of Guicciardini). The ferocity used against Ferrucci at Gavinana appears to have been motivated by a previous meeting between the two under the walls of Volterra, where Ferrucci killed a herald of the enemy and then mocked him by calling him Maramao. When he died shortly afterwards, rich and with the possibility of satisfying any desire, anyone would have intoned for the first time the refrain. You had everything, you did not lack anything, ‘Maramao, why did you die?’”] Cf.

43 We find that something similar occurred in the case of the English term “night-mare”, as Caprini (1984) clearly demonstrates in her detailed longitudinal study of the semantic trajectory of the English term. Once the original meaning of the Germanic term mahr “goblin, spectre, night-mare” was lost in English, a folk etymology emerged, based on an erroneous reading of -mare as if it referred to a female horse. In other words, whereas originally there were two homonymic terms, eventually only the meaning of one of them ended up being accessible to speakers of the language.

44 The ethnomusicologist Giovanni Grosskopf (2011) has suggested that a study of the geographical distribution of the last names Marramao and Maramao could give further clues concerning where the traditions described here have been better preserved, using this online resource: In the instance of Marramao it is a surname found today especially in the regions Campania, Calabria and is present also in Liguria, Piedmont, but rare in Lombardy and Lazio. The highest concentration is found in Calabria, from the town of Pizzo Calabro. However, there is no way to know if the statistical distribution encountered today necessarily responds to the distribution of the cognonom in times past. Indeed, when one looks at the much more wide-spread distribution of Marramao in comparison to the highly concentrated distribution of Maramao, which is primarily in the area of Rome, obviously the most densely populated zone, it is much harder to reach any definitive conclusion, other than the fact that the surnames have survived. However, one might also ask how and why these two terms ended up being patronymics. Did they start out as nick-names? Or did they refer to some special (spiritual) quality that the individual displayed?

45 “Many funeral songs, especially from Abruzzo, begin with [the plaintive cry] mara mè or marameo” (Bracchi 2009, p. 181).

46 “A version collected at Amatrice by C. De Bernardinis demonstrates a distinctive characteristic in that it contains an initial first part beginning with Mara mè! Mara mè! Why did you die?, and lists all the tangible goods that the deceased husband was free to enjoy and which he has foolishly given up, and a second part recited by relatives, in which the deceased is lamented, but it is recalled that he has reached his ancestors in the kingdom of light […]. A second model is referred to as the lament of the widow of Vasto […].Mare majje, scura majje ‘amara me, oscura me’, which probably is the true genesis of the term marameo used in the complaint of central Italy. […] To these basic examples it should be added that in the territory of Milan there was a children’s song ‘Marameo, perché sei morto’ and that Marameo in the language used by children was a fairy-tale cat” (Di Nola 1987, p. 109).

47 With respect to this etymology, in his 1995 work Di Nola presents the theory less as a possibility and more as a matter of fact: «D’altra parte il lamento per la morte del Carnevale imitava quello comunemente usato per il cordoglio normale (maramao o marameo, con significato di “amara me”)» [“On the other hand, the lament for the death of the Carnival mimicked the one that was commonly used for normal mourning (maramao or marameo with the meaning of ‘bitter me’)”] (Di Nola, 1995, p. 276). Di Nola’s source is Lupinetti (1955) who, in turn, is citing the work of De Bernardinis and Montanaro (1924). The song, collected by Montanaro with the line “Màra màjje, màra màjje, scura màjje” can be heard here:

48 “In many villages where the meaning of the word maramao is not understood, marameo is also said almost like a Carnival jest, or generically to anyone, but there is no doubt that maramao or marameo, is the first word of the dirges of central Italy and means ‘bitter [sad] me, poor me” (Toschi 1976, p. 319).

49 “For the death of the carnival curiously mimicked the late funeral complaint: ‘Carnival, why have you died? / Bread and wine you were not lacking. / The salad you had in the garden’ […]. The confluence from several parts into a single node reveals networks operating over a very long time period and branching at the most diverse latitudes” (Bracchi 2009, p. 181).

50 “Also in reference to the complaint that hunters are often make over the remains of the bear that they have killed, naturally it would speak about hypocrisy or contradiction, were it not evident that it is an integral part of the comedy of innocence, validating, so to speak, the sincerity of those declarations of innocence that accompany it. ‘Grandfather, Grandmother, / Why are you dead?’ The Altaic bear hunters ask, weeping: the question we have already met in the medieval peasant’s lament for the dead donkey (‘Alas, why are you dead, donkey?’), and which also occurs in ritual [also ‘customary’] plaints for Carnival (‘Carnivale, pecché scí morto? / Pane e vino non te mancava etc.’), is revealed here clearly as an attempt at deception intended to finagle the goodwill of the bear” (Bertolotti 1992, p. 140).

51 For instance Donald Posner in his highly respected investigation of Callot’s prints does not discuss Maramao. Rather he states that «Callot’s prints do not convey, and evidently were not intended to convey, much useful information about Commedia dell’arte characters. Furthermore, […] one must even doubt whether all the names inscribed under the figures have historical validity» (Posner, 1977, p. 204).

52 Cf. Bertolotti (1992, pp. 98-112) for further discussion of the charivaric aspects of Carnival and comparisons relating to laments for the dead ass and the bear.

53 “1) A ceremony corresponding in its overall structure as well as in its details to the death of Carnival, but which begins with a hunting expedition [battuta di caccia = hunting] like the hunting [or ‘venatorial’] rituals of bear hunters, the main character […] is a human character as Carnival is, 2) a group of analogous ceremonies […] in which the protagonist is a human being who anyhow [or ‘nevertheless’] lives in the woods, the Wild Man, 3) a group of ceremonies similar to those of the Wild Man, in which the hero is an animal, namely a bear” (Bertolotti, 1992, p. 173).

54 Although outside the scope of this paper, a Google search reveals a significant number of people with the surname of Marcou.

55 Of particular note is the recent work by Fréger (2012) which documents the European ‘wildman’ by means of a remarkable collection of photographic images. Cf. also Frank & Silva (2012) and Frank - Ridderstad (2013).

56 For additional commentary on the relationship of meanings associated with the Basque expression marramao and similar Aragonese expressions, cf. Nebot Calpe (1983, p. 66). It should be noted that the Basque term marramao appears to be nothing more than a semantically narrowed phonological variant of mamarro which in turn is derived from hamalau.

57 “The main character, called mainly Kuker, wearing a garment and a tall hat made of fur (it is an example of the type known as ‘hairy ones’ [peloso is singular]), had his face blackened with soot and wore little bells hanging from his belt and a phallus or a stick in his hand. […] Along with numerous other masks (often including also the bear), they formed a procession and went about begging. The main masquerade was the killing of Kuker. […] The Baba [Old Woman], sometimes together with all the other characters, including the killer, wept over his corpse. But then often a doctor intervened who revived him” (Bertolotti, 1992, p. 87).

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 Scrofula in the neck
Crédits Source: Wikipedia (2007)
Fichier image/jpeg, 64k
Titre Fig. 2 Scene of the “Death before Resurrection” of s’Urtzu as performed by the Mamutzones of Samugheo
Crédits Source: Fois (2002a)
Fichier image/jpeg, 128k
Titre Fig. 3 Resurrecting the bear in Bigorre, Haute Pyrénées
Crédits Source: Lajoux (1996, p. 90)
Fichier image/jpeg, 224k
Titre Fig. 4 Capt. Cardoni and Maramao. An etching by Jacques Callot
Crédits Source:​Edip.BML/​PubliImg/​images/​ESTA/​00/​00/​09/​61/​GED_00000000.JPG
Fichier image/jpeg, 184k
Titre Fig. 5 Cap. Babeo and Cucuba. An etching by Jacques Callot
Crédits Source:​Edip.BML/​PubliImg/​images/​ESTA/​00/​00/​09/​57/​GED_00000000.JPG
Fichier image/jpeg, 196k


Professoressa emerita nel Dipartimento di Spagnolo e Portoghese presso l’Università dell’Iowa, Iowa City. Il suo campo di ricerca riguarda gli studi sulla cultura tradizionale dei Paesi Baschi, la linguistica cognitiva, l’etnomatematica e l’etnoastronomia, la cultura spagnola e, in particolare, le figure femminili che hanno contribuito alla letteratura della Spagna. Nel corso degli ultimi trent’ anni ha svolto ricerche sul campo nell’Euskal Herria (Paesi Baschi), su tematiche etnografiche e linguistiche e, in particolare, si è dedicata allo studio dei riti tradizionali e dei Carnevali, sui quali ha già pubblicato numerosi lavori.
Tra i suoi lavori, il volume Cognitive Models in Language and Thought: Ideology, Metaphors and Meanings, curato con René Dirven e Martin Putz, Berlin, Mouton de Gruyter, 2003.