Myths and legends

Since ancient times, sardinian folk culture has been characterized by a mixture of myths and legends, that has defined the traditions and the imaginations of its places. Ghosts and fantasy characters have captivated the collective imagination, this ensemble of historical and fictional elements brought to life several folk legends, which survived the passing of time from the oral tradition to the written one. These myths are still known today, some of them are of a pivotal importance during local holidays.

  • S’AMMUTADORI

In the tradition, s'ammuttadori (the one who silence) is a demon that can control the dreams of his victims. His presence can cause suffocation, distress, nausea and oppression.

According to the popular belief, since it appeared during spleep this kind of demon was very hard to cast out, but it could be done using the appropriate adjures called "brebus", which means "words". These adjures was recited by children before going to sleep, some of them mention elements that triggered the demon's apparition, like envy.

The scientific explanation of this phenom, is sleep paralysis, a sleep disorder that cause the incapacity to move or speak during the awakening. This state can last several seconds, but sometimes it can persist for some minutes, not more. Who's affected by this disorder can't move or cry for help, sometimes he experiences hypnagogic hallucinations too, visions that cause really intense emotions like fear and panic. Today we have logic and science to understand such a phenom, but fifty or sixty years ago, a demon like s'Ammuttadori was a much easier explanation to that.

  • IS ANIMEDDAS

The tradition of "su mortu mortu" (literally the dead dead) or "bene delle anime" (good of the soul) is also called "is animeddas" (little souls), in southern Sardinia, it exists in the island since ancient times and it takes place between the last days of October and the first ones of November. It's not so different from the Anglo-Saxon tradition, there are some analogies indeed, like carving pumpkins or kids wandering from house to house, looking for treats and threatening tricks. This tradition can be found also in other parts of europe with small variations, in Sardinia it consisted in wandering from door to door, asking for some treat for the little souls. In the past homemade sweets like pani de saba, pabassinas and ossu du mottu were given to the kids, sometimes accompanied with pomegranates, chestnuts and dried fruits, in some areas of Sardinia even little crowns of bread were a traditional gift. Nowadays some of these treats are still donated, but they have been largely replaced by industrial sweets.

These activities were mostly for kids, the adults instead remembered the their dead with a frugal supper, gathering around a fire and telling stories from the past or old local legends. In some case the table was left prepared and the cupboards left open all night long, so that the dead relatives could eat. During these days, in each home an oil lamp was lit for every dead in the family.

  • S’ACCABBATORA

S’Accabbatora (she who ends the life) was a woman that offered a service similar to modern euthanasia, when called by the family of a terminal ill, she put an end to his life. This character is similar to the parcae in greek mythology and her name probably origins form the word "accabbare", witch means "to terminate". It's been told they were recognized by the church and the institutions, but some anthropologists deny they ever existed, increasing the mystery behind these figures. According to the tradition s'Accabbatora came by night, probably not from the same town of the diseased, barefaced and always wearing black. She asked the family to remove all Christians symbols from the room of the dying, since they could stop the soul from leaving the body, then she asked to be left alone with him. After some prayers (for someone even spells), the woman put an end to the dying misery, usually with a pillow, or with a strike at the back of the head with the "mazzolu", a little gavel. From 1880 onwards, several documents have been wrote about this disturbing figure of the sardinian folk culture, some deny her existence, some comfirm it, but the most part of the stories about her come from the oral tradition. S'accabbattora have been discovered again in the last few years, thanks to a book written by Michela Murgia (Accabbadora) and it's transposition on screen by director by Enrico Pau.

  • JANAS

The Janas are the fairies of the sardinian tradition, they were believed to be kind to those who were in need of their help, their magic was at their disposal. People believed they lived in structures called Domus de Janas, although those monuments are in truth prehistoric tombs carved in rock, typical of the pre-nuragic age. Other legends tell that they lived at the top of the nuraghi, passing the time weaving with a loom made of gold, according to the tradition fortune and goodwill were destined to whoever could find it. The Janas are elements of the sardinian oral tradition, but often they are mentioned in the works of sardinian artists, like Marina Lai and Giuseppe Dessì, who told the story of how janas were born in their tale The Legend of Sardus Pater:

"Once upon a time there was a god, who flew in the infinite space since eternity. He was omnipotent but also very bored. It seemed to him that the peak of happiness was to have desires. For this reason he started the quest to find the lands of men, since he knew man was the only one who can dream the impossible.

But once he found the land, he saw that man didn't learn to dream. They populated the planet like ants, the men fought each others and tried to complicate their lives in every way possible, but they didn't learn to dream, anything but that.

So the god was committed and said: "i'll be the first man to dream". He searched for an uninhabited place on earth to live alone, finding a little island shaped like a feet, Sardinia.

The place was still wild and full of rocks. The god focused and made himself a man, but chose to be old, because to have desires life has to be hard.

The island provided rocks, stoppers, and a swarm of bees that followed him everywhere. He understood what he had, so using simple human arts he used all that to build the first beehive, solving the problem of hunger.

One day while he was asleep he was disturbed by a bee, he tried to drive it away with an involuntary hand gesture, but a spark of divine power got away from him. The all swarm got transformed in a tribe of little female goddesses, the Janas were born.

They gained the human dimension playing to be women and being prophetesses by nature, they knew that women, human ones, would have landed on the island very soon.

In the meantime they dug their houses in rock and played to be women, like little girls played to be ladies.

One day the first human vessel appeared at the horizon. Strange people arrived. It's unknown where they came from, they were rude and wild warriors. The Janas were interested in women at once and flying around their head, they convinced them to leave the heavy duties to the men.

Finally the women entered the world of Janas, learning to spin and weave on looms built by the fairies,whom since they had been bees, had an innate geometry. For this reason the looms were built with the highest accuracy and precision. The woman brought an essential quality, patience, that with the discipline of janas formed the ideal condition to the birth of creativity.

So the fabrics of sardinian women were born, featuring back then like nowadays, rhythmic and symbolic images."

  • LA FILONZANA

The Filonzana (literaly, the one who spins) can be called the sardinian parca, because she always has a spindle with her and never cease to spin a thin thread. It represents our lives and she knows she holds the fate of the world in her hands. The woman doesn't have a good reputation, people fear her for the thread she keeps in her hand and she is depicted wearing a grotesque, evil, ambiguous mask and having an extremely pronounced hump. The filonzana is also a typical mask of the sardinian carnival, she appears out of nowhere at the end of the feasts, almost as an admonition for the revelry just done. Some say her figure accompanied the kids who wandered the last night of the year, looking for treats. Every house had to open the door and offer sweets and dried fruits, the presence of the filonzana's mask helped to have a good harvesting, because the greedy would have got ill omens from her.

Bibliography and sitography