ASTURIAN MITHOLOGY: THE CUÉLEBRE (ASTURIAN DRAGON).

“The cuélebre; The serpent with bat wings, impenetrable scale and enormous tail, that crouches in the forest, in the fountain, in the swamp, and fills the spaces of its hissed and devours cattle and people … The one that guards the shards and protects the treasures; The one who only surrenders to fatigue on the night of San Juan, when the fortunate paladins break the enchantments and find, at one and the same time, fortune, love, and beauty.

The Cuélebre grows old with age, and then the scales grow, and the rivers reject it, and the earth refuses to bear it. It has no choice but to bury itself in its sea, which is called ‘sea covered’ because it spreads under the ground. At the bottom of this sea there is an immense nursery of diamonds …. And the men, the diamonds are taken with a piece of meat and a rope; The diamonds stick to the flesh when it touches the abyss and rise when it rises, if it manages to be saved from the cuélebres. ” (Constantino Cabal, RIDEA, p.325, Collected in Covadonga Encyclopedia of Popular Asturias, Legal Deposit AS: 330-94, Edited by “La Voz de Asturias” S.A.)

Tradition describes it as follows: His eyes are incandescent embers, his whole body is covered with scales and his back grows wings of a bat.

It is said that one of its main functions is to watch over treasures. In Asturian mythology references to these hidden treasures (ayalgues in Asturian), which usually consist of pieces of gold of great value, are frequent. For your search (la gueta l’ayalga) there are guides called “lleendas” -“legends” in Asturian language-,  that describe the places in which they are believed to be.

It is said that the Cuélebre is often annoying to men who live near their hiding place, which may be a forest, a cave or a fountain, as it emits terrible whistles and is used to feed on humans, both alive and dead. To prevent this from happening you will usually deliver food like borone.

The weak point of Cuélebre would be the throat, since the rest of the body would be covered by hard scales that would make it practically invulnerable.

When they grow old, it is believed that they would go to the bottom of the sea to take care of their treasures and to rest.

Legends:

There are many stories in which it is narrated how the peasants manage to conquer it by means of deceptions and thus they are free to have to feed it, as for example the one that counts that monks, tired of having to give him to eat to avoid taking the corpses of the Convent decided to give him a loaf of bread that caused him death.

In the past the snake demanded from time to time a virgin maiden to devour it in exchange for not unleashing its fury on the people. Thus it was until one of the maidens to be sacrificed invoked the apostle James. He confronted the beast and the wounded Snake in his chest, began to twist, let a cloud of sulfur through his mouth and wounded and humiliated, returned to his cave never again to ask tribute to the people.

Legends tell that the snake after so many centuries of longevity has already lost much of its powers, especially in the magical night of San Juan when their enchantments are not effective. On the contrary, the night of St. Bartholomew comes out of his cave with his powers increased, provoking storms and unleashing terror.

Ramón Sordo Sotres collects a legend of Valle Baxu where the nuberos enter the torcas to extract blood to the cuélebres. Another similar story of Cabrales speaks of some mysterious characters called gurmantes who entered in a torca to capture a cuélebre, advising the people to collect the cattle, because they were going to provoke a storm of hail. Finally they manage to catch the cuélebre by tying it with the shoelaces. These same characters, also called clumsy, appear in a story collected by Alvarez Peña in Piloña. They are described as black-clad men who carried some spell books with which they could conjure storms. The similarity between the stories, and the characteristics that are given to these characters, relate them to the nuberos of the version of Valle Baxu.

There is a story about a story that was allegedly sighted in Felechosa, Ayer, Asturies in 1965. It was said that the last official Guardia Civil raid had been carried out against this mythological animal. The strike, in a festive tone, would have culminated in a spittle that a local businessman, Luciano Tejón Muñiz, organized for the authorities and to motivate with that the journalists with their articles to attract tourism to this locality. But as one of the neighbors Manolo Tejón would say “”They would have been better off if they had thought of something with the Virgin of Carmen like they did at Lourdes or Fatima.”

The Cuélebre in Asturian toponymy:

The figure of the cuélebre is distributed throughout the Asturian geography, almost always related to caves and fountains; In Mestes de Con (Cangues d’Onís) there are three very close caves known as Cueves del Cuélebre; Also near Cueres (Cangues d’Onís) there is Pozu’l Cuélebre. There are not many places that carry the name as complement of source, or of ramada; Thus, in Sobrefoz, there is the Ramada of the Cuélebre, because it is said that (because of the appearance of the place) the Cuélebre came down leaving the traces of a ramu that creeps to transport something, as would narria. Name, or that they are said to live in the Cuélebre are in Saliencia (Somiedu), Uviéu, or Brañaseca (Cuideiru).

More place names: Prau del Cuélebre in Xienal (Quirós), and Braña de Valdecuálabre (Cangas del Narcea), near Barriu (Teberga) there are Cuevafrás.

Sources:

– Sordo Sotres, Ramón: Mitos de la naturaleza en Asturias y Cantabria. Colección El Jogueru. 1994.
– Álvarez Peña, Alberto: Asturias mágica. Ed. Conceyu Bable. 1992.
– Supersticiones y creencias de Asturias. Tesoro Ediciones, 1976. Luciano Castañón.
– Siaón, Genaro: Asturias misteriosa: Tú si que estás cerca de la realidad. Ediciones del Curueño. León. 1998.

Asturian to English translation:

Fernán Morán.

Photos and illustrations:

1st.- Cuélebre guarding a treasure. Author: Alberto Alvarez Peña.

2nd.- Carving of a Cuélebre in the stalls of the choir of the cathedral of San Salvador in Uviéu city. Author: Sergio Ballester.

3rd.- Cuélebre carved in St. Peter church in Villanueva d’Onís – Asturies. Author: MacLantarón.

4th.- Cuélebre carved in the Romanesque church of Abamia. Cangues d’Onís council, Asturies. Source: Asturiensis Pronvincia Indígena (blog).

5th.- Cuelebre Cave, Ayer council, Asturies. Author: Mike Tascón.

6th.- Embroidery in an Asturian traditional costume of the council of Llanes. Author: Sergio Ballester.

7th.- Cuélebre carved on the wall of a house in Muries village, Ayer council, Asturies.

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