The "borda" of the Po Valley


The marshy and marshy areas of the Po Valley were places that were in many ways difficult, scary, treacherous, and full of dangers of all kinds; popular imagination populated them with monsters and fantastic creatures of all kinds, then on closer inspection perhaps not even so much fantastic, probably just a little fictionalized.

Bird's eye view of the wetland of the internees' island, between Gualtieri and Gustalla (Reggio Emilia) with thunderstorms on the horizon.

Inthese marshy areas, where the fog often disorientates by hiding the horizon from view, they mix Earth and Sky, in a surreal and suspended space-time, the inhabitants of the plain tell of a supernatural female being, halfway between a horrible witch and an enormous aquatic beast, which however was not accustomed to being seen by human beings, instead drags them under water, where it waited for them to devour them or simply to kill them, it is the Borda, a name which can take on slightly different nuances depending on according to the various local dialect inflections, (Borda, Burda, Bordon, Bordeau, Bordò) The name of this creature seems to have a root in the Celtic name Bor / Borvo, ancient deity of spring and bubbling waters. In this we can recognize in popular stories and legends, an ancient, very ancient root, a lifeblood that flows over time, like an insect that experiences metamorphosis: it transmutes and changes appearance to perpetuate itself and the message it carries. Like any deity, he was (or is) powerful and fearsome, but he was not evil, in Gaul people turned to him, in his places of worship linked to the waters, to ask for health for themselves and their loved ones. We find traces of his cult from Portugal to France, from the Netherlands to Northern Italy. Many of these places where Borvo/Borus was venerated have maintained an assonance in their name, a root that links them to the context of this ancient past (Bourbonne-les-Bains, Bourbon-l'Archambault, Bourbon-Lancy or In Italy, where we find it in many places in the Gallic and Celtic-Ligurian areas such as for example at the origins of the city of Bormio or in the Bormida river).

Etymology and toponymy are sciences that are as boring as they are rich and precious, because they transmit information "in code" that would otherwise be difficult to find. Every name is never given by chance, it always has a history, especially in antiquity, when the perception of the sacredness of life and the world in which we live was more vivid, the name was a very important attribute, which always had to be chosen with care and carefully, it had to convey and contain the essence of the thing, place or person who carried it.

Returning to our local Borda, this frightening being seems to take over the lives of the unwise who unfortunately slip down the steep slopes of the banks, or of those who are sucked into a whirlpool or fall into the water while walking boldly on the frozen shore. Who knows through what troubled events a divinity of the spring waters that could give good health was transformed into a monstrous unclean being greedy for innocent lives, perhaps it will be the unhealthy and putrid waters of certain marshy areas that have poisoned his spirit, or perhaps he will have too humanly succumbed to the seduction of some local witch, who trapped him in her evil spell. Thinking badly, it is also probable that over the centuries, the new single God imposed on the populations tried to engulf this pagan God, failing, and how it is well known, the Church transformed into demons all the previous divinities that it failed to transform into saints.

According to local people, the Borda is responsible for a myriad of drownings and tragedies, so never underestimate the warning Sta ateint ch'a gh'è la Borda, aimed above all at the younger ones, accustomed to adventure and bravado .

Every deity demands her tribute...