Hungarian Folk Beliefs

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ungarian Folk Beliefs

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Hungarian Folk Beliefs


Title of the original: A magyar nep hiedelemvilaga CORVINA, 1981 Translated by Christopher M. Hann Design by Vera Kobol Maps by Marianne Kiss © Tekla Dombtor, 1981 Library of Congress card catalog number: LC 82-48163 ISBN 0-253-32876-4

Printed in Hungary, 1982

Athenaeum Printing House, Budapest

Contents Introduction . Roots. The Ancient Religion of the Hungarians . A People shall be Converted. Folk Beliefs at the Time of the Reformation . Witch Trials in Hungary. Folk Beliefs in the Age of the Enlightenment. Folk Beliefs in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Ethnology and Researches into Folk Beliefs . Animistic Beliefs . Mythical Beings. Metamorphosis. Liderc, Ludverc, Mit-mitke (Ignis Fatuus) . Szepasszony (“Fair Lady”), Kisasszony, (“Fair Maid”), Fairy. Revenants and Ghosts . Demons of Nature. 1) Water Demons. 2) Forest Demons . 3) The Corn Demon . Giants and Dwarfs. The Devil and his Accomplices . Lucy . Malevolent Spirits, Blood-suckers . Bogeymen. Demons of Disease . Changeling ... Werewolf . The Dragon .

9 21 21 42 51 62 72 76 76 80 80 85 87 92 101 105 105 107 109 110 Ill 113 115 117 119 120 121 122 5

The Snake. Other Mythical Animals and Plants . The “Cunning Folk” (People with Special Skills) . The Taltos and the Garaboncias (Wandering Scholar). The Halottlato (Seer, Conjurer of the Dead). The Clever Coachman and the Cunning Shepherd . Witches. The Midwife-witch . Healers and their Cures. Magic . Spells. Bewitchment through the Evil-eye. The Power to Bind and to Release. Magic Pressure. Riding. The Black Fast. Benefits Magically Obtained . Love Magic . Beneficient Magic and Magical Rites Associated with Production . The Objects Used in Performing Magic . Divination . The Magical Power of Words. Folk Prayers. Man and Nature. The Role of Space and Time in Folk Beliefs. Beliefs Concerning Celestial Bodies. The Creation of the Earth. The Tree of the World. The Universe . 6

124 126 128 132 136 139 143 145 156 165 167 171 177 179 181 182 188 189 191 195 197 206 216 221 227

Explanations of the Natural World. Holy Time . The Weather. Laicized Traditions of the Church. Pilgrimages. Sects. The Living and the Dead . Grave Posts . Bibliography and Notes . List of Illustrations. Index of Names. Index of Subjects and Place-names.

232 234 235 238 246 250 255 262 269 306 312 317


Introduction Folk beliefs in Hungary and in Europe as a whole became the subject of scholarly research relatively late in the day. Before the nineteenth century it was usual to speak of superstitions, pagan rites and heresies; the religious notions and practices of the mass of the population, consisting in Hungary first and foremost of peasants, were not consid¬ ered worthy of serious scientific study. The Catholic Church con¬ sistently pronounced any religious activity which diverged from its own teaching to be “pagan”, a word which has come down from the Latin paganus, meaning rural, uneducated, ignorant. Originally the word was applied by the Church of Rome to those peoples and tribes which had not yet encountered Christian teachings; they were regard¬ ed as uneducated and ignorant primitives, who had to be converted to the scholarly precepts of Christianity. The word was later also used to describe religious practices which persisted after conversion with¬ out the sanction of the Church. Scholarly investigations into folk beliefs began around the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as an auxiliary discipline of modern history. They coincided roughly with the formation of modern nation states in Europe, and their significance was especially great in the case of those European peoples and ethnic groups which were seeking their national identity and independence at this time. Only at the end of the eighteenth century did it begin to dawn on European scholars that more ancient ideas and traditions were likely to have survived in seemingly exotic rural superstitions and magical practices than in any other sphere of culture. Since the ethnogenesis and prehistory of a good many European peoples were shrouded in the mists of time, folk beliefs were recognized as one possible means for reconstructing elements of the pre-Christian culture. It was hoped that the appropriate data would help to confer historical le9

gitimacy on the emergent national states, and thus research into folk beliefs from the start had a certain political colouring. The Hungarian case exemplifies this pattern: from the beginning, research into folk beliefs was intertwined with work on the prehistory of the Hungari¬ ans, which was an important political and ideological weapon in the struggle for national independence. Of course, research into folk beliefs had other antecedents as well. By the end of the eighteenth century European scholars had become aware that exotic supernatural beliefs were held by tribal societies outside Europe, and it was about this time that the European intelli¬ gentsia was astonished to realize that comparable phenomena were to be found within their own societies, primarily within the peas¬ antry. Magic, animism, fetishism, and various other practices were all quite clearly present in the belief systems of European peoples. The concept of the folk belief obtained a more precise definition when ethnography became an independent discipline in the early nineteenth century. Its application has to be restricted to class so¬ cieties, i.e. to societies with complex divisions, because in more primitive social formations it has no sense to conduct a separate analysis offolk beliefs. Some European scholars have attempted to distinguish the relig¬ ious beliefs of various social strata in ancient cultures, on the basis of extant writings and archaeological remains; for example, the Swe¬ dish scholar Nilsson has written a book about folk beliefs in Ancient Greece. In the more advanced societies of ancient times the popular religion of the masses already differed to a certain extent from the official code; teachings of a philosophical character took sec¬ ond place behind more simple phenomena, such as magic to deal with practical problems in life, and cults of the ancestors. The same pattern can be found later in the early feudal period as the European peoples were gradually converted to Christianity. European folk beliefs have always lingered characteristically in the shadow of the religious ideology in force and the officially endorsed practices. The very recognition of “folk beliefs” comes only in the scholar’s vocabulary and it is not shared by the mass of rural population, al10

though peasants are aware that their customs differ from the habits of the town. In fact, folk beliefs and religion are, from a phenome¬ nological standpoint, both manifestations of the same social con¬ sciousness at different levels. Folk beliefs are not characterized by clearly unfolding precepts of an organizational framework, since these would create a potential for heresies or the foundation of sects and rift within the Church. They comprise rather aspects of popu¬ lar culture which can be construed as religious but which do not de¬ liberately conflict with the official code, though neither do they consti¬ tute an organic part of that code. A similar situation of certain classes and groups developing their own folk beliefs can be found within other major religions apart from Christianity. For example the basic concepts and practices of an ancient and primitive shamanism can be detected in the civili¬ zations of Tibet where the head of the Buddhists was the Dalai Lama; and there is a general potential everywhere for the emergence of more pragmatic folk rituals, and a “popular mythology” which manages not to contradict the more abstruse precepts of the official code by not paying them a great deal of attention. Before the discipline of ethnography ushered in a more sophistic¬ ated approach, the manifestations of folk beliefs were generally dismissed as superstitions. Of course, superstitions were and are to be encountered in urban society, amongst more educated strata, as well as in folk culture. Psychologists also distinguish communal superstitions from individual ones. Since we are interested in folk beliefs, and since this is necessarily a communal concern, a complex system handed down unobtrusively from one generation to the next, we can afford to ignore the issues raised by superstitions of an indi¬ vidual character. Concepts are frequently expressed in the form of communal instructions, regulations, prohibitions and explanations, but superstitions are not studied as a given set from the older gene¬ ration. The great majority of individuals simply absorb them as they grow up, and only fortune-tellers, healers and the like may have to “qualify” in their speciality, through learning texts and specific deeds of magic to help them in the implementation of folk beliefs. 11

Official ecclesiastical attitudes to superstition have varied through history. For example the early Christians strove to integrate and adapt all the former non-Christian festivals and animistic beings which were not in flagrant breach of Christian ideology, following the practice of the “Interpretatio Romana”. Perhaps the best known example is the way in which Christmas evolved from the Mithras cult, and other cults of the sun, and various major festivals of the calendar developed in the same way. Quite a few of the early Chris¬ tian saints (since declared apocryphal in most cases) were the direct continuation of earlier deities. However, when common folk clung to something which the Christian Church was unwilling to accept, that became ipso facto superstition. From the Middle Ages we are in a better position to observe the diverging courses of official codes and folk beliefs in Europe. Many elements which in recent centuries have been considered as part of folk culture were rooted in the official teachings and ritual of the Churches in an earlier period. It follows from all this that the components of the folk beliefs existing in nineteenth century Europe had the most diverse historical origins. They included basic forms of magic and animism which were also present at the most primitive levels of social development. Equal¬ ly, they contained a good many practices which in the course of Church reforms had lost the ecclesiastical endorsement they once enjoyed but which had retained their attraction for the masses. A number of specific features of pre-Christian religions had also survived, and these are of especial interest to the ethnographers. Many subjects which rural people themselves do not consider to be religious at all, such as curing with the aid of a spell, also fall into this category. In other cases, for example, the case of bewitching, people make it quite clear that, although the goal of the activity is absolutely practical, it is also somehow bound up with religion. Injurious activities are often held to be the work of the devil by official religious codes and folk beliefs alike, as are the existence and activities of witches. It would be rather one-sided, however, if we approached folk 12

beliefs solely for their value as historical sources, from which clues to the ancient past can somehow or other be extracted; and it would be equally mistaken to see only retrograde aspects to their long survival through history, to see them as the foolish delusions of the uneducated persisting unchanged through time. Folk beliefs are in fact of much greater significance than this. It should not be forgotten that for centuries and even millennia folk beliefs have been proscribed by the laws of Church and state; the better educated scoffed, ministers of religion punished offenders, and the Enlightenment ridiculed and waged war on folk customs. And yet they survived, and moreover they survived more or less intact until towards the end of the nineteenth century. The explan¬ ation can only be that they had some vital function in society, which enabled them to withstand attacks from so many fronts. The masses, and in particular village dwellers, looked to their be¬ liefs for assistance in situations where they had no other options. In the conditions of feudalism and early capitalism they lived all their life subject to the most abject relations of exploitation, applying as much to the lot of the individual as to that of the community, and bearing both upon man’s struggle against nature and against social oppression. They were powerless in the face of disease, the ravages of war, tax collectors and natural disasters; they had no protector, doctor or teacher on whom to fall back, and were therefore compelled to rely on their own strength and wit. For this reason alone it is scarcely surprising that they placed greater faith in the teachings of their old forbears than in the new-fangled ideas of teachers from an alien social class; they placed their greatest trust in the “cunning folk” coming from the same ranks. Whilst the teachings of lords and masters, including religious doctrines, were accepted, this did not dispense with the need for an alternative set of symbols capable of expressing the external world more concretely and making it more intelligible than did the official code. These symbols had to express the dangers and beauties of life perceptibly, as well as supply ultimate explanations and come up with practical instructions, particularly as far as behaviour in times 13

of crisis was concerned. This is not to imply that the symbols did not quite often outlive the actual situation in which they had come into being and enjoy an anachronistic survival; often they were restruc¬ tured time and again until certain elements disappeared for good. Another way in which folk beliefs have been preserved is through adaptation for the purposes of artistic expression. There are plenty of fashionable examples in contemporary culture, such as epic writ¬ ings, cult dances or ornamental motifs, which no one thinks any longer to associate with their origins in folk beliefs. It is enough to think of the composer and musicologist Zoltan Kodaly who delved deep into folk traditions and reworked ritual songs such as those associated with rites on Palm Sunday, and the Midsummer Night’s song, which have since become part of the music curriculum in schools without anybody realizing that these were formerly magical songs. Similarly, Rumanian men’s dances have lost their magicalcurative functions and become purely artistic in nature. As such they are duly appreciated in the second half of the twentieth century, for they tie in well with other artistic aspirations and they enrich the artists’ means of expression. We must also broach two further questions, the role of folk beliefs in the twentieth century, and how to subject them to rigorous study. It is evident to all that the traditional beliefs of the Hungarian village, and of villages throughout Europe, have been dying out in the twentieth century. The pace of this process has increased, and of course, this is how things should be. A few years ago it was still easy enough in several Hungarian villages to photograph numerous magical practices; this generation has now passed on, no one really knows these practices any longer, and so no new photographs can usefully be taken. On the other hand, it is worth remembering that for rural folk in the past, taking a keen interest in the supernatural was in reality also a means of conducting scientific enquiry. Since there were no open¬ ings in further education for the mass of the Hungarian peasantry, thinking in terms of myths with their own symbolical systems sup¬ plied for them what the more privileged were able to imbibe from an 14

advanced education. One may even feel, as I do, that the successors of the wise men, the herbalists, the wizards, the “cunning folk” of olden times are now, in contemporary society, excellent doctors, chemists and philosophers. The same interests which in the past could only be satisfied in the field of folk beliefs tend nowadays to lead such individuals towards a scientific career; and they become in the pro¬ cess valuable members of the Hungarian intelligentsia. Thus folk beliefs in Hungary have been on the wane for some considerable time, and the new superstitions current today are no longer derived from Hungarian traditions but are cosmopolitan in character, such as flying saucers, fantastic creatures arriving from other planets, phantoms climbing up onto cars and such like. I shall not deal with these new superstitions here; nor shall I be touching upon the very significant psychological factors which influence the emergence of folk beliefs and help to sustain them, though I am far from underestimating the importance of such factors. I see my task as being to sketch the main lines of the evolution of Hungarian folk beliefs through history. Reluctantly, I have had to refrain from going into regional details and exploring the numerous territorial variants of particular beliefs. Folk beliefs appear in as many forms as the works of oral literature, folk customs and just about every pheno¬ menon of folkway. It is usually possible, after looking at all the re¬ gional variations, to outline the main trend of a particular practice. Faced with a choice between a piecemeal geographical approach and offering a broad historical outline I chose the latter, since the book is intended to be for the layman rather than experts in the field. To make the phenomena described as accessible as possible, and to pre¬ serve their intimacy, I have frequently quoted informants, the bear¬ ers of the beliefs, in their own words. I have also relied primarily on my own material, even where variants collected by other researchers were perhaps more detailed and more typical. In cases where my own collection was inadequate I have made use of material gathered by others over the last ten years; hence the overall picture depicts faith¬ fully the folk beliefs of the recent past. I am indebted to all those whose ethnographical fieldwork I have drawn on, whether in pub15

lished or manuscript form, particularly to Erno Eperjessy, Sandor Erdesz, Ilona P. Madar, Eva Cs. Poes, Aniko Salamon and Lajos Szabo, and others. In the main I have quoted them in connection with geo¬ graphical regions where I have done no fieldwork myself, e.g. concerning the Csangos of the Gyimes region, where Aniko Salamon has recorded folk beliefs that are still very much alive. The reader should not therefore expect a precise documentation of all the variants of a given belief. My goal has been to outline a historical process, which in its essentials is not so specific to Hun¬ gary. The path followed by the Hungarian village has been followed by many other villages in Europe, though it would be foolish to ex¬ pect to discover precise temporal parallels. It may well be asked where and how do folk beliefs manifest them¬ selves in a modern Hungarian village? They are far from conspicuous, and the external signs are usually seen only in connection with church-going and the religiosity of laymen. There are a number of sources to orient the outside investigator. Regulations and prohibi¬ tions constitute the simplest types of source, but these are commonly so inconspicuous as to be impossible to detect in everyday behaviour. For example, when our landlady declines to accompany us across to the neighbouring house on St. Lucy’s Day (December 13th), she is in fact respecting a prohibiton acknowledged by every member of the community (the belief being that on this day a female guest is the harbinger of bad luck), but to us she will be sure to find some other excuse. The string of superstitions acted out on the occasion of a wedding festival is likewise seldom perceived by a stranger because they are performed in secret and deliberately concealed from outsi¬ ders. Nor would we ever suspect from that piece of rag by the side of the road or that puddle of spilt cooked beans that here somebody has been bewitched. Unfortunately the objects associated with beliefs are also disap¬ pearing. The skulls of horses which offered protection against spells can no longer be found. Only the rules and prohibitions surrounding the deceased are easier to detect, since these superstitions appear often enough even in the behaviour of townspeople. 16

The outsider also faces a tough task in getting to know the identity of the “cunning folk” of the village community. I once spent a week in the company of a rather taciturn old woman before learning that my landlady was generally regarded as the village witch. The more famous faith-healers and the “seers”, who conjure up the dead, are easily found, since they continue to attract visitors from considerable distances; and the residence of an “important” person may be given away today by the queue of motor-cars outside his house. The village, however, will preserve its secret as far as possible. Communal customs at festivals and fetes are altogether more con¬ spicuous, though these sometimes have only the most tenuous con¬ nections with folk beliefs. Since dressing up in masks is relatively unusual in Hungarian communities, even these customs do not seem particularly exotic to the urban dweller. It is no coincidence that huge crowds flock to Mohacs on Carnival Sunday to see the spec¬ tacular wooden masks of the Sokac, a Croatian ethnic group living in Hungary, for the Hungarians have no comparable tradition. Mum¬ mery at Carnival time as practised in Hungarian communities, such as the smearing ritual known in Fejer County as kormozas, is some¬ times organized by the local branch of the Youth League, and only the atmosphere of jollity has survived from the magical rites of days gone by. A similar situation prevails on other festive occasions such as kotyolas (incantations to protect poultry uttered on Saint Lucy’s Day) and the choosing of the Whitsun King and his Queen, where the customs live on purely to provide an opportunity for the girls of the village to dress up or for the boys to initiate a romance. The strength of religious convictions becomes fully apparent at times of acute uncertainty in the life of the individual or community; but magical powers are commonly applied to fortune itself, to ro¬ mance and the whole domaine of sexuality. An unexpected disease or bereavement or stroke of bad luck is readily attributed to a spell, even by those who are not particularly superstitious and who basi¬ cally have a completely modern outlook on the world. This sporadic propensity of the rural consciousness does not imply any basic “backwardness”, since in the cities, too, we can find plenty of similar 17

examples of primitive faith in magic. Dozens of actors and sports¬ men are unwilling to perform without the reassuring touch of some lucky charm; and in Hungary a student will turn pale if someone is so malicious as to wish him good luck before an examination, in place of the prescribed “a broken arm and a broken leg”. We can see how a modern scientific outlook can coexist with the former traditional cosmogony, be grafted on, as it were, eclectically, by asking elderly village dwellers to describe the moon or the story of creation. They have no doubt that astronauts have walked on the moon, having seen them for themselves on television, but they still believe that David is fiddling whilst Saint Cecilia dances and that on the moon a shepherd is drying his foot clout. As to the creation of the earth, one and the same informant may come up with three quite different answers: first of all, he will recount the scientific expla¬ nation as absorbed in school, secondly, the biblical story, and thirdly, an explanation rooted in traditional cosmology, for example, some creature brings up some sand in its mouth from watery depths, and this generated the earth. It is perfectly characteristic of the village mentality that concrete images dominate the ideas and that quite contradictory cosmogonies may exist side by side. No doubt this was equally the case in the past, for how else could folk beliefs have survived for so long in the shadow of the religions of the state? When conducting enquiries into folk beliefs, one often has the feel¬ ing that one deals with metaphors rather than components of folk beliefs. Beliefs disclose to us all the aggression and the goodness to be found in the real world, they portray good luck and bad luck in concrete forms. And the deeds, though ineffective objectively speak¬ ing, are efficacious psychologically, for they fill the actor with the hope that he may after all find an irrational way out of bleak situa¬ tions, and they reassure him that he himself has done all in his power to bring about a change for the better. This is more or less how folk beliefs stand in the Hungarian village today. The main trend is pointing towards gradual disappearance or metamorphosis into aesthetic values that are not to be disparaged, the belief giving place to an epic saga and the magical rite to an in18

teresting and entertaining popular occasion. Because of the slow de¬ velopment of social consciousness in the countryside, the role and the sphere of influence of folk beliefs were a great deal more signifi¬ cant in the past; this is the major contrast with the contemporary state of affairs. It can be stated in summary that folk beliefs were one of the key creative elements of popular subculture, they generally appeared in intimate conjunction with the flowering of artistic aspirations, and at a deeper level they may also be said to secrete an ideology which opposed that of the ruling classes. Hence folk beliefs cannot be isolated historically from the ideology of peasant resistance move¬ ments, nor from the justifications of peasant rebellions, for it was usual for political tendencies, in the Middle Ages in particular, to appear in the form of a religious ideology. Folk beliefs no longer have any such role today, but even so, and despite their random, non-systematic character and their various absurdities, in their ensemble they may still reveal a good deal about the workings of the minds which transmitted folk culture down through the ages. I may also be called on to justify the manner in which I have had recourse to comparative method in this book, in other words to explain when and why I have explicitly sought to relate Hungarian folk beliefs with those of neighbouring peoples and other European countries. A paper I wrote many years ago showed the place of Hungarian folk beliefs “between East and West”, and connections with other European peoples, both close correspondences and glar¬ ing contrasts, have varied greatly according to time and place. The only satisfactory method would have been to subject every element to be found in the belief system to a separate comparative analysis, both historically and territorially. Since there was no scope for so meticulous an approach here, I have alluded to the similar concep¬ tions of other peoples only when this was essential for a correct under¬ standing of the Hungarian belief (when it is certain that the influence was direct and relatively recent) and also when writing about Hun¬ garian beliefs which have no apparent parallels in other belief sys¬ tems. No thorough analysis of folk beliefs on a European scale has 19

yet been attempted, either historically or synchronically in their nineteenth-century conditions. Most researchers have tended to seek the specific, distinguishing traits of the ethnic group under examin¬ ation, even though many folk beliefs can only be understood proper¬ ly in their historical context and are not the monopoly of any one group. It is sufficient to remember that, for example, the literate so¬ cieties of ancient times record fear of the evil-eye, ordeal by red-hot iron, men who could turn into wolves, and the midday demon; in each of these cases it is difficult to determine when the belief in question originated in Europe, but it was certainly a very long time ago. I wish to thank the scholars who perused the text, especially Gyorgy Balazs and Mihaly Hajdu; two younger colleagues, Jozsef Tichy and Gyorgyi Gero, who have been selfless in their help, and Mrs. Gy. Winkler, who transcribed my field data from tape. As far as possible I have refrained from altering the direct speech of informants, subordinating stylistic criteria for the sake of greater authenticity. I do not give the names of my informants, only the name of the ethnic group to which they belong or of the place where fieldwork was carried out. In several cases research was undertaken jointly; the texts of the Moldavian Csangos were mostly recorded in conjunction with Eva Cs. Poes; Erno Eperjessy and Ilona P. Madar were my principal companions on other fieldwork expeditions. I should also like to express my thanks to the staffs of the Ethno¬ graphical Museum in Budapest, the Christian Museum in Esztergom, and the Rippl-Ronai Museum in Kaposvar for invaluable assistance with the illustrations; particular thanks go to Tamas Hoffmann, Janos Kodolanyi, Erzsebet Foldes, Judit Knezy and Istvan Kerekgyarto. December, 1977



The research into Hungarian folk beliefs which got under way in the early nineteenth century had two principal sources. The prime stimu¬ lus was not a scholarly interest in folk culture but a desire to re¬ veal the ancient, pre-Christian culture of the Magyars. This is what explains the preoccupation with the “ancient religion”. Secondly, from the middle of the eighteenth century a series of books inspired by the ideals of the European Enlightenment sounded a call for the elimination of the foolish superstitions of the common people. In the course of this campaign against superstition they described nu¬ merous beliefs and deeds of magic; hence they too could be treated as source material by the scholar at a later date, even though their original goal was not, of course, to make the superstitions widely known, but to have them suppressed. Let us begin by considering how Hungarian scholars set about penetrating the old pagan beliefs of their forefathers. The orientalist Ferenc Otrokocsi Foris (1648 - 1714) was the first author to broach the subject of the religious beliefs of the Hungarians prior to Chris¬ tianity, commonly and incorrectly referred to as “the ancient religion”. In the course of a very eventful life, this scholar published a work at Franeken in 1693 entitled Origines Hungaricae, which attempted to analyse a number of elements of the ancient religion. A more profound analysis of the subject was conducted by the historian Daniel Comides (1732-1787), whose Commentatio (De religione veterum Hungarorum) was first delivered orally at Gottin¬ gen in 1785. The work was published posthumously in Vienna, and consists of only forty-one pages in all. The first generation of en¬ quirers into the ancient religion found their main sources in the Latin 21

chronicles of medieval Hungary, in ecclesiastical regulations reaching all the way back to the time of conversion and also in etymological works and comparative studies. Cornides relied primarily on the material of the chronicles, partic¬ ularly the famous Chronicle of Anonymous, thought to have been written by a scribe of King Bela, probably the Third, around the year 1200. He deals with sacrificial rites mentioned in the chronicles, with the consumption of wolf’s meat, mare’s milk and blood, and he, too, raises the issue which was to remain central throughout the nineteenth century — whether the pagan Magyars were monotheists or believed in a plurality of deities. The greatest problem underlying all enquiries of this nature, and one which has not disappeared entirely up to the present day, is posed by the many gaps in our knowledge of Hungarian prehistory. Therefore it is not at all surprising to find the scholars of this prelimi¬ nary phase endeavouring to compare the hypothesized ancient religion of the Magyars with those ancient religions of which the age had a certain knowledge, namely ancient Judaism, the religions of classical Greece and Rome, and (since there was never the slightest doubt that the Hungarians had their origins in the East) the religions of the Scythians and the Persians. Cornides himself, for example, was led to suppose that the old Magyars had neither idols nor tem¬ ples, two questions which have not been adequately resolved to the present day. It is true that at the time of conversion and in the cen¬ turies which followed the Magyars were repeatedly prohibited from worshipping beside springs, trees or stones, but this is inconclusive proof; in the old law books of the Church and in ecclesiastical regu¬ lations, for example in the Capitulare of Charlemagne, these proscriptions may well have been no more than a standard feature in medieval Catholic Church legislation. The Hungarian chronicles also make reference to a so-called blood-contract, which did not fail to attract the attention of Cornides either. Tradition has it that when the pagan leaders of the seven Ma¬ gyar tribes sealed their alliance they did so by drinking from a single bowl, into which each had poured a little of his own blood. 22

We can see that the early researchers into primitive religion set out hesitantly on their difficult path. This phase was summed up and criticized by the folklorist Lajos Katona (1862- 1910) in Vol. 8 of the periodical Ethnographia in 1897. It was characterized by the supposition that the Hungarians were Scythian in origin, by an extreme reliance on etymological findings, and by unfounded com¬ parative techniques, particularly in collating the Hungarian ancient religion with Persian and other ancient religions of the East. Other researchers of the first half of the nineteenth century can all be assessed within the framework established by Katona. Janos Hor¬ vath (1763 - 1853) can be recognized as being on a par with the best scholars of the age. His successors, however, before the publication of the works of Arnold Ipolyi, were obsessed by romantic inter¬ pretation of Hungarian prehistory and religion, fully in keeping with the taste of the period but devoid of all scientific foundation. The writer Istvan Horvat (1784- 1846) was a typical example. His work, Sketches from the Early Tales of the Hungarian Nation (Rajzolatok a magyar nemzet legregibb torteneteibol. Pest, 1825), derived more from the epic poetry of his near-contemporary Mihaly Vorosmarty than from authentic historical sources. He also let his mind run riot with the wildest of etymological speculations. Slightly more firmly grounded were the works of Ferenc Kallay, including his treatise at the Academy On Investigations into the Ancient Hungarian Religion (Az osi magyar vallas kifiirkeszese ugyeben.) Communications of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Yol. VII, 1847, and other studies, published for the most part in philological periodicals. Descriptions of the Magyars, at the time when they occupied the Carpathian Basin (Magyar Conquest, 895-96), by Arabic con¬ temporaries were also discovered during this period, and a misunder¬ standing of their very imprecise observations added to the very uncertain picture by then in existence concerning the beliefs of the ancient Hungarians. Janos Jerney was one of those responsible: a paper of his, “Abulfada’s Testimony concerning the Hungarians”, was published in a new series of the periodical Tudomanytar in 1847. 23

(Extracts from these earlier works are to be found in Hungarian in the anthology edited by Vilmos Dioszegi in 1971.) For all their romantic inspiration and etymological misunder¬ standings these works still prepared the ground for the later achieve¬ ments of Arnold Ipolyi. His great work, the Hungarian Mythology (Magyar mythologia), 1854, was written in response to a competition organized by the Kisfaludy Society, a literary society which aimed to support culture and writing in Hungary, including folk poetry, and enquiries into their past. The Society sponsored many other such thematic competitions, apart from the one which produced Ipolyi’s famous book. The rubric in 1846 defined the task as follows: “What certain or plausible assumptions can be made about the re¬ ligious beliefs and ceremonies of the heathen Magyars on the basis of the old chronicles (at home and abroad), other surviving records, traditions and certain superstitions, and finally, traces in the lan¬ guage? What is the origin and significance of the name of the supreme being, Isten [God], which shows an affinity to the mythology of an¬ cient peoples? How have folk beliefs preserved the expression “the God of the Hungarians” down to the present day? Did our forefa¬ thers have a plurality of deities or superior beings, and what is the particular origin and meaning of the concepts Vr [Lord]... Or [guard], Ordog [devil] ... Armany (Ahriman?) [intrigue], Mono (Ma¬ nes?) [hobgoblin], Orias [giant], Boszorkany [witch], etc. and in what relation were each of these thought to stand to the supreme being? What was the attitude of religion to Nature, its so-called elements and phenomena? . . . Were mythical animals said to exist, and if so what were they? How did ancient beliefs account for the origin of the world and what did they have to say about its forthcoming end, about the soul and in particular its freedom and its status in the after-life? What sort of connections if any existed between religion and the secular authorities of the old chiefdoms or chiefs? Who were the “taltos”, diviners, magicians, did they constitute a caste, and if so, what powers did they enjoy? Did they have any religious ceremonies, shrines, sacrifices, prayers, songs, fetes, holy relics or idols, and if so, what were they like? Did they make use of writing (runes)? Did re24

ligion spark any blooming of artistic talents? What is there to be known about the religious customs surrounding oaths, toasts, wed¬ dings, feasts, battles and burials? More particularly, about the funeral banquet, the bier, the Cumanian mounds and the respect shown for the dead (mourning customs)? What is the real meaning of the word Lapides in the law passed by Saint Ladislas condemning the cus¬ toms of the old Magyar religion? Is there any evidence in the old Ma¬ gyar religion of a divine sword, the like of which is also to be found not only amongst other warrior peoples like the Quads and the Alans, but also amongst the Scythians and Huns? Does this have some link with the Hungarian custom of carrying around a sword when inciting the people to armed conflict? Have superstitious be¬ liefs and customs survived amongst the common people, and what traces do they exhibit of the faith of ancient times? And finally, what manner of relation if any may be established between the religion of our forefathers and Hellenic mythology, Parseeism, Manichaeism, and the religions of the Scythians and Huns? May any further light be shed by the consideration of Mongol and Finnish mythology, or even the myths of Slavic and German peoples? ...” Arnold Ipolyi (1823-1886), archaeologist, historian of religion and Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church, answered the summons of the Kisfaludy Society with his Hungarian Mythology, a work which on balance, even allowing for the errors here and there, can only be hailed as a breakthrough. However, after a critical onslaught by the political writer Antal Csengery, Ipolyi would have nothing further to do with research into the ancient religion and folk beliefs. Little progress was made in the field over a long period, until worthy successors emerged. It was only natural that Ipolyi should set out in his book with the philosophical and ideological presupposition that the ancient relig¬ ion was a monotheist one. The position of the Church, which Ipolyi as a priest was obliged to accept, held that mankind was originally monotheist and only later came to believe in a plurality of deities. However, as Lajos Katona later perceived, this was altogether irrel¬ evant from the point of view of researches into the pre-Christian re25

ligion of the Magyars. The real deficiencies of this work can be found in its etymological deductions, most of which were as unfounded as those of its forerunners, and in the application of the comparative method to ancient peoples of the East who cannot be shown ever to have made contact with the ancestors of the Hungarians. Such errors are more than outweighed by the strengths of this book, which was a pioneer work, the first serious attempt to re¬ construct the beliefs of the pre-Conquest Hungarians. It is true that today we would hesitate to claim that these beliefs comprised a myth¬ ology, for we cannot even be sure that the Hungarians had any¬ thing like a single, unitary system of religious beliefs at the period of the Magyar Conquest. Ipolyi’s work remains nonetheless brilliant and definitive, based on a command of both historical sources and contemporary folk beliefs as well as a remarkable familiarity with the specialist literature in foreign languages, and all on a scale which only a large team of researchers and assistants would be likely to match today. It remains to this day the prime source for scholars enquiring into the folk beliefs alive in the middle of the last century, for a good many of his illustrations have since disappeared com¬ pletely. Ipolyi’s discussion of the Hungarian custom of electing the Whit¬ sun King provides a good example of the almost intuitive chain of reasoning which led him to the right solution and to anticipate the later achievements of Frazer in The Golden Bough and of many other major foreign scholars. He was also the first in Hungary to treat questions concerning divine kingship. He was the first to record precisely concepts such as totemism and the notion of mana (imper¬ sonal magical power), though he did not name them in this way, for the general acceptance of these names only came about at a later date. The later works of Geza Roheim and Vilmos Dioszegi were landmarks on a road already mapped out by Ipolyi. Ipolyi drew his main stimulus from the works of Jacob Grimm, but he was also familiar with a vast range of contemporary European literature on the subject. The arrangement of his book was partly dictated by his German sources and partly by the theme laid down 26

by the Kisfaludy Society (quoted above). He began with the word and the concept of Isten [God], which remains an etymological problem even now. He dealt with the question of the “God of the Hungarians”, regarded as the supreme deity by the Hungarians of the Conquest period. Then he proceeded to discuss the devil, spiritual beings and demons, and although his data and his descriptions are consistently impressive in their range, his etymology here tends to let him down. Nor can we agree with the manner in which he imputes international epic themes and motifs to be the sources underlying folk beliefs, though the details of his analysis remain full of surpris¬ ing insights. He was struck by the complete absence of domestic spirits, lares, in Hungarian folk beliefs; he stressed also that they had no line in vampires, and offers a more than satisfactory account of the role of giants and dwarfs in belief constructs; he wrote in detail about all the existing variants of belief in the liderc (ignis fatuus). He was in deep water when probing, for example, beliefs commonly held about Nature and the old idols of the Hungarians, and he also hypothesized that the Hungarians had some notion of the trans¬ migration of souls, although there is no evidence to support this contention. The great merit of his work lies in the careful descrip¬ tions it supplies (alongside all the riddles it raises) of the folk customs of Hungarians in the nineteenth century, their beliefs and the poetic texts associated with them. The section which explores beliefs in witches is likewise exemplary: Ipolyi was the first to deal in detail with witch trials in Hungary and the notions concerning witchcraft which had lingered on into nineteenth-century Hungary. Antal Csengery (1822-1880), who mounted such a sharp attack on the Hungarian Mythology, was indeed a lot more up-to-date po¬ litically and ideologically. He was a believer in evolutionism and not so much inclined to romantic distractions in the field of comparative religion. On the contrary, he was quite sure that the parallels to the religion of the early Magyars should be sought primarily in the beliefs of the Uralic peoples, and was sceptical of those who con¬ ducted forays into ancient Persian, Sanskrit and Sumerian. The effect of Csengery’s polemic was almost fatal: although Ipolyi 27

was drawn to reply, he then took no further interest in folk beliefs, and Csengery proved incapable of writing the modernist analysis of the ancient religion which the public was entitled to expect from him. His Studies on the Ancient Religion of the Hungarians (Tanulmdnyok a magyarok dsvalldsdrol, Budapest, 1884) scarcely rises above the mediocre. Ipolyi did have a number of inferior successors in the decades which followed. Ferenc Kallay (1790-1861) and Kabos Kandra (1853-1905) added some supplementary findings to his data. Henrik Wlislocki (1856-1907) wrote a German summary of all the age knew concerning the folk religion of the Hungarians, and those unfamiliar with Hungarian still turn to his pages for introductory guidance to the subject. The folklorists Lajos Kalmany (1852-1919) and Lajos Katona (1862-1910) were active around the turn of the century, and although neither was primarily a specialist in ancient religion, they added a number of relevant works to the literature. The article by Lajos Katona to which we have already referred, in analysing the progress of scholarly enquiry in this discipline, put an end to the profusion of misleading theories thrown up in the course of the century. Rely¬ ing primarily on fieldwork in the vicinity of his home town of Szeged, Lajos Kalmany sought to resolve a number of important problems, including traditional explanations of the creation, the role of celestial bodies in folk conceptions of the universe, and the name of the feasts of Mary in Hungary (Boldogasszony, the goddes of the ancient re¬ ligion). He also wrote about demoniacal creatures reputed to live in water, bogeymen and a good many other key elements of folk be¬ liefs. One of the chief points of Csengery’s criticism was Ipolyi’s relative ignorance of the folk beliefs of the Uralic-speaking peoples. The le¬ gitimacy of this criticism was recognized, and around the turn of the century a series of works devoted to the beliefs of the FinnoUgrian peoples were written by Hungarians or translated into Hun¬ garian from other languages. We shall be returning to this subject later on. 28

The first studies of Geza Roheim (1891-1953) appeared in the columns of Ethnographia in the years before the First World War. These early works show him preoccupied with one of the central problems of the researchers into the ancient religion of the Hungari¬ ans, the problem of whether parallels should be sought amongst Uralic or amongst Altaic peoples. The young Roheim set out with the goal of doing all that was possible to shed light on elements of eastern origin. He discussed totemism, divine kingship, prevailing concepts of magic amongst the Finno-Ugrian peoples, and summed up all there was to be known about Hungarian folk beliefs in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in his monograph published in 1925. The monograph, however, draws its comparisons primarily with the folk beliefs of other European peoples and not with those of Uralic or Altaic origin. Entitled Hungarian Folk Beliefs and Customs (Magyar nephit es nepszokasok), it sets out to show that these con¬ tain no Finno-Ugrian elements, and that what is obviously oriental in appearance is much more probably the result of Turkish influence. He believed even the latter to be negligible. “We must acknowledge that Hungarian folk beliefs and customs are predominantly Euro¬ pean in character,” he wrote. The most important influences he be¬ lieved to have stemmed from Serbs, Croatians, Slovaks and Czechs, while a lesser impact had been made by German-speaking groups and in Transylvania by Rumanians. Not satisfied that every question had been perfectly tidied up, Roheim continued his investigations in later life, after his emigration to North America. In his Hungarian and Vogul Mythology (New York, 1954), published after his death, he compares data from the medieval Hungarian chronicles with certain elements of folk beliefs which have survived in Hungary and also with the beliefs and myths recorded in recent centuries amongst the peoples closest to the Hun¬ garians linguistically, the Ob-Ugrians. Hence the circle closed and Geza Roheim was led back to seek comparisons between the religion of the early Magyars and the religious systems of the Ugrian peoples. Questions bearing upon the religion of the early Magyars con¬ tinued to fascinate almost every serious scholar in the period between 29

the two World Wars. For example Zsigmond Szendrey (1879-1943) and his son Akos Szendrey (1902-1965) devoted several short stu¬ dies to pursuing associations between contemporary rites and objects of a magical character and the beliefs of ancient times. Sandor Solymossy (1864-1945) and Janos Berze Nagy (1879-1946) were folk¬ lorists who strove to solve the puzzles concerning oriental elements in the galaxy of Hungarian folk-tales. Shamanism was the topic to inspire the greatest number of studies (by Janos Kodolanyi, Gyula Laszlo, Sandor Sziics and many more besides). Mean¬ while the lines of research laid down by Ipolyi and Roheim were most closely adhered to by Vilmos Dioszegi, who died in 1972. Like Ipolyi and Roheim, Vilmos Dioszegi began deliberately in early life to prepare the ground for his later investigations into the ancient religion of the Hungarians. He studied Turkish, Mongol¬ ian, Tungus-Manchu, Finno-Ugrian languages and Chinese, in addi¬ tion to the usual European languages. Before setting out on his first study-trips abroad he familiarized himself thoroughly with the folk beliefs still alive in every corner of Hungary. Only then did he set out on the path taken by previous generations, seeking out the Siberian peoples whose language bore some affinity to the Hungari¬ ans. It was the physical toil taken by this expedition that caused his early death. Academically, he continued work begun by Janos Janko, Antal Reguly and the other pioneer researchers into linguistically related peoples. Finances were diverted from subsistence to the pro¬ cessing of more and more photographs, and Dioszegi would spend his nights copying museum inventories. He suffered frostbite of the feet, but paid scarcely any attention to privation and physical suffer¬ ing. He remained ebullient and persevering to the end, and not long after returning from Siberia he was off again on an expedition, this time to Mongolia. The results of his researches are preserved in nu¬ merous monographs and papers, both in Hungarian and foreign lan¬ guages. Unfortunately, most of the material he brought back remain¬ ed uncatalogued; but researches into shamanism all over the world benefited from his unique collection of shaman songs and his de¬ scriptions of the materials they employed. 30

Vilmos Dioszegi regarded shamanism as a kind of instrument able to help up to a certain point in reconstructing the history of peoples with no written records. Like his predecessors, he too was anxious to discover the extent of Finno-Ugrian and Altaic influence on Hun¬ garian shamanistic practices in their pristine form. With this we return full circle to the issues surrounding research into the ancient religion as an auxiliary discipline of ethnogenesis (Shamanistic Elements in the Culture of the Hungarians [A samanhit emlekei a magyar nepi muveltsegben], 1958; Shamanism \Sdmdnizmus], 1962; “Tuva Shamanism: Intraethnic Differences and Interethnic Anal¬ ogies” in Acta Ethnographica, 1962; “On the Origin of the Ob-Ugrian Shaman Drum” [Az obi-ugor samandob eredetenek kerdese] in Muveltseg es Hagyomany 1963; “Ethnogenic Aspects of Darhat Shamanism” in Acta Orient. Hung. 1962; etc.) Naturally researches have continued since Dioszegi’s death, but the present pattern is a mingling of elements much more diverse than those of the Hungarian tradition in the discipline hitherto. The schol¬ ars in the field today no longer speak of a Hungarian mythology or of an ancient religion; instead they are trying, primarily with the aid of linguistics and archaeology, to reconstruct the general belief system of the Uralic peoples, and to locate what may be presumed to be the belief system of the Magyars of the Conquest period within this framework. As an example of the work that is being done, let me mention the volume entitled The Uralic Peoples (Az urali nepek), 1975, in which the ancient beliefs of the ninth-century Hungarians were analysed by Istvan Dienes, and the general belief systems of the Uralic peoples and their shamanistic practices by the folklorist Mihaly Hoppal. Hungarian scholars have been greatly assisted by the intensive general theoretical examinations of shamanistic con¬ cepts conducted in the Soviet Union and Finland; indeed it can fairly be said that academic studies of shamanism as a religious sys¬ tem are forging ahead all over the world. In Hungary, for example, Vilmos Voigt has treated various historical, social and geographi¬ cal aspects of shamanism and tried to set the Hungarian tradition within a broader frame. Close and fruitful cooperation has develop31

ed with scholars abroad, for example with the Finn Lauri Honko, who share a common interest in completing the jigsaw puzzle of the ancient beliefs of the Uralic linguistic family. So much for the course of research from the late seventeenth century right up until the 1970s. The task facing us now is to determine which of the various works we have reviewed have stood the test of time, what progress has been made in elucidating ancient be¬ liefs. There are questions which pose no particular problem to the schol¬ ar, and there are others which are fully as hard to resolve today as they were at the beginning of the last century. For example, the terms mythology and ancient religion as the nineteenth-century men of letters understood them have been jettisoned, because it seems impossible to make use of them today. The best we can hope to achieve for the period between the Magyar Conquest and conversion to Christianity is to elucidate various beliefs and ritual phenomena which we may say were religious in character. Archaeological finds may be considered to be virtually the sole reliable source at our disposal, but in general the only solid data they can provide concern burial customs and even here the explana¬ tions are inevitably hypothetical. Few foreign commentators on Hungarian history in these cen¬ turies are completely trustworthy and unambiguous sources, and it is not difficult to detect the contradictions within the large body of material amassed by Hungarian archaeologists, historians and linguists. It has become clear beyond all doubt that the Hungarian language is a member of the Uralic family, with closest linguistic links to the Ob-Ugrians. It is equally clear that cultural links had become very weak by the time the Hungarians settled in the Carpathian Basin, and that Hungarian culture was progressing in a direction which contrasted with that followed by other members of the lin¬ guistic family, it exhibited the characteristic features of the animal breeders of the steppes, and the Hungarians of the Conquest period 32

were generally referred to as Turkic by their European contempo¬ raries ; a disproportionately large number of items in the Hungarian vocabulary hail from the Chuvash Turkic. Artistic relics from this period testify to the influence of Sassanid art, and scholars have not yet succeeded in demonstrating that these were actually the work of Hungarian craftsmen; some archaeologists, for example, believe them to be the work of Khaliz goldsmiths who joined the Hungarians around the time of the Conquest. Scholars in several disciplines have pursued a multitude of approaches to these problems, hence it is not surprising that controversies have persisted over a long period and continue at the present time. One linguist, in a book published in 1977, referred to the debate jokingly as the war between Ugrians and Turks. The sharpest debate was perhaps that in the realm of linguistics, for until participants here could reach some measure of agreement there was no solid base for comparative studies: some researchers would seek parallels for the beliefs of the conquering Magyars amongst the old Finno-Ugrian peoples, and others amongst Turkic peoples. The Hungarians themselves, even after they had settled in the Carpathian Basin, preserved memories of certain groups which had chosen not to accompany the majority westwards, but to remain where they were. As early as the Middle Ages, attempts were made to find them, and in the thirteenth century the Dominican monk Julianus was entrusted along with three other monks by King Bela IV with a mission to convert these groups to Christianity. Julianus ap¬ parently succeeded in finding them, understanding their language, and reporting back to the Pope. He set out to visit them again in 1237, but by then the advance of the Mongols was already under way; not only were the Hungarian groups in the east irrevocably scattered but even in Hungary itself the Mongols ravaged much of the country (1241-42). The survivors amongst the Eastern Hun¬ garians were presumably assimilated by other peoples. If Hungarians were aware that some groups of the tribes had re¬ mained in the old territories, they were certainly lacking any aware33

ness of allegiance to a Uralic linguistic group, and they were not the first to raise the possibility. Drawing on the work of a Veronese monk, Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (later Pope Pius II) referred to the links between Hungarian and the Uralic languages, particularly Ugrian, as early as the fifteenth century. The fact is less surprising when we bear in mind the missionary activities conducted by various monastic orders in the east, which would have required precise infor¬ mation concerning the peoples living there. The notion was later discussed abroad on numerous occasions, but Hungarian scholars, though some of them were familiar with foreign opinions on the matter, in their struggle for recognition and national autonomy paid no attention to these discussions. The first exception, author of the first scientific work of linguistics, was Janos Sajnovics; his Demonstratio Idioma Ungcirorum et Lapporum idem esse was published in 1770. The linguistic affinity with the Finno-Ugrian group remained the centre of discussion over a long period. Apart from repeated attempts to demonstrate an ancient link with Turkish, there were others prepared to cast Sumerian and other oriental languages in the same role. (The matter of Sumerian influence is one which con¬ tinues to exercise some fertile imaginations, especially amongst Hungarians living abroad.) In any case it is not enough to know that the Hungarian language is a member of the Uralic family if we are unable to find any other member of the family whose culture we can analyse and which stands at a stage of development similar to the culture of the Ma¬ gyars at the Conquest period. It would be a rather dubious undertak¬ ing to compare the religion of the Hungarians in the ninth and tenth centuries with that of Ob-Ugrians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. What can then be asserted with any degree of certainty about the religious beliefs of the Magyars of more than a thousand years ago? The first point is that at the Conquest period Hungarians were certainly familiar with monotheist religions, and it is possible that some of them had already been converted as Christians, Moslems 34

or Jews. (For example, the leading strata of the Khazar Empire adopted the Jewish religion at the time when the Hungarians were resident within the boundaries of this Empire.) Despite this, the main feature of the religion of the Magyars at the conquest period was probably shamanism, and despite the vari¬ ous differences of opinion between scholars, they more or less agreed on the existence of shamans and on the fact that at least some of them had a special name in Hungarian, taltos. We know little more in detail, for example concerning different types of shamans, “white” and “black”, and their specific roles. Amongst the hunters and gatherers of the Arctic regions the shaman practises his art as a “part-time” occupation, it is not one which assures him his living. Amongst peoples at a higher level of social development, the shaman is a full-time professional and it is his duty to conduct sacrifices; whereas in primitive communities it is the head of the family or the clan who generally deals with the sacrifice, whilst the shaman func¬ tions increasingly as a medicine-man. The majority of Hungarian researchers who have examined the subject accept the proposition that shamanism may be fairly applied to encompass the entirety of the belief system of the conquering Magyars. There are some who deny this, but even assuming that there were Magyar shamans does not take us very far. Representatives of the comparative study of religious systems have tended to concen¬ trate on whether parallels to Hungarian shamanism could be found amongst some Ugrian or Turkic peoples, but the problem is that the functions of the shaman vary tremendously both geographically and according to the level of socio-economic development. I alluded to these difficulties in 1964, and since then Vilmos Voigt has gone further in a number of studies identifying particular forms of shamanistic practice and isolating them from other forms. Our nearest linguistic relatives, the Ob-Ugrians, are too far away in both time and space, and it would be unwise to suppose that their shamans of the nineteenth century had the same role as the early Hungarian shamans (in the ninth century, for example). From Janos Horvath onwards, many have investigated how the 35

old shamanistic beliefs have survived in Hungarian folk culture over the centuries. Only a few decades ago there were still individuals whom their fellow villagers genuinely believed to be taltos. The tradi¬ tion has just about died out since in its concrete manifestations, but well-known taltos are still cited by name in folk beliefs and legends and it is even possible to come across odd individuals claiming to be one. In the Hungarian village some of the functions of the shaman were shared by the “seers” who established contact with the dead (see the chapter devoted to them). Vilmos Dioszegi defined the main distinguishing characteristics of Hungarian shamanism as follows: the ecstasy (trance) of the shaman, the belief that he is born with surplus bones, that his magical activities are beneficial to the com¬ munity, and finally that the taltos frequently fight amongst them¬ selves, mainly in animal guise, or in the form of a fiery wheel. Little or nothing is known about the spiritual beings who assisted the shaman during his trance. In most cases there is no firm ety¬ mological knowledge concerning the Hungarian names for the various gods and spirits. It is this very fact which led Hungarian re¬ search into folk beliefs to indulge from the very beginning in the most fantastic theories. Not even the origins of the words for God (Isten) and the devil (ordog) have been satisfactorily resolved. Our historians of religion, including Roheim in his later years, have postulated the existence of the “God of the Hungarians”, perhaps as a supreme god, the god of the sky. There were certainly female deities in existence as well: the Hungarian names for the feasts of the Virgin Mary (Nagyboldogasszony, Kisasszony) and the images associated with them establish this beyond all reasonable doubt. The same holds true for the existence of an evil female deity at the period of the Conquest, known by the taboo name szepasszony (Fair Lady). In later ages, the supernatural beings of popular mythology are also hard to explain etymologically. The word boszorkany, meaning witch, is definitely of Turkish origin, and in general over the whole range of folk beliefs stronger linguistic links can be demonstrated with Turkish than with Finno-Ugrian; the words bubajos (wizard) 36

and sarkdny (dragon) provide further examples of Turkish deriva¬ tion. It is not known whether the Magyars of the Conquest period pro¬ duced images of their gods or of deceased ancestors. No stress is placed on the role of divine images in Hungarian culture by the early Christian missionaries, and from this we might suppose it could not have been very great. Yet Bishop Gellert (St. Ghirardus) was one to speak of “Scythian idols”, and it is possible that those researchers who held these to be representations of the deceased forefathers were not too far from the truth. We have no reason at all to doubt the evidence of medieval chron¬ icles pointing to the practice of sacrificing horses to the gods amongst the early Magyars. This practice had long been widespread amongst Uralic and Altaic peoples (and amongst a good many Indo-European peoples as well); white horses were held to be the most precious, and the Ugrians retained this belief almost into the twentieth century. Shamanism is inseparably bound up with animism and with the notion that people have multiple souls. Most of the Uralic-speaking peoples have preserved some of these names up to the present day, but they are no longer to be found in the everyday language of Hun¬ garian. According to Dezso Pais, the life-soul was called junh, or jonh, which has since disappeared completely. The name of the soul of breathing has survived in the form of the general word for soul in modern Hungarian, lelek (breath = lelegzet). And it is likely that the word iz, which has survived in proverbs and in connection with certain diseases, also denoted a soul once upon a time, possibly the shadow-soul. Traces of these beliefs in multiple souls survived in epic form in the type of legends known as “Guntram legends”. In stories of this type, a small animal or insect leaves through the mouth dur¬ ing sleep, returning later, through the mouth or the nose, before the individual wakes up. There are several known variations of the story; for example, the individual may recount the adventures of the animal during its brief liberty; with the aid of a dream it may stumble on 37

treasure; but if the little animal is destroyed then the dreamer him¬ self will die before long. The many variants are very widely distribut¬ ed throughout Eurasia, including the Hungarian-speaking regions; in a fine study Hannjost Lixfeld has attempted to set the latter in the general context. Some of the questions were broached many years ago in Akos Szendrey’s article on Hungarian beliefs about the souls, whilst the linguistic side has been analysed by Dezso Pais. The Magyars believed in some form of afterlife, as is proven by pre-Christian burial patterns and also by certain quite unambiguous passages of the medieval chronicles, such as the Lehel legend. The hide of the horse, including its skull and lower legs, was buried beside the human body in certain graves dating from the Conquest period. It was commonly stuffed to restore its original form before being placed into the grave, often on the left side of the body, which was usually positioned with legs pointing to the east. Masks have been found covering the face in some graves; the entire skull was on occasion covered with pieces of hide, and small silver plates sown over the eyes and the mouth. From other graves it would appear that the realm of the dead was the inverse of the world of the living, and what belonged on the right in this world was carefully placed on the left side after death. Hence in large family graves women can be found on the right and men on the left, although the usual custom of all the peoples related to the Hungarians was just the reverse of this in real life. Other aspects of the conception of the world held by the early Magyars can only be elucidated via the cosmogonic ideas of related peoples and certain survivals in folk culture. Presumably the Ma¬ gyars too believed that there were several worlds positioned one above the other and linked by a tree, duplicated on this earth by the shaman’s tree which he would mount during his trance in order to establish contact with the spirits of the upper world. Unfortunately there is no contemporary evidence to prove this hypothesis conclus¬ ively. We have more substantial reasons for supposing that the early Magyars believed that man was descended from some animal, chiefly 38

from some totem-ancestor. It is extremely probable that there was a ban on marriage within the group; these points are supported both by the evidence of the Hungarian chronicles (notably the legend of the miraculous stag) and by the totemism and exogamous marriage rules of the Ob-Ugrians, which persisted until late in the nineteenth century. However, we cannot be sure that the animal figures visible on Hungarian metal finds dating from the Conquest period have something to do with totemism. Certain birds of prey were undoubt¬ edly held in especial esteem, as the legend of the turul (mythical eagle) amply illustrates. It is hard to interpret those contemporary sources abroad which declared that the Magyars were worshippers of fire. Neither the ecclesiastical prohibitions nor the chronicles refer to any such proclivities and later folk regulations and prohibitions to do with fire (such as a ban on spitting into fire, proscriptions concerning the spilling of food and drink into fire) were European in character and not specifically Hungarian. There has been a lot of debate in recent years on the question of the divine kingship or dual chiefdom. It was an institution well known in the Khazar Empire, where the Magyars resided before migrating westwards, as indeed was the ritual slaying of the king. The chronicles noted that the Magyars could not have been led into the new homeland by their elderly chief, Almos, but only by Arpad, his son. Some historians, notably Gyorgy Gyorffy, have concluded from these facts and from the comments and observations of foreign contemporaries that the institution of the dual chiefdom was known and practised by the Magyars of the Conquest period. According to Gyorffy the later chronicles in Latin even went out of their way to distort certain facts in the interests of the dynasty established by Arpad. Other scholars, for example Karoly Czegledy, have maintain¬ ed that only the faintest traces of this practice could have existed by the time of the Conquest. It would seem that on all these controversial topics Hungarian scholarship has raised more problems than it was capable of ad¬ equately resolving. The question of whether parallels were to be 39



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