Hungarian Paganism.

UPDATE 3/6/15: This post was made back in 2012, when I was just starting to explore Hungary’s past and long before I started piecing together a possible “pagan path” of Hungary’s culture and mythology. For more detailed (and better written) information use the Hungary, Magyar, 30 Days of Paganism, and Deities tags or search for those keywords to find my other posts about Hungarian paganism. I am in the process of compiling a link list for all the posts I make of that topic so that it’s all easier to find.

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Hello all, it’s hard to believe that it has already been half a year since my last post here, but I really was that busy. Thankfully my thesis is done and I can do a bit of personal stuff, like this blog.

Something that I have been wrestling with this past year is the title of this post, “Hungarian Paganism”, and the fight is far from over. People have been living in Central Europe since Neanderthal times, and the land has seen many tribes migrate through and/or settle on it over the ages. These people include at least some of my ancestors, as I have two known Great-grandparents that came from Hungary in the late 1800s/early 1900s. This includes a Budapest connection, which was a pretty cosmopolitan city back then.

So naturally, in my personal quest to form a “paganism” through my heritage, Hungary’s ancient past becomes relevant. The problem is the lack of English sources, as Hungarian does not translate as well as German does into English. On top of the fact that Hungarian myth and religion does not seem to excite a lot of scholars outside of Hungary itself, so as an American my options are extremely limited. What little I have found so far, I have to be wary of, in case it’s just 19th century Romanticism and other modern bullcrap that is made to fill in the holes.

Life is just so difficult sometimes.

Frustrating aspects aside, I’m slowly piecing together some sort of cosmology, deity list, and ideas of customs. There are things from English and a few Hungarian sources that are repeated often, and can be seen in collected folklore. One idea is the concept of a Tree of Life or a World Tree, which is depicted in various ways in folklore. Often it is a gigantic tree that seem to grow up into the heavens and carries the houses and special horses of various beings in the branches. These include the Sun, Moon, witches, dragons, trapped princesses, and stopping points for the táltos or tátos (a term that is roughly translated into English as “shaman”, because the role shares some characteristics with Mongolian shamans…however, “shaman” is misleading, so I will continue to use the Hungarian term instead). The tree may also have the Turul falcon roosting at the top, alongside the Sun and Moon being carried in the branches (rather than living in houses). Supposedly the world tree is divided into 3 sections or worlds, which is basically Upper world/Heaven, Middle World/Earth’s surface, and Underwold/Hell (Heaven and Hell are mentioned because the tree has been incorporated into folk Christianity over time). The entire tree is said to grow out of the skull of a horse or a deer (Wikipedia says a reindeer, which doesn’t make much sense given the geographic location of Reindeer).

I’ve seen this World Tree concept be used as a bit of evidence for the Magyar-FinnoUgric connection theory in linguistics, because those cultures also seem to have a World Tree concept. I’m no professional in either linguistics or ancient history, so I don’t know how sturdy this theory is, but the tree does look similar to concepts usually seen in Central Asia.

This link has a translation and scanned images of some information about “Hungarian Shamanism” made in the 1800s, so it is necessary to keep a bag of salt nearby. However, there are some interesting details about the World tree and the táltos there. They have been recorded to exist up to the 20th century (and if any legit ones still exist today or realize what they are, I highly doubt they would mention it to anyone).

Deities/honored beings are a tougher area to figure out. So far the most commonly mentioned one, and the one that still maintains some relevancy to contemporary Hungary under a Catholic guise, is Boldogasszony. Apparently that name is really a title grouping 7 individuals together, and the mother of them all is called Nagy Boldogasszony. The roles ascribed to her, or them, includes common “Mother Goddess” ideas such as fertility (of family and land) and agriculture (which is basically another form of fertility concerns). She also seems to play a part in enforcing social taboos against women, such as what days to wash clothing on. Interestingly, that day is Tuesday, which is also a day linked to a being enforcing social taboos in German, Austrian, Polish, and other countries’ folklore. In a most creative fashion, these beings are called “Tuesday women”. Just something about Tuesdays I suppose, not sure why that is.

Nowadays [Nagy] Boldogasszony is another Virgin Mary, acting as the Queen of Hungary. It is unclear if this means that Mary corresponds greatly to traits that Boldogasszony already had back then, or if it is a superficial correspondence made through the two of them being (relatively) big deals in their respective cultures.

It is possible that the people of legend, such as Emeshe and Nimrod, were not humans at all but were actually the names of old deities or highly powerful ancestors. Nimrod in particular, since his name seems to suggest being a wind or storm person, but I have little evidence to support such a thing. There is a linguistics argument for Emeshe to be a reference to the magical stag of legend, as the stag is actually a horned doe in Hungarian origin stories. So perhaps a representation of another deity that once had an animalistic form, maybe like the Turul? I realize that’s grasping at straws though, given how difficult it is to understand how people viewed the world back then.

I am also not sure if the Sun and Moon would be considered deities in their own right, or just be some balls that move around in the sky. Personification does occur in folklore, but lots of things get personified in that without any deeper meaning behind the act.

The most frustrating deity discovery by far is that of Xatel-Ekwa, supposedly a sun goddess that travels across a sky by being pulled by horses. I cannot find a single scrap of information on such a being that is not a copy-pasted one-liner on personal websites. Though the horse thing I can believe, as horses were quite a big deal to the old nomads. Their economic importance is reflected in art and stories, and they may have been used in major sacrificial rites at one point. As much as filling in the blanks using cross-cultural analysis is a tricky thing to do, the prominence of horses in the lives of humans all over Eurasia (and eventually, all over the world) suggests to me that divine uses or origins of horses in Hungarian culture is not improbable.

Finally, there is a suggestion, through linguistics, that Ördög, the Devil in contemporary usage, was once a sort of underworld or death deity. Not much on that unfortunately, I don’t think there is much in the way of folklore or old texts to suggest such a thing.

Now, regarding old Hungarian/Magyar customs, I did find a few so far that seemed to have a unique purpose (i.e. not something built with later Westernized Christianity’s influence). As I mentioned before, Boldogasszony is considered to be the Virgin Mary, and so she’s taken on the church’s holidays for Mary as well. This includes a day in May (often considered Mary’s Month, as one of her titles is the Queen of May in association with the springtime), where the English translation means “fruit-grafting”. This is May 25th, a little later than the Catholic holiday for Mary that occurs in Chicago but still close. What we do here is a May crowning ceremony during the first week of May, and the specific date changes slightly each year. People would bring flowers and rosaries to be blessed, and this time of year is when planting for most food crops could occur (winter lasts until April around here). This probably isn’t unique to the city though, but I digress.

Back to holidays, there seems to be another holiday in Boldogasszony’s honor on December 26th, for families. This I find interesting, because within Germanic heathenry there is a practice called “Mothernight” (various spellings) that typically occurs on December 24th. This comes from Bede’s 8th century account of the pagans he lived with in what is now known as the UK. Many Germanic reconstructionists have adopted this practice, and it may have existed near Central Europe before Christinization occurred. So I wonder if this is one of many Germanic influences on the Magyars over time, or if it existed independently. I cannot say. I personally like the idea though, as that time of year seems to be heavily associated with ghosts and scary beasties (a la’ Wild Hunt stories).

In one origin legend, where the sons Hunor and Magor (founding fathers of the Huns and Magyars, respectively) chased the magical horned doe, they happened upon a group of women dancing in celebration of some sort of holiday. It is said that this was in celebration of the magical doe, but I’m sad to say that the date is completely unknown. This has piqued my interest though, and I will not stop searching out for this possible custom (mainly because I have a personal fondness for deer, having had many interesting interactions with our White-tailed deer when out in the fields).

That’s about it so far. If you have kept up with my ramblings then you definitely deserve a cookie. Since this is a recent attempt looking at only Hungarian/Magyar sources, I may be more fruitful later one with including other known ethnicities that may have contributed to Hungarian culture. Those like the Scythians, for one, as according to Heterodous they had a settlement in Central Europe. In addition, the Scythian stag from archeological remains found in Hungary also points to a cultural contribution (and perhaps a genetic one as well). There are also a number of journal articles regarding Hungarian culture that I have sitting around in my room unread, and there might be tidbits of info in them

I have hope that a sort of Hungarian paganism can be dug up and explored, however. It’s just a matter of being patient. There’s many sources to look into of course, but it’s the separation of Christian and outside influences from the “native” paganism (as native as possible at least) that takes a long time to do.

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References

“Hungarian Myth and Legend”  http://users.cwnet.com/millenia/legend.htm

“Orkneyjar- Helya’s Night” http://www.orkneyjar.com/tradition/yule/yule3.htm

“Hungary- Paganism and non-Christian religion” http://christianization.hist.cam.ac.uk/regions/hungary/hungary-pagan-non-christ.html

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36 Comments

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36 responses to “Hungarian Paganism.

  1. Have you read “Between the Living and the Dead” by Eva Pocs? She’s Hungarian, and the book talks about witchcraft and fairy beliefs using a lot of Hungarian examples. Might give you some more tidbits of useful information.

  2. Thank you for this post! I’m half Hungarian, so I was always interested in learning about their pre-Christian religion, but as you’ve found, there’s not a whole lot readily available. I’m not actively pursuing it at the moment, as I’ve settled pretty firmly into Kemetic practice at this point, but I’d still like to hear about it. I’ll look forward to any future posts you make!

    • Thank you. There is quite a good deal of pagan culture information from the Hungarian basin and surrounding mountains, but anything that could be attributed to purely Hungarian/Magyar sources is difficult to weed out, should one wish to practice a Hungarian-only version of paganism. It seems like there’s (slowly but surely) more Hungarian information being put out in english books and articles, so I’m hopeful.

  3. now

    I was just seeking this information for a while. After six hours of continuous Googleing, finally I got it in your web site. I wonder what is the Google’s issue that does not rank this type of informative sites closer to the top. Normally the top websites are full of garbage.

    • I’m glad this was useful for you! Google can be useful, but also a pain sometimes. I’ve spent hours digging in the back pages myself for the slightest scrap of information.

  4. I like this weblog its a master peace ! Glad I noticed this on google. “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.” by Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

  5. OldSpirit

    The Hungarian paganism is Tengriism. Google it 😉

    From tengri.hu – the english section is not completed, so use translator

    Dieties:

    1. Arany Atya(Golden Father) or Tengri or Isten((Ősten, Őstengri(Old God))
    He was the main god. The hungarian, turcic and other asian nomad paganism was a henoteist religion. It worshipped one main god an other minor gods.

    2.Nap Kagán – Sun King, Sun Khan – 1. son of Isten – sacred metal – gold

    3. Szél Kagán – Wind King – 2. son – sacred metal – silver

    4. Hadak Ura – Warlord. Another name for him is Tűzkovács Kagán( Firesmith King) because he forged the sword of god, the sword of Attila. 3. son of God
    sacred metal – iron

    5. Mother Earth

    6. Hüvelykpiciny – Smalltoe, son of Nap Kagán.

    7. Öreg Puszta – Old Steppe

    8. Délibáb / Boldogasszony – Fata Morgana/Bountiful Queen. Daughter of Old Steppe, wife of Nap Kagán

    9. Szárnya – Wing, son of Old Steppe

    and so on

    • Thank you, but I have googled it long ago. Tengriism is a popular answer online, but I am not convinced it is actually “Hungarian Paganism”. I’ll need additional ethnographic and migration information before I can be certain that it really is the same thing, not just linguistic comparisons and legends.

      • OldSpirit

        Momentally there is a small revival in Hungary in organising a kurultay(a tribal meeting) with another turanic people from Asia. Such as Turks, Kazachs, Mongols, Uyghur(They have a sacred bird too. It is called Torghul.) and other. They are of course not all ethnically connected, but they lived in the same area of the Asian steppes and they influenced each other.
        This is a video of the Kurultay in 2011 in Hungary.

      • That is interesting, and the video is well made. It’s a shame that it occurs so far away from me, but it makes sense that it would occur in Hungary anyway. It’s strange that there are no women in the video from what I can tell, as women held prominent roles in the steppe cultures too, very close to male roles at least in higher classes.

  6. OldSpirit

    Addendum:

    Ördög: Ör/Ur(Guard/Lord), Dög – carcass.
    Lord of the dead
    In turkish it is Erlik Khan
    He was maybe the ruler of the dead, bud his role become one with the Satan under christian influence. He was originally the inventor of many things.

    Another useful site is:
    http://users.cwnet.com/millenia/legend.htm

  7. OldSpirit

    There are some women in the video too. At 2:45 there is a girl on horseback. They are among the spectators too. But of course nowadays the men are more interested in this kind of event.
    Here is another video from the 2008 kurultay with a now dead taltos called Karaul. His family upholded the old customs. Before he passed away he teached Solyomfi-Nagy Zoltan(the owner of http://www.tengri.hu) to be his successor

  8. Wanted to drop a remark and let you know your Feed isnt functioning today. I tried including it to my Yahoo reader account and got nothing.

    • I’m sorry, but thanks for letting me know. Is it functioning again? I’m not very good with computers and I never used yahoo, so I’m not sure what I should do. I haven’t been posting on this blog lately though (I have drafts in the works, but nothing new for the past month), so maybe the feed will only work once I start putting new content up. That’s how it works for my dreamwidth feed, so maybe yahoo is similar?

  9. Star

    Oh I am so excited to find another English speaker researching Hungarian Paganism!!! i speak and read very little, but I hav a mom who lives in Budapest and she sends me info when she can.
    I know this is a few months old, but I hope you see my comment. i have LOTS of leads on this thing. I use Emeshe as my majik name actually. She was the first Taltos who received her powers from the Mythic Turul hawk, messenger of the gods.
    One thing you will find, is that there are now 2 different schools of thought on our origins which can change the meaning of some of our mythic stories. The Finno-uralic and the Sumer (as in Sumeria). I would love to share some of my finding and links, but don’t want to blow up your comments. 🙂 If interested, please send me an email to ema_blue@yahoo.com

    • Don’t worry, I see your comment! I may not post actively on this blog, but I do check it at least a couple of times a week to add bits to my several drafts and moderate comments or spam.

      I’m glad to see fellow Hungarian Paganist, and I would enjoy seeing what you have. As you can tell from my blog posts, I am stuck with the sparse English sources and personal interpretations of the folktales (which are heavily Germanic and Slavic by now, for obvious reasons). I’ll send you an email soon.

      Regarding the two origin theories, My amateur research lends support for both. Give that many tribes/cultures have traveled, merged, and separated over this same area over the years, I wouldn’t’ be surprised if both origin stories were true, coming together and forming this culture we now call “Magyar” (and related groups).

  10. Marianna

    I just read your piece on hungarian pagan i am also 100% hungarian and also interested in the paganist I have a tatto of a pentagram with butterflies on my back. My grandmother use to read my cards all the time ,she is now past. This has always drew me in , cant wait to see if you find anything else on this subject. Congrats on all the hard work you have put into this.

  11. Virag

    WOW! It’s great to see that someone who lives so far away from the Carpathian Basin is so interested in Hungarian culture!
    I’m aware that this is a year old post, so I’m not sure if I can share anything new or interesting with you about this subject, but hope dies last.
    By the way, I am Hungarian, I live in Hungary, I am pagan and also very interested in the possible theories regarding the “original religion” of the Hungarians.
    So.
    The Hungarian-Sumerian connection is mostly frowned upon in academic circles within Hungary. So, we are related to the Finnish, and that’s also what they teach in our schools. But there are theories that we came from the star Sirius….. 😉
    About deities: we do know, that Boldogasszony might have been a prominent female deity, and there are speculations about the Ördög, but nothing is 100%. Some think, that there used to be a male deity, the “Hungarian’s God” (Magyarok Istene), but again nothing concrete is known. Since although the old Hungarians had their own alphabet, but no written evidence has been found about their religion.
    And Tengerism is not Hungarian, and most of the modern táltos groups are based on made up stuff. Because so little is known about our pre-Christian traditions some people thing that they can make up anything they wish, which is just sad…
    Anyway, and don’t want to bore you with things you might already know. But if you have any questions, feel free to ask. 🙂

    • Don’t worry, this is an old post but the blog overall is still active and I always welcome newcomers to the posts 🙂 I’m glad to meet you!

      Yea, there’s actually quite a few of us in the USA descended from Hungarians, but the Hungarian-American groups have lost interest over the past several decades as the idea of being “Hungarian” lost its distinction. Besides, they’re all Christian anyway so I wouldn’t have been able to participate.

      I’m glad to hear that some of my ideas are not far off from what’s known in Hungary, as it seemed like the Finnish connection was better supported. I’ve heard of the “Isten” God be suggested through linguistic analysis, but it’s difficult to separate that from the Christian God.

      I agree that Tengerism is not Hungarian, though similarities may exist. I have had trouble trying to find information on the Hungarian pagans and pagan groups that are not Wiccan. Are there groups in Hungary that try to revive historical pagan practices of that country?

      • Virag

        There are quite a few groups who try to revive our pagan practices, but they tend to rely on “ancestral memory preserved in our DNAs”, rather than scholarly research. These people are usually searching for something good that they can consider “the originally Hungarian”, and blame our problems in economy, and dis-functioning society on all the other nations of the world, who try to taint our “pure” beings. And mixing Christian into these things beliefs is also a great trend, calling Jesus the “Táltos of Light” and such.
        (Yeah, I have a very poor opinion of these people….Sorry!)

      • No need to be sorry, I’ve noticed that unfortunate trend as well when trying to research. Too much nationalism concealing the facts, and it’s a big problem in other cultural groups like Germanic pagans :/

  12. Laszlo Rideg

    Gday folks, very interesting stuff. My grandparents always referred to God as “Isten”. Is this the common word for God in Hungarian or have my grandparents given me a hint of something beyond popular belief?
    I am obviously Australian born and raised and although I still remember most of the spoken language I can not recall enough of it to speak confidently. however! I was raised with some subtle traditions as both my parents are full blood Magyar aswell. I have recently become disenchanted for want of a better word with the hipocracy of the catholic faith and am now searching for something a little closer to mother earth. Thank you all for your input as I now have a trail to follow.

    • Hello! I’m glad that this post and the generous information given by the commenters has helped you too!

      While I’m in the same boat as you with regards to language, it seems that Isten is essentially “God” in another language, a title turned deity name since Yahweh is thought to be the only true deity in Christianity. However, it seems like Isten could have once referred to a high god of sorts, which wouldn’t be out of place with a lot of pagan cultures.

      Much of what today’s Catholicism is a bastardization of old pagan beliefs of Europe (and later the pagan beliefs of the other lands conquered like the Americas), so researching Catholic history and folklore of Central Europe can actually help display what the pagan beliefs are compared to Catholic/Christian beliefs. At least, it’s helped me quite a bit.

  13. Ah! This is excellent! My great-grandparents also came over to the United States (northeast Ohio specifically) from Budapest (and Gyor). The Hungarian part of my heritage has long pulled at me, and the pre-Christian Magyar particularly. I’ve tentatively explored several avenues to connect with that but it is so hard to find any decent information!
    There’s a cultural tendency towards mythohistory and mythologizing/storytelling which is lovely and rich, but also makes it hard to figure out what’s historically accurate…

    It’s exciting to see some people working towards a kind of Hungarian Paganism. I know this post is a few years old but I found your blog through the #NBmysteries tag on Tumblr and saw the mention of Magyar gods and my interest was piqued.

    • Hi! Its funny how the NBmysteries is introducing me to a lot of other people who were or are interested in Hungarian paganism, even though the two topics aren’t related at all. Nice to meet you! It is definitely very difficult, but thankfully I’ve found a bit more pagan(ish) practices in Hungarian culture since making this post (and hopefully will continue finding more as I research). I probably should make an updated version of this post soon. What’s funny is that this old post is consistently one of my most popular ones.

  14. Shari

    Hi! I found your blog, and am so surprised that I’m not the only one trying to find this information! My great-grandparents immigrated from Austria-Hungary. I’m still trying to piece together the information as to exactly where the were from. Nana mentioned villages, but those are hard to find on Google maps… :/
    I will be keeping an eye on your blog in the future to see what new things you have uncovered, while continuing my own research!
    Thank you!

  15. Nora Hanasy

    Hello there
    Thank you for your thoughts, I have recently come across these myths and legends myself. I was born in Budapest but have lived in Australia most of my life. I am currently working on a series of paintings depicting these legends, and nearly finished one of the Turul bird and Emese’s dream and the Napkiraly is in sketch form. I have a plan for the Tree, and the Wind King. Any new information you unearth would be much appreciated.
    Kindest Regards
    Nora

    • Hi Nora! Thank you for your comment, I do have drafts in the work to add more information over time so check back every so often. Are you displaying your art anywhere online?

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