Tag Archives: stag

The Longest Night

Oh wondrous headed doe, with horns of a thousand branches and knobs
Thousand branches and knobs and of a thousand bright candles
Amongst its horns it carries the light of the blessed sun
On it’s forehead there is a star, on it’s chest the moon
And it starts along the banks of the shining heavenly Danube
That it may be the messenger of heaven and bringer of news
About our creator and caring god

-Hungarian Christmas ballad

Today is the day Csodaszarvas carries the sun over the river to begin the year anew. Happy Solstice everyone!

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Honoring the Doe in the Hunt

Hunor and Magor hunting the White Stag, one of the more familiar Hungarian stories that has been told in a variety of ways over time. Art (c) Gyula László

So I’ve been thinking about hunting, particularly deer hunting, after experiencing the excitement around opener this previous November. I grew up near Chicago, so while hunting does occur there, it’s smaller and gets obscured by lots of other events in the same area. Where I’m at now in Wisconsin is more rural, so lots of things are different for me (and yet, a lot isn’t so different).

Opener refers to the opening of the deer hunting season that has become probably the biggest event next to football games. People go to bed early and wake up at an ungodly hour to bundle up and drive to hunting grounds all over the state, but especially the north. Once they get there they usually sit on their asses in the freezing cold hoping to get aim at a beautiful buck (but a doe is not safe from hunters either). Thanksgiving is especially enjoyed, as the hunters can come home to a glorious feast and pass out, even if they didn’t get anything that day.

Now let me clarify that this only refers to a season using firearms. Full deer hunting encompasses multiple seasons throughout fall and winter, with the differences being weapons (firearm vs archery), deer classification (antler presence and form, age, sex), and in my region’s case, managing Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). On top of that, different states can have different regulations, and even individual counties can pass further regulations depending on the human population sizes (obviously not gonna be hunting in a large city like Chicago, but surrounding areas are fine, and more urbanized areas prefer archery to firearms).

Pretty complicated, right? Don’t worry, there’s more! Deer hunting (in Wisconsin at least) is a major political issue at the state-level. If a candidate for office even thinks about making the slightest restriction to accessing deer then they’ve already lost. It’s that big of a deal to people, causing a constant avalanche of hate directed towards people who try to manage deer herds, primarily the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Which is hilarious because the white-tail deer are not supposed to be here; there are more deer in Wisconsin than ever. While it’s wonderful that the deer bounced back from an endangered status last century, the sad fact is that they are constantly starving now. This drives them to strip bare native trees and saplings, ultimately destroying the understory of the threatened northern forests. These forests are where we get our maple syrup and logging from, but short of getting rid of most of the deer (along with buckthorns, earthworms, and all the other invasive species, both native and exotic), they’re pretty much dead forests in many places. They just don’t know they’re dead yet.

You may be wondering by now why I am explaining all of this to you. As you might remember from other posts, I honor a manifestation of a deer deity called Csodaszarvas (“Miraculous deer”, the term “szarvas” refers to both sexes, though I refer only to the female use due to the primary art/literature depictions). This carries through a fondness that I have for real-life deer of my region, the White-tailed deer, and the constant balancing act of life vs. death. Cultures all over the world have numerous, seemingly contradictory rules for treatment of deity-associated animals. You don’t hunt the animal, you do hunt it but only in a certain way, you can eat the flesh if it died on its own, or you don’t touch it under any circumstances.

What is my rule? I’m not sure. I have some basic ideas (no killing of albino or leucistic individuals, respect all animals in life and death by not torturing them, no trophies), but not a complete structure. There is no traditional rule available to me because I’m essentially reconstructing a new tradition out of remnants of my heritage, so I have to decide on my own. My meals are mostly vegetarian for monetary purposes (eggs are cheaper and quicker to eat) but I have eaten venison and concluded that it’s delicious. Given how deer (and other cervids) have been important sources of food for people throughout time, particularly in the winter, I’ve suspected that the recognition of deer and deer-like deities across cultures are because of their great importance as game. Food is central to any culture, so by proxy the deer are central as well.

In addition, there are now environmental concerns for many deer-heavy locations like the ones described earlier. Usually there are multiple predators, but now only humans remain. On one hand I find the idea of being in such a position of power, like a steward or a ruler, both offensive and full of hubris on part of us humans. We should no more be a steward than a beaver or a butterfly. But on the other hand, there’s really no choice if we want to maintain what we have left. We just can’t seem to agree on how to best do it (coupled with the fact that some people simply don’t WANT to do it). Stepping in as a predator for certain species seems to be the only choice left, otherwise they continue to starve to death en masse, taking many other species down with them.

It is also not universally clear on how the rules came about. There are some stories that depict the god themselves saying “don’t eat this!”, but the rest of them it’s a custom without a source. I suspect that hints (perhaps not so subtle ones) were given along the way when people ate a particular animal, resulting in bad luck for those who ate them. Given how often deer is eaten as a central part of a diet (particularly for winter diets when food is more scarce), and that I’ve experienced no bad luck or negative feelings since eating venison myself, I feel that eating deer flesh is not taboo for Csodaszarvas. The taboo, if one exists, would likely be for the treatment of the animal. Figuring out the particulars (aside from my basic respect for death in all animals) is something that will have to happen in the future, when I take up hunting for myself. I trust Csodaszarvas to guide me through her wishes when that happens.

Funny how this post was started at the very first of November, but didn’t finish until now, on Candlemas eve. Perhaps there’s some deeper meaning to it, but I’m sure the reality is that I just get lazier in winter.

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The Returning Sun

Welcome back dear Lady. Image (C) Garcia Foto (Erik Garcia)

This time of year (late January, early February) is usually the peak of Winter in my location. Those two months is when we tend to get the bulk of snowfall and the coldest temperatures. Of course, climate change has disrupted that pattern lately, but there is still some snowing and cold temperatures for now, thankfully (both are necessary for proper water levels and plant growth later in the year; an improper winter means a bad harvest).

This is also time time of year when the days noticeably get a bit longer, especially at sunset. While it may be common to celebrate the Sun’s return at the Winter Solstice for some, this felt strange to me. We know now through technology what the days’ lengths are right down to the seconds and so can calculate exactly which day starts the Sun’s waxing period. But you don’t “see” it, or feel it. A couple of seconds of extra daylight doesn’t seem to make a difference to humans, environmentally speaking, so I generally fail to see the point of celebrating that on the Winter Solstice. I have always preferred to read signals from the land rather than using astronomical patterns, and the return of the Sun is no exception.

In keeping with both my heritage and the land, my preferred day for this celebration is February 2nd. Called by many names in various religions, this day has a common association with light (candles, fire, lightening), hope (that the groundhog/badger/bear do not foretell a long winter), and renewal (purification of Mary, creating new fires, taking down Christmas decorations, the coming burst of life from the snow). It is also interesting to note that in both the Old High German calendar and the Ho-Chunk moon calender, the month that roughly corresponds to today’s February has associations with bears. According to one source (that’s sadly without citations, but I’m going to look into it further) Feb. 2nd is the “Day of the Bear” in places such as the Alps. Given that I recently became interested in the Eurasian bear cults, I find the timing of all this to be intriguing.

There is also the association with the Deer cult in various Eurasian sources. Not of this particular day, but of the Sun’s movement across the sky. It has been noted in Scytho-Siberian sources that the Deer cults and the Deer goddess (occasionally god) carried the Sun in her antlers, which is also attested in a Hungarian song (link is cached version because sadly the original site is unavailable). Due to the Doe’s importance in my own life, I personally find it appropriate to honor her on this day as well.

For now I keep the name Candlemas due to its familiarity. I’m slowly developing a holiday system as I go this year, allowing it to evolve organically with both research and real-time environmental changes, so my celebration of Candlemas will be simple this year. Candles and pancakes in honor of the Sun, with some deep cleaning of the apartment to promote a sense of renewal. I have already taken down my Christmas tree and other holiday decorations in preparation for that. It’s said in places like Poland that keeping such decorations up past Feb. 2nd is bad luck, and I certainly don’t want to put that thought to the test. Plus, as much as I like my tree, it was starting to get in the way.

Black-capped Chickadee, an animal that displays much energy and endurance through these cold winters. Photo (C) levahnbros.wordpress.com

This time of year is also associated with efforts to get “rid” of winter, understandable from an agricultural perspective. Food stores would be getting lean and game animals may be scarce, desiring a return of Spring as quickly as possible to start sowing seeds. While processions have occurred as early as November in Central Europe, many of them start gaining traction in February when Carnival season is at its peak. One of my earliest blog posts here references those processions. As a day of longing for the coming Spring, I find Candlemas to be appropriate for starting the “settling down” of winter activities and the start of preparing for the Summer. The “end” of that preparation period would be in late April, with Totaustragen repelling off the last of Winter, death, and disease, and the planting of seeds outdoors in early May.

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References*

School of the Seasons: February. http://www.schooloftheseasons.com/febdays1.html#grdhog (a nice collection of cross-cultural holiday traditions for February)

*the other references are linked in post as underlined content

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The Antlered Doe

Sometime a year or so ago I came across this website when searching for Hungarian paganism and one of their pages is about a magical stag that’s been incorporated into Hungarian mythology.

A Scythian stag the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Dated from the 7th century B.C. from the Northern Caucasus. Image obtained from http://www.azerbaijanrugs.com/.

The stag artifacts and idea, for some reason, sparked an interest in me and I’ve been trying to dig up information on it since then. I could not tell back then if the website linked above was accurate or not, since the story of the “wondrous stag” is a children’s book on amazon.com. However, the site is correct on the prominence of the stag imagery in Scythian and neighboring cultures. There’s a whole book on this that is unfortunately out of print: The Deer Goddess of Ancient Siberia: A Study in the Ecology of Belief by Esther Jacobson (another dissertation book, aren’t they great?).

But fear not, for I have found one in a nearby library! Now I know the title says “Siberia”, but the book goes into more Western ranges of the Scythians and the cultures they interacted with. Indeed, archaeological remains of Scythian culture, including the deer imagery, have been found in Central Europe a well. This is probably why they are considered to be relevant peoples in contemporary Hungarian culture, which explains the website.

The famous Scythian Stag artifact found in modern-day Hungary, often used to support the idea that Scythians contributed to Hungarian mythology and culture. Obtained from http://users.cwnet.com/millenia/

Much of the book focuses on the Siberian peoples, with some Scythian-specific examples inserted here and there in a comparative analysis. Strikingly, there is a commonality in the image of the deer, often antlered and female, being associated with the duality of life and death with both human and other animal figures. Humans, wolves, and big cats are often depicted as the hunters of an antlered doe, presumably to coincide with that “life-death” duality. Sometimes the symbols go so far as to all be combined into one figure. A stag base, but with paws in place of hoofs, a long cat tail, a beak instead of a muzzle, and antlers becoming birds; these variations have all been seen in Scytho-Siberian artifacts.

Perhaps as a result, or because of, these associations, the doe is also connected to the “Tree of Life” concept found in many cultures throughout Eurasia (including Central European ones). On a simple level it is not hard to imagine the branching antlers as a deciduous tree, and some items depicting a stag-like figure also include leaves or birds in the antlers, as if they were trees. But on a deeper level this also gives suggestions to the role of the doe in human life and death situations. She’s a creator, and a reaper, guiding the souls throughout the major life stages. She is a guide to the various levels of the tree for the shamans (I’m referring to the specific religious/cultural role found in some Siberian cultures, also spelled saman in English). This has also been attested in Vitebsky’s The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia, that a shaman may ride a reindeer to the different realms (also a common folktale motif in Eurasia).

One of the famous Deer Stones of Mongolia, with stylized depictions of deer as if in flight. Photo by Karin Sofie, obtained from http://www.flickr.com/photos/karneipix/2876920191/

Deer in general are an ancient target for human hunters, and the Antlered Doe is aware of that. Sometimes she acts as an Animal Mother, with hunters and shamans appealing to her for available game. Sometimes the men even have to sleep with her in order for anything useful to happen (who says folklore is for children?). It’s less clear on female relationships with the Antlered Doe, most likely because female relationships get less screentime than male ones in history. But they’re there, with women giving offerings and participating in rituals in various ways. Given that women were generally the keepers of the hearth in many Eurasian cultures (including Siberians), and therefore the family, the fact that the Antlered Doe had clan totem associations means that women must have had something special to do with her.

A final major attribute of the Antlered Doe is her association with heavenly bodies, particularly the Sun. This is the one seen in Hungarian as an old Christmas carol, where the Doe is the mother or the keeper of the Sun, holding it in her antlers. A form of the Hungarian “tree of life” is a tree growing out of a horse or deer skull, as I mentioned in a previous post. The Sun and Moon are nestled among the antler-like branches. This connection to the Sun, primarily, and the Moon is common in Siberian stories as well. Clearly a being of great importance.

In addition to the Scythian and Siberian deer imagery there are also folktales speaking of a white, golden-horned deer, chamois or ram in the Austrian and Slovenian Alps, my “ancestral home range”. Now I do not have research available to see if there is a deep connection to the Siberian antlered doe, but the folklore have similar roles/powers and storylines as the antlered doe tends to have. These golden-horned caprids are representational beings of the forest and mountains, with supernatural powers, and they often lead the hunters on an unforgettable chase that changes their lives forever. We can also see deer in general being special representatives or symbols of wild places in all sorts of folktales, including Celtic. There they are the steeds of fairies and “magical” folk, like the dwarves in Disney’s 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. There is even a deer Goddess (name varies) in the UK that is often depicted with antlers, thought to have originated from Northern European tribes (maybe Celtic). Similar to Siberian associations, this deer goddess is connected to the reindeer, as that is a species where females also have prominent antlers. Occasionally females of other deer species develop antlers as well, though not on a regular basis. So the Antlered Doe concept is not pure fantasy.

Given that we see this magical deer motif as a character in movies like Princess Mononoke and the recent Snow White and the Huntsman, and in games like Pokemon: Black and White (the deer Pokemon Sawsbuck), this type of figure still retains importance, albeit symbolically as a spirit of the forests. White animals in particular are still regarded as special, and often protected by laws and by the locals even in supposedly secular countries like the USA. If nothing else, these sacred beings are a reminder of what we have to lose should ecosystems continue to be broken by human development. As an ecologist and a pagan I am inspired by the Antlered Doe in my work to understand the wilds and help protect them. Her prominence in modern media shows that many others feel similarly, and that gives me hope.

Modern depiction of an Antlered Doe as a White-tailed Deer, by Ravenari. Obtained from http://ravenari.deviantart.com/

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References

Monaghan, Patricia. (2004). Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. Available Online: http://www.e-reading.org.ua/bookreader.php/142073/Encyclopedia_of_Celtic_mythology_and_folklore.pdf

Vitebsky, Piers. (2005). The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia. Mariner Books.

Hamori, Fred. The Legend of the Stag. Retrieved from: http://users.cwnet.com/millenia/stagg.htm

Jacobson, Esther. The Deer Goddess of Ancient Siberia: A Study in the Ecology of Belief. Google Book Excerpt: http://books.google.com/books?id=vnlRu7CW95gC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

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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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Wagon Cult Objects: A Few Examples

I am a horrible blogger, aren’t I. So much for upholding the “post once a week” goal (and I keep ignoring that series I started earlier), but I guess that goes with the territory of being a bio major. If everything goes as planned and I get into one of my choice grad schools, it’s going to be even harder to get any free time due to the nature of my fields (arachnology- hence my username, and ecology).

But it’s not like I’m giving up this blog completely, as I do love history and culture (I’m so well-rounded person :P). It’ll just continue to be sparsely populated with posts for a while.

Now on to today’s little topic before I potentially disappear for the next 4 months…

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Archeology!

Or a couple of key pieces from or near Austria and Hungary at least, for now. Hey, at least it’s not dead people again, though that’ll sure to be a topic soon once I get my hands on Eva Pocs “Between the Living and the Dead”. But I digress.

While I haven’t been able to confirm much of it for my personal satisfaction, the Hallstatt dig site located near Hallstatt, Austria is popularly considered to be a homeland of sorts for the Celts or proto-Celtic people. As a result, a lot of these following sculptures are considered to be Celtic art.

One of my favorites is the Strettweg cult wagon, found near Strettweg, Austria and dated to be from the 7th century BCE.

Strettweg Wagon, image (C) Britannica Online Encyclopedia

The sculpture consists of a central female figure holding the plate that’s further supported by rope-like sticks, with the smaller figures being women and soldier-like men holding shields, horses, and a fully-antlered stag at each end, all situated in an almost symmetrical fashion on top of a flat wagon. It is assumed that the top plate is meant to carry larger objects, such as a jar, though the exact use is not certain. My guess is that offerings and the dead (as ashes in an urn) were the objects that sat on the plate.

The reason why I love this is that, A) the woman literally takes center stage, B) wagon-cults are interesting in general, and c) Stags. Anyone familiar with folklore and symbols of Austria and Hungary should know that the stag appears rather often, and in what I would consider to be prominent positions. I take the appearance of such animals on the sculpture to support the idea that they were important to my ancestors as a symbol. Same with the horse and the shields, they fit the idea of wandering, warrior-like people that goes with being steppe nomads and herdsmen of cattle. That, and I just find this one to be the most aesthetically pleasing out of all the wagon-cult objects due to the detail.

The next one is less fancy, but contains the bird-head detail (seems to be waterfowl in specific) that seems to be typical of the era and location: The bird wagon.

Urnfield Bird Wagon, Image (C) Ninomiya

Both the Urnfield and the Halstatt cultures/eras had examples of wagons and urn-wagons with birds decorating them. Why the birds are there are speculative at best. Since most of them seem to be waterfowl (because of the broad, flat beaks), there may be associations with lakes, marshes and bogs, which could have been a site for various traditions. Bodies or ashes could have been dumped in them similar to the later (and further north) bog mummies that were discovered in Denmark. Maybe they were  symbols of a nameless deity (or to many deities) that was important to people during those times. Perhaps, because of their ability to fly, they were somehow messengers, being able to travel to places that humans can’t. Having them as part of the wagon’s decor could then symbolize the travel of whatever the wagon carried to its intended target. I’m sure scholars have come up with more concrete and better-supported ideas, and I intend to find those, but that’ll have to wait until I manage to get my hands on some more obscure and expensive books later on. One of those is Wagons and Wagon-Graves of the Early Iron Age in Central Europe by Christopher Pare.

I’ve only recently started to become interested in these cult wagons after learning about some heathens trying to bring back the practice of wagon processions as a means to honor the god of the occasion. Some inspiration came from Tacitus’s description of Nerthus being pulled around by wagon in his Germania, though Nerthus is not the only deity to be receive this treatment by contemporary groups.

Like with many aspects of pre-Christian European life, the use of the wagon in apparently religious ways was likely because of its importance in the “mundane” lives of people. It provided a practical way to carry items around for long distances, so it’s not too much of a leap for that travel aspect to be used symbolically as well.

More to come later. Someday, much much later, hopefully with better references.

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References

Ninomiya, M. (1998). Wagons in Hallstatt Period: Its Technology and Use. http://www.unc.edu/celtic/catalogue/chariots/index.html#Strettweg (click on images for description)

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Hungarian History videos

I found a possible new resource to use for information: youtube. These two videos below are wonderful to watch for those interested in Hungarian legends and tales (with the timeline referring to what’s generally understood about the history of the Magyars).

The narrator is speaking Hungarian, but you should be able to follow the animation well enough to get the idea. At the very least, the animation and music is beautiful, and I look forward to when the account puts up the 3rd video in the series.

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Filed under Sagas Legends Folklore