Hungarian mythology includes the myths, legends, folk tales, fairy tales and gods of the Hungarians. Many parts of it are thought to be lost, i.e. only some texts remained which can be classified as a myth. However, a significant amount of Hungarian mythology was successfully recovered in the last hundred years. The most important sources are:
- Folklore, as a lot of mythological persons remained in folk tales, folk songs, legends, also special traditions linked to special dates which are not known elsewhere
- Medieval chronicles, codexes
- Writings about Hungarians by non-Hungarian authors (mostly before 850)
- Archeology helped to assemble the religion.
The mythology in brief
The world is divided into three spheres: the first is the Upper World (Felső világ), the home of the gods; the second is the Middle World (Középső világ) where the world we know is, and finally the underworld (Alsó világ). In the center of the world, a tall tree is standing: the World Tree / Life Tree (Világfa/Életfa). Its foliage is the Upper World, and the Turul bird dwells on top of it. The Middle World is located at its trunk and the underworld is around its roots. In some stories, the tree has fruits: these are the golden apples.
The gods and the good souls live in the Upper World. Gods have the same rank, although the most important figure of them is Isten (meaning 'God' in Hungarian). He controls the world, shapes the fate of humans, observes the Middle World from the sky, and sometimes gives warning by lightning (mennykő). Isten created the world with the help of Ördög ("the devil" Evil). Other gods include: Istenanya ('Mother God'), also known as Boldogasszony ('Blessed Lady', literally meaning "happy/merry woman"; later identified with the Virgin Mary), and Hadúr ("warlord" or "commander").
The major celestial bodies, (the Sun and the Moon), are also located in the Upper World. The sky was thought to be a big tent held up by the Tree of Life. There are several holes on it: those are the stars. The Sun and the Moon, the symbols of the cosmic word, are known from Hungarian grave findings from the period of the Hungarian conquest.
The Middle World is shared among humans and many mythological creatures, the latter are often supernatural. There are ghosts of the forests and waters, who are ordered to scare humans. They have different names in different places. There are females, for example, the sellő (mermaid), which lives in waters and has a human torso with the tail of a fish. The wind is controlled by an old lady called Szélanya (Wind Mother) or Szélkirály (Wind King). The Sárkány (dragon) is a frightening beast: he is the enemy of many heroes in fairy tales, symbolising the psychical inner struggle of the hero. The lidérc is a ghostly, mysterious creature with several different appearances, its works are always malicious. The manók (elves / goblins) and the törpék (dwarfs) are foxy beings living in woods or under the ground. Óriások (giants) live in the mountains. They have both good and bad qualities. The most favourite creatures are the tündérek (fairies), who are beautiful and young virgins or female creatures. They aid humans, who sometimes can ask three wishes from them. Their opposites are the bábák, who are equated with catty, old witches. (Bába means 'midwife' in modern Hungarian, and originally they were wise old women, later equated with witches as Christianity became widespread.)
The Underworld is the place of bad souls (this includes evil spirits and the souls of dead people who were cruel and evil in their lives) and the home of Ördög. He is the creator of everything that is bad for humans: for example, the creator of the annoying animals (such as fleas, lice, and flies).
One of the theories about the ancient Hungarian religion is that it was a form of Tengriism, a shamanistic religion common among the early Turkic, Uralic and Mongol people, that was influenced by Zoroastrianism from the Persians whom the Hungarians had encountered during their westward migration. Another theory tries to tie the religion to that of the Huns and Scythians due to similar or even identical legends and the Hungarian origin myth. Speculations about a contact with early Varangian settlers and merchants West of Atil also prevail due to similarities shared with Germanic / Norse mythology.
The shaman role was filled by the táltos ("wise man / blessed scholar"). Their souls were thought to be able to travel between the three spheres (révülés). They were also doctors. A taltos was selected by fate; their slight abnormalities at birth (neonatal teeth, caulbearer, white hair, additional fingers, etc.) were believed to be the sign of a divine order. The steps of their introduction:
- Climbing up on the "shaman ladder / shaman tree" symbolized the World Tree;
- Drenching the ghosts: drinking the blood of the sacrificed animal.
They had the ability to contact spirits by specific rituals and praying. Thus, they interpreted dreams, mediated between humans and spirits, cured and removed curses, and had an ability to find and bring back lost souls. They directed animal sacrifices and guessed the reason of an ancestor's anger.
After death, the human soul leaves the body. The body is buried by relatives on the other bank of a river, looking towards east. If the soul had been good, it gets to the Other World (Túlvilág), for eternal peace. If it had been bad, it must suffer in the underworld (Alsó Világ / Alvilág), where Ördög ("the devil") and numerous evil ghosts live.
Persons, creatures, gods
|Boldogasszony (Mother goddess)||Her name means "Blessed Lady" or "Bountiful Queen". She was the goddess of motherhood and helped women in childbirth. After Hungarians were Christianized with the help of St. Gerard of Csanad, her figure fell out of favor for that of the Virgin Mary. She is also considered the "Queen (Regina) of Hungary"|
|Csodaszarvas (animal)||A central figure in the legends surrounding the origin of the Hungarian people. The name translates to "Miraculous Deer". According to Hungarian legend, while out hunting, the brothers Hunor and Magor saw a miraculous white stag (sometimes described as golden). They pursued the animal, but it always stayed ahead of them, leading them westward into Levedia, where they married two princesses and founded the Huns and Hungarian people. One of the main reasons for claims of religious and cultural ties between Huns and Hungarians is the stag and the brothers Hunor and Magor.|
|Hunor and Magor (people)||Legendary twin patriarchs of the Huns and Hungarians (Hungarians), respectively. They were said to be the sons of the Biblical Menrot (Nimrod), or of Japheth according to a slightly different version of the legend.|
|Álmos (person)||Son of Ügyek and Emese. He was a semi-legendary figure born in c. 819 and the ancestor of the house of Árpád. Álmos ruled the Magyars in Levedia and Etelköz. His name means "dreamy" as his birth was foretold in his mother's dream (see the legend of his birth at Emese.)|
|Emese (person)||Wife of Ügyek, mother of Álmos (meaning, "the one from/with the dream"). She was impregnated by a turul bird, which appeared to her in a dream and told her "a river will spring from your womb, which will flow and spread to a new land". The táltos (shaman) explained the dream as saying that she would give birth to a son, who would be the ancestor of a great ruling family in a foreign land.|
|Bába (creature)||Meaning "old woman", she was originally a good fairy who later degraded and became evil. Although she had magical abilities, she was not a witch (boszorkány). She was thought to live in fountains, and if young children went too close to her lair, she lured them in.|
|Boszorkány (witch)||A hostile, harm-doing, supernatural old lady, the witch. She had an ability to transform, fly and curse. A boszorkány corrupted the animals, for example, soured the milk of the cows. For humans, she brought an abrupt illness. They "operated" in the night, or in the nightfall.|
|Bubus (spirit)||A small being that lives in caves. See →Mumus.|
|Dula (person)||Dula's name appears in the Legend of the Csodaszarvas. He is said to be a prince of the Alans. In fact, he probably was a kind of chief of the Volga Bulgarians.|
|Fene (spirit)||The demon of illness. Today, a common saying still uses its name: "A fene egye meg!", which literally means "Let it be eaten by the fene!", and is uttered when something does not occur as one wishes. "Fene" is also considered the place where demons roam, i.e. the popular Hungarian curse "menj a fenébe!" is equivalent to the English "go to hell!".|
|Garabonciás (person)||A male figure who learned magic, unlike the →táltos, who had the ability by birth. He is able to create storms. Some alumni were thought to possess these abilities as late as the 19th century.|
|Guta (spirit)||A fearsome Hungarian demon who beats his victims to death, often associated with strokes, heart attacks, or sudden paralysis.|
|Hadúr (god)||Short for Hadak Ura, meaning "Warlord" or "Master of Armies" and was the war god in the religion of the early Hungarians. He was the third son of Arany Atyácska (Dear Golden Father) and Hajnal Anyácska (Dear Dawn Mother) and was also the metalsmith of the gods. He wore armor and weapons made of pure copper, which is his sacred metal, and it was said that he forged the Sword of God (Isten kardja) which was discovered by Attila the Hun and secured his rule. It was customary for the Hungarians to sacrifice white stallions to him before a battle.|
|Napkirály (god)||Meaning "King of the Sun", he is the Hungarian sun god and is the oldest son of Arany Atyácska (Dear Golden Father) and Hajnal Anyácska (Dear Dawn Mother), brother of Hadúr and Szélkirály. He rides his silver-haired horse from East to West every day, seeing everything below him.|
|Szélkirály (god)||Meaning "King of the Wind", he is the Hungarian god of wind and rain, and is the second son of Arany Atyácska (Golden Father) and Hajnal Anyácska (Dawn Mother), brother of Hadúr and Napkirály. His armor and weapons are made of pure silver, his sacred metal.|
|Szépasszony (spirit)||Meaning "Fair Lady", she is a female demon with long hair and a white dress. She appears and dances in storms and hail, and seduces young men.|
|Turul (animal)||The great bird resembling to a falcon that was sent forth by Isten to guide the creation and destiny of the Magyar people. The first kings after St Stephen I. were the hereditiary of Turul ("Turul nemzetség")|
|Vadleány (creature)||Meaning "Forest Girl", she is an elusive forest sprite who seduces shepherds, saps their strength and makes the forest rustle. She is usually nude and her long hair reaches the ground. She can sometimes be lured and caught with one boot (she tries, to put two of her feet to one boot).|
|Griff (animal)||Also known as griffin in Western Europe, but without special features. In Hungarian mythology, it is similar to turul. Featuring in some fairy tales (like Fehérlófia, The son of the white horse), it is a cruel, greedy bird eating humans, but its the only way to get back from Under World to Middle World.|
|Sárkány (dragon)||Appearing in almost all folk tales, a creature not similar to Chinese dragon or dragon from West Europe. He is always man-shaped, can ride a horse, and has usually 7 heads, sometimes 3, 12 or 21 (relating to numbers in astronomy). Dragons usually symbolised human behaviour or characteristic, i.e. when the hero was fighting with him, he was fighting to overcome his own bad behaviour, habit or characteristic.|
Remnants in folkore
Comparative methods can reveal, that some motifs of folktales, some fragments of songs or rhymes of folk customs preserved fragments of the old belief system. Some records narrate us about shaman-like figures directly. Shamanistic remnants in Hungarian folklore was researched among others by Diószegi Vilmos, based on ethnographic records in Hungary and comparative works with various shamanisms of some Siberian peoples. Hoppál continued his work of studying Hungarian shamanistic belief remnants, comparing shamanistic beliefs of Uralic language relatives of Hungarians with those of several non-Uralic Siberian peoples as well.
- Attila Turk, HUNGARIAN ARCHAEOLOGY, The new archaeological research design for early hungarian history, 2012, p. 3
- Türk Attila Antal: A szaltovói kultúrkör és a magyar őstörténet régészeti kutatása. In.: Középkortörténeti tanulmányok 6. A VI. Medievisztikai PhD-konferencia (Szeged, 2009. június 4-5.). szerk.: G. Tóth P. –Szabó P. Szeged (2010) 284–285, és 5. kép,
- Bokij, N. M. – Pletnyova, Sz. A.: Nomád harcos család 10. századi sírjai az Ingul folyó völgyében. AÉ. 1989, 86–98.
- András Róna-Tas, Hungarians and Europe in the Early Middle Ages: An Introduction to Early Hungarian History, Central European University Press, 1999, p. 366
- Diószegi 1998
- Hoppál 1998
- Hoppál 1975
- Hoppál 2005
- Hoppál 1994
- (Hungarian) Zoltán Pintér: Mitológiai kislexikon. Szalay Könyvkiadó és Kereskedőház Kft., 1996.
- Diószegi, Vilmos (1998) . A sámánhit emlékei a magyar népi műveltségben (in Hungarian) (1. reprint kiadás ed.). Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó. ISBN 963-05-7542-6. The title means: “Remnants of shamanistic beliefs in Hungarian folklore”.
- Hajdú, Péter (1975). "A rokonság nyelvi háttere". In Hajdú, Péter. Uráli népek. Nyelvrokonaink kultúrája és hagyományai (in Hungarian). Budapest: Corvina Kiadó. pp. 11–43. ISBN 963-13-0900-2. The title means: “Uralic peoples. Culture and traditions of our linguistic relatives”; the chapter means “Linguistical background of the relationship”.
- Hoppál, Mihály (1994). Sámánok, lelkek és jelképek. Budapest: Helikon Kiadó. ISBN 963-208-298-2.
- Hoppál, Mihály (2005). Sámánok Eurázsiában. (in Hungarian). Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó. ISBN 963-05-8295-3. The title means “Shamans in Eurasia”, the book is written in Hungarian, but it is published also in German, Estonian and Finnish. Site of publisher with short description on the book (in Hungarian)
- Hoppál, Mihály (1975). "Az uráli népek hiedelemvilága és a samanizmus". In Hajdú, Péter. Uráli népek / Nyelvrokonaink kultúrája és hagyományai (in Hungarian). Budapest: Corvina Kiadó. pp. 211–233. ISBN 963-13-0900-2. The title means: “Uralic peoples / Culture and traditions of our linguistic relatives”; the chapter means “The belief system of Uralic peoples and the shamanism”.