According to Roman Catholic priest Arnold Ipolyi, in his book "Magyar mitológia" (Hungarian Mythology) from 1854, a táltos was in direct contact with God during the prenatal period. Once born, the táltos had a special mission in life to cure both body and soul of other members of society. The táltos could be either male or female, and should be born with more bones than the usual, like six fingers (altogether 11 or 12 fingers) or already-grown-in teeth. A táltos could also be born with the caul.
During their childhood, they had to be brought up in secret to learn everything to be some kind of shaman.
The táltos was able to go into a deep meditation called "révülés", and in such a state could cure sickness of any kind. The táltos also had a mission to communicate with the entire Hungarian nation in a time of danger, to warn against invading armies or an impending cultural collapse.
The main difference between shaman and táltos:
- The shamans learn to be shamans, while táltos get their power during prenatal period: they "know" everything once born.
- The shamans use external materials to go into meditation. Táltos can do "révülés" without anything.
- The shamans usually do some kind of acting (dancing, mumbling, etc.) when they are in "operation", while táltos are always without any movement or sound.
- The shaman tradition is without horse, while táltos tradition is tied to "táltos horse".
- The táltos has a personalised mission in life from God.
According to general consensus, the táltos were considered as part of pagan religion, and were persecuted in a witch-hunt during the reign of King Stephen I of Hungary. There is evidence, though, that the táltos were still existing until the Habsburg era, when this tradition was terminated. Maria Theresa made a law requiring that all babies born with teeth or with six fingers (or a caul) be reported and killed, a deliberate act against surviving táltos. The painted ceiling of the church of Székelyderzsi had a figure with six fingers, it was renovated, "correcting" the picture to five fingers.
Origin of the word
The name "Táltos" is of unknown origin, but most probably correlating to "tát", which is to "open wide"; i.e. they "opened themselves to the world." Other theories state it comes from Uralic taitaa meaning "to know, understand", or from the derivative of Turkish talt meaning "unconsciousness".
Göncöl and Kampó
In folk tales we may meet táltoses often, for example Göncöl and Kampó.
Kampó had an "iced body" ("jégtestű"). He was short and had thick legs. He lived in Temesvár (present-day Timişoara). He ate lunch in Buda at the same table as King Matthias and was always poorly dressed. King Matthias was asked several times why a pauper was eating at the same table as the king, but King Matthias insisted on this tradition. When the Turkish army attacked the Kingdom of Hungary, Kampó reportedly spilled fire from his mouth and he "fought with his iced body against Turkish metal", redeeming a "moonly" ("holdas") horse of King Matthias from the Turks.
Göncöl, (also Döncöl, Güncü) on the other hand, had tremendous knowledge. He spoke with animals, understood the meanings of the stars, invented the coach, having a coach which was pulled by multiple horses, reportedly having had its perch broken and bended. His death was not seen, but instead it is thought that he "disappeared into the stars". Everybody may see the 'coach of Göncöl' in the sky which is known in astronomy as Ursa Major (Great Bear), where the tail of the bear is the perch of the coach.
References in historiography
In Chronicle of the Hungarians by Johannes de Thurocz, Attila of the Huns asked several táltos to foresee the outcome of Battle of Chalons, where they predicted that the war would be lost. They based their predictions on the intestines of animals, but how the actual prediction is done is not known.
The heritage of táltos kings can be found in several locations of Hungary and are linked mainly to kings of the Árpád dynasty. The most important is the chivalrous King Ladislaus; the name of his horse was Szög. One legend says, that St. Stephen went hunting, but grew tired and took a nap under a tree. He had a dream (or révülés/meditation) of speaking with the head of the Pecheneg army. When he woke up, he knew they were preparing to attack, and he could take action to protect the country. According to this legend, St Stephen himself was a táltos. These folk tales may have arose later and not in the time of these pious Christian kings.
There was a lawsuit in 1725, in Debrecen, where Erzsébet Balázsi, a well-known táltos at that time, was accused of being a witch. The court have asked her to explain the role of táltos. She replied: the táltos cures, sees buried treasures with the naked eye, and "the táltos are fighting for Hungary in heaven".
There is a common belief that King Stephen has persecuted the táltos during Christianisation of Hungary, but this is not linked to any fact. When pagan revolts started in 1046 and 1061 there were enough táltos for the leaders to choose for their court.
The Táltos Horse
The táltos always had a horse, frequently appearing in Hungarian folk tales. However, the Táltos Horse always was ugly, causing them to be mocked by everybody. It is said in myths, that only the táltos could see the real powers hidden in the horse. And the heroes of the folk tales.
When they met, only the táltos could ride the horse, and it was always "flying like thought". This way the táltos is able to meditate (révül).
In the folk tales the true form of the táltos horse has 5 or 6 legs, could have gold, silver or copper hair, and many times eats hot cinders before going to mission. It can fly to anywhere but has no wings.
Experts say the táltos horse is a symbol of the drum of the táltos. They heated it over fire (see hot cinders) to make it suitable to play and used the drum to meditate (fly away).
- Ortovay, Gyula (1978). Ősi magyar hitvilág (in Hungarian). Budapest: Gondolat.
- A Nagy- és Kis Göncöl és a Sarkcsillag (html and pdf) by Várhegyi Péter, part of MCSE's pages about history of astronomy