Fair Ladies and Necromancers

A statue of the Fair Lady of Hungary.

A statue of the Fair Lady of Hungary.

Two infamous figures in Hungarian folklore are sure to appear in one of my novels at some point! The first is the garabonciás – originally it meant “necromancer”, someone who works magic with the assistance of the dead; later in the Medieval Ages the meaning shifted into “the student of black magic”.

The garaboncid is a sort of magician of the Hungarian folk mythology. He mostly resembles the táltos (or shaman) in that the garaboncid is also born with teeth. He has to study at thirteen different schools to receive a magical book, with the help of which he can even fly.

He travels from town to town in a tattered cloak, and knocks on the door of every house, asking for milk and eggs. If the householders say they don’t have any, although they really do, the garaboncid will tell them that he knows they do, and that “you will soon change your mind, but it will be late by then”. As punishment he summons big storms, hailstones, or murmurs a spell from his book, summoning his dragon, which he mounts and rides above the town. The long tail of the dragon sweeps down the housetops and pulls out the trees from the ground. The only way to keep a town safe from the garaboncid is to ring the church bells every day.

The other infamous character is the “Fair Lady,” a beautiful woman who is sometimes kind, sometimes wicked. She’s one of the goddesses of the Hungarian old religion, the Goddess of Love. According to some, a valley in northern Hungary was a sacrificial ground dedicated to the goddess.

The Fair Lady combines the most famous traits of fairies, witches and ghosts: she can be seen wandering outside in the dark after midnight, but mostly she’s invisible; she likes to swap her own evil, deformed-looking children with the newborn babies of townsfolks; according to legend, meeting her is deadly. The Fair Lady meets with other Fair Ladies at night in the church yard, where they dance and clap, and with their beautiful singing voices they lure a man to join them, and then they either dance the unlucky man to death, or take turns having sex with him and kill him by passing on various STDs.

BRIEF NOTE: A new review of When Brothers Dwell In Unity has just arrived. The Midwest Review of Books says that it is “… an exceptionally well-written, organized and presented theological treatise for both academic and non-specialist general readers with an interest in Christian theology, with respect to the LGBT community. … is very highly recommended for both community and academic library Christian Studies reference collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists [as well]….”

Attila the Hun

St. Stephen Monument on Gellert Hill with the Liberty Bridge in the background, Budapest.

St. Stephen Monument on Gellert Hill with the Liberty Bridge in the background, Budapest.

Although the king St. Stephen (pictured above, with the Liberty Bridge and it’s turul birds in the background) was baptized in Prague by the first Archbishop there and is said to have brought Christianity to the Huns and Magyars in the year 1001 A.D., the most famous of the modern Hungarian ancestors is probably Attila the Hun, who rampaged across Europe during 434-453 A.D. He and his army of Huns (a nomadic clan who came west from the area around the Caspian Sea and created an empire under Attila) terrified the peoples of Europe.

Attila himself is said to have claimed the titles “Descendant of the Great Nimrod”, and “King of the Huns, the Goths, the Danes, and the Medes”—the last two peoples being mentioned to show the extent of his control over subject nations even on the peripheries of his domain. Attila reportedly possessed the “Holy War Sword of the Scythians”, which was given to him by Mars and made him a “prince of the entire world”.

By the end of the 12th century the royal court of Hungary proclaimed their descent from Attila. Lampert of Hersfeld’s contemporary chronicles report that shortly before the year 1071, the Sword of Attila had been presented to Otto of Nordheim by the exiled queen of Hungary, Anastasia of Kiev. This sword, a cavalry sabre now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, appears to be the work of Hungarian goldsmiths of the ninth or tenth century.

It is an historical fact that Pope St. Leo the Great met Attila outside the walls of Rome and persuaded him to turn aside and leave the already devastated city in peace. However, according to a mediaeval Hungarian chronicle, the Pope promised Attila that if he left Rome in peace, one of his successors would receive a holy crown (which has been understood as referring to the Holy Crown of Hungary) which was in fact the crown given to St. Stephen the king (pictured above).

Turul Birds in Budapest!

A turul bird in Budapest.

A turul bird in Budapest.

The last time I was in Budapest, I was struck by the statues of the turul birds that adorn the Liberty Bridge there. They are a striking set of images.

The turul bird is the most important bird in the origin myth of the Magyars (Hungarian people). It is a divine messenger, and perches on top of the tree of life along with the other spirits of unborn children in the form of birds. The turul became a symbol of power, strength, and nobility. The most common motifs of the ninth and the early tenth centuries — the griffin, wolf and hind — seldom figure in later Hungarian iconography and heraldic symbolism; however the hawk or turul were preserved for longer as a device belonging to the ruling house.

The Turul is probably based on a large falcon, and the origin of the word is most likely Turkic: “togrıl” or “turgul” means a medium to large bird of prey of the family Accipitridae. In Hungarian the word sólyom means falcon, and there are three ancient words describing different kinds of falcons: kerecsen (saker falcon), zongor [Turkish sungur = gyrfalcon] and turul.

I will be in Budapest for the next two weeks, participating in conferences on both fairy tales and the supernatural. Then off to Germany to see my daughter and her family. But I will keep posting here and hopefully posting photos on Facebook!