Monday, January 9, 2012

Mythology nerdery

Something a little more academic for you. I don't remember exactly what made me want to write about Hungarian táltosk. I'd had it in my idea notebook (yes, I have one) for a while as a high concept, but I'm not that great at writing about high concepts. I had to wait for characters to form. As it turned out, those characters were the two unlikeliest táltosk ever, which just made the concept that much more interesting.

I won't get into the details of character and world creation in this post. Instead, I'll briefly discuss the aspects of Hungarian mythology I chose. There's really not a lot out there about this "old world" mythology and a lot of it is foggy. Which is great for me, because I got to take a lot of artistic license.

The táltos and World Tree myths are obviously the most important in this world. They're universal in a way, because almost every culture has shaman-like figures and many have some version of the World Tree. Hungarian mythology is rooted in old pagan beliefs which were then (like many pagan mythologies) transmuted into Christianized Hungary. The most important god, Isten, created the world with the help of Ordog. Isten became the Christian God and Ordog became (you guessed it) the devil. The main female figure became the Virgin Mary. The structure of the World Tree (Upper World, Middle World, Underworld) is about what you'd expect, with Isten at the top and Ordog at the bottom.

The táltosk were originally supposed to have missions from God, but when Hungary was Christianized by Stephen I, they were, to no one's surprised, considered evil and hunted down. Interestingly, folklore apparently maintains that Jesus was a táltos. Hungary seems like one of those places where Christianity and "old world" beliefs weave together in a unique way, and that's what I really wanted to capture. One of my favorite parts of the táltos myth and one of the things that made me want to write about it was the táltos horse. I've only ever found English references to it on Wikipedia, but come on. Magical horse. How could I not? I took the most artistic license with this aspect of the myth, but that's half the fun.

Two more important parts of Hungarian mythological history that I had to work in were the Turul bird and the stag. These are two more very archetypal symbols. The Turul is especially important to the Hungarians as a national symbol (it's still the emblem of the Hungarian Army). It sits on top of the World Tree. In yet another archetypal myth, the Turul impregnates a woman, immaculate conception style. The formative Arpad dynasty was descended from her son, Almos.

The other is the stag myth, which is archetypal and fascinatingly cross-cultural. This page demonstrates just how cross-cultural it is. Probably the coolest part about this myth and about Hungarian mythology in particular is the intersection between both of those things and Middle Eastern myths, particularly Persian Zoroanastrianism. If you know anything about ancient Middle Eastern history, you might recognize the name "Nimrod." Yeah, that one. He had two sons, Hunor and Magor, who chased this stag into the land that would eventually become Hungary.

As an amusing and awesome aside, when I met Tiger Gray, I was already deep into the first draft of The Wicked Instead. One of the important features of Tiger's novel world (which was created before we even met) is Zoroanastrian mythology. We didn't find out about the Magyar/Persian connection until much later. You can bet we're running with this in future projects.

As I mentioned, there's very little out there about old Hungarian mythology in English past the basic stuff. I've done some digging and here are a few pages for you mythology geeks:

Hungarian Mythology, by Fred Hamori
Of Hungarians' Old Religion in Brief, Avraham Sándor and Turgut Aslan
"The Way of the Táltos: A Critical Reassessment of a Religious-Magical Specialist," by Laszlo Kurti (academic article, yay!)

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