Monday, May 25, 2015

MopDog Monday: Sorry, we are currently out of vampires, please select one of the following options

I get this one a lot. For some reason (probably Béla Lugosi), people have come to associate Hungarians with vampires - when, in truth, such a thing doesn't exist in Hungarian folklore. Some scattered mentions of vamps and vamp-like creatures have filtered in from neighboring peoples, but in general we never claimed them as our own. I have already blogged about the Blood Countess and her mistaken legend; that's really as close as we got.
(That, and King Mátyás I throwing Vlad Tepes in jail).

However, a Hungary without vampires is not necessarily a boring Hungary. Quite the opposite: We have a whole array of mythical and magical creatures for your reading pleasure. So if you are a YA or urban fantasy or paranormal romance author perusing the folklore of mystical Eastern Europe for inspiration, please consider some of the following options:

Unlike vampires, we have a very, very rich witch folklore with endless options and endless uses. As dark as this makes Hungary sound, if you look for the macabre, this is where to look. It has been well researched and well documented, mostly because many beliefs survived until very recently; my grandfather's brother was treated for the Evil Eye by a "wise woman." The last witch in my town was burned in 1688 (a dubious claim to fame), and the last one in Hungary died in 1756.

Táltos beliefs stem from the old shamanistic traditions of the Hungarians. You have to be born as one, usually with an extra bone (finger, tooth, etc.), and then initiated by others. Táltos people had power over the weather, had secret sacred knowledge, could see the future, heal, shapeshift, etc. Often they were mentioned as healers who fought against witches in many forms.

The garabonciás, unlike the táltos, is not born - they are educated, usually abroad. They belong to the pan-European tradition of secret wizard schools that gave birth to Harry Potter in their latest iteration. The Hungarian garabonciás holds his power in a magic book that allows him to find treasure, see the future, fly, teleport, heal, take off curses, change the weather, create storms, and summon dragons to ride. Yup, that's right.

Fairy (Tündér)
Our fairies are very often imagines as the Elves from Lord of the Rings: Wingless, human-sized, enchantingly beautiful, and highly magical (but not above pairing up with humans). They are ruled by a queen called Ilona, and very often associated with water (especially in northwestern Hungary were I come from). They also often live in castles, and they have human conflicts. There are legends about them leaving the world of men when Christianity appeared.

Also very popular and very versatile, lidérc is an ambiguous supernatural creature. Sometimes it is summoned or created by a human as a servant that can fulfill wishes and make you rich - but will also destroy you if you can't keep it busy (or will suck your blood/breath/life force out of you). Sometimes it is a night monster that feeds on sleepers and has to be caught or banished in various ways.

Yeah, we have them, and often they fight against witches (pretty much everyone fights against witches). Many times they are people that fall into a trance and their soul takes on an animal form (not necessarily a wolf) and goes off to fight. Another version is known as "csordásfarkas" (wolf shepherd), and this one is closer to the popular werewolf idea: People cursed (by - guess what! - a witch) to turn into wolves and the curse has to be broken.

Tündér wizard
Just to make things more complicated, there are other types of magical people that usually take on the fight against witchcraft. "Fairy wizards" are people who draw their magical abilities from the fae world or fae helpers. It is a fascinating topic that exists in a lot of neighboring peoples; it is possible it existed in Hungarian folklore as well.

Winged wolf
What, you thought the Wachowski brothers came up with that?...

As you can see, Hungarian folklore is rich in alternatives to the old and overplayed vampire trope. And this is not even a full list!

Also, when all else fails, there is always the Owl With The Copper Dick.


  1. Oh, how I love your blog. I have always liked folklore and fairy tales.

    I am not a fan of today's fantasy novels. But I do like an excursion into folk tales.
    I wrote stories on a blog roll called trifecta which closed down. So many wrote about vampire lovers, etc; I felt the urge to write a vampire tale with a so what attitude. What has followed is a fantasy tale that I have been writing. But my vampires are not the glamorous sort or the dangerous kind. They only become dangerous when they act on their human nature.

  2. Oh, don't give me more ways to get story ideas. ;)

  3. Do the tourism boards, info desks, hotels, etc in Hungary embrace vampires and market them? Kinda like, "Visit Hungary, Home of the Vampyyre?" It seems like the kind of thing local restaurants would do for extra business during the summer. "Home of the Garabonciás" just doesn't have the same ring to it...

    1. Nope, they don't :D Everyone hates the idea. Romania does most of that. But we do have quite a few Garabonciás restaurants :))

  4. Those are really awesome. I haven't read far enough into the series yet, but I have to wonder if Vlad Taltos from Stephen Brust's Draegera series is based off of these guys (he has some shamanic/warlock power).

  5. It's something I really should look into - from a knowledge point of view ... I know so little about how and where the myths came from ... Fascinating list you've given us here ... and Hungary I gather is a wonderful country to visit .. cheers Hilary