Welcome to my new Friday series through the end of October: Hungarian Halloween!
Hungary doesn't traditionally celebrate Halloween; our time to dress up, party, and run around drunk is farsang, which happens at the end of winter (think Mardi Gras). And yet, we have a lot of scary creatures and monsters going to waste without a spooky holiday, so I might as well share them for my Halloween-prone friends.
Here we go.
You have met the Owl With the Copper Dick.
You have met the Aggressive Piglet.
And now, for something infinitely worse.
(Warning: Graphic content)
For the longest time I wrote this off as just one of those things parents say, along with "don't slouch" and "say 'nice to meet you!'" But recently, doing some research into the darker corners of Hungarian folklore, I found out that this is not only a hungarikum (a typically Hungarian thing), but also one of the most terrifying pieces of folklore I have ever seen.
Introducing the Water Calf.
As adorable as that sounds, nobody seems to be sure what this creature is. Some studies equate it with real animals such as salamanders, certain types of newts, tadpoles, giant sturgeons, leeches, or even worms. Other sources clearly treat it as a magical, mythical creature. Whatever the case, the function is always the same:
If you drink from still freshwater (slow rivers, lakes, ponds, puddles), you might swallow a water calf; if it is not lured out in time, it will grow large in your stomach, until it bursts (or, in other versions, chews or burrows itself out).
In some descriptions, the water calf is a red-bellied lizard; in others, it is some kind of a hairy part-pig-part-calf creature that squeals. Sometimes it is just a large frog, or multiple frogs, that come out through the mouth and other orifices.
Good news: In order to avoid a reenactment of Alien, the water calf can be lured out peacefully by holding warm milk to the patient's mouth.
All of these things make sense in the context of the history of sanitation: It is not safe to drink still water for many reasons. The water calf serves as an appropriately dire warning against getting yourself poisoned or getting parasites from drinking from a puddle.
This is your PSA, people. Water calf. Not even once.