Shamans in the pantry

The Catholic Church contra New Paganism

Bálint Ablonczy
Last updated:
05:03 24-04-2014
13:00 01-10-2009

Although the Catholic church is cautioning its followers against new paganism in a circular, the idea is spreading fast and seems unstoppable. And now it seems that politics has also decided to take part in popularizing alternative prehistory, which goes hand in hand with esoterism: Jobbik hopes that if the Scythian-Hun-Avar continuity is taught in schools, it will eventually lead to the “awakening” of Hungarians.

The spirit of Koppány lingers over Hungary: on September 20th, an anti-pagan circular, written by the Catholic Bishops' Conference, was read out in Hungarian Catholic churches. The text strongly condemns those movements which promote ancient Hungarian syncretism. Not since the change of the political system has a circular concerning the purity of faith been written, but now the Catholic church has spoken out against phenomena that are incompatible with Christianity. "The theory of »Jesus, the Parthian prince« are such, or the revivification of real or supposed elements of priest-magicians, shamanism, and pagan ancient Hungarian religion," can be read in the text of the circular.

The document was published at a time when movements proclaiming a return to "ancient values" are multiplying, and (copies of) national esoteric literature can be found even in more serious bookshops. What's more, the new pagan views are connected to alternative explanations of prehistoric times, and the popularity of these will soon be threatening the real - and no less exciting, but properly studied - Hungarian history. Supporting these unorthodox views has now become a political programme: Jobbik now demands that the "untruthful Finno-Ugrian dogma" be revoked.

Where does a Shaman Pauline father come from?

"It was not because of a concrete event that we published the circular, but we found that more and more people were influenced by a kind of new paganism," replied Antal Spányi, diocesan of Székesfehérvár, to Heti Válasz' question. He gives an example from his own practice: at the funeral of Pauline's father Vince Árva, buried in Székesfehérvár, the sound of Shaman drums could be heard, for some people called the monk the Pauline shaman. According to Spányi, one of the reasons for the phenomenon described in the circular is that the religious knowledge of Hungarian society is extremely poor. He himself cautions his flock not to buy all books that mention Jesus in their title. The other reason for the phenomenon spreading is, according to the bishop, that people are trying to escape from reality. There is a growing demand for theories and ceremonies that help us to forget our everyday problems, and which seem heroic, mystical and at the same time easy to understand. "The tragedy of this new pagan movement is that those taking part in it want to be good Hungarians. But no one can evade the one thousand years of Christianity that have passed since Saint Stephen," says Antal Spányi.

We do not know the exact number of those who refuse the heritage of Christianity, and choose Koppány instead of István (Stephen). At first glance, we cannot speak of a mass movement. The largest of the ancient Hungarian "churches", headed by shaman András Kovács, was offered one percent of personal income tax by 800 people, totalling five million Forints. The smaller ones had to make do with less; for example, only 170 people offered money to the Traditional Church of the Árpád Order. (The Catholic Church received 483 thousand offers, the Protestants 159 thousand offers for one percent of personal income tax.)

The teachings of the various shaman-churches, however, reach a much wider audience. This conclusion can be drawn from the increased number of ceremonies and rites held in various places (like Pilis, for example) thought to be sacred. There are countless homepages dealing with this subject, what's more, Sándor Pörzse's programme on Echo Television, entitled Pörzsölő (Scorcher - alluding to the presenter's name) is a solid bastion of national esoterics (or "our hidden past", depending on how one views it) in the national media. It is worth noting that at the Christmas book sale of 2007, one of the hits was a book published by Alexandra Publishing House, which examined the supposed connection between the Holy Grail and the Hungarians. (One of the main statements of the book is that Jesus was probably the descendant of Nimród, and not David, and this counts as blasphemy for a Christian.)

The new pagan groups can even influence the image of a mass event. At this year's congress of the Alliance of Hungarians (Magyarok Szövetsége), held in Bösztörpuszta and attended by tens of thousands (Heti Válasz, August 29th 2009), some of the most decisive participants were those reviving the ancient traditions of the shamans and saying the prayers of the Huns. Although most visitors were more interested in the handicraft products of Hungarian tradesmen and merchants, or the traditional military performances, there were always people queueing up in front of the tent-like structure, built on a world-tree (életfa) named the Home of the Seven Hétboldogasszony (Boldogasszony is the Hungarian equivalent of the Beata Virgo (Latin: Blessed Virgin), referring to the Virgin Mary as the patron saint of the Hungarian nation. Originally, Boldogasszony was probably one of the main deities of pagan Magyar mythology. The name was transferred to the Virgin Mary on the advice of St. Gerard of Csanád (Gerard Sagredo), one of the chief Christian evangelizers of Hungary - from Encyclopaedia Britannica Online). (Initially, the organisers had wanted to call it Hétboldogasszony Chapel, but because the archbishop of Kalocsa protested and condemned this strange religious practice, they changed their minds.)

All this would not have been a problem, for everyone has the right to choose what they want to consume from the "smörgåsbord" of great ideas and religious history. However, the post-modern mélange and the exclusion of those with different views from the nation is a serious problem, and there are examples of both among Hungarian new pagan circles. Although none of the denominations consider someone who believes that Jesus was a Parthian prince as a Christian, many think that the teachings of the Catholic or Protestant Church are compatible with all sorts of nonsense that they have read here and there. Sometimes members of these prehistoric "schools" - which have become inextricably intertwined with the beliefs of new paganism - dive into so-called "official" science with surprising aggression. The innocent reader is amazed by all the different ways in which anyone who dares to question that the Hungarians are related to the Sumerians-Celts-Etruscans-Japanese or that we have a 40 thousand-year past behind us is branded a traitor of the nation and a mercenary.

Without scruples

New paganism and obsessively searching for ancestors go hand in hand. Where people speak of the past that has supposedly been concealed, sooner or later, the sound of shaman drums will be heard. The works of Ferenc Badiny Jós, father of the "Parthian prince theory", illustrate this connection well. Not only was he one of the standard-bearers of the belief that Sumerians and Hungarians were related, but - after breaking with the Catholic Church, which he labelled Judaist - he also established a separate Hungarian church (of which he was the prelate). He also wrote about the Sacred Crown, and his work concerning the "Middle Eastern cosmological aspects" of the jewel's mythology appeared in 1986, during his emigration in Argentina. Although Piarist monk István Jelenits proved in a series of articles in 2000 that the main work of Badiny Jós - who died in 2007, at the age of 97 - about the Parthian Jesus, was charlatanry, and that Badiny only used quotations from professional works which he liked, and haphazardly connected facts that had nothing to do with one another. Although Jelenits' final conclusion was that the work - which was full of contradictions of logic and mistranslations - did not meet any kind of scientific criteria, the value of the work of the Sumerologist-founder-of-a-new-religion has not diminished in the eyes of his followers.

Turkologist Ádám Molnár, editor of the series Csodaszarvas (Miraculous Deer), gives the following explanation of the phenomenon: people have an insatiable interest in the Hungarian past and are also mistrustful. More and more people are of the opinion that during the Communist era, lies were published about science as well, and that is why all these pseudo-scientific views - which were at first published and spread by emigrant Hungarians - have been overestimated. It was at a demonstration in Kossuth Square in 2006 that Ádám Molnár suddenly realized this need of the masses: on the stage outside the Parliament, a speaker was talking about the ancient religion of Hungarians, while among the audience, a band was playing music from Mezőség (An ethnogeographical area in Transylvania, located between the Szamos/Somes River and the Maros/Mures River. The term is also used to refer to a form of dance performed by the ethnic Hungarian inhabitants of the region.), and the audience was thrilled by both. That is why, in the Csodaszarvas-series, Molnár has published studies about the origin of the Székely people, the ancient religion and myths of the Hungarians and our folklore, written by archeologists (for example István Fodor), historians (György Szabados) and ethnographers (Vilmos Voigt). Reading these, one comes to the conclusion that there is no such thing as monolithic, "official" science. People who believe in very different theories argue with one another, but everyone respects the basic rules of the profession.

Is everyone a traitor?

Of the three volumes of Csodaszarvas hitherto published, 1500 copies of the first volume were sold, which is quite a considerable number if we consider Hungarian scientific publications of today. From what Ádám Molnár has experienced so far, although the majority of people attending lectures on ancient history are simply curious to find out as much as possible about the past, most of those proclaiming the "truth" are monomaniac fanatics. Most of them are battling against statements that no one has actually said. Contrary to common belief, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences - considered the arch enemy in alternative circles - does not maintain that ethnically the Hungarian people are uniformly of Finno-Ugrian descent. It is a fact, however, that the most ancient layer, the structure and the vocabulary of the Hungarian language is Finno-Ugrian. Nevertheless, the origin of a language does not necessarily coincide with the origin of a given population.

There is an increasing number of signs that these arguments regarding ancient history are becoming more and more politicised. At the beginning of September, Jobbik wrote an open letter to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the ministry of culture, demanding that they start teaching the theory of Scythian-Hun-Avar descent of Hungarians in schools. The letter refers to archive sources that no one has ever seen before, and which supposedly reveal that the theory of Finno-Ugrian origin was made omnipotent in the 19th century by the Habsburg court. The letter was signed by a scholar on the periphery of the academic world (archeologist Kornél Bakay), and several honest amateurs (e.g. forester Gyula Dósa, chemical engineer Ferenc Cser) and mainly blackbelt dilettantes (Mariann De Pluer, who lives in Mexico and fantasizes about Maya-Hungarian relations, or Szabolcs Nyitray, one of the authors of the standard work, Ancient Hungarians in Azerbaijan (Ősmagyarok Azerbajdzsánban)).

By now, politics has managed to create a chasm between "the Finno-Ugrians serving foreign interests" and "the alternatives who are loyal to their nation". And now elbowing has started even within the latter group. Just recently, the Internet radio station the Sacred Crown (Szent Korona) published a video about the leaders of the Association of Hungarians (Magyarok Szövetsége, MSZ). In this, art historian Gábor Pap, a former member of the association's Council of the Wise, and one of the most popular propagators of alternative views regarding the Sacred Crown, was labelled a beneficiary of cultural policy in the Kádár-era, simply because he was the editor of the cultural periodical Művészet (Art) in the 1970's.

Top 5 Subcultures - the most popular authors

  • Zsuzsa Bunyevácz

The new star of national esoteric culture, whose book, entitled The Holy Grail - hidden Hungarian connections, has a revelatory force on all readers whose theological erudition was formed by Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. She acquired a degree in pharmacology, then from 1999 worked as a reporter for the Hungarian Radio's programme called Vasárnapi Újság (Sunday Journal). For six years, Bunyevácz edited Elixír, an esoteric magazine. Following her studies of the Chalice of the Last Supper, the Shroud of Turin, the origins of Freemasonry and the Dead Sea Scrolls, she came to conclusions that were the exact opposite of the "official" viewpoint. And of course, in her opinion, the "concealed" past of the Hungarians, going back all the way to Nimród, can be found in the secret of the Holy Grail.

  • József V. Molnár

The researcher of "ethnopsychology", who originally worked as a graphic artist, has been studying the "organic culture" of Hungarians since the 1970's. Due to his participation in the events of 1956, he could not continue his studies at an institution of higher education, so he completed his studies in 1999 in Miskolc, at an institution named after Louis the Great, arbitrarily calling itself a private university (but in fact using the term unlawfully). In his lectures, he re-interprets Hungarian folklore, traditions and customs, and analyses children's drawings.

  • Gábor Pap

He graduated at ELTE University, where he studied Hungarian and art history, then from 1963 to 1973 he was the artistic editor of the Hungarian public television (MTV). His book about István Nagy, a representative of modern Hungarian realistic painting, was published in 1965, and he also studied the art of Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka. He was editor, then deputy editor-in-chief of the cultural periodical Művészet (Art). Later, prior to the change of the political system, he worked as library director and cultural assistant in several settlements. He arrived at the world of national esoterics through his unusual analysis of the Sacred Crown. According to his thesis, our crown jewels were desacralized in the 18th century, under Joseph II's reign, because the images were changed round. What lay behind this action, in his view, was that the Habsburgs and the Romanovs were working on creating a new, Byzantine empire.

  • Lajos Szántai

One of the stars among the experts of alternative ancient history, whose spiritual horizon extends from Nimród, through the family tree of Jesus Christ, all the way to the white magic steeds and the 20th century poet, Attila József. He is always invited to "national" events, and is familiar with great secrets: just recently, he explained on Echo Television, in the programme called Pörzsölő (see above), that while rocking baby Jesus, the Virgin Mary called him "my little Saker falcon". The way he introduced his theory in the above-mentioned television programme is characteristic of his academic achievements: "We are now going to discuss these things in a slightly romantic way."

  • Csaba Varga

He graduated at the teacher-training college in Pécs, where he studied mathematics and art. In 1972, he founded an animation workshop in Pécs. He worked for Pannónia Film Studio up until 1988, then established his own enterprise. In 1985 he received the Béla Balázs Award, and in Cracow in 1998, his film entitled Wind (Szél) was listed among the best ten animation films in film history. He wanted something more than making animation films, so in 1999 he established Fríg publishing house, and has been publishing regularly since then. According to his thesis, which he has expounded in several of his books (The living language of the Stone Age, Ancient Greek: archaic language of the Csángó people, English vocabulary with the eyes of a Hungarian), Hungarian is one of the oldest languages in the world.

Alternative history - the five basic statements of the commentators

It has been proved long ago that we are not Finno-Ugrians.

Language, genetics and history form different elements of one's identity, they intertwine, but do not necessarily coincide. It has been proved that the Hungarian language is of Finno-Ugrian origin, but it is enriched by numerous other elements, for example, Turkic and Slavic. From an ethnic point of view, however, Hungarians are not Finno-Ugrians, but no one ever said they were.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, it was the Habsburgs who forced the theory of Finno-Ugrian origin on Hungarians.

Although many people refer to this, no document has been found that supports this intervention. It is not true that from the 1860's, all other opinions were suppressed. Ármin Vámbéry, who believed in the Turkish origin of Hungarians, and who was on the losing side in the "Ugrian-Turkish war" (in other words the ancient dispute), was a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences from 1876 to his death in 1913.

The universities teach falsified history, that is why we must not believe what the scientists say.

This opinion is usually voiced by very ambitious "researchers" who did not graduate from art faculties. The truth is that human sciences have a strict methodology, too: modern research is unimaginable without the proper treatment of sources, the setting up of a hypothesis, and proper reference.

Christianity and ancient Shamanism are compatible:the essence is love.

Views according to which objects and places are idolized, Jesus is considered a shaman, or they stress that his origins are different from what is stated in the Bible, are contrary to the basic teachings of all the denominations.

Getting to know the religion of ancient Hungarians is possible, all one has to do is read the chronicles carefully, and observe the practices of Asian people.

Little is known about the mythology of the first Hungarian (Magyar) settlers, and sources seem contradictory. Due to the distance in time and space, one must be circumspect when examining Siberian or Mongolian Shamanism. We cannot simply deduce Hungarian mythology of 1000-1500 years ago from the rites that exist today in certain parts of Asia.

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