Chasing the Csodaszarvas

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Europe, Uncategorized

When I came across this beautiful ceramic decoration in the museum‘s Ethnographic Collections, I mistakenly thought it was a Christmas decoration – something that would help me write a relevant contribution to the blog seeing as Christmas is very much upon us. A seemingly flying reindeer with stars in its antlers and a wintery landscape beneath its feet, first invited me to look further into this object. And it revealed an incredible story; not one of generous bearded men using reindeer to distribute gifts one day a year – but a story of the birth of a nation and a people. A story of the Miraculous Hind and the Hungarian people.

EA949-0014 Ceramic Decoration (a-b)

The ceramic tile decoration, referred to as Cserép Csodaszarvassal (tile with the Miraculous Hind) in Hungarian, was collected by Enikő Blénesi in 2018 as part of her Master’s thesis fieldwork. Blénesi did her fieldwork among the Székelys, a Hungarian subgroup living primarily in Romania, and collected a variety of examples of Szekler crafts; bead bracelets woven in the patterns of traditional carpets, beautifully decorated wooden calendars and watches, a witch made out of corn husk, carpets depicting folk dress and customs, painted eggs and of course the tile above. The objects in the collection are made by artists, who are reinvigorating old craft traditions by creating new patterns using old techniques or introducing new motifs to the objects – for example, Blénesi notes, that the Miraculous Hind is a rather new feature on ceramic tiles among the Székelys. The artist behind the tile comes from a long line of tile-makers and his addition of the Hind is a new way of developing the crafts of his ancestors.

The Hind and the Hungarian Peoples

The Csodaszarvas, Miraculous Hind, is a central element in Hungarian mythology. In some myths it is depicted as golden with a morning star on its forehead, a moon on its belly and a sun between its antlers – some elements that are also present on the tile in question. In the different versions of the myths, the Hind functions as a guide – leading two sons to their future wives, that would help them found the nation of the Huns – what would come to be Hungary.

It is said that a long time ago, Hunor and Magor, the two sons of a big warrior king went hunting with their father. They got lost in the woods after losing sight of their father and that is when they came upon “a wonderous beast, a great horned doe, which shone in multicolour lights and it’s antlers glittering from light.”* As if enchanted by the Hind, the sons gave chase and followed it through glades and meadows to foreign lands and across mountains, through dangerous swamps, before reaching a beautiful and bountiful land, rich with birds, fish and game. Here the Hind jumped into a lake and disappeared to the great sorrow of the sons.

For five years, they lived in a temple to contemplate their loss and to prepare taking over the duties of their father. After the sixth year, they went out to scout nearby territories, when they heard music coming from a clearing in the forest. Here, they found a group of young women celebrating “the festival of the horn” – a celebration of the Hind. The two sons were mesmerized by two of the women – who turned out to be the daughters of an important king in the area. The sons married the daughters and settled on an island in the lake that the Hind has disappeared in six years ago. And their descendants became the Huns and Magyars – the Hungarian peoples.

The Miraculous Hind and the White Stag

The Csodaszarvas, Miraculous Hind, is thus seen as a powerful goddess of fertility and a divine guide – it led to the founding of the Hungarians. The Hind is seen as a mother of the Hungarians, or as a totemistic ancestor. In the myth, Hunor and Magor’s mother is named “Eneth”, which is derived from the Hungarian word for hind – eney, thus making this link stronger.

The myth of the Miraculous Hind might seem familiar to some readers and the Csodaszarvas is perhaps better known as the White Stag. In England and in Arthurian legend, many chased after the elusive White Stag, and the Celtics before them believed that White Stags were from the “Other World” and often appeared when something sacred was being broken. The “White Hart” has also been the heraldry of King Richard the Second, and is also a popular name among English pubs.

The White Stag also plays a big role in Christianity. St. Eustace, a Roman soldier, converted to Christianity because of a fateful encounter with a White Stag with a cross in its antlers. The Stag later revealed that it was in fact Jesus and that he had been chasing him because of his unknown but great faith in God. In Hungary, Christianity also adopted the Csodaszarvas myth into its own lore – Saint Gerard of Csanád, Saint Ladislaus and Saint Emeric were all visited by deer that guided them – as messengers of God.

The White Stag is also well known from popular culture – it has appeared in Harry Potter, played an important role in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and it has been featured as a deity in video games such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and World of Warcraft.

A wild ‘deer’ chase

The Cserép Csodaszarvassal, the ceramic tile above, thus led me and now you, the reader, on a wild chase through Hungarian folklore and through Christianity and popular culture. The ceramic tile thus retells the story of the Miraculous Hind and is a way of keeping the myth alive – so that others may go seeking the Csodaszarvas.

The story of Csodaszarvas has been depicted in many different ways, but some of the most beautiful and fantastic I came across during my research for this post were:

  • Marcell Jankovics’ beautifully animated film based on the myth named “Ének a Csodaszarvasról” (Song of the Miraculous Hind) (2002)
  • Kate Seredy’s children’s book which she wrote and illustrated “The White Stag” (1937)
  • Arany János’ 1881 poem “Rege a Csodaszarvasról” (The Legend of the Miraculous Hind)
  • Norbert Papp’s beautiful sand art recreation of the story on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RG0hXLBxFA

Other sources:

Kristó Gyula (1996). Hungarian History in the Ninth Century. Szegedi Középkorász Muhely

The myth described above is an abridged version of the myth as it appears on these pages:https://europeisnotdead.com/hungary-the-miraculous-hind/ and here https://www.mysteriumtours.com/miraculous-hind-deer-mythology/

* Quoted from https://europeisnotdead.com/hungary-the-miraculous-hind/

//Katrine Mandrup Bach

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