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New paganism in Hungary

December 26, 2009

It's not exactly a brand new story but it still reverberates in the Hungarian media. The last time it came up was on "Ma Reggel," MTV's early morning program, the day before Christmas. I guess this discussion, if you can call it that, seemed appropriate for the holidays. Two priests and Dr. Lajos Papp, a former cardiac surgeon and a spokesman for the Hungarian far right, were invited to talk with Kriszta Jegyes-Tóth, a former anchorwoman of the now defunct "Napkelte."

I guess originally the idea was to talk about the "new paganism" that seems to be spreading like wildfire in far-right circles. The Catholic Church didn't pay much attention to the far right until recently, when most likely after the European Parliamentary elections the church leaders came to the realization that Jobbik might pose a serious threat to Fidesz, a party the Catholic Church has been steadfastly supporting for years. The results of these elections sounded the alarm in church circles: perhaps it was time to raise their voices against a phenomenon that, though not at all new, challenged the tenets of Christianity. I found an article already from 2000 in Hetek(Assembly of God's weekly publication) that called attention to certain quack "linguists and historians" who are spreading unscientific information about Christianity. Among other things, they claim that Mary, mother of Jesus, was a Parthian princess called Maria of Adiabene and that Jesus was "the Jesus of the Hungarians." From here it was an easy step to claim that Hungarian was the original language of Europe and that all other Western languages derive from it. A whole book was written about the close relationship between English and Hungarian entitled Az angol szókincs magyar szemmel (English vocabulary through Hungarian eyes). If you want to have a really good laugh take a look at it. Here are a couple of examples: "Mary is mere muck/Mari az merő mocsk! Peter is languid/Péter az lankadt. Does Peter sing? He does/Tesz Péter zeng?/(H)ő tesz." And this is just the beginning!

But let's go back to the "discussion" about the new paganism. The Catholic Church suddenly felt that it should come to Fidesz's rescue and at last condemn Jobbik's patronage of the new paganism and the whacky history of the origin of Hungarians. On September 20 in every Hungarian Catholic church a circular had to be read in which the Conference of Bishops said, in part, "today, just as after the death of Saint Stephen, [paganism] is attacking Christianity." They raised their voices against "ancient Hungarian syncretism" which is defined as a mixture of the sacred and the pagan. The bishops found this especially dangerous because these new pagans use a language that on the surface resembles the language of Christianity and therefore it may lead people astray. The circular pays special attention to the Parthian prince theory of Christ and the revival of real or assumed pagan practices of early Hungarians.

The reaction from the far right was immediate. A man who calls himself "Cságoly Péterfia Béla" (Béla, son of Péter Cságoly) lashed out at the bishops who fell for "theories" imposed on the Hungarians by the Habsburgs. According to Péterfia Béla since the time of Joseph II the Hungarians have not been able to learn about their real past. And that the Catholic clergy is talking about "Judeo-Christianity" is outright absurd. Another far-right reaction came from András Siklósiin an article that appeared in internetfigyelo.wordpress.com. He claims that most of the bishops are actually of Jewish origin. Well, that's not very new either. According to the Hungarian far right everybody who doesn't agree with them is Jewish.

In return, Heti Válasz, a weekly established by Fidesz in the last few months of the Orbán administration, came out with a series of interviews and articles in which they condemned the new paganism and didn't spare the pseudo-scientists of the "alternative" Hungarian history. For instance, journalists interviewed real historians and linguists who pointed out that the "sources" these pseudo-historians/scientists are referring to cannot be traced. Or that the "proofs" are nonexistent. But the hardest hitting article came from Balázs Ablonczay, also in Heti Válasz, entitled "The shamans are coming, the shamans are coming." Here names were named and their unscientific theories ridiculed. It is obvious that Fidesz was very happy to receive assistance from the Catholic Church against Jobbik and the far-right in general.

And into this fray enters Dr. Lajos Papp who thinks that he is himself a shaman though he claims to be a devout Catholic. A few weeks after the appearance of the circular he wrote a letter to the bishops. In it he called the circular counterproductive. He claimed that the people who appear at these pagan gatherings are God-fearing people who might feel after the appearance of this circular that the church has begun a war against them in the name of the inquisition. Basically, he asked the bishops to join these people who might want to worship God not in a church but in nature. "I'm asking you to come to the flock! Help us! I'm asking you to love that flock. I'm asking you to love the Hungarian Nation!" Well, that's quite something. Papp basically accuses the Catholic Church of not loving the Hungarian nation.

The TV discussion between Papp on the one hand and István Jelenits, the biblical scholar, and Botond Bátor, the head of the Paulist Order in Hungary, on the other moved quickly from the theme of the new paganism to a comical "lecture" by Papp on early Hungarian history. According to him Saint Stephen, in forcing Latin on the population, "forbade" the use of the vernacular and thereby destroyed "the use of written Hungarian." One doesn't have to know a lot about the eleventh century to know that there was no "use of written Hungarian." Most people didn't know how to read or write. Latin was in those days the universal written language and even in Italy or France literature in the local dialects appeared only centuries later. It soon became clear that our doctor also has peculiar ideas about "schools" in the eleventh century. He imagined village schools where Hungarian children were learning Hungarian language and literature in addition to mathematics in their mother tongue. By that time Jelenits was practically falling off his chair.

Dr. Papp also "scientifically" proved, and no one could argue with him because they were not familiar with his source, that Hungarians have been living in the Carpathian Basin for at least 35,000-40,000 years. Proof? A Science magazine article from 2000 in which, according to Papp, scientists proved that the "Ur-gene" of the earliest Europeans appears in 95% of Hungarians. I took a look at the article and found no such conclusion. The only thing the scientists, on the basis of the DNA of very small samples, claim is that European migration took place from East to West about 35,000-40,000 years ago. The Hungarian data didn't differ much from the Polish or the Ukrainian.

Dr. Papp offered more historical gems. The Hungarians' early history "was based on the culture of love." That's why, again according to him, conversion of Hungarians to Christianity went so smoothly and easily. "There was no resistance in their heart." Of course, this is nonsense. There was huge resistance and we know that St. Stephen had to use considerable force to convert his people to the new faith. Enough to think of the pagan uprisings after his death. One can learn about this "culture of love" by reading the story of the fate of Saint Gellért, bishop of Csanád, who was put in a cart and thrown down the steep hill named after him today in Buda. Apparently, he wasn't quite dead yet when he reached the Danube, but those guys who were nurtured on the "culture of love" beat him to death.

I start even to be skeptical about Dr. Papp's knowledge of his own profession, medicine. He finished his "sermon" by saying that "our food is excellent. Our genes are also very good." And yet an unusually high number of circulatory problems can be found in the population. Well, I'm no doctor but I could give a couple hints: unhealthy diet and too much of it, not enough exercise, too much alcohol, and too many people smoke. Including Dr. Papp, the cardiac surgeon.

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  1. Knowledge
    December 27, 2009 at 3:03 pm | #1

    4-5% of the supporters of Jobbik believe in parthian/parthus -Hungarian Jesus theory. Yes, they exist, but they are a little minority group of Jobbik-voters.

  2. Knowledge
    December 27, 2009 at 3:08 pm | #2

    These believers of Hungarian-Jesus theory also believe that Hungarians come from syrius

  3. Mark Novak
    December 28, 2009 at 4:38 pm | #3

    Beeing new here in Hungary Im realy confused about origine of present day Hungarians. Huns, Slavs, Magyars or…Any normal theory?

  4. Eva S. Balogh
    December 28, 2009 at 5:17 pm | #4

    Mark Novak: “Beeing new here in Hungary Im realy confused about origine of present day Hungarians. Huns, Slavs, Magyars or…Any normal theory?”
    I suggest that you read an old blog of mine here: http://esbalogh.typepad.com/hungarianspectrum/2008/04/a-little-hungar.html

  5. AGK
    January 2, 2010 at 11:08 am | #5

    The journalist’s name is Jegyes-Tóth, by the way. She might be really pretty, but calling her “Jeles” is a bit of stretch.

  6. Arle Lommel
    January 31, 2010 at 2:25 pm | #6

    Do you have a link to the circular your mention? I am doing work on political identity in Hungary and would like to see the full text of the circular since it would help back up an argument I am making (and that you agree with here) that Catholic and Neo-pagan identity are not seen as oppositional by many individuals in Hungary. I’ve seen a lot of this sort of thing in Hungary lately in the folk music circles, which tend to be pretty far right.

  7. Arle Lommel
    January 31, 2010 at 2:37 pm | #7

    I should add that I can read the letter in Hungarian, so I’d be happy to know where to find it. The Ablonczy article mentions it, but doesn’t provide anywhere to find the full text (and perhaps it’s not available online).

  8. OldSpirit
    April 20, 2012 at 9:07 am | #8

    It’s not a joke. Before indo-europeans arrived in europe the ancestors of hungarians lived there for thousands of years, but when they arrived they leaved for central asia.
    watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RywOwdNMG1g ;)

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