Thursday, April 19, 2018

Q is for Questionable Godparents (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

There are several folktales an folktale types that include godparents that are... out of this world. Think Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, or Godfather Death from the Grimm collection. Sometimes they give superhuman abilities or powers to their godchildren, and sometimes they are less than beneficial. Hungarian folktales are no exception.

János Carnation-hair (Szegfűhajú János)
In this story, a magical woman from under the sea helps a poor widow deliver a baby boy, and then volunteers to be his godmother. Taking the baby to her underwater palace, she promptly chops János up, and leaves him in a bathtub for three days, before putting him back together and reviving him again. This repeats a couple of times, and each time János revives he becomes older and stronger. He eventually acquires the ability to read people's thoughts.
I included this tale in my book about superpowers in folktales.

(Last weekend I conducted a two-day retreat where storytellers got together to delve deep into this tale. There was a lot of discussion about motherhood, and whether the godmother was helping the boy, or not. Fascinating stuff.)

The Virgin Mary
In this tale, the Virgin Mary volunteers to be godmother to a poor man's daughter. She takes the girl home when she is twelve, and gives her keys to twelve rooms, but forbids her from looking into the thirteenth. Of course she does anyway, sees God himself, and her face turns golden. She refuses to tell Mary what happened - so the Virgin curses her mute, puts her in a box and abandons her in the woods. The girl is found by a prince, they get married, have children... but the children keep disappearing. Eventually the prince orders the girl to be burned at the stake for killing her own babies. Just when the pyre is lit, the Virgin Mary appears, and questions her again. This time the girl confesses that she'd seen God, and she is pardoned.

There is also a tale about a girl whose godfather was Death himself... but more about her tomorrow!


  1. To me, the first one seems to be a metaphor for teaching empathy and compassion - motherhood/parenthood/guardianship is not just about growing the body. Sometimes the teaching is painful for both teacher and taught, to cut the ego down to size and to walk a few steps in someone else's shoes. At least, that's how I felt reading the tale -what the underwater fairy did was perhaps not questionable but just a life-lesson - ego-trimming and self-improvement to understand people better.

    Q post thoroughly aced! :)

  2. Does the girl ever get her babies back? Or did Mary keep them for herself?

    Quit Playing Games (With My Heart) by The Backstreet Boys

  3. I am familiar with that one about the Virgin Mary, though I can’t recall where I read it. I wasn’t impressed with the Virgin, though - you hand somebody a key and then tell them not to use it - a bit like the Apple in Eden and, for that matter, Bluebeard!

  4. The story about Janos is fascinating. Deconstruct & reassemble. A metaphor for what parents do? Sometimes in a good way sometimes not? Hummm food for thought!

    Pulp Paper & Pigment-My Fiber Art Blog

  5. Thanks for sharing some unique folktales and trivia :)
    Chopping a baby up - folktales can be so dark and frightening. To prepare kids for the real world?
    The first tale is really strange ... even though the boy gets superhuman powers.

  6. Frankly not seeing the Virgin Mary's PoV at all - communication, that's what's lacking in that relationship.

    As for the first one, I assume she was deliberately making him stronger, although it might have been nice to consult him.
    Tasha's Thinkings - Movie Monsters

  7. Well, I see parents as sometimes "chopping their kids up" in the way they move them through the growth years, guiding away from certain things (hopefully harmful ones), and creating that nature vs. nurture arguement. Using an actual tool to cut the kid up...stuff of nightmares. But, think of an emotionally abused child. They are splintered; many can never reform a healthy mind, but many can.

    Less said about the VM, the better.

    Tale Spinning

  8. I always wanted a fairy godmother. I'm beginning to reconsider...
    Facing Cancer with Grace

  9. I was wondering if the golden faced woman ever got her children back. I am glad to hear she did. This is a side of Mary I never heard of before.

  10. Those sound like two godmother no one would want. o.o

    ~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    My A to Z’s of Dining with IC
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

  11. to read people's thoughts. That is interesting. I would like to read more about it. :)
    Jui Positive Cookies

  12. Ew. Somehow I can't stop thinking about the very macabre scene it must have been... a bathtub full of body parts... yeesh! Did the second tale explain where the babies had gone? Was the Virgin Mary taking them all? Such interesting tales!
    Jamie Lyn Weigt | Writing Dragons