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Tales Told By The Wind Mother

Eastern Europe



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The Hussar And The Servant Girl








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This volume, Tales Told By The Wind Mother covers stories originating in Hungary and the Magyar tradition.

András Róna-Tas suggests that the Hungarians, also known as the Manicha-Er group, originated in the region between the Volga River and the Ural Mountains. Their independent existence began between the 8th and 5th centuries BC, marking the early development of the proto-Hungarian language.

Around 830 AD, when Álmos was about 10 years old, seven related tribes, namely Jenő, Kér, Keszi, Kürt-Gyarmat, Megyer Nyék, and Tarján, formed a confederation in a place called Etelköz. They called themselves the "Hétmagyar" or "Seven Magyars." The leaders of these tribes, known as the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars, which included Álmos, Előd, Ond, Kond, Tas, Huba, and Töhötöm, swore a blood oath of eternal loyalty to Álmos.

In essence, this provides a rich history of the Magyar people and a wealth of legends and stories to draw from. This tradition is rooted in early shamanistic beliefs that divided the world into three realms: the Upper World (Felső világ), where the gods resided; the Middle World (Középső világ), our world as we know it; and the Underworld (Alsó világ). At the centre of this world stands a towering tree known as the Világfa or Életfa, the World Tree or Tree of Life.

Throughout these tales, you'll encounter phrases that reference this concept of the world as a superlative. The Upper World is accessed through the foliage of the Világfa, where the Turul bird resides at the pinnacle. The Middle World is situated at the trunk, and the Underworld is located around the tree's roots. In some stories, the tree bears fruit, and you'll come across mentions of golden apples and pears.

The gods and benevolent spirits dwell in the Upper World, where celestial bodies like the Sun and the Moon also reside. The sky is perceived as a vast tent held up by the Tree of Life, with the stars being the holes in it.

The Middle World is inhabited by humans and numerous mythological creatures, many of which possess supernatural qualities. These creatures include forest and water spirits, like the mermaid (sellő), who has a human torso and a fish tail. The wind is controlled by an elderly figure called Szélanya (Wind Mother) or Szélkirály (Wind King). The dragon (Sárkány) is a menacing creature and often the adversary of heroes in these tales, symbolizing their inner struggles. Dragons typically have multiple heads. The lidérc is a mysterious and ghostly entity with various forms, known for its malicious deeds. Elves and goblins (manók) as well as dwarfs (törpék) inhabit the woods and underground, while giants (Óriások) reside in the mountains.

Giants can display both good and bad traits. One of the tradition's beloved beings is the fairies (tündérek), often depicted as beautiful young virgins or female creatures, representing purity and innocence or playfulness and cleverness. They assist humans and sometimes grant them three wishes.

On the other hand, the bábák are likened to cunning old witches, and they appear frequently in these stories.


The Beggar's Presents

There was once a very poor man, who went into the wood to fell trees for his own use. The sweat ran down his cheeks from his hard work, when all at once an old beggar appeared and asked for alms. The poor man pitied him very much, and, putting his axe on the ground, felt in his bag, and, with sincere compassion, shared his few bits of bread with the poor old beggar. The latter, having eaten his bread, spoke thus to the wood-cutter. "My son, here! for your kindness accept this table-cloth, and whenever hereafter you feel need and are hungry, say to the cloth, 'Spread yourself , little cloth,' and your table will be laid, and covered with the best meats and drinks. I am the rewarder of all good deeds, and I give this to you for your benevolence." Thereupon the old man disappeared, and the wood-cutter turned homewards in great joy.
Having been overtaken by night on his way, he turned into a hostelry, and informed the innkeeper, who was an old acquaintance, of his good fortune, and, in order to give greater weight to his word, he at once made a trial of the table-cloth, and provided a jolly good supper for the innkeeper and his wife, from the dainty dishes that were served up on the cloth.
After supper he laid down on the bench to sleep, and, in the meantime, the wicked wife of the innkeeper hemmed a similar cloth, and by the morning exchanged it for that of the woodcutter. He, suspecting nothing, hurried home with the exchanged cloth, and, arriving there, told his wife what had happened, and, to prove his words, at once gave orders to the cloth to spread itself, but all in vain. He repeated at least a hundred times the words "Little cloth, spread yourself ," but the cloth never moved, and the simpleton couldn't understand it.
Next day he again went to the wood, where he again shared his bread with the old beggar, and received from him a lamb, to which he had only to say, "Give me gold, little lamb," and the gold coins at once began to rain. With this the woodcutter again went to the inn for the night, and showed the present to the innkeeper, as before. Next morning he had another lamb to take home, and was very much surprised that it would not give the gold for which he asked.
He went to the wood again, and treated the beggar well, but also told him what had happened to the table-cloth and lamb. The beggar was not at all surprised, and gave him a club, and said to him, "If the innkeeper has changed your cloth and lamb, you can regain them by means of this club. you have only to say, 'Beat away, beat away, my little club,' and it will have enough power to knock down a whole army."
So the woodcutter went to the inn a third time, and insisted upon his cloth and lamb being returned, and, as the innkeeper would not do so, he exclaimed, "Beat away, beat away, my little club!" and the club began to beat the innkeeper and his wife, till the missing property was returned.
He then went home and told his wife, with great joy, what had happened, and, in order to give greater consequence to his house, he invited the king to dinner next day. The king was very much surprised, and, about noon, sent a lackey to see what they were cooking for him. The messenger, however, returned with the news that there was not even a fire in the kitchen. His majesty was still more surprised when, at meal-time, he found the table laden with the finest dishes and drinks. Upon inquiring about where all the food came from, the poor woodcutter told him his story, what happened in the wood, and about the lamb and cloth, but did not mention a word about the club.
The king, who was a regular tyrant, at once claimed the cloth and the lamb, and, as the man would not comply, he sent a few lackeys to him, to take them away, but they were soon knocked down by the club. So the king sent a larger force against him, but they also perished to a man. On hearing this the king got into a great rage, and went in person with his whole army against him, but on this occasion, too, the woodcutter was victorious, because the club knocked down dead every one of the king's soldiers. The king himself died on the battle-field and his throne was occupied by the once poor woodcutter. It was a real blessing to his people, because, in his magnanimity, he delighted to assist all whom he knew to be in want or distress, and so he, also, lived a happy and contented man to the end of his days!

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