Forgotten, with love: Witches of the Hungarian Countryside

A hundred years ago, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was in agony. It fell apart into several states – however, minorities (and their culture) still survive abroad. This article tells the story of the times hwen I went to research the Slovak culture in Hungary. Read on to discover the horror folklore of witches in the woods around Miskolc.

The days of the Empire are long gone without you even knowing. The dust is mixing with the faded sunlight, and they fall together, settle on the crown jewels in a museum, never to rise again.

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The newly awaken nations of the Empire went their own way after 1919 and some tried to forget their roots. “The marriage lasted a thousand years,” Slovaks said, “but it didn´t work out.”

And they divorced the Hungarians.

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But the traces of common past are hard to wear out; if you know where to look for them, you will still find some Slovaks living in Hungary of today.

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When the world did  not come to an end in the 2012, we went to the east, me and my friend from school. We took a train to Miskolc, to the mountainous northeast of the hungarian country, to look for a couple of old slovak villages, to talk to the old people who speak an archaic dialect long lost in the mainland.

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A man we met let us sit in his one-horse carriage and took us on a ride around the village.

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“Over there, that is the witches tree. The witches go sit in its branches and talk,” he said, laughing. Then he told us a story of how a witch came to  suck his blood in the night. These stories used to be common among  Slovak people.

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To encounter a witch is not a funny business; you must know how to go about it. A witch can creep in through a keyhole, she can turn into a cat or a frog and come in the night to suck the milk of your cows, or worse, to sit on your chest and choke you, strangle you, drink your blood from your nipples.

Planning a trip to Bratislava? Let me help – read my local´s guide, written with love!

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Such a witch is not easy to get rid of. When you see the malevolent frog in your stable, you should pierce her with a pitchfork. Next day you´ll see which woman from the village is hurting of the wound afflicted upon her animal body in the night.

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Or else, you can tell her:

“Come back in the morning to pick up the salt.”

One of your neighbors will surely appear at your door the next day asking you for salt or flour…

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When a witch comes to suck your blood, things get messy.

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Yet, you can still save yourself. “When my chest got all swollen,” continued the man who took us on a ride to the forests around Nová Huta, “my mother invited an old woman to our house. She knew what to do. She would cut onion and rub it on my nipples, leaving it on my chest for the night. The witch didn´t like the taste; she never came back since then and I healed fast.”

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The tree of the witches is not the only mysterious place here. When Virgin Mary was looking for a shelter before baby Jesus was born, they say, she walked around this village. Tired as she was, she sat on one of the stones in the forest. The imprint of her buttocks can still be seen:

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The place is said to have a magical healing power and many people come here to pray, lie down, relax, hope for the pains to disappear; the witches, unseen, are watching from the safety of a tree, preying, waiting.

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Heading to Hungary? Check out this post for an inspiration for perfect day trips from Budapest!

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Stray story seeker. Hungry hitchhiker. Wannabe polyglot. Aspiring travel writer. Currently bumming around in Turkey.
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