Still I would like to be
as that old idea.
–from Mary Oliver, “Lilies”
While Emese slept, the great Turul, feathers onyx as the deep eastern rivers, claws hard as corundum, appeared in his softest to her in a dream. A stream formed, clear and cool as a thousand snow fed rivers from the last of the untouched mountains. And from her it flowed westward and grew, quartz by quartz, rapid by rapid, into a mighty river. Emese (priestess in Sumerian), the first priestess of the yet named ancient Magyars, woke with the seed of a kingdom. Or it was a child, Álmos, now growing inside of her and who would take the tribes westward, who would father Árpád and a great line of Hungarian warriors.
In most of the legends, the Turul is a messenger of God perched atop the Tree of Life with the spirits of yet conceived of children who have taken the shape of birds. In most of the legends, the Turul is the genesis between the house of Attila and the first tribes of Hungary. And the children, born and unborn, were the first to read meaning from the sky and the stars.
This is the Hungarian origination myth, which every nation has, though some are less compelling than others, or rather some nations are too young to get into the gritty of myth (where, for example, star reading and tree-god whispering and impregnation-by-giant-falcon-while-sleeping stories are just a little far fetched to be taken seriously at Thanksgiving dinners). But give it 1500 years. See what shape they take then.
[Pausing for Full Disclosure] You may be asking—where’s the picture? There is a very famous Turul statue right here in at the castle, after all, and yes, I have many pictures of it. But currently, there is a very heated, complex, and deeply emotional debate between the government (who wants to remove a similar statue in the western Hungarian town of Tatabánya —as a recent court decision requires— because it was used as a symbol by the fascist party during WWII who was responsible for the extermination of 600,000 of Hungary’s Jews and Romani population) and ultra right-wing nationalists who claim it is the foremost symbol of the Hungarian nation. And this posting is not about the politics of the last century, nor the Turul, nor the various problems of usurping symbols as a kind of social language– it’s about myth and how we find ourselves inside of it. But because I am in no way a supporter of the ultra right-wing nationalists, nor their reasons for keeping the statue in place, I have simply decided to not post a picture. If you want to see a picture, you can google it.
Europe is certainly a place of myth and legend, especially this land along the river. It’s not that you walk down the street and meet random Hungarians who claim to read the will of God from the storm clouds. And if you’re on the metro in Pest and someone tells you he’s carrying the sword of God, get off, walk calmly to the nearest Ikea, buy a towel rack and a gingerale and then call the police. That’s just common sense.
But myth does become part of the bloodline, it intertwines with general social and cultural self-conceptions. One of my reasons for being here is to figure out some of the missing pieces of my family’s history. And it’s not just Hungarian blood and bones, but that is certainly an important part. Where I grew up in northeastern Ohio there are many third-generation Americans from this piece of the world, from places that were only just once an idea somewhere in the East, beyond a few seas, a few rivers, a few ranges.
And whether science and anthropology and history trace that idea, and therefore you, to an iris in ancient Sumeria or a grain of salt kicked across the globe before the continents divided, you can always return to the myth because the myth is you as an idea, the yet-to-be-conceived-of you in feather-form on the branch of the tree.
Whether your grandparents were from Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Romania. You can return to the myth. Regardless of your tribe-nation. Regardless of your nation-state. You can return.
It doesn’t matter what language you speak or what origination myth it was told in. If there is some platelet inside of you that was formed somewhere in the past, near or far, return to it, even in dream, under a clear night and the slanted dome of evening stars. Return. And maybe it seems droll, absurd, a question for vacationing poets with too much time in the stacks with The Golden Bough, too much propaganda of the fanciful or sentimental. Return to it anyway. No one will see you. What or who or where is it that you want to reconnect? Is your story full told? Look it up, write it down, even just one line, return.
Or rather, wherever you live, cross the river and try not to think of it, that slow-forming stream inside, the idea, or you as part of it.