© 2016 Erzsébet Kótyuk

2016 – №2 (12)

Снимок экрана 2018-01-26 в 14.46.43Keywords: healer, Ung Plains, Hungary, stigma, community, traditions, superstitions, magic, sources of healer’s knowledge, rural medicine, scientific medicine.

Abstract:  The present study investigates the activities of a healer woman whom we met during our field work in the Ung Plains. The person of our study is different from the other healers of the sub-region as her reputation has gone beyond the limits of her village and reached the majority of ethnic Hungarian villages. She began to deal with magic healing upon an extraordinary life situation (the illness of her husband and child), then she became aware of her predestination from birth, being the seventh child of the family.  This fact played a key role in her willingness to accept this role and soon she became the healer of the village.  Her reputation was due to her “predestination” from birth, her strong influential personality, good communication skills and last but not least, her proficiency in magic therapies.

Her view of the world is based on a complex set of beliefs, her way of thinking and her healing practice are shaped accordingly and they fit closely into Hungarian traditions of a similar nature.  In the course of her treatments the cause and effect relationships are partly rational, partly based on beliefs. The causes of the diseases that we see as magical, in her mind and imagination are all real, even though she knows about the theory of sepsis and asepsis. She applies the latter in her practice as well.

Her knowledge comes from multiple sources: she learned the basics of magic and archaic therapies from her family indirectly, but she also learned from her environment, her neighbours of different ethnicities and also from her colleagues.  She gathered the most recent information from reference books, Hungarian and foreign language written and electronic media. Her knowledge is made up of both rational and magical elements, which are manifested alternately or simultaneously in the healing process. She applies medicinal plants, heat therapy, hydrotherapy, inhalation therapy and also manual therapy in her treatments.  Her family is very supportive in her calling, her close and broader environment appreciates her medical knowledge, turns to her for help. Thus we can say there is a receptive segment of the ethnic Hungarian population of the region which demands such kind of healing activity. In this case, the argument that has been already proven by ethnographic research as well, that is, rural healers can exist where the community has a demand for them is also valid.

While we were carrying out our data collection on the Ung Plains region of Subcarpathia, we found that healing traditions are still surviving in the collective memory and everyday practices of rural communities. Local traditions accumulate a rich source of knowledge in the course of history that serves the survival of the community in the given social and natural circumstances (Hoppál 2011: 147). Although every family have their own tips and practices of healing, there are only a few who are willing to become the village healer, or to do spell-casting to cure diseases, to do chiropractic or pull teeth. It is only the women of the family who can or should cure “humans”, men are mostly involved in curing sick animals. Healing traditions are transmitted within the family, each generation is raised to learn such practices and knowledge. As Mihály Hoppál put it, these are the rootlets of identity so fundamental for different communities to ensure the survival of their culture (Hoppál 2011: 151). As the renowned scholar noted, traditions are the cultural memory of a community, such a deposit of memories that stores essential information for the self-identification of a community. This information is necessary for reproducing culture and establishing patterns of identification (Hoppál 2011: 151).

The preservation and reproduction of customs has a particularly great role among the Hungarian ethnic minority living in the Subcarpathian area since traditions strengthen resistance and resistance nurtures traditions (Hoppál 2011: 151). We shall note, however, that there are substantial differences in the knowledge about healing between generations: the younger ones know fewer healing practices and they apply them less frequently. A huge difference between generations can be noticeable in terms of the application of traditional healing methods as well; the elder generations prefer to turn to domestic medical practices and they only see a professional doctor when these have failed, whereas the younger ones do it the other way round as it is seen acceptable for them.  Consequently, a certain “duplicity” has developed, which means that the majority of people believe in medical science, trusts doctors, accepts medical cures, but at the same time they also render the “services” of the village healers, although mostly in secret, known only to their closest circles (Bencze 1959: 6).

The distance between villages on the Ung Plains populated by ethnic Hungarians is only 1 to 1.5 km. The population of the villages is typically between 1 to 2 thousand, villagers all know one another, they all know who of fellow villagers is better or worse at something than the others.   If someone is better at performing a special type of cure than the others, or is more skilful or his hands are stronger when massaging or lighter and safer when pulling teeth, or knows how to cast magic spells it soon becomes known to the community.

Like every community, the villages in our research also “educated” their own healers. In each of the villages there were such people named who are better at one type of curing method than the others and who are revered as healers within the community.

If we examine Hungarian works on ethnography, we can see that writings on chiropractors, spell casters, medicine men, peasant doctors and all kinds of people dealing with healing first came out in the 1930s.  The reason why the study of healing personalities was marginalised before was probably the anti-quackery law from the 19th century.  That is why Sándor Ébner’s study on the chiropractors and spell casters of Zselic appeared only in 1931 (Ébner 1931: 146-148), while Aurél Vajkai’s study on village teeth-pullers came out in 1937, then his work on a healer-sorcerer from Ösi was published in 1938 (Vajkai 1938: 346-373) and Károly Berde’s monograph followed in 1940. One of its major chapters described rural healers, sorcerers, medicine men and witch doctors (Berde 1940: 111-137). So far the numbers of such essays have increased, so hereby I would like to name just a few of the better-known authors:  Andor Oláh (1965: 289-336), József Farkas (1968: 145-180), Tamás Grynaeus (1974: 155-183; 1993: 95-144; 1998: 137-165; 2000: 495–523), Gábor Barna (1979; 1982: 335–362), Tekla Dömötör (1987), Samu Vasas (1985) and Gábor Limbacher (1994: 139-156; 1995: 787-827).

The conditions of becoming a healer, the relationship between healers and the community

Based on research there are a few basic requirements to become a healer that predestine the applicant to become a privileged healer sooner or later, or at least it is implicitly stated. Some of the village healers bear special stigma from birth – like being born with teeth, an extra finger or toe, born in caul, or they were the seventh child of the family – which may show that the person is an “extraordinary” being (Kára 1973: 54). The growing child is gradually becoming aware of these stigmas and the related beliefs with the help of the family and the community, so by the time they grow up, their urge to meet the expectations of the community has already developed. It is not always true but experience has proven that those born with the stigma sooner or later begin to behave in a way that matches the expectations (Grynaeus 2002: 154). Here we can think of the healers from Ösi (Vajkai 1938: 346-373), Fehértő (Grynaeus 2002a: 21), Szeged-Alsótanya (Sávai J. – Grynaeus 1994), or the peasant doctor from Mátészalka (Farkas 1968: 146), just to mention a few.

Someone can become a healer through learning the family traditions (Földes 1960: 127). In this case the demands of the community can be regarded as a dominant factor, since the healing talent could be inherited within the family, the prospective healer could participate in the healing sessions, they could learn the different processes and the “learned” personality could bequest his or her knowledge to the successor (Berde 1940: 117–119). In such cases the family member has the right to refuse this role and the expectations attached to it. The community can show forgiveness to him or her, although they suspect he or she is performing healing sessions secretly. We must note, however, that most of these people become healers due to the influence or rather, the “pressure” coming from the community.

 The relationship between the individual and the community can be different if someone becomes a healer after going through a serious illness or mental trauma, and afterwards they feel they could only have survived these ordeals because the Creator had a special purpose. In this case it is the “applicant” who tries to make themselves accepted as a healer, clairvoyant, “holy woman” or sorcerer within the community so the relationship between community and healer works in an opposite direction (Limbacher 1994: 140, Pákay 2004: 321).

Based on experience we can say that healers’ reputation, their success is rather the result of the strong belief and trust of the community and their patients than their occasional successful treatments (Hoppál 1975: 50).

If we examine the knowledge of these healers in general, we can see that it is not even constant within the same generation: sometimes it is expanding, sometimes it is eroded by the loss of memory as a physiological feature.  Knowledge can also be lost when the strong power of traditions loosens up and the healer has no opportunity to pass on their knowledge, there is no receptiveness, there is nobody willing to take over their role.

The village healer is a personality who not only applies widely known practices but who also knows some certain secret medical knowledge, which fact makes them “privileged”.  Thus, they become special in a way, and seclude themselves from the community.  It is not a physical seclusion – although it may also happen (Gagyi 2001: 172–173) – but a kind of spiritual seclusion.  A person who knows superstitions is familiar with the magic of mysterious healing, where apart from themselves; there are only those who also possess these secrets. The community shows a kind of fearful reverence towards healers, and those who know how to do magic are seen as having an unworldly knowledge and power. Village healers can work only where people believe in them and their skills are needed, where there is a community that accepts them, trusts them and believes in their abilities. It is so because the system of beliefs is such an internal governing force which rules the course of everyday life mostly unnoticed, but most efficiently (Hoppál 2011: 145).

The expectations of the community from healers

First of all, we must note that rural medicine is based on psychology, so it is rather different from scientific healing not only in its tools and methods, but mostly in its basic principles. The spirit is different in its application, the concepts of the causes and qualities of illnesses operate in different dimensions (Földes 1960: 114). Rural medicine is based on good faith, so we must see the benevolence in the processes of the healer, performed through a fanatical faith.

 The first and foremost demand of the community towards healers is to be skilful, that is, they should know cures that others do not know about, or are unable to perform.  It is important to be confident about their knowledge, persuasive in their acts, and successful cures should prove their skills. They should show empathy to their patients, they should be able to be a good communicator, to speak a common language with the others. They should be unselfish, they should be ready to help people at any time and should never refuse anyone. They should meet the moral norms of the given village or community (Jávor 2000: 603–609). The latter has a key role in the relationship between the individual and the community, since the given set of values governs and rules the decisions of individuals and larger groups together with other cultural subsets, also affecting behaviour in certain life situations (Hoppál 1998: 155).

The healer

During our field work in the Ung Region we have met several village healers, but the ones described below are not only well-known in their own village but they have a reputation beyond the village borders, in the other Hungarian villages of the sub-region.  And not only there, but also in the Bereg area, in the city of Beregszász and also in other ethnic Hungarian communities of the Felvidék region.

 The medicine woman – let us name her Katalin1 – whose skills and knowledge we will study and analyse below was born in N. in 1955. Her father worked for the railway company in the town nearby, her mother was a housewife, and she did not have any brothers or sisters. They lived together with the grandparents at the edge of the village mostly populated by Rusyns, near the railway station. Three generations lived together for several decades. Katalin completed the 8-year primary school in her native village, then she went to the grammar school of the neighbouring village where the language of education was Hungarian and she graduated with an average score. The youth of similar age of the surrounding ethnic Hungarian villages also studied there.

Katalin’s special, distinctive features are said to be her dark eyes, her penetrating look2 and her deep voice unusual for girls. Her life was going on quite typically: after leaving school she began work in a bakery, then she married to a former schoolmate from the next village. They had two baby girls in the first year of their marriage.

 There was nothing unusual so far in her life story, any tell-tale sign that she might become a renowned healer in the sub-region within ten years.  Katalin’s grandparents and parents were not village healers, so they could not have passed on their healing skills, they did not have any conspicuous features either, they did not have any extra fingers, toes or teeth, they were not born in caul. Although her mother and grandmother know numerous rural healing practices and they also applied some of them from time to time, sometimes effectively, sometimes not.  None of their skills were extraordinary, unusual or something that would have made them famous or distinguished within the community.

The young woman practiced healing within her family at first:  she cured her husband’s different health problems first, then she treated her uneasy, crying baby successfully.  There were rational and magical elements in her methods of healing.  Her knowledge was no different from other villagers’ knowledge at that time. When treating a problem, she proceeded as she had learnt from her mother and grandmother.

However, there was a special life situation when her knowledge was insufficient: someone in the family suffered from a health problem which could not be treated with her usual methods.  She turned to her aunt for help, and she initiated her into a so far unknown treatment, the result of which was that the patient finally recovered.  Based on our investigations this event – the establishment of a trustful relationship with this aunt – meant the turning point in the life of the woman. Apart from learning another magic treatment – preparing and applying a magical healing bath – she also became aware that since she is the seventh child of the family3, she was a special person.  Although she had known the beliefs connected with the qualities and abilities of the seventh child, they became evident in connection with this incident and gave an inspiration to her to proceed. Being the seventh child as well as the belief that such people have “useful hands to heal” strengthened her confidence and she began healing in a wider circle. The beliefs attached to her person and the fact that she performed healing sessions beyond the family has made her a specially chosen person. The community accepted and acknowledged her, while she undertook the role of the healer with all its fascination and difficulties. Thus such a relationship has developed between healer and community in which they are mutually reinforced.

   Apart from the special circumstances of her birth there were some other factors that contributed to her becoming the local healer.  Through learning the magical bath method from her aunt and the skill to cast wax for diagnostic purposes and the smoke cure (Szendrey 1935: 42–48) (which she learned from her grandmother), she possessed a complete system of diagnostic and healing methods based on magic by the age of 20. It played an important role in becoming a special, distinguished member of the village community. When she accepted the role of healer, her stronger confidence helped her as the seventh child and a chosen person, her knowledge was received from a chosen person, who was a seventh child herself4.  Her belief that she could be a successful healer was strengthened by the trust of the village community as well.

Her strong personality, good communication skills, helpfulness, unselfishness and also her willingness to take the role of village healer all played a crucial role in her becoming a healer, apart from her skills in magic therapies.  It is also quite important to note that her family appreciated her skills, they accepted the inconvenience of her activities, they have utilised her healing skills, and they are even proud of her special abilities.  This trust and confidence gives her encouragement and mental support, inspires her to work and study. Katalin believes in herself, she is aware of the peculiarity of her skills.  She said that everyone can try the magical bath but it is only the hands of a seventh child which are best for healing.

The healer of the sub-region

 What factors have contributed to her healing reputation beyond the village limits spreading to other Hungarian villages of the sub-region? First of all, she had been healing for nearly one and a half decades, she had been revered as a healer in her village when upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union the economic crisis of the Ukraine hit the Subcarpathia severely as well. Huge unemployment and the lack of money due to the inflation resulted in the revival of traditional healing methods. As the healing woman helped her patients free of charge, more and more people visited her from the area with their different health problems. Many people knew her already, as in nearly all the surrounding villages there were a few people who knew her from school. Her reputation was also propagated by fellow-villagers who moved to other villages by exogamy, but her reputation was also carried by those who married to her fellow villagers. Public transport routes, the proximity of the railway station, that is, the accessibility of the healer are also remarkable factors.

 The county town Ungvár also played a role in the spread of the healer woman’s reputation, where the villagers of the area gathered on the market every week and they spread the news of the region.  The healer came from the same cultural background, so the members of the community believed her, trusted her more and turned to her more willingly than the self-proclaimed naturopaths mostly coming from the former Soviet empire, working for money. (It was a period when fortune-tellers, clairvoyants, magicians and medicine men were allowed to advertise themselves in the local media without any consequences from the authorities.)

 Katalin was eager to share her special knowledge and skills with the researchers. She was proud to talk about the success stories of healing but she did not forget to mention her failures and their reasons. It was clear from her stories that the time factor was important to her5. She knows from experience that patients who are suffering from a hex spell must turn to a healer as soon as possible since spells and evil eye left untreated for a long time may even lead to death.

 The case was different when it came to the reconstruction of the process: she refused to “imitate” the bathing for the sake of photography6, but she was convinced to demonstrate wax casting, adding that there are some other people in the village who cast wax. She also remarked that nothing would be spilt as there is no real illness. In this case the real illness would be igízís/igézés , that is the evil eye, or  ijjedés, that is fright.

 According to beliefs the evil eye and the hex spell can cause serious diseases with physical symptoms: depression, lack of appetite, diarrhoea, rash, epilepsy etc. but the patient may even die. The older the spell, the more serious these symptoms are.  This kind of psychosomatic approach is not unusual in rural medicine, as healers try to discover the causes of diseases and if there are no obvious ones to be seen or felt, that they try to find a supernatural reason (Földes 1960: 115–116).

 The healer woman’s view of the world is based on a complex set of beliefs, her way of thinking and her healing practice are shaped accordingly and they fit closely into Hungarian traditions of a similar nature. In the course of her treatments the cause and effect relationships are partly rational, partly based on beliefs. The causes of the diseases that we see as magical, in her mind and imagination are all real, even though she knows about sepsis and asepsis and also the theory of antisepsis. We must see, however, that in the healer’s practice rational and magical elements are not always separated clearly, they are often combined and come to dominance alternately. Upon the analysis of the healer’s knowledge I have grouped the healing methods according to whether they were performed with applying medicinal substances, rational cures or magical substances and methods based on beliefs. The scope of this essay is too limited to describe the whole of her knowledge on healing, that is why I will just present the findings of the research and the comparisons.

The layers of her knowledge

 When examining the curing methods of the healer I found the following ratio: methods applying only rational elements make up 45% of her knowledge. These are mostly methods which use herbal ingredients: herbal tea, herbal compresses, ointments, rinses combined with heat therapy and inhalation. We must add however, that herbal treatments and their effects are not rejected by modern scientific medicine either.  Medical research institutes have carried out scientific research to find which plants and herbs used in rural medicine contain substances that have a healing effect7. The rational methods of the healer which also contain magical elements make up more than one third (35%) of her skills. Methods which only contain magical elements make up 20% of her medical knowledge.

Diagram 1

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The answer to the question what have made her a chosen person, a distinguished personality within the community is obvious: it is her medical knowledge based on magical elements and her proficiency in its application.

When we study where the healer’s knowledge comes from, we will see that most of it comes from her family – grandmother, mother, her closest relatives – through unconscious learning (60%). Another part of her knowledge comes from her environment, from neighbours, colleagues, former schoolmates, as she put it, word-of-mouth knowledge (20%). The information coming from these two resources cannot be clearly separated as there are overlapping or uncertain elements as well – I cannot even tell where I have heard about it – she said. The next layer is the practices and knowledge learned from the Rusyns in the neighbourhood (5%). Although this is not a significant ratio, yet it exists and despite its roots are in another culture, they fit into her practice smoothly.

 Local Rusyns and ethnic Hungarians living together have proven that they can adapt and accommodate to one another and the changing environment.  What is more, they can even enrich each other’s culture and traditions and yet they can preserve their ethnic identity. The modernisation of traditions is signalled by the fact that information coming from the media have become an organic part of the healer woman’s knowledge (information on medicinal plants from publications in Hungarian, Russian or Ukrainian language, methods of treatment recommended by naturopaths etc.), making up approximately 15%.  We should not forget that although she has already adopted new skills and information into her treatments, she still keeps track of their provenience.

Diagram 2

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The healer was eager to talk about her skills, about healing and treatments. She was willing to describe the process and ingredients of the magical bath, but she mentioned again that anyone can perform it but success in not always guaranteed, that is, patients will not necessarily recover afterwards, not everyone can cure them.

Although the healer is an active believer of the Greek Catholic faith, yet there are few sacral components in her medicine, she does not perform cures with prayers. Unlike other Subcarpathian healers, she does not tell fortunes, she has no visions or strange presentiments. She does not put evil spells on anyone, she only cures illnesses8.

She knows numerous treatments, still she prefers applying casting, bathing and smoking, the first one for diagnostic purposes, while the other two for therapy9. There is no special facility in her house for healing; generally she performs baths in the kitchen for practical reasons: she has water and the stove there.  The act of casting is performed on the bed in the living room as this process is carried out over the patient’s body. Here we should point out that unlike in official medicine where making a diagnosis comes before therapy, she carries out the therapeutic bath before the diagnostic casting, not vice versa.  This is to support, reinforce the diagnosis of the problem that she was trying to cure with the bath before.  Casting is inserted between the two processes of bathing and smoking in the healing process done in the evening.

She described the preparation of the magical bath as follows: You must collect nine different types of ingredients, such as (Földes 1960: 116–117.):

First – you must cut out 9 bits of wood chips from the inner side of the doorstep, meanwhile you shall count backwards, like. not 9, not 8,…. until you reach one.

 second,  –  you take 9 chips of a whole loaf of uncut bread, you add them too, while counting backwards, not 9, not 8 … until you reach one

 third,  –  scrape the corner of 3 houses, then count, not 9, not 8, not 7, then you go to another corner, you count, not 6, not 5, not 4, then to the last corner, not 3, not 2, not 1

 fourth  you cut out 9 bits of bacon, you add them too, and just like before, you count backwards

 fifth,  –  9 pinches of salt, you add them by counting backwards

 sixth  –  9 fibres of a broom, counting backwards

 seventh  9 sorts of cloth, counting them backwards as well, when picking them

 eighth  blades of grass from 9 different baulks, pulled up backhand and count backwards as before

ninth  draw water from 9 wells without a word, so that you should avoid anyone talking to you, otherwise the water will not be suitable.

 You count everything backwards: not 9, not 8, until not 1 (Diószegi 1957: 3–4; 162–173).

Apart from listing the ingredients, we would also like to share the process of the healing session in an edited format:

 You must mix the water from the 3 different wells, while counting backwards, like not 9,  not 8…you bring the mixture to the boil 9 times, each time removing it from the fire, then count backwards, not 9, not 8,… then you pour some water into a bowl, you place a small bowl into it upside down, it has a handle, so you can hold it. You hold the naked baby above the steam. We call it a bath, but it is the steam from the water that makes the effect. If the patient is suffering from the evil eye, then the small bowl will absorb the water, all the water will accumulate under the bowl. You must do it in the morning at sunrise, then at half past 11, but it definitely should happen before the bells chime at noon. Then you must have it done before sunset.

 Then you must cast the wax in the morning, at noon and in the evening as well.

 I have some consecrated candles and some incense from the church, just a little, and I also have a bit of the wheat crown used for weddings so I mix these three things and burn them to make the smoke.   I only make the smoke after the casting in the evening. 

 When we analyse the detailed description of the process, we can see that some of the magical elements so well-known from traditional medicine appear in a large concentration: the time, the order, the numbers, the colours, the ingredients and their origin.  The healer adopts analogies, part-whole relations, incantations, counting backwards and backwards movements in her healing rites10. The list refers to the ingredients of the bath, the method of their collection and also the process of the healing. It proves that rural medicine is an organic part of everyday life, common beliefs, behaviour and customs and these components form a closely related unified system (Grynaeus 1993: 109).

 The healer woman has a very strong sense of duty and determination as she performs this very time-consuming task three times a day on even days, that is on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday or Sundays, along with her household duties. She also pointed out that it best to begin the procedure on Thursday as in this case the patient will recover in four days, otherwise it will take five days to recover, even if they strictly keep to the rules. One cannot be surprised to see that she can also get tired at times, after so many “hassles” of healing day by day. Sometimes I decide to stop doing it, but then there comes another patient, then another….which one shall I refuse? – she said.

 Katalin is very helpful in giving advice to prevent the evil eye or igízís as she calls it, saying this is the most common cause of health problems.11

 If it is a girl, you must cut out a bit of a male cat’s hair, if it is a girl, it must be a female cat’s hair sewn into their little shirt so that it will be kept there, it could not be removed while washing either. Then the evil eye cannot hurt them so much. Red beads (tied onto the child’s wrist) are also helpful as they attract the evil eye first.

The following magic can also be used by parents to prevent the evil eye (Solymossy 1937: 292–298):

 Boil 9 different kinds of iron in the water collected speechlessly from 3 different wells, then boil 9 different kinds of grass in the water collected speechlessly from 3 different wells, then pour them in separate bottles….You should collect the grass form 9 different spots after sunset, so that no one could notice you as you should avoid being spoken to.  You pick them backhands, count backwards, not 9, not 8… until 1. When you bathe the child daily or every other day, you shall add a few drops of these into the bathing water: not 9, not 8,… until 1. Anyway, you add permanganate (potassium permanganate, KMnO4) into the child’s bathing water.

 This is proven by experience, it worked with my children. But anyway, I am the seventh child. It is possible that others also try it but it does not work with them.  

As I have mentioned it before, the concept of asepsis is part of Katalin’s thinking and healing practice. It is natural for her to add disinfectants into children’s bathing water then she puts a few drops of the prepared medicine to prevent the evil eye, as she is probably aware that they may contain certain pathogens. She knows that her medical mixtures may be contaminating, so to prevent the child from infections she adds disinfectants as well. As we have experienced, magic imagination and rational thinking can coexist in the healer’s thinking perfectly, since the different components have their effect in different dimensions. The disinfectant is the tangible, sensible world, the medical preparations made by the healer according to the prescriptions are the agents of the invisible, transcendent world.

 When we analyse the activities of the healing personality, we must see how she evaluates her own role. This is mostly revealed through her own statements.

 I have experienced that my hand is very good at making “szenesvíz” (to remove curses)… or the recurrent….… if others would be doing it, they might not succeed, because I am a seventh child – these statements prove that she is aware of her healing capacity, her special situation resulting from her birth also confirms her belief and makes her more confident and privileged to fulfil the role that she has undertaken. As she feels and enjoys the confidence of the community, her sense of duty and helpfulness are manifested even more.

 Hereby we must not forget that being a healer often means a great burden: being on duty all the time, patients’ harassment, time-consuming procedures, etc.  As T. Grynaeus referred to it: “…besides its advantages we must see the disadvantages as well: there are quite many regulations, ritual-ceremonial restrictions that can hinder or limit the freedom and the actions of the individual.” However, it is the trust of the community and also the hope to succeed that can make the healer forget about the hardships and inconvenience of her healer status. What can I do, I help whenever, wherever, whoever I can – that is the principle that she follows, with all her sense of duty and helpfulness (Grynaeus 2002: 156).

Katalin evaluates her activity positively, she thinks her work is important, useful and successful ….I have saved many lives…–as she summed it up briefly. Her dedication is also clear as she has never ever refused anybody.

 The community, the villagers have differing opinions of her healing activity.  All of them remarked or referred to her as someone who was raised in an honest, nice, fair, church-goer family.  Although none of her ancestors or family have broken any moral norms of the village, some disapprove of her healing work. Here we must point out that negative comments are outnumbered by the positive remarks, so the majority of the interviewees accept, approve of her activity.

The occasional failed treatments have not shaken the trust of the community as they have found an explanation in each case.  This kind of trust, appreciation and approval have a motivating, supportive effect on her activity. The healer and the community are interdependent: the healer gains confidence and trust from the appreciation of the village, while the latter sees her as someone whose presence, medical knowledge and skills unknown by the others is reassuring and comforting as help is always near when needed.

 The opinion of other villages in the sub-region is quite similar, that is they also approve of the healer’s work. Thus, we can say there is a receptive segment of the ethnic Hungarian population of the Ung region which demands such kind of healing activity.


  1. The healer is still working actively, so due to privacy rights we do not publish her real name and location.
  2. The penetrating look is considered as a distinctive feature in other Hungarian-speaking regions. See: Limbacher 1994a: 143.
  3. Katalin was born into her father’s second marriage, who had already had six children from his first marriage. When he lost his wife, he remarried but his grown-up children were not very pleased with his second marriage so they did not contact their father any more. Probably that is why Katalin did not realise her being the seventh child earlier.
  4. The aunt mentioned here was also a seventh child.
  5. The time factor is essential in magic healing as it may affect the success or failure of the healing. Also see in Pákay 2004: 324-325.
  6. Probably she did not want to break the taboos related to the magic bath.
  7. Such research is done at the Medical University of Pécs in Hungary.
  8. It was something that her fellow-villagers also emphasised.
  9. These are the magical processes that are not widely used within the community; instead they let the healer perform them.
  10. These are the key components of magical cures. See Hoppál, Törő 1975: 31-34.
  11. See in Hoppál 1970: 259–286; Somossy 1896: 102–103.


Barna Gábor (1979) Néphit és népszokások a Hortobágy vidékén, Budapest.

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