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PAP GÁBOR

ON THE INLAID FIGURES FOUND ON THE STOCK OF A HORSEHERD'S LONG WHIP

Excerpts from the tapescript of his talk given on account of the exhibition "Hungarian Painters-Runesmiths: From Hortobágy herdsmen's art to Miklós Káplár " at Kossuth Lajos University, on 10 October 1995.

 

 

(.....) The title of this exhibition is "painters-runesmiths" [or picture-carvers]. Now on the level of folk art we can indeed find runes here, mostly on the engraved ornaments, but I am not sure that they represent the most ancient forms in the material on display. Let me present an analogy to show that it is not necessarily the technology which points in the direction of the most archaic specimens or the most ancient form of language. Archaeology includes a certain level, that of Hittite art, which has preserved two parallel techniques of recording information. One is called cuneiform Hittite, the other is called hieroglyphic Hittite. The former expresses its messages by cuneiform writing or carving, to be understood by a knowledge of cuneiform symbols. The other uses hieroglyphs, which can be decoded by deciphering the hieroglyphs.

Both forms are present at this exhibition. Both the cuneiform writing, represented here in the form of the special Hungarian runes, and the other one, which makes use of hieroglyphs proper. Now it is the latter that we can find on whipstocks and staves: basic symbols used as hieroglyphs to the utmost perfection. Thus the reason why these symbols recur on various objects in practically the same form is not that the artist was not capable of devising a new form, but because they stand for one and the same thing. If a certain sign stands for villám [a homonymic word in Hungarian], it means both my fork and the lightning . Is that clear? Well then, this phenomenon is language-specific. Thus it cannot be translated into, say, German, because the German for 'lightning' is Blitz, but you cannot eat with the same thing. In vain does the speaker put down the hieroglyphic sign, for he can repeat Gabel back from it, but Gabel does not allow him to go on to the next round. Therefore this pictograph can only be read off in a language in which the entity "fork" is linked up with fire as one of the five elementary principles, since we stick (or "pitch") things on a fork [tuz = 1 n. fire; 2 v. to transfix, stick on sth] whether it be a pitchfork or a table fork.

To make things clearer, it is the homonymy of words that helps us find our way round. Modern linguistics, however, does not recognize any essential relationship holding between these homonyms. (.....) The linguistic peculiarities that are characteristic of the Magyar language, and of no other language at all, must be approached with a different set of norms. This does not mean, however, that they are characteristic of the Finno-Ugric stock of languages; they are certainly not. These peculiarities characterize the Magyar language, but none of the other Finno-Ugric languages; I have to emphasize this to avoid misunderstanding. Thus with the aid of this we cannot translate the information encoded here into a language like Vogul or Mordvinian, nor can we translate it into Turkish, Tatar or Mongolian. Therefore we must take great care at this point, because what we seem to be introducing into our language from various sources all the time exists as a whole only in our culture. What is more, this system of signs can only function by means of fully developed signs like this. Whenever one or the other of its aspects is missing, the sign can not function any longer. In vain do we draw the system of hieroglyphs, the speaker of the given language will not be able to make head or tail of it. One of the aspects may unfold itself to him at a time, but the other does not, there is no way for him to see both sides of the story.

One very essential feature of this system is that in one of their senses homonyms generally carry a verbal meaning, whereas in the other sense they carry a nominal meaning. Therefore one of their senses is indicative of the world functioning as a system in motion, while the other sense evokes the world functioning in a state-like manner. Let us take the word tuz [= 1 n. fire; 2 v. to pitch, transfix] as an example; if I use it in the verbal sense I know what to do with a fork [villa]. If I make use of its nominal aspect, I know what the action of lightning [villám] results in. Is that clear? Therefore what homonymy indicates is never a formal connection between two words, for one of the senses makes it possible to evoke process-like behaviour, while the other sense evokes behaviour as a state. Yet, whenever I record something, that is I put something down, it is only the aspect of state that remains. If I cannot retrieve the process, it means that it has become barren capital. This is what happens to all Indo-European languages - let me now refer to the languages spoken in the surrounding countries, since they are all Indo-European languages - in all of them this aspect has become barren capital. Thus in these languages they put down the sign in vain, as from the sign of tuz as state [fire] they cannot recover the verbal sense of tuz [to stick or pitch].

Drawing of the whipstock in the horizontal plane

WHIP

Accession number: 1909.521

Description: whip with brass inlays, copper rivets, a leaden ring and a projecting shoe-nail at the bottom, leather fringes, butterflies and roses.

Size: handle 41.5 cm, lash 2.30 m.

Provenance: unknown

Made by: Kiss János, shepherd

Drawing by: Szabó Antónia.

The drawing represents the 11.5 cm long inlaid section of the whipstock.

Déri Múzeum, Debrecen.

(.....)On the whips that we have been able to look into, the vertically arranged layers correspond to the various representational levels of reality. This particular whipstock shows the simplest pattern, one consisting of three levels, two of which can be seen clearly, but the top level is partially covered by the leather fringes. (.....) At the lowest level of the stock the pattern varies thus: we have a vegetal entity showing twice two almond-shaped leaflets at the bottom of a vertical stalk, and a forklike ramification at the top in all three directions. That is to say, the vertical stalk continues upwards with two branches at oblique angles, all the three rising to the upper level of the field of representation. In one case the two entities appear in a separate frame, that is they are enclosed by fully drawn vertical boundaries on both sides. In the remaining section at this level of the stock the same pair of motifs appears twice, this time without the dividing line between them. So there are four entities in this section, if my memory is correct.

The female principle -oops! it has slipped from my mouth - that is to say, the vegetal principle [Hungarian has the same word - no - for "woman" and "to grow", and moreover, the word for "plant" is vény] does not show any variation here, but one of the heart shapes has a vegetal motif issuing from it, which breaks into leaves in a very ordinary manner. The other however does not do so, sending forth nothing but a leafless stalk. Now these hearts are peculiar in that they taper upwards, and that is where the vegetal elements spring out of them; you can see it clearly as one of the hearts happens to be visible to us at the bottom. It looks towards us. (....) The name of the motif of heart, relevant for the deciphering process or the system of pictography, is what is recorded as a ballock pattern. I must apologize for this, but that is what it is called, and it comes from authentic records. And it is typical that I am being videotaped just now - that is my luck. M. H. pointed it out in a booklet published here in Debrecen that it indicates male sexuality in action. I added that this was true only in the particular case when it is issued from the corner of the heart, that is, from the pointed end. (.....) You can see clearly that the other motif, which is an ordinary plant from the start, has a peculiar pattern at the top (identical with one of our runic symbols, by the way). I do not usually see things that are not there, and it may sound strange, but it has the female genitals in it. This may be realised by anyone who has seen them in a figure or maybe in real life. And it will also be realised that this is the way they are normally represented in folk art. Thus the pair of motifs in question is a joint manifestation of the generating power of a masculine nature, and of the feminine principle which receives, and gives shape. What is at issue is not that the person was being obscene, applying porn to the whipstock; the thing is that this is the most general formulation of the creative male power and the receptive, shape-giving female power. The latter is invariably expressed in terms of plants, since the inherent feature of Hungarian manifests itself again by unfolding the shared contents of homonymic words. Thus a plant necessarily unfolds the female principle [Cf. the two senses of no explained above], whereas the ballock pattern of the inverted heart stands for the male principle.

Church and fork on the whipstock

Thus our inlaid stock shows the most general aspect of what the chances of living principles are in the universe. As long as they associate with one another in the right proportions, the living world can come into being in its fully developed form, but if they do not ... For look at the other section with the two pairs of elements, where one of the hearts issues a sterile thread, which will never produce life. And should one of the women be left unimpregnated, she is certain to oust the other woman. So we are in a sort of environment where the man's sterility, that is the degradation of the creative power, tends to prevent nature from unfolding itself. (.....) This is the danger inherent in a quadruple system shown at the bottom of the stock. However, when a closed space is formed round a productive man and a receptive woman, life has very good chances of surviving.

Now we come to the next level above this, which includes the following elements. First we can see a hatchet very clearly. Starting to the left of the hatchet we have the tower of an edifice - of a church in particular, which turns into a step-like formation descending to the ground. The whole building is cut out of one piece. Beyond the church, hanging in mid-air above the back of it, there is a fork. Now we can try and reconstruct a typical response to this: "Oh well, this light-fingered master waited and waited until he saw a pitchfork falling from the sky. Then he felt he had to immortalise the event, as he wished to see it all his life on an object he used daily." It does seem fit to be immortalised: lo and behold, there is a fork coming down to the roof of the church. A marvellous idea, isn't it? However strange all this may sound, this is the way modern folklore research approaches the problem. A fork is a fork and nothing else, a church is a church and nothing else, and the connection between them ... "Well, it was an interesting experience, and the artist rendered it immortal in his jocular mood, following his stylizing inclinations."

Starting in the other direction from the hatchet we find a human figure - the sort of figure who has a few limbs missing. It looks as if he had his arms amputated, but he still has his legs, finely shaped and clearly visible legs, and he has a rather big head. He shows the system of proportions typical of folk art, where the human head is usually big and of decisive importance, being the repository of intellectuality. Spirituality, which extends down to the waist, is also large, but inactive in this case. Corporality is small, but contains all that is necessary - a man with a tiny body. He has fine kinematics and corporality, but it amounts to no more than one-third with respect to the overall proportions; for a normally built person it is much more than one-third. And finally on the extreme right, where we return to the fork and the rear of the church, there is a starry formation. This star has seven points, with small circles close to the tips of the points and the same number of circles between the points. So we have a septuple system unfolding before us.

Well, to sum things up, we find that there is a star - to be more exact, a radiating star, then we have a human figure, the form of a paralyzed man, then we have a hatchet, a church building and finally we can find a fork. Some will remark at this point, "Now you can see how absurd, heterogenous and incongruous all this is, they had no idea of artistic composition. In fact, they should be pleased that August von Pettenkofen [Austrian painter (1822-89), who fought against the Hungarian war of independence, later settled down in Hungary and devoted his life to genre-painting] came to Szolnok to teach these clumsy runesmiths how to compose things. Here we find nothing but motifs picked out in a way which reflects their relevance for the lives of the herdsmen: the fork as a simple fork with no connections with anything else, the church is simply a church and it has no deeper meaning, the other motif being simply a hatchet or axe - to say nothing of composition." It is quite the contrary, we can see a miraculous system of composition developing here, but it does not manifest itself at the level of everyday life.

When we realise that there is a system here it seems most appropriate to ask, "How many of you are there?" No matter which way you count them, there are five of them. Out of the five there is one human principle, all the others are non-human. Thus it becomes apparent straight away that there is a system of 4+1: there are four object-like things, and there is a human, that is an organic being, what's more, the highest grade of organic beings. What is it that we have identified here? the universe which operates at the level of the five elements. Unlike the drawing below, where there is a creative, fertilizing male power on the one hand, and a receptive, shape-giving female power on the other, here we come to another level: we have the system of elementary principles. It is in vain that the male power exists, in vain does the female power exist, if the system of five elements actually giving shape to them is absent, neither will come into being. Which of these elements could correspond to the human, that is the highest, principle? There's nothing to mull over, since these four - fire , water, air, earth - are relatively homogenous elements, and then there is the fifth element, or quintessence, which brings life into the system, and is often represented as a tree.

Therefore it is not only the neatness of composition that I must praise now, but also the resourcefulness of our master. For the well-known exposition of the five elements can be seen in the Church of Gyügye [a village in Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg county], of which I have shown slides here, the relevant reproductions have been exhibited - it is a system easy to identify. In that exposition the element of water represents a simpler grade of the lunar principle, the element of fire simplifies the solar principle, the element of air corresponds to the wind, which is a version of the name of the Evening Star, and so forth. Thus in that exposition we can see how the individual qualities manifest themselves at the level of elements. But that is not the question here; what is important is the way these elemental principles take shape in my own environment, in the desert of Hortobágy. If I am unable to discover the arsenal of the creative power in my own environment, my knowledge is useless. Then the same thing will happen to me as to Hamvas Béla, who had to go some 2ooo kilometres east to find the first correspondence: this shows the inability to relate anything of that to my own surroundings. What remains for him is to sermonize to other people, to show them what is what. Science will gain no importance, especially if it is to relate to the whole universe, unless I can discover it in my day-to-day activities.

(.....) However, this is not yet the fully developed form of the universe, only the one that operates at the level of elements. Thus when I say church, it is an entity obtained by building. One wonders which of the four principles it may correspond to: fire, water, air or earth? As it is an entity obtained by building, there is nothing to ponder on, it is bound to correspond to the element of earth. It is made of earthly elements in order to evoke celestial things. If I am not aware of this, I may as well say, "It's all the same anyway, it's high up there, and I'm down here, there's no way for me to reach it!" Thus I simply play down the earthly principle. This is one extreme of unbelief. Preaching the word of God with full force while denying or playing down its relationship to the earthly milieu.

Now, what shall we do with the fork? I have mentioned two things about the fork, firstly that it does not depict a fork in general, but my fork [a villám; lit. "the-fork-my"] - pardon me for my selfishness. Is that clear? Thus if we walk up to someone we know by name, and we ask him - suppose we ask Bálint Tóth (unfortunately he is no longer alive), "Uncle Bálint, could you tell us what this is here?" "Well, it's my fork, to be sure!" And it certainly is. And then we ask him what it is used for. "Well then, and what do you use it for?" And he goes, "What else would I use it for, you poor devil, I pitch with it!" [Lit. "tuz-ök", fire(n.)-I, with it.] "Oh I see, so you pitch." Thus we can confirm in two ways that out of all the four elements the fork corresponds to fire. The first fire on Earth came about as the result of lightning according to most existing mythologies. Jupiter sent it down in the form of lightning [my fork]. (.....) Fire only comes into action at the moment there is lightning ["van villám" = "I have a fork"]. And I am also fully aware of what I have: a/my fork [= lightning]. So it is since that time that it has been in operation. And how does it operate? It produces fire. So it is the element of fire, and it is essential that the earth gets into direct contact with the fire. We can see the power of fire descending onto - which part of the church? Right onto its shrine. Thus it is not the destructive but the creative aspect of fire. And we could go on to say (a whole caravan of words could actually be attached to each sentence) that we use it for fixing (or pitching) on it - well, what is it that we fix on it? It is what we nourish ourselves with. So in fact it reveals its creative function in everyday life by continually recreating us. Let's try and not stick anything on it for a week. So all this is information that is valid down to the most practical levels of everyday life.

What could we do with the star? We proceed from the easy items to the more difficult ones. You should remember that here in the Carpathian basin the wind and the evening star are analogues of each other, thus it stands for the airy element. (.....) It is again extremely important because it means that it is just this pulsation of air that is needed to ensure the propagation of life. By the way, you can learn this from Hermes Trismegistos too, so if you really want to seem very bright again, you can foot it to Egypt and you can learn it there, for Hamvas Béla has written on this question too; I would like to emphasize that he was really a learned man and an excellent writer, so this is another thing that can be learnt from him. But it can be learnt here in Hortobágy too.

Colour photograph of the whip with the star shown

And there is one more item left: the hatchet. Now you could trifle with it and say that the hatchet can be nothing else but the water, all the other objects having been assigned to the elements already. But you must never fall in with this; there being no other choice left, therefore... You must be able to give a good reason for it. I wonder whether you know the tale in which the wood-cutter loses his hatchet. Where does it disappear? What does it fall into? Into the thicket? Into a hole? that is to say, into the bowels of the earth? Into a cavern? No - it falls invariably into the water. And who gives it back to him? The King of Waters. And this can manifest itself in various forms. The bill, or the wood-cutter's hatchet stands for the vault of heaven, in particular its water-supplying aspect. So it represents that part of it which is to be retrieved from the rivers in order to become fertilising rain again and again. It is not ordinary rain taken in the chemical sense of H2O; it is the specific type of water which descends from the vault of heaven. The fact that the hatchet [or bill] and the vault of sky have a direct relationship is ensured not only by the phonetic correlation [balta- (ég)bolt] but also by the picture the hatchet bears. This piece is also on display here, showing its side with the moon on it if I my memory does not fail. And on the other side there are only stars.

But I am talking about not only the hatchets with a direct depiction of stars but also those which seem to issue floral elements at the first glance. If you are already familiar with the symbols used in the coffered ceilings of our protestant churches, you realise that seeing a trailing shoot coming out of an opening means that it is the light that has come through it, and I can use it for making observations - otherwise what is the use of having a hole on (the blade of) a hatchet? It will not make it more suitable for cutting wood, or even my enemy's skull. Thus it is the light that comes in through it, and this helps us understand why the hatchet is also called a fokos (balta) [a "graded" axe or bill; "fok" meaning both "head" (of a hatchet) and "grade"]; because I can use it the way an astronomer uses his protractor. For we normally observe a section of the heavenly vault, rather than the whole of it - it is a cut of it that has been observed up to the present day; formerly either a sixth part of it was observed through a sextant (which is not to be confused with a sectarian), or a quarter was studied by means of a quadrant. These instruments have had the shape of a hatchet from the very first, and they are the most typical instruments for observing the starry sky. And when the light comes in through the opening in them, its further projection is indicated with the floral element according to the direction it follows. We have, I think, exhibited some of these hatchets, including a few really beautiful items.

That is all for the time being.