The Strangest Legend in Hungarian Folklore: The Copper-Penis Owl - ‘Rézfaszú Bagoly’

  • 25 Jun 2024 7:49 AM
The Strangest Legend in Hungarian Folklore: The Copper-Penis Owl - ‘Rézfaszú Bagoly’
Hungary boasts a myriad of fascinating legends and folklore that have been passed down through generations. Among these tales is the curious and somewhat risqué legend of the Copper-Penis Owl, a story that really stands out from most – no pun intended!

For expats living in Hungary, understanding such legends provides a deeper insight into the local culture and the values that have shaped Hungarian society.

The Copper-Penis Owl, while strange and funny, reflects the rich tapestry of Hungarian folklore where every story, no matter how peculiar, teaches a lesson worth remembering.

Significance in Hungarian Culture

The legend of the Copper-Penis Owl is said to originate from rural Hungary, where folklore often blended elements of everyday life with the fantastical. While exact historical records are sparse, the tale likely emerged during the 19th century, a period rich in folk narratives.

The Copper-Penis Owl is more than just a quirky story; it serves as a moral lesson about the importance of respect, humility, and the power of forgiveness. In Hungarian culture, such tales were often used to impart values and social norms, especially to the younger generation.

The Copper-Penis Owl Tale in Brief

The story begins with a mischievous and somewhat lecherous young man named János. Known for his flirtatious nature and lack of respect for the women in his village, János would often boast about his exploits and mock those who lived a more virtuous life. One day, while wandering through a dense forest, János encountered a mysterious old woman who was rumoured to be a witch.

Seeing János's arrogance, the witch decided to teach him a lesson. She cast a spell that transformed him into an owl, but with a peculiar twist—his new incarnation had a copper penis. This unusual feature made János the subject of ridicule among the other owls, and he quickly became an outcast.

The Moral of The Copper-Penis Owl Story

As an owl, János learned the hard way about the consequences of his disrespectful behaviour. He realised that his previous actions had isolated him, much like his new form did among the owls. Over time, János became more introspective and regretful of his past deeds.

The witch eventually returned, giving János a chance to break the spell. She told him that if he could find someone to truly forgive him for his misdeeds, he would be restored to his human form. János embarked on a journey of redemption, seeking forgiveness from those he had wronged. In the end, his genuine remorse and efforts to make amends led to his transformation back into a human, albeit with a much humbler attitude.

Teaching Respect and Humility

Hungarian parents often recount this tale to their children to emphasise the importance of treating others with respect and humility. The story of János serves as a stark reminder that arrogance and disrespect can lead to isolation and ridicule.

By sharing this story, parents hope to teach their children that their actions have consequences, and that genuine remorse and efforts to make amends are valued traits.

In addition to its moral lessons, the tale of the Copper-Penis Owl is sometimes used as a cautionary tale to discourage inappropriate behaviour. For instance, if a child is being particularly arrogant, rude, or disrespectful, parents might remind them of János's fate. The unusual and memorable nature of the owl's copper penis makes the story particularly effective in capturing children's attention and imagination.

Instilling Values Through Folklore

By incorporating the legend into everyday conversations and disciplinary measures, parents can instill values of respect, humility, and the importance of making amends. The story’s blend of humour and seriousness makes it an engaging way to teach children about the consequences of their actions without resorting to harsh reprimands.

Another crucial lesson from the tale is the value of forgiveness. János’s journey to earn forgiveness underscores the idea that everyone deserves a second chance if they are genuinely remorseful.

Parents use this aspect of the story to teach children about empathy, understanding, and the importance of giving others the opportunity to change and grow.

A Testament to Hungary's Storytelling Tradition

Overall, this is the Hungarian equivalent of the “bogeyman”, and the legend of the Copper-Penis Owl stands testament to Hungary's rich storytelling tradition. It combines Hungarian humour, moral teachings, and a touch of the supernatural to persuasively convey life lessons to local children.

As we expats explore Hungary and its cultural heritage, tales like this one offer a unique glimpse into the values and imagination of its people. After all, it’s said that if threatening children with abduction by a giant owl with a copper penis doesn't make them eat their peas, then nothing will!  For more on this and more about Hungarians, see the video below.

Marion Merrick

Language editor and author: Now You See It, Now You Don’t  / Surprising Expats / Budapest Retro


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