Hungry for Words I Could Trust

I grew up in Hungary in the 1960s, when words about working for collective goals and marching together toward a brighter future were very loud. However, people had zero confidence in those words. My generation was also very skeptical about the teachers of these ideals. What we were taught in school had very little resemblance to what we saw around us. In youth camps, where we supposed to be transformed into faithful followers of the regime, we became completely disillusioned as we secretly watched our teachers indulge in late-night boozing parties and endured their sick jokes, like the time they asked a group of students to cut a boy’s long hair down to the scalp during lunch time. Their cynical hypocrisy killed our naïve idealism. Like many kids of my age, I strongly resented anything adults told me. I simply didn’t trust what they had to say. But I was hungry for words I could trust. I became intrigued with the literature of mythology that told me about other realms than Marxist materialism, the only officially acknowledged philosophy. In the classroom, though, Greek and Roman mythology sounded so boring from our old-fashioned teacher. He was a leftover from the previous regime with his old gentry values and morals. His myths didn’t give me any sparkle for my just-starting life. I was disoriented, wishing to see and make real differences in the world. I was looking for something that could give me a reason to be.

Labor Day Parade, 1956

Parade of Workers of the Defense Ministry’s Hungarian Sport Association, Labor Day, 1956. Everyone was required to participate in such parades. Here the children of the workers lead the parade with balloons and flags. I am the drummer, at about age 11.

I decided to become an actor. But even in this environment, which had been familiar to me from childhood, for my father was a theater director, I didn’t see any good examples in the lives of my colleagues. I had respect for their talent, but they were in despair too, just like me. Alcoholism was rampant in our theater and art community, and suicide was an everyday occurrence. My beloved friend and mentor, an acting genius and an icon for the whole nation who rivaled Marlon Brando in his talent, threw himself under a train. For others he left behind a glorious memory, but I felt a steaming anger about his final choice. I felt I must find another direction for myself. But what would that direction be? I didn’t see any other option than to withdraw from this corrupt society.

Vác work camp

In 1962, my whole class was required to spend the summer at the work camp at Vác, in northern Hungary. In this photo, not working as hard as usual. I am fourth from the left.

I had my cozy base though, in the dimness of my father’s library room. Here was where I found the peace to dream, where I pursued my new interest, mythology. I found my new treasures, the Indian myth of Mahabharata and the Chinese Lao Tzu’s tiny philosophical poems in the Tao Te Ching. These books gave me support and food for thought. Finally they moved me out of the comfort zone of urban life in Budapest and inspired me to go into the countryside to look for myths in my own culture. I founded a wandering theater troupe with other young artists who, like me, were unsatisfied with our society. I was looking for a view of life that could show me all of the world’s chaotic kaleidoscope but would in the end assure me of its ultimate benevolence. I had a feeling deep in my guts that somewhere in the remote, unknown world of Hungarian villages a Legend awaited me that would speak to me. Those two books that where unintentionally tossed in front of my eyes led me to my path, finding my personal mythology in the collective one of my nation and discovering for myself a new way, one that was probably the oldest of all, the shaman’s way.