DÖMÖTÖR, TEKLA (1914–1987) was a Hungarian folklorist and pioneering scholar of folk religion in the Hungarian context. Born in Budapest, Hungary, she studied English and German philology at the Pázmány Péter University in Budapest from 1932 to 1936. Her Ph.D. dissertation (1937) was about German medieval ritual drama. She became a university teacher in 1953, then was professor and chair of the folklore department in Budapest—the university's first woman chairperson and professor—from 1973 to 1984. Her primary field of research was the history of Hungarian theater and Hungarian folk customs and folk beliefs. Beginning in the 1960s she participated in international conferences and societies of European folklore. In 1985 she won the Herder Prize for fostering comparative folklore research in central Europe.
Dömötor's major works are devoted to Hungarian folk calendar customs and Hungarian ritual poetry, including references to folk beliefs and folk legends. Extending her earlier popular books, she wrote the first new summary on Hungarian folk beliefs (1981 in Hungarian, English translation 1982). Dömötör wrote a biographical sketch about János Honti (1910–1945), the closest friend of her husband, Aladár Dobrovits, professor of Egyptology at the Budapest University. In this biographical sketch of Honti, who was one of the first modern Hungarian folklorists and who was killed by the Nazis, she gave a detailed picture of the work before World War I of the Hungarian Section of the Folklore Fellows in organizing the rich Hungarian folklore collections.
Dömötör's monograph on Hungarian folk beliefs is a careful work. She avoids the use of such basic religio-scientific concepts as the term mythology as regards the Hungarians. Contrary to many Finno-Ugric scholars, she prefers historical interpretations of folklife and belief and is reluctant to say anything about "Hungarian shamanism." In the introduction she lists the previous attempts to describe the "ancient Hungarian religion," but in general she finds unconvincing their reconstructions and historic stratifications concerning the ancient Hungarian "mythology" or "religion," because in such works "the scope of speculation remains very wide indeed" (1982, p. 42). When Hungarians adopted the Christian faith (during the reign of King Stephen I, 997–1038), the old pattern of social organization disintegrated, to be replaced by the emergence of a feudal social structure. According to Dömötör, Hungarian medievalist historians have interpreted the true historic data related to beliefs and customs according to their own expectations. Regarding the time of the Reformation, she discusses "diabolic beings," evil-eye cases, and witches. The witch trials existed in Hungary until 1768, and their pattern does not significantly modify the general European picture. At the time of the Enlightenment a tendency toward teaching the people not to trust superstitions appeared.
Dömötör did not address the later sociohistorical stratification of Hungarian folk beliefs. She wanted to draw an overall picture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The major chapters of her description are: animistic beliefs (mythical beings, metamorphosis, ignis fatuus, "fair lady," "fair maid" and fairies, revenants and ghosts, demons of nature, giants and dwarfs, the devil and his accomplices, Lucy, malevolent spirits, bogeymen, demons of disease, changeling, werewolf, dragon, snake, and other mythical animals and plants); the "cunning folk" (people with special skills); healers and their cures; magic (and divination); the magical power of words (incantations and prayers); man and nature (creation of the earth and weather lore); laicized traditions of the church (popular religion), pilgrimages, and sects; and the living and the dead (grave posts).
As is evident from these contents, Dömötör's book does not give a deep historical analysis and does not follow any system of phenomenology of religion. The order of the several subchapters in the book remains unexplained. In fact the differences between old traces of "mythology," folk beliefs, superstitions, and forms of everyday popular religion are not distinguished or systematized. Dömötör was afraid of making any terminological or theoretical suggestions or conclusions. The fear of giving concess to mystical or nationalistic interpretation (of the primordial Hungarian religion) paralyzed the systematization of Hungarian worldview studies. On the other hand, most of the data Dömötör refers to are historically correct, put into European context, and without boasting speculations. In particular she refers to the results of Géza Róheim, Vilmos Diószegi, Éva Pócs, and Mihály Hoppál but with idiosyncratic restrictions. Superfluously she stresses the importance of the social context, whereas in fact she was never a follower of any social or historical interpretation of the beliefs. (Except for some slogans, she was never a Marxist either.) Empiricism and eclecticism prevail in her studies on Hungarian folk legends and folk customs. Dömötör wrote the short entry "Hungarian Religion" in the first edition of The Encyclopedia of Religion, however, without any reference to gender problems.
Balázs, Géza, and József Hála, eds. Folklór, életrend, tudománytörténet: Tanulmányok Dömötör Tekla 70. születésnapjára. Budapest, 1984. A Festschrift in honor of Dömötör's seventieth birthday, in Hungarian, without a detailed biography, and without any bibliography.
Dömötör, Tekla. Hungarian Folk Beliefs. Budapest, 1977. Translation of A magyar nép hiedelemvilága. Good illustrations and references.
Dömötör, Tekla. János Honti, Leben und Werk. Folklore Fellows Communications no. 221. Helsinki, 1978.
Dömötör, Tekla. Táltosok Pest-Budán és környékén. Budapest, 1987. Novelistic stories about her life.
Dömötör, Tekla. Hungarian Folk Customs (1983). Budapest, 1988. Updated edition of a popular book.
Dömötör, Tekla, ed. Népszokás, néphit, népi vallásosság. Budapest, 1990. For this volume on folk customs, folk beliefs, and popular religion in the new Hungarian "academic" handbook of folk traditions, she wrote a chapter on the research history of Hungarian folk beliefs (pp. 501–526), the same text as in the first chapter of Hungarian Folk Customs (1988), in English, pp. 21–75.
Magda, S. Gémes. "Dömötör Tekla önálló művei." Néprajzi Hírek 16 (1987): 105–106. Includes an incomplete bibliography.
Vilmos Voigt (2005)