The Symbolism of the Griffin

The griffin as a symbol can be found both in the universal and the Hungarian culture. It is a hybrid of the eagle and the lion, the union of the kings of the celestial and earthly animals. Thus it means the oneness of the Sky and the Earth and at the same time the union of the human and the divine character. Both animals bear Sun-traits the griffin thus is the doubling of this. According to other explanations, the eagle connects the air elements, the lion the fire ones. In the Christian culture circles they are the treasure guardian birds of the Heavens, the symbolic guardians of the way of salvation or the Tree of Life. In the medieval heraldry it is a frequent emblem, usually a monarchical or aristocratic symbol. According to some it is the emblem of the alertness and of the revenge.

In the Hungarian culture it is present from thousands of years, according to Nagy Olga it is an ancient god. We can find its archaic traits in our folk tales. The most well-known such tale of ours is the Son of the White Mare, which is the remnant of the ancient táltos-mysteries. After the forsaken hero helps the griffin’s nestlings, as a reward the griffin saves him from his distressed situation, it carries him up from the Underworld. They fly for 7 nights (in another version for 12 nights) until they reach the Upperworld. During the flight the food runs out, and the Son of the White Mare gives the griffin his own flesh (according to some versions he is swallowed in whole), and when the griffin realizes this it regurgitates him. Thus reborn, the hero rejuvenates, and he becomes seven times stronger than he was. The seven days of the tale symbolizes the 7 skies and the layers of the Tree of Life, the dissection is the rebirth initiation of the Hungarian táltos (shaman). In other tales of ours it is a wise oracle bird, whose feather can be acquired only by the smart scrivener.

It occurs also in the Scythian, Hun, Avar and Hungarian archaeological findings. In the case of the equestrian people the deer attacking, so-called animal fighting illustration was very widespread. On the second jug of the Nagyszentmiklós treasure, on Lehel’s horn, on the Avarian belt-buckles, on the Hun carpets found in Noin-Ula the Steppean symbol-system appears very similarly. According to the Hungarian chronicles (Kézai, Thuróczy) and the descriptions of the Greeks the griffins live among Scytia’s mountains and they guard gemstones. We can discover them also on many of our temple’s stone sculptures (like the basilica of Székesfehérvár), which proves that this ancient symbol of ours did not fade with the taking up of Christianity either.

Recommended literature:

  • Szabó György: Mitológiai kislexikon / Könyvkuckó Kiadó Budapest, 1998.
  • Thuróczy János: A magyarok krónikája / Osiris Kiadó Budapest, 2001.
  • Ipolyi Arnold: Magyar Mythologia Budapest, 1929.
  • Nagy Olga: Hősök, csalókák, ördögök Kriterion Kiadó Bukarest, 1974.
  • Gyarmath Jenő: Mezopotámiai emlékek Magyarországon Budapest, 1995.
  • Mitológiai Enciklopédia Gondolat Kiadó Budapest, 1988.
  • David Fontana: A szimbólumok titkos világa Tericum Kiadó, Budapest, 1995.
  • Hoppál Mihály-Jankovics Marcell-Nagy András-Szemadám György: Jelképtár
  • Helikon Kiadó Budapest, 1997.
  • Hans Biedermann: Szimbólumlexikon Corvina Kiadó Budapest, 1996.