The Dog-Headed Girl

LoY_Ivan_smThe Strangest Fairy Ever, and the Sweetest to My Heart

By Ivan Szendro

2015 Artist in Residence

In 1983, a noted Hungarian ethnographer, Sándor Mogyorósi published an article entitled “Tracking Down a Dog-headed Mythical Being.”

His adventure was induced by my shamanic healing ritual, The Judge of Blood,[ii] that he saw on stage, and that experience “made on him a frenetic impression.”  However, his scientist skeptic spirit sent him to re-research about a particular figure, the Dog-Headed Girl, who played a main role in my healing ritual. Prof. Mogyorósi was stunned to hear about the existence of a horrifying dog-headed being in the Hungarian folk tradition.

Kutya-Leany5I performed that myth for years all over Hungary, but no one in the academic circuit knew or heard about the Dog-Headed Fairy before. The critics in the newspapers asked with big question marks:

Whose Myth is this? Is this the myth of Hayno, the Judge of Blood, an ancient dictator-like Dog-God? Or it is of his unfortunate Dog-Headed Daughter, Matilda, whom he sends out to frighten people? Or is it the myth of the whole Hungarian Nation with its gory past? Or it is rather Iván Szendrő’s who humbly calls himself the medium and the carrier of the myth?” [iii]

I told for years, to thousands of people in Hungary, the legend of the hairy-faced fairy, Matilda, without academic approval [iv], thinking in myself, in Hungary all the fairy tales end, “If you don’t believe it, go after it.”

So Prof. Mogyorósi. went after it “to the field” in the early 80s, ten years after I was in the village and he couldn’t find a nick of proof that my Judge of Blood myth was an existing mythology in the Hungarian folk traditions.  He could not find evidence, not just because those elders who had passed on to me this legend had passed away themselves, but because, for the time when he made his field trip, the entire village was washed away by a flood, and never was rebuilt. So this is to say: the living evidence disappeared. No one remained to tell the Legend, besides me. Talking about building mystery!

Kutya-Leany2By the way Matilda was not that horrifying a being at all.

There were three versions that I heard about the Dog-Headed Fairy, told by my informers.  Later, when I performed the legend myself, I followed the example of what the storytellers do from the rhizome of times, reshaping their tales accordingly to their personal mood or to the message they wanted to deliver to their audience.[v]

The first version of the legend was tragic and it reflected on my nation’s suffering for centuries under oppressions of occupiers and tyrants. My dear storyteller friend, Lajos Csúcs told me this version. In payback for his story sharing, I was helping him harvest his apple orchard, or delivering to him whatever he needed from the city.

“Oh, Matilda was the Daughter of the Judge of Blood, Hayno. He kept her in his castle as an advertisement of his scary power. She was kept there in a bloody room, where everything was stained with blood, the walls the windows, everything, and there he was putting away his opponents, especially the richer ones. The guys came in and then Matilda had to reveal to them her horrible face, then they signed everything that the Judge of Blood asked for; they gave him their land, treasures, everything. Even you, (Ivan), being so learned, you would sign anything if you would see her face. Then they went all to their deaths. The elders told me that there was, under the floor, a Grinding Machine. They had to go into it. But then Matilda fell in love with one of the captives, Mihály Gábor, a hussar captain, and she threw herself in the machinery instead of the captive, and that meant the end of her father’s power.”

Kutya-Leany3When I told this version of the Legend, it had always had a very cathartic effect on my audience, and myself, too. One woman, who some thirty years ago saw my show, told my daughter, Julia, who was visiting Hungary, that she never saw someone like me so consumed by his stagework.[vi]

I was touring for years with this version, and indeed it consumed me, both physically and mentally, until I started to seek in the backyard of my memory another version, that could save and heal me. First, I found in my hard-to-read notes of interviews with another most expressive, loudest, and always-joking storytellers of the village, Ferenc Gaál.

As he told me: “There was a wandering shaman, a sort of wonder maker, who heard about the Judge of Blood, and that miracle-maker first showed up at Hayno’s—the Judge of Blood’s—castle as a card player, a gambler, and he won all the money from the Monster. Then again, he visited Hayno in the disguise of teacher, and he offered to teach him Hungarian. Instead, he taught Hayno all the juicy coursings, which, when the Judge of Blood went to visit the notabilities of the village, made all the ladies blush. Then, a third time he acted as an Innkeeper, and when Hayno asked for some meal, he served him, on his table, pitchfork dirt, saying, “Eat it! This is the dirt from the graves of your victims.”[vii]

This time he could not escape from Hayno, and when he saw the Dog-headed Girl, she helped him fly from the Castle; they together went out in a tunnel. That tunnel is still there, close to the castle. I can show you. Then the wizard-lad put the horseshoes on his horse backwards, so Hayno could not track them down by their footprints, what direction they went.”

But this was not what I was looking for. I was searching for a hero who could heal Matilda and me and others; we were waiting for him.

Kutya-leany1Finally, I found it. I call it the “lifesaving” version that I use today on the stage, healing myself and others. The old village shaman’s daughter, Anna Halász told me, “Thirteen men saw Matilda’s face, and twelve got scared of her. They all signed everything away, and had to go to the Grinder. But then the thirteenth man saw her, saw her suffering from her miserable lot, saw what beauty was hidden inside her, and at this point Matilda turned into a beautiful girl.”

Thanks to Anna, I found my Hero, the Thirteenth, in myself as a healer shaman. I consider Anna Halász my shaman mentor, and mythological mother. With her help, I became a healer shaman.[viii]

Matilda, the dearest fairy of all, fulfilled her magnificent role by becoming an embodied symbol of curing, helping and inspiring many of us to understand that, no matter what, there is a chance for healing.

The shamanic myth of the Dog-Headed Girl cured me and many of those whom I have the good fortune to reach out to, those who have to tackle sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges, just like the writer of the letter who wrote me after my performance in Berkeley, January 23.[ix]



[i] Sándor Mogyorósi. (1981). Rémalkotó néphagyomány? Egy kutyafejű mitikus lény nyomában. The annual book of the Museum of Josa Andras, Nyiregyháza, Hungary, 24-26.

[ii] The Judge of Blood, A Vérbíró a shamanic-epic performance of the myth. I performed it again in January 2016, at the Lost Chord Award Evening as the guest-performer of the Society for Ritual Arts.

[iii] Élet és Irodalom, (Life and Literature) (1982). Weekly literature magazine, Budapest, Hungary.

[iv]  Later approvals came from the Hungarian Scientific Academy, the French CNRS (National Center of Scientific Researches), and the ISSR (International Society for Shamanic Researches) to mention a few.

[v] These interviews were published in Hungary, at Valóság (Reality) Scientific Magazine 1981/3 with the title The Judge of Blood; Stories from the Reservoir, A Vérbíró. Történetek a Vízgödörből Iván Szendrő.

[vi] The French Liberation wrote about my performance (1982) in The Wandering Myth, Le Myth Errant. Citation from the article: “The possessed succeeded to transmit his possession.”

[vii] This scene was recreated in my Documentary, the Self-Made Shaman, Botcsinálta táltos, which won the Best Mystical Documentary of the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival (2008). See trailer at

[viii] See my website: www.The

[ix] Letter from Melissa Pinol.



5 Responses to “The Dog-Headed Girl

  • Gilbert Qu
    2 years ago


    • Ivan Szendro
      2 years ago

      Dear Gilbert, allow me to ask you if you live in the East Bay? Ivan Szendro?

  • David Lewis
    2 years ago

    I’ve known of Ivan’s work for some time now. Here is a man who is devoted to his life’s work, taking his experiences of life, hardship and triumph to help others overcome their own problems. His is a voice which deserve to be heard.

  • I like the version with the happy ending.

  • What a beautiful presentation and wonderful story. I felt like I was right there watching and listening. Quite a heroes journey

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