100 Days of Halloween: Kitsune – A Most Powerful, Universal Monster
Maybe it’s because they are Japan’s resident fox spirits, or maybe because they are supremely powerful.
Perhaps he just loves their arcane prowess. Or maybe it’s the mischievous and occasionally antagonistic pranks they play on humans.
“Actually, it’s all of those things.” -C. Michael McGannon, 2014
Foxes are often portrayed in folklore as cunning characters, usually up to mischief or thieving. Occasionally they are the villain trying to devour the friendly mouse, and at other times they are the victim trying to outsmart the bear or the wolf. They are wise, or perhaps just too smart for their own good.
But in Japan, they are storytelling magic. Animals are intrinsically special in Japanese tales, and the fox is at the top of that list.
According to legend: After living for one-hundred years, a fox will learn human speech and gain the ability to take human shape. Already versed in magic, this animal spirit will also gain a bevy of new spells, growing its second tail.
Over time, as the kitsune becomes more powerful, it grows more tails. Nearing a thousand years of being alive, it will become the infamous kyubi-no-kitsune. In pop culture, you might recognize this as the nine-tailed fox. At this point, the kitsune becomes almost godlike, having omniscience and infinite wisdom.
But what else makes them truly special monsters?
We’ve gone over demons, faeries, vampires, witches, and horrors galore. The kitsune fills each of these roles, and more.
Let’s start with their personality and habits.
Like the wandering Irish faerie, kitsune have been known to appear in different human disguises, from officials to lowly peasants, crippled grandfathers to voluptuous young women. They will peddle, cheat, and bargain for simple merriment, but if you save their life, the life of their kits, or simply amuse them enough the kitsune will protect you as its own and bring good fortune to your household. They are very much like the faerie folk of Ireland, Scotland, or even the house spirits of Russia.
They are sorcerers and witches. One of Japan’s “Big Three Villains” was Tamamo-no-Mae, a kitsune in the guise of a woman. She was one of the emperor’s favorite consorts, and men were astounded by her intelligence and wisdom. There was no question she could not answer, and her beauty was surpassed by none.
When the emperor fell ill, one of the great heroes of the land discovered it was Tamamo’s doing. He discovered her identity—a nine-tailed fox—and hunted her down. To this day, the stone that she became upon death, Sessho-seki, is a landmark in Japan, toxic to the touch.
Kitsune play the roles similar to angels and demons. Messengers and ambassadors to the god/goddess Inari, kitsune can appear divine, carrying out the rice deity’s work.
They can also possess humans, causing normal people to go all The Exorcist, stripping clothing and running into the streets barking and hissing, speaking languages they do not know.
It’s said that a person exorcised of kitsunetsuki (demon-fox-possession) never again eat rice or tofu, which are the kitsune’s favorite foods. (In Japan, what else do they eat with their seafood?! A terrible fate indeed.)
Often portrayed as tragic lovers to humans, kitsune-human children are spoken of in Japanese legend and myth. Many of these children display great strength and/or cunning. Some are great magicians or astrologers, while others merely bear physical traits from their monstrous parent. There are a few who become legendary and historical figures like Abe-no-Seimei.
They are the will-o-the-wisp of Japan, producing kitsune-bi, or fox fire. These balls of fire appear as magical lights and fascinate travelers on the road, often leading them astray, whether to places magical or damning, are perhaps irrelevant.
We could go on and on about kitsune, for a very, long time.
As monsters, there is almost no end to the lore on kitsune. As characters, they are whimsical, charming, and a mistake to ignore.
They are, simply, fantastic.
For some good stories involving kitsune, you don’t have to search far. If you like anime, kitsune are almost hard NOT to find. Naruto is the obvious choice here, while Our Home’s Fox Deity gives a more traditional and endearing look into the day-to-day of a minor deity.
Western audiences might look into Teen Wolf. If you prefer graphic novels, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: Dream Hunters is a wonderous and heartwarming/wrenching tale woven straight from the heart of folklore.
Kitsune are a delightful, yet often terrifying entry into our #100DaysofHalloween list of monsters. They are well worth your time for reading and researching. One will be surprised at just how prevalent they are in all forms of media, from around the globe.
Just like their personality, kitsune are cunning and very often go unseen. Yet it would be foolish to ignore them, or their influence in the story of our world.
Happy Halloween 2014!!