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Human Animals Part 10

In a similar case the woman's symptoms began in a sort of fainting-fit; her fingers were clenched in the palms of her hands, the eyes were glazed, the nostrils distended and the whole body stiff and inflexible. Suddenly a hideous laugh, like that of a hyaena, burst from her and she began running about on all fours. The cure was brought about in much the same way as in the preceding case.

Mr. Parkyns also tells the tale of a servant who was said to have been bewitched by a blacksmith-hyaena. He evidently attempted to lure her into the forest with the intention of devouring her.

One evening the howls and laughter of a hyaena were clearly heard from the hut in which the sick woman lay bound and closely guarded. Her master happened to be present, when he saw to his astonishment that she rose "like a Davenport brother" freed from her bonds, and made an effort to escape from the hut in answer to the call of the wild animal without.

That such proceedings were sometimes carried out for vicious ends not unconnected with the slaying of human victims is proved by the existence of the mysterious Human Leopard Society which Mr. T. J.

Alldridge writes about in "The Sherbro and Its Hinterland." The society was founded for the purpose of obtaining the human fat used in the preparation of a certain "medicine" mixed with Borfinor, the resulting material being regarded as an all-powerful fetish.

Victims at first were relatives of the members of the society selected at committee meetings, who were afterwards waylaid and slaughtered by a man in the guise of a leopard. He plunged a three-pronged knife into the unfortunate person's neck from behind, separated the vertebrae and caused instant death. More victims were required, outsiders were made to join the society by the expedient of giving them a dish in which, without their knowledge, human flesh was cooked. Afterwards, on being informed of the unpleasant fact, they were persuaded to join the society and told they must furnish a victim as part of the initiation ceremony.

The members of the society rapidly increased in number but great secrecy was observed, and it was impossible to bring the criminals to justice. When questioned the victims declared that they had seen nothing. The leopard sprang from the bush, and it merely seemed as though a great wind had rushed by.[51]

Before seizing their victims the human leopards cover themselves with the skin of the animal and imitate its roars. In the paws of the leopard skin are fixed sharp-pointed knives shaped like a leopard's claws, which are intended to inflict similar wounds, the better to avoid unpleasant disclosure.

Many of the Indians in Guiana believe that "Kanaima" tigers are possessed by human spirits who, as men, devote themselves to deeds of cannibalism. Taking the shape of the jaguar they approach the lonely sleeping-places, or waylay Indians in the forests. No superstition causes more terror.

A legend exists among the natives about an old man who lurked in the forest in the shape of a Kanaima tiger. His son, who was hunting, shot the tiger down. His arrow, which was one of the old-fashioned sort, tipped with bone, entered the animal's jaw. The tiger raised its paw, broke off the weapon and vanished into the forest. The young huntsman picked up the splintered arrow-head and returned home. Next day his guilty father came back groaning, and cried out that his mouth was "all on fire." The son drew from his cheek a bone which, oddly enough, fitted into his splintered arrow-head. Then the son was very sorrowful and said to his father that he must leave him and take his young wife away too, for neither of them would be safe from the dread Kanaima charm. This is a specimen of the "repercussion" stories, in which the wound inflicted on the wer-animal appears in the human form.

FOOTNOTES:

[45] "Life and Adventures of Nathaniel Pearce," 1831. Ed. by J. J.

Halls. Vol. I, p. 288 n.

[46] 1868, pp. 300-1.

[47] _Ibid._, pp. 310-12.

[48] Livingstone, D. and C., "Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambesi and its Tributaries," 1865, p. 159.

[49] p. 52.

[50] "Autobiography," 1886, pp. 64-6.

[51] 1901, pp. 153-9.

CHAPTER XI

WER-FOX AND WER-VIXEN

Even more elaborate in detail and richness of lore than the lion-, tiger- and hyaena-transformations, are those of the wer-fox; and a curious point to be noted is that it is quite as easy for the animal to become human as for a man or woman to become a fox. In Japanese folklore the fox is regarded as more skilful than any other animal in taking human shape.

In China the belief exists that foxes and wolves attain to an age of eight hundred years, and "when more than five hundred years old they are able to metamorphose themselves into beings shaped liked men."[52]

De Groot tells several stories about wer-foxes.[53] A man runs away from home and is found in an empty grave. His shape is quite that of a fox, and does not in any respect correspond to the human form. The only sound he utters is O-tsze (meaning red) which is the name for foxes. For ten days this wer-fox remains in a state of semi-consciousness, and then he awakens and gives the following account of himself: "When the fox came to me for the first time it assumed the shape of a lovely woman standing in a fowl-house in a hidden corner of my dwelling. She called me to her and told me she bore the name of O-tsze.[54] When she had called me many times I followed her and she became my wife. At night I frequently accompanied her to her dwelling, and we met without being perceived by the dogs."

No human animal is as seductive as the wer-vixen. Numerous stories occur in Eastern folklore of women in the shape of foxes and foxes in the shape of women leading men on through passion to their doom. Even male foxes take the shape of women to seduce men, but other harm than this they do not do them.[55]

Ono, an inhabitant of Mino (says an ancient Japanese legend of A.D.

545), spent the seasons longing for his ideal of female beauty. He met her one evening on a vast moor and married her. Simultaneously with the birth of their son, Ono's dog was delivered of a pup which as it grew up became more and more hostile to the lady of the moors. She begged her husband to kill it, but he refused. At last one day the dog attacked her so furiously that she lost courage, resumed vulpine shape, leaped over a fence and fled.

"You may be a fox," Ono called after her, "but you are the mother of my son and I love you. Come back when you please; you will always be welcome."

So every evening she stole back and slept in his arms.[56]

The wer-fox has a strange manner of bringing about transformation.

Roaming over a grassy plain, the animal picks up a skull, puts it on his head and, facing towards the north star, worships silently. At first he performs his religious genuflections and obeisances slowly and circumspectly, but by and by his motions become convulsively rapid and his leaps wondrously active. Yet, however high he jumps towards the star, he endeavours to keep his skull-crown immovable, and if after a hundred acts of worship he succeeds, he becomes capable of transforming himself into a human being. But if he desires to assume the shape of a beautiful maiden he must live in the vicinity of a graveyard.[57]

A monk who passed a moonlight night in a graveyard saw a fox placing withered bones and a skull upon its head, and as soon as the animal succeeded in moving its head without dropping its burden, it covered its body with grass and leaves, and changed into a beautiful woman.

She sat by the roadside, and presently a man came riding by to whom she told a pitiable story about herself. Charmed with her appearance and sympathising with her forlorn condition, he was about to ask her to mount his horse with him, when the monk appeared from behind a gravestone and warned him that the woman was not what she appeared to be. Making the sign of the cross and uttering an incantation, the holy man caused the woman to fall down, and she turned into an old vixen and expired. Nothing remained but the dry bones with the skull, and the grass and the leaves on the dead body of the fox.

De Groot quotes the old Chinese saying that the wild fox bears the name of Tsze (Red). At night he strikes fire out of his tail. When he desires to appear as a spook he puts on a human skull and salutes the Great Bear constellation, and the transformation is brought about as soon as the skull ceases to fall.

One of the commonest stories of the fox, found in China and Japan, is that the fox as usual assumes the form of a lovely maiden, and weds a man. She dies and all that remains is the dead body of the fox. No more is heard of the woman.

The Eskimos have a similar story.

A bachelor coming home in the evening finds his hut tidied. One day, returning prematurely, he sees a woman at work straightening his things.

He falls in love with her and marries her, only to discover that she is a fox in disguise, and when his jealous cousin mentions the tabooed subject of the smell of a fox, she runs away, never to return.

Under the T'ang dynasty the belief in wer-vixens, who changed into fascinating women to tempt men, was prevalent.

"When a fox is fifty years old, it can transform itself into a woman; when a hundred years old, it becomes a beautiful female or sorceress termed _wu_. Such enchanted beings possess a knowledge of what is happening more than a thousand miles away. They can poison men by sorcery or possess and bewilder them so that they lose their memory or even their reason. When a fox reaches the age of a thousand it goes to paradise and becomes a celestial creature."[58]

The wer-vixen in the next story had not attained to this privilege, she belonged to a far different region.

A captain in the Imperial Guard met a beautiful lady in the moonlight and began to talk to her. While she was speaking to him she kept her face hidden behind a fan. As they came to the palace the man remembered that wer-vixens were dangerous beings to deal with and he wanted to find out whether the woman was genuine or an animal in human shape, so he drew his sword, seized her by the hair, pushed her against one of the pillars in front of the palace and threatened to kill her. She struggled and jumped about violently, sending forth so pungent an odour that he could not hold her, and as he let her go she turned into a fox and ran off shrieking "ko, ko!" The captain did not in the least regret the rough handling he had given the supposed beautiful lady; he only wished he had killed her on the spot.

Fox demons are said to cause disease and madness, and sometimes they act in a spirit of revenge, more often from unprovoked malice. The "Huen Chung ki" mentions that foxes sometimes take the shape of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. Another mystic idea about wer-foxes is that they are believed to possess a mysterious pearl which represents their soul. They hold this pearl in their mouths and any man who gets possession of it becomes a favourite throughout the world. In Japan some people think that foxes have a luminous pearl in their tail.

Whether this is connected with the soul or whether it is a talisman of power it is difficult to say.

Wer-foxes in the shape of human beings can be made to resume their animal forms by wounding or slaying them or by setting dogs upon them.

Incantations, argument if they appear in the shape of scholars, poisonous food, written charms, or cutting off the caudal appendage if they show signs of one, are also effective means of making them declare themselves in their true colours.

If a person is possessed by a wer-fox he can have the evil spirit transferred to a woman in a similar manner to that practised by the _Boudas_ of Abyssinia in the case of those possessed by hyaenas. In one instance the evil spirit spoke from the scape-woman's mouth as follows:--

"I am a fox. I have not come to do evil, but only to have a look round, because I thought there was plenty of food at a place like this. Then I found that I (the patient) was kept indoors." Thus speaking, she took from her bosom a white gem, the size of a small orange. Throwing this into the air, she caught it again, and those who saw it said, "What a strange gem; she keeps it in her pocket for the purpose of deluding people." A young man cleverly caught the gem as the woman threw it up and put it in his pocket. The demon fox begged him to give it back to her but he refused. She then burst into tears and said, "My gem is of no value to you for you do not know how to use it. If you do not give it back to me I will be your enemy for ever, but if you do, I will be your friend and protect you like a god." At these words the young man returned the gem.

When the sorcerer had exorcised the fox spirit it was discovered that the gem had disappeared, which was taken as a proof that it belonged to the wer-fox, and was connected with some mysterious power.

The fox kept its promise, for when the young man was going home late one night in the dark, he became suddenly very frightened and called the fox to help him. The animal appeared and led him by a narrow footpath instead of by the usual road. Afterwards he discovered that highwaymen were hidden in ambush near the road, and if he had passed that way he would surely have been killed.

The cunning of the fox turns to learning in a man, for intellectuality appears to be regarded as a fox-like trait by the Japanese, and many tales tell of scholars becoming animals and vice-versa.

A learned old man called Hu suddenly disappeared from the college in which he held a professorship, and was found by his students in the shape of a fox explaining logic out of an old book to a pack of foxes who were drawn up in ranks before him in an empty grave.

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