Human Animals Part 11

Two foxes, in another story, were over a thousand years old and lived in the tomb of a king. They transformed themselves into students, giving proof of extraordinary learning, and having fine personalities and handsome, open countenances. Mounted on horseback they rode to the house of a talented minister to argue with him on theological questions connected with the spirit of the glorification tree which stood before a tomb. The minister could not get the better of them in discussion, and after three days he became suspicious and set his dogs loose upon them, but they showed not the slightest fear. "To be sure," he exclaimed, "they are spectres of the true sort. If a hundred years old, they must change their shape at the sight of hounds; if they are spooks of a thousand years, they must change when they see the glow of fire produced from a tree of the same age." Reasoning thus, the minister sent some servants to the tomb in order to fell the glorification tree. The spirit of the tree was a young child dressed in blue garments, and he was sitting in a cleft in the side of the tree. When the child was told of the matter he wept, and lamented the ignorance of the old foxes and his own fate. Then he vanished. When the servants felled the tree, blood gushed forth from it. They took the wood home and set fire to it, and as soon as it was kindled the foxes resumed their original shape. Then the minister had them captured and cooked.

The power possessed by the fox of bewitching men is clearly shown in the following story quoted by Dr. Visser in "The Fox and Badger in Japanese Folklore."[59]

In the eighth year of the Kwambei era (896) a man called Kaya Yoshifuji resigned the post of a high official in the Bizen province and went to live in Hongo Ashimori. His wife ran away to the capital and he kept house quite alone. One day he went out of his mind and began to recite love poems to an imaginary woman. After a month passed in this manner he disappeared and his relatives searched high and low but could find no trace of him, so they concluded that he had committed suicide, and vowed they would make an image of the eleven-faced Kwannon if they found the unhappy man's corpse. They cut down an oak tree and began to carve the life-size image of Yoshifuji, bowing before the unfinished statue to repeat the vow they had taken.

This went on for about a fortnight, when to their intense surprise Yoshifuji crept from under his go-down as thin and pale as though he had passed through a serious illness. The floor of the go-down was only half a dozen inches from the ground, so that it was held to be impossible that a man could have been beneath it. When he had recovered his senses sufficiently to give an account of his adventures, he said that a beautiful girl had come to him, bringing love letters and poems from a princess, and that he had replied to them in the same vein in which they were written.

"At last," he continued, "the girl came with a magnificent carriage and four postilions to take me to the princess.

"After a drive of about ten miles we arrived at a splendid palace, where an exquisite meal and a very hearty reception from the princess soon made me feel quite at ease. There I lived with her as inseparably as two branches growing together on the same tree. She gave birth to a son, a very intelligent and beautiful child, whom I loved so much that I thought of degrading my son Jadasada and putting this child in his place as son of my principal wife--this in view of the high rank of the princess. But after three years a Buddhist priest suddenly entered the room of Her Highness, carrying a stick in his hand. The effect of his appearance was astonishing. Chamberlains and Court ladies all fled left and right and even the princess hid herself somewhere. The priest pushed me from behind with his stick and made me go out of the house through a very narrow passage. When I looked back I discovered that I had just crept from under my own go-down!"

The curious point of this story is that those who listened to it rushed to the go-down and demolished it without delay. As they did so, twenty or thirty foxes came from beneath it and scattered in all directions, hastening to the mountains. Yoshifuji, bewitched by these wizard-foxes, had been lying under the go-down for a fortnight, believing in his trance that he was spending three years in a palace.

The priest who broke the spell was a metamorphosis of Kwannon.

That the wer-vixen superstition is deeply engrained in the minds of travellers is proved by the story of a bishop who once passed the night in a house which was so desolate in appearance that his companions begged him to read a sutra for the purpose of driving away evil influences. Two of them went to a wood close to the house, where they saw a mysterious phantom, large and white, which they took to be a wer-vixen. They rushed in to tell the bishop, who, greatly excited, cried, "I have often heard of foxes haunting people, but I have never set eyes on a ghost of this kind," and he hastened to the spot, full of eagerness, only to discover a harmless, ordinary girl--or so he said!

Another wer-vixen attempted to steal a child. The nurse was out in the grounds with her charge of two years old when her master, the father of the infant, heard her crying for help. Seizing his sword he ran to the spot, when to his astonishment he found that _two_ nurses exactly alike were pulling at his son and heir, one on one side and one on the other. He could not say which was the genuine nurse, and in great terror brandished his sword, making feints at both. Thereupon one of the nurses vanished and the other swooned, the child still in her arms. A priest was sent for and by means of incantations brought the nurse to her senses. She then said that her double had appeared and laying hold of the babe had claimed it as her own. Nobody knew whether the phantom was a _fox_ or a _spirit_.[60]

Here is a story of a vindictive wer-fox, taken from the "Uji shui monogatari":--

"A samurai was on his way home one evening when he met a fox. Pursuing the animal, he sent an arrow into its loin. The fox howled loudly and limped quickly away through the grass towards the samurai's house.

When the man saw the animal was breathing fire he hastened to overtake him, but was too late. The fox, on arriving at the house, assumed human shape and set fire to the building. Then the samurai pursued the culprit, whom he took to be a real man, but, resuming vulpine form, the animal disappeared into the thicket."

A number of fox legends, which have been rendered into English by Dr.

Visser, are found in the "Kokon chomonshu."

The house of a Dainagon was haunted by a number of foxes, and was so impossible to live in that the owner decided to hold a battue. The very night he gave orders to this effect he saw a vision of a grey-haired old man, with the figure of a tall boy, wearing a green hunting dress, and seated under an orange tree in the garden. The owner asked the apparition's name, and he replied, "I have lived in your house for two generations and have a great number of children and grandchildren. I have always tried to keep them out of mischief but they never would listen. Now I am sorry because they have made you angry. If you will forgive the things my family have done, I will protect you and let you know whenever good luck is coming your way."

Then the owner of the house awoke from his strange dream, rose and opened the door of the verandah. There he discovered in the dim morning light an old hairless fox, shyly trying to hide himself behind a bamboo bench.

The _tanuki_, or badger, shares with the fox the reputation for powers of transformation. This animal appeared in Japanese folklore later than the fox, but is often coupled with it in stories of animal sorcery. An old mountain lake was frequented by many water birds, but it was well known that whoever tried to shoot them was drowned in the lake. At last a man, who had more courage than the others, decided that this mysterious matter must be looked into. He went alone in the dark, armed with bow, arrows, and a sword, and when he reached the lake he sat down under a pine tree, bent his bow and waited. Suddenly the surface of the lake was disturbed, waves dashed on the shore and he saw a faint light in the centre. The ball of light moved about, coming closer and closer, and circling round him. He was about to shoot at it when it flew back over the lake. Presently it came close to him again, and in the centre he saw a grinning old hag, upon whom he seized. She tried to pull him into the lake, but could not manage to do so, for he stood like a rock and, having thrown down his bow, stabbed at her with his sword. She grew weaker and weaker and the light disappeared. Then she died, and he took home the animal shape which was left on his hands, and which proved to be an old _tanuki_.

Another story of the _tanuki_ is more like a ghost story than that of a wer-animal, and concerns a captain of the guards called Sukeyasu.

When he was hunting in the province of Tamba he passed the night in an old chapel which the villagers warned him was haunted by a monster.

As a snowstorm was raging he preferred to face the strange risk inside the chapel to a certain wetting in the open.

He was half asleep when he heard a noise outside the chapel and peeping through a chink in the sliding door he saw a pitch-black priest, so tall that his head appeared to reach the eaves. The priest stretched a thin hairy arm through the chink in the door and stroked Sukeyasu's forehead, afterwards withdrawing his hand. The captain was too frightened to move, but when the same thing was repeated he plucked up courage to grasp the hairy hand and hold it firmly. Then ensued a struggle and the door gave way. Sukeyasu came down on the top of the priest and as he pressed upon him with all his might he found his opponent growing smaller and smaller, and his arms thinner and thinner. The captain called his servants to his assistance and when a light was obtained it was found that the huge spook was in reality a _tanuki_. Next day the animal's head was shown to the villagers, and from that time the chapel was no longer haunted.

An unsuccessful transformation into animal shape is the subject of another wer-fox story. A man left his house one evening in order to do some business in a neighbouring city, but to his wife's surprise he came back accompanied by a servant long before he was due, saying that he had accomplished his business satisfactorily. He was very tired and went to bed at once, but an old woman-servant in the house warned her mistress, saying that she had noticed something odd about the returned traveller, who was blind in the left eye, while her master was blind in the right eye. The wife then called to the sleeping man, saying she was ill, and asking him to get her some medicine. He did so, grumbling, and to the wife's astonishment, she saw that what the old woman said was true. Then when he lay down to sleep again she stabbed him to death, and he cried out like a fox, "kon, kon, kwai--kwai." Then they beat to death the servant the wer-fox had brought with him, and found he was also a fox.

The one who had taken the shape of the master had not trained himself carefully enough in the art of transformation.

A very uncanny fox and badger story comes from an old Japanese source.[61] Kugano Kendo was a clever doctor who lived in Yeddo. One day he was asked to go and see a patient in the country, and when he reached the house in question, which he had never before visited, he found that the master had gone out and he was asked to wait. A page-boy offered him some refreshments after his long journey, and when he was about to thank him for his attentions the boy turned away and, to the doctor's astonishment, he saw the page's face had utterly changed, becoming enormously long and narrow, with a small nose and big mouth and only one eye in the centre of the forehead. Suddenly the apparition vanished. Though courageous by nature this struck the doctor as so extraordinary that he felt inclined to leave the strange house at once. However, he mastered his fears and soon the owner of the house returned. The doctor told him what he had seen and the master burst out laughing and said, "Oh, that boy has been at it again, has he? He always frightens strangers. Did he pull a face like this?" and suiting his actions to his words the man imitated the horrible expression, his face taking the same deformity of one eye in the centre of his forehead, and a foxy snout.

This was too much for the doctor's equanimity. He ran to the front door and called his servants to prepare for the journey home. Then he found that all the servants had run away except one, and outside it was pitch-dark. The remaining servant said he could find a lantern, and presently he appeared out of the darkness with a light in his hand which fell full upon his features. To Kendo's intense horror he noticed the same transformation had taken place in the servant's countenance as had appeared in the faces of the others, and this additional strain being too much for his nerves, he cried out and fell into a swoon.

In the meantime the doctor's friends, growing anxious about his long absence, despatched a search party to find him, and among those who were sent were some of the servants who had accompanied him earlier in the evening. To their surprise, instead of the fine house they had already visited, they found only an old, dirty, tumbledown cottage, which the neighbours told them was always desolate and only inhabited by foxes and _tanuki_. Nobody dared to pass that way by night. After a long search Doctor Kendo was found lying face downwards in a bamboo grove. Weeks passed before he recovered from his adventure. This story seems to throw a light on what may be called "the workings of transformation," as though a partial change were brought about by some hidden occult force glimmering through the human shape.

The "Roo chawa"[62] describes three kinds of strange wer-animals.

Firstly thin ones, with emaciated features, red eyes, long trunks, legs the length of a horse, and a loud cry "like the tone of a bell."

These are _tanuki_. The second variety has a round face, sharp nose, spotted skin and is blind in one eye. Thirdly, there are foxes with large ears, round eyes, pointed cheeks, wide mouths, but _without a right arm_! This sounds as though the description had been taken during the process of metamorphosis.

The one-eyed beasts seem the most fearsome to encounter in the dark.

An ancient monastery was haunted by them. An old man, blind in one eye, arrived there as the priest was murmuring his prayers. He came near enough to stroke the devout man's face, but as he put out his hand to do so the priest protected himself with a knife and chopped off the arm, which proved to be the hairy leg of an old fox.

Another man who passed the night in the same monastery was disturbed by a number of puppy-dogs which ran in and out of the cloisters.

Looking through a crack in an old door he saw a woman standing outside. He pierced her through the breast with his sword and she fled, bleeding profusely. A moment later a ball of light fell onto the ground, and when the man ran to see what it was, he found the same old witch. Again he struck at her with his sword and she fled, leaving another pool of blood.

Next day an old one-eyed woman came to the monastery accompanied by a little girl and asked the abbot to read a mass at the funeral of her elder sister.

The abbot, believing all was not right with these people, chased away the woman and child by threatening to strike them with a bamboo cane.

That night the village was lit by burning torches and a crowd assembled to pray and read sutras. Temple gongs and kettle-drums resounded, and everyone knew that some mysterious ceremony was being held. The following morning the abbot sent to discover what had taken place and an old dead _tanuki_, as big as a calf, was dug out of the ground. It was found to be the witch that had been wounded in the monastery. This may be compared with the witch-cat stories of England in the following chapter.

Fox-possession and fox-familiars are common beliefs among the Japanese; women, weak men, and even children suffering from the idea of having been transformed into animals. They are cured by being made to snuff up smoke from a heap of burning refuse, or by drinking weak tea, or swallowing roasted leaves of a certain plant; all these things being detested by foxes, and incidentally no doubt useful in cases of ordinary hysteria. Foxes which take the form of men and women soon resume vulpine shape when fumigated, bathed, or attacked by dogs. Even in the present day, fox-possession has as great a hold on the imagination as in earlier centuries, but it is more widely ascribed to human sorcery. Certain sacred temples in Japan still attract crowds of pilgrims who believe that they are possessed by foxes and who come to these holy places to be cured. The bone of a tortoise's foot held in the left hand is prescribed as a talisman against this fearsome spell--probably also many other of the formulae useful in cases of witchcraft would be found efficacious.


[52] "The Pao Poh-tsze," chap, i, sect. 3.

[53] "Religious System of China."

[54] The legend says that a lady of light morals lived in the remotest times and bore the name of O-tsze. She adopted the fox shape, and hence it is that such spooks often call themselves O-tsze.

[55] "Wuh tsah tsu," by Sie Chao chi.

[56] Brinkley, F., "Japan," 1902, Vol. V, p. 197.

[57] _Ibid._, p. 198.

[58] The "Huen Chung ki."

[59] 1908, pp. 21-3.

[60] _See_ Visser, M. W. de, "The Fox and Badger in Japanese Folklore," 1908.

[61] The "Kwaidan toshiotoko," 1749.

[62] 1742.



Amongst the powers with which witches have been credited from time immemorial are those of transforming themselves into various kinds of animals, of transforming other people into animals and of sending forth so-called familiars in various animal shapes. Whether witches can change human beings into animals through sorcery is a question which has exercised the minds of hundreds of writers on demonology and witchcraft, amongst them, to mention a few at random, Bodin, Boguet, James I, Glanvill, Dr. Webster, Reginald Scott, his more famous namesake Sir Walter, and Charles Lamb. The last-named, in his essay on the subject, tells us that he was extremely inquisitive from his childhood about witches and witch-stories, and that it should cause no wonder if the wicked, having been symbolised by a goat, should come sometimes in that body and "assert his metaphor."[63]

In the Middle Ages witches who were condemned to the stake, confessed to having taken the shapes of cats, hares, dogs, horses, and many other animals, being prompted to such changes by the devil, with whom they were in league.

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