Friday, January 14, 2011


Back when I posted Vixen, I hinted that I had more to say about this mythical creature. In fact, it's one of my favorites. There's more rich folklore about kitsune than I could ever write here. It needs to have it's own profile.

The ancient Japanese lived in close proximity with the many foxes in the country. Their mythology reflects that. Kitsune (pronounced "kit-zoo-nay," I think) is the Japanese word for fox, but in the Western world the term is used exclusively for a fox like creature from Japanese folklore. This creature is based on similar mythological beings from Korea, China, and India. They are associated with the Inari, the Shinto goddess of rice. They are intelligent, cunning, live long lives, and possess many magical abilities. Stories give varied accounts about what precisely those abilities are, and whether they are benign or malevolent. Some folklore is pretty consistent with other mythology regarding foxes, meaning that they use their abilities to trick mortals. But other stories show them as loyal guardians, friends, lovers, and wives.

Kitsune are shape shifters with two forms, a fox form and a human form. The fox form typically has multiple tails. The more tails a kitsune has, and they could have up to nine, the older and more powerful it is. When a kitsune reaches a certain age, they learn how to take a human form. In their human form, they can appear to be beautiful women, little girls, effeminate men, or old men. They are particularly renowned for impersonating women. When kitsune get careless they don't transform fully, leaving a fox tale or a fox shadow. While in their disguise, they could get married and have children with ordinary men. There are many romantic tales where this happens. When the lover finds out that the woman is a kitsune, the fox has no choice but to leave. It is believed that children from this union are gifted with their mothers supernatural abilities.

Other stories are more sinister. Some people believe that kitsune are similar to vampires or succubi. These people think that these creatures drain the life force of humans through sexual contact. There is also the belief that women can be possessed by foxes. The strange behavior they engage in is similar to that of demonic possession in Catholicism, like running in the streets naked, frothing at the mouth, writing and speaking languages that they had no knowledge of previously, and eating a lot. Exorcisms have to be performed at an Inari shrine. Today, kitsunetsuki is a psychosis unique to Japan. Those that have this mental illness believe that they are possessed by a fox.

Like the countries of Europe, Japan also has a tradition of Witchcraft. These witches belong to hereditary witch families that pass their abilities generation after generation. They are also believed to have a family of fox familiars that do their biding. The status of these witch families are everyday knowledge to the surrounding neighbors. To this day, these families are respected, but unfortunately are also openly shunned. Since the power is passed from mother to daughters, it's almost impossible for these woman to find men willing to marry them.

Kitsune are becoming pretty popular outside of Japanese culture. I know this because whenever I try to use it as a user name on forums it's always already taken. Also, the general consensus in America is that these creatures are way to cute to be evil. Tails from the Sonic the Hedgehog video game is a kitsune. He totally is.

I've seen a few Neo-Pagans adopt this as their name. However, if you decide to give this name to a child, it would be extremely rare. And I have no idea what kind of a look you would get from a Japanese person. But you know me, I'm a champion of the daring. There's something very chic and exotic about this word as a name. And I'm not the only one who thinks that, it's also the name of a French fashion/record label. If I met a little Kitsune on the playground, I would be very excited.


Image Credit:
I can't remember, I saved it a long time ago.

Print by Hiroshige.

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