Monday, October 17, 2011

Kitsune: The Mythology of Supernatural, Update #3

Sorry for the delay in getting this posted, folks! I was on vacation last week and forgot to put it up before I took off. My bad.

FYI - all of the below info (along with a ton of other stuff about the various mythologies of the world) can also be found in another book of mine, The Complete Idiot's Guide to World Mythology

In the Japanese language (Nihongo), the term kitsune can be used to refer to your average, everyday, run-of-the-mill fox. However, in Shinto mythology, kitsune also refers to a race of fox spirits/demons whose main purpose is to act as messengers for Inari, the Rice Kami (in English the word Kami translates, more or less, as “a god”). Kitsune also have a close relationship with a slightly more troublesome race of nature spirits known as Tengu.

Kitsune have the ability to shapeshift, and often assume human form in order to interact undetected with humans.

According to lore, kitsune spirits enjoy playing tricks on people (an attribute they share with the more trickster-like Shinto spirits called Tengu, though the Tengu tend to be a bit crueler with their pranks … kind of like Gabriel/Loki on steroids). Kitsune are often playful in nature when it comes to their mischief, and they are almost always portrayed as being helpful allies to humans (that is, of course, as long as the humans treat the kitsune with respect).

Since normal foxes often reside near humans (attracted by such things as domesticated pheasants and/or discarded food), they were a common sight among the villages of ancient Japan. So perhaps it should not be all that surprising that so many myths regarding the kitsune arose in the Shinto tradition.

Kitsune could best be described as strong, wise, and clever beings. In some stories, it is said that a kitsune’s power can be measured by counting the number of tails it has. You see, kitsune can have anywhere between 1 tail (Ichibi) and 9 tails (Kyuubi). Therefore, myths warn that a person should be extremely careful when dealing with a kitsune that is a Kyuubi (meaning it has “nine tails”). In fact, nearly all of the lore surrounding kitsune advises that a person should be kind to foxes that are not doing any harm, as doing so might cause one to accidentally end up offending a powerful kitsune spirit … which, needless to say, is something that you REALLY do not want to do … seriously … an offended and/or otherwise provoked kitsune (especially a Kyuubi) is capable of doing a LOT of damage.

One particular piece of kitsune folklore, and of which I am rather fond, goes something like this:

The story goes that a samurai encountered a fox on the road while riding home from the residence of his daimyo (lord). While still a fair distance from home, the samurai decided to nock a special “flash-bang” (gunpowder) arrow into his bow that is normally used for scaring away wild dogs. He fired the arrow at the fox and hit it in the back of the leg. As the samurai drew for a second shot, the fox darted into a nearby bush. The samurai dismounted and approached the bush, planning to finish off the fox with a final shot. However, when he aimed at the fox it disappeared into thin air. As the samurai went to retrieve his first arrow, the fox suddenly reappeared in front of him. He quickly drew his bow to loose another arrow, only to have the fox disappear before his eyes once again.

Needless to say, the samurai was feeling a bit unnerved by this experience, and decided to get back on his horse and continue on towards home. When the samurai was but a short distance from his home (say, less than a mile), the very same fox emerged from the forest on the road ahead of him. In the animal’s mouth was a burning torch, which at first puzzled the samurai. Then … the fox darted off in the direction of the samurai’s home. Overcome by a sudden and strange panic, the samurai spurred his horse into a full gallop.

By the time the samurai was within sight of his home he could see the fox sitting right next to the front door, the flaming torch still in its mouth. While he was still too far away to fire an arrow, the samurai watched as the fox suddenly transformed into the shape of a human. This “fox,” the samurai now realized, was actually a kitsune! This realization, however, did him little good when the kitsune took the torch and lit the house on fire. As the flames rose, the samurai finally came into firing distance and drew his bow once more. Before he could loose his arrow, however, the fox spirit returned to its original form and vanished into the nearby woods. The samurai could do nothing but stand by helplessly as he watched his entire house, and everything within it, reduced to ashes.

As for the whole “kitsune eat pituitary glands” thing that they did on the show … I have NO IDEA where the writers of Supernatural got that from. Seriously ... that was a REALLY weird addition.

I do know there has been some scientific research into fox growth hormones in recent years … but seriusly ... I am a mythologist, not a scientist … so I am not even going to TRY touching on that subject.

Thanks, everyone. As always, the support of readers means the world to me.

I will be posting the Mythology of Supernatural, Update #4 sometime over the next couple of days.


  1. Great and interesting Nat!! Love that you are keeping up with all the new creatures!

  2. As someone who has studied kitsune mythology for almost two decades, that entire episode of Supernatural threw me off. I really didn't like how they portrayed the kitsune. What happened to 'illusions' and 'shapeshifting'? Either of those would have been fine. But... eating glands? Seriously?


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