Also known as: Kitsune (Japan); Kumiho (Korea)
Origin: East Asia
Fox Spirits, seductive, sneaky, and often treacherous, are staples of modern manga, anime, and other forms of entertainment. Once upon a time, Fox Spirits were considered protectors, teachers, providers, and sponsors of the occult and alchemical arts. Even now some Fox Spirits are saintly and helpful. The foxes that serve as Inari’s messengers are miracle workers, understood as sacred and godly. (See also: Inari.) Fox Spirits may once have been a feature of pre-Buddhist East Asian shamanic religion. Fox Spirits tend to be sexually assertive, female spirits. As centuries passed and, society became more conservative, women were expected to be modest and subservient. Fox Spirits developed a bad reputation and became feared, especially in Japan and Korea. (Their reputation is somewhat milder in China, although the same sexual associations exist.)
• Fox Spirits cause illness and misfortune.
• They possess victims, similar to possession by Demons or dybbuks.
Fox Spirit possession isn’t ritual possession or channeling; it’s involuntary and invariably unpleasant. Degrees of Fox Spirit possession exist, depending upon the innate strength of the Fox and its victim. (Some resist better than others.) Full possession—true spiritual takeover—may result. Alternatively only symptoms may manifest. Symptoms of Fox Spirit possession include:
• Hearing voices when none should be heard
• Insatiable and indiscriminate appetite (the person may eat anything, even food they wouldn’t normally eat; even things humans wouldn’t normally eat)
• Nocturnal sensations of suffocation and paralysis
• Increasing facial resemblance to a fox: the person develops a visible foxy snout
Eventually the Fox Spirit may push the true individual out, taking over body, mind, soul, and personality, either full-time or just intermittently. The Fox Spirit speaks through the person’s mouth, often indulging in obscenities, frequently sexual, which the person would normally never use.
Among the functions of Chinese Fox Spirits is protection of archivists and librarians. If a hook or document cannot he found, ask the Fox Spirits for help. Make an offering alongside the request. (Offerings should be proportionate in size to the importance of the request.) Then leave the room for a little while to give the spirit space and opportunity to work some magic. If the Fox Spirits have cooperated, whatever you’re looking for should stick out or somehow draw attention to itself.
Although most Fox Spirits are perceived as greedy or power hungry, spiritual motivation may exist, as well; what the Fox Spirit may really desire is a shrine and daily offerings. The only way for them to make their desire known is through a human mouth, similar to African Zar spirits. Sometimes this is enough to satisfy them and the Fox Spirit evolves into an ally, rather than an enemy. Fox Spirits provide for their devotees, although it’s generally believed they do this by redistributing wealth. Just like real foxes are believed to raid chicken coops, so Fox Spirits are believed to rob the neighbors.
What they provide for their devotees rightfully belongs to others but has been stolen. Very ancient Fox Spirits, however, may have developed the alchemical and magical skills to actually produce wealth, no stealing required.
Fox Spirits can be exorcised by knowledgeable shamans; however, gifted exorcists tend to be tainted by their very success. Extortion rackets are suspected: the exorcist who specializes in Fox Spirit removal may actually be in cahoots with the Fox Spirit, who may be his servant. No wonder he can exorcise the spirit: the Fox is his familiar who always does his bidding. Independent practitioners are particularly suspect. Exorcisms may also be successfully performed at Inari shrines.
Fox Spirits are also attached to specific families and individuals, whom they may serve in exchange for care, feeding, protection, and veneration, or perhaps because they are ancestral spirits. Fox Spirits run in families. Families who are hereditary owners of foxes typically transmit this hereditary power through the female line. Association with Fox Spirits may indicate vestigial memories of ancient fox-oriented shamanic religion. For centuries tremendous fear and social stigma have been attached to families rumored to be Fox Spirit owners.
Manifestation: Fox Spirits are not ordinary foxes. They are spirits whose true form is a fox shape in the same way that other spirits take the form of humans, cats, snakes, or birds. Fox Spirits may resemble ordinary foxes. The older a Fox Spirit gets, the more powerful it becomes. Age and power may be displayed by additional tails. The most powerful and ancient Fox Spirits are nine-tailed foxes. (Theoretically, ordinary foxes can eventually evolve into Fox Spirits in the way that humans can evolve into spirits, too.)
Most Fox Spirits are shape-shifters; they can take many forms, including that of humans. Often they appear in the guise of seductive young women; however, any form is possible. Fox Spirits can also shape-shift so that they appear identical to a specific person. Thus, someone may recognize a friend or relative at the door and open it, only to admit the Fox Spirit in disguise.
Offering: Fox Spirits’ very favorite food of all is inarizusbi: fried tofu bags (aburaage) filled with sushi rice; however, you can negotiate their actual diet. Feed daily. Foxes get hungry.
A brave Fox Spirit stars in Neil Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano’s illustrated novella, Sandman: The Dream Hunters (2000).
See also: Demon; Dybbuk; Hsi Wang Mu; Huli Jing; Inari; Kumiho; Neko-Mata; Tanuki; Zar
From the Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.