A kitsune is in Japanese lore, a wild fox Demon that causes Possession. The kitsune also appears in the form of a beautiful maiden, who vampirizes her victims sexually as a Succubus. The kitsune appears in many Japanese folktales and in the literature about possession. It originated in the lore of China, where it is described as a lewd creature, the huli jing.
Possession by the fox Demon is called kitsune-tsuki. Cases have been recorded in Japan since the 12th century. Some are believed to be revenge for a family’s former offenses against a huli jing.
Most possession victims are female. The fox spirit enters the body either through the breast or under the fingernails. It resides on the left side of the body or in the stomach. The victim hears the fox spirit speak inside her head; when she talks out loud, the fox spirit takes on a different voice. The victim exhibits cravings for certain food, especially beans or rice demanded by the Demon, sometimes as a condition of its departure. The victim also suffers insomnia, restlessness, and aberrant behavior.
The following case concerned a teenaged girl described as “nervous from birth,” who was recovering from typhus. Her weakened condition, plus strong belief in the kitsune, seemed to make her highly suggestible or vulnerable to possession:
A girl of seventeen years, irritable and capricious from childhood, was recovering from a very bad attack of typhus. Around her bed sat, or rather squatted in Japanese fashion, female relations chattering and smoking. Everyone was telling how in the dusk there had been seen near the house a form resembling a northern fox. It was suspicious. Hearing this, the sick girl felt a trembling in the body and was possessed. The fox had entered into her and spoke by her mouth several times a day. Soon he assumed a domineering tone, rebuking and tyrannizing over the poor girl.
After several weeks of this behavior, the family consulted an exorcist from the Nuhiren sect, specialists in dealing with kitsune-tsuki. The exorcist commenced a “solemn exorcism.” The fox resisted all efforts until food was provided:
Neither excommunication nor censing nor any other endeavor succeeded, the fox saying ironically that he was too clever to be taken in by such maneuvers. Nevertheless, he consented to come out freely from the starved body of the sick person if a plentiful feast was offered to him. . . . On a certain day at four o’clock there were to be placed in a temple sacred to foxes and situated twelve kilometers away two vessels of rice prepared in a particular way, of cheese cooked with beans, together with a great quantity of roast mice and raw vegetables, all favourite dishes of magic foxes: then he would leave the body of the girl exactly at the prescribed time. And so it happened. Punctually at four o’clock when the food was placed in the distant temple the girl sighed profoundly and cried: “He has gone!” The possession was cured.
Not all cases of kitsune-tsuki are resolved. An account from the early 20th century tells of a 47-year-old Japanese woman who became permanently possessed. She was a peasant, sad-looking (and thus perhaps suffering from depression), not intelligent, but in good physical health. She sought out help in a university clinic in Tokyo. She related that one day eight years earlier, she had been with friends when one of them said that a fox had been driven out of a woman from a nearby village and was seeking a new home. This made quite an impression on her. The same evening, the door was opened unexpectedly at her home, and she felt a prick in the left side of her chest—the traditional entry point for a fox Demon. She knew it was the fox, and immediately she became possessed: In the beginning the sinister guest contented himself with occasional stirrings in her bosom, and mounting into her head, criticized by her mouth her own thoughts and made mock of them. Little by little he grew bolder, mingled in all conversations, and abused those present. The woman went to a succession of exorcists, including the hoiny, mendicant monks from the mountains who specialized in exorcism. None could help her. The clinicians witnessed the appearance of the fox, who first showed with twitching of her mouth and arm on her left side where the Demon had entered. These became more violent, and she repeatedly struck her left side with her fist. The fox spoke and called her a “stupid goose” and said he could not be stopped. There followed a fit in which the woman and the fox argued. It lasted about 10 minutes. The speech of the fox deteriorated, and then the spirit left her. The woman said that these fits occurred six to 10 times a day and even awakened her at night. The clinicians put her in a glass room for round-theclock observation. The pattern was consistent. Any emotional excitation brought on a fit.
The fox spoke far more intelligently than the woman and even taunted the clinicians:
“Look here, Professor. You might do something more intelligent than trying to entice me by your questions. Don’t you know that I am really a gay young girl, although I live in this old frump? You should rather pay court to me properly.”
The kitsune said he would depart with the proper offering of food but never did so. Efforts to cast him out with chloroform, verbal orders, and “other suggestion” (perhaps hypnotism) also failed. The woman was released without a cure, having been diagnosed as suffering from a chronic condition of “periodic delusion.”
To accomplish its shape shifting to human form, the kitsune flicks its fire-shooting tail once, puts on a human skull, turns around, and bows to the Big Dipper constellation. If the skull remains in place and does not fall, the transformation is successful.
Kitsune hide in forested areas and use human voices to lure victims and cast spells over them. They also frequent eating and drinking establishments and prey upon people who eat and drink too much. If they eat and drink too much themselves, they vanish without harming the victim. In addition to sexually ravaging victims, the kitsune love to cut women’s hair and shave men’s heads as pranks. According to lore, whenever it rains when the Sun is shining brightly, a kitsune bride is going through the woods in a procession to the home of her groom. Marsh lights are fireballs breathed by the foxes or created by their fire-shooting tails, or the lights are the torches carried by the foxes who lead a wedding procession. In the mountainous areas of Japan where kitsune lore is strong, annual rites traditionally are held to ward off kitsune troubles. Processions of people take straw foxes and dolls to a mountain outside the village, where they are buried.
- Mack, Carol K., and Dinah Mack. A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits. New York: Henry Holt/Owl Books, 1998.
- Oesterreich, Traugott K. Possession and Exorcism. Secaucus, N.J: University Books, 1966.
The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 2009 by Visionary Living, Inc.