Quick as a Fox, Powerful as a Demon: Legendary Foxes and Their Trickster/Temptress Ways

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Detail; Prince Hanzoku terrorized by a nine-tailed fox

Quick as a Fox, Powerful as a Demon: Legendary Foxes and Their Trickster/Temptress Ways

The fox plays a wide range of roles in 42 out of the 358 of Aesop’s fables. It is generally described as a quick, intelligent and adaptable animal which no doubt led to its importance as a symbol of cleverness in most cultures. In mythology, the fox usually has a positive connotation.

In early Mesopotamian mythology, the fox is one of the sacred animals and a messenger of the goddess Ninhursag. The Moche people of ancient Peru often depicted the fox in their art, believing it be a warrior that would use its mind to fight instead of relying on physical attacks. In Scottish mythology, Dia Griene, the daughter of the sun is held in the underworld and is permitted to return to the mortal world as a fox, leading to the fox as a symbol of transformation. The fox later took on a more sinister role as, due to its blazing red color, it became the symbol for the devil, adding to the fox’ already rather complex characterization.

Red Fox (CC BY 2.0)

However, a different role of the fox was already long evident in very early renditions of the Eastern Asian folklore— that of the seducer.

The Divine and Seductive Trickster: Huli Jing in Chinese Mythology

Within Chinese mythology, the fox is one of five spiritual animal species. It shares this honor with the weasel, the porcupine, the snake and the mouse. Legend has it that these animals’ nocturnal natures give them plenty of yin energy in the yin-yang dichotomy which lends them special powers which they can increase with time and discipline.

Nine-Tailed Fox (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The first known documentation of the existence of the nine-tailed fox is in the book  Shan Hai Jing (The Classic of Mountains and Seas), a compilation of mythological texts from 4th to 1st centuries BCE. The book states the existence of a mountain with gold and jade covering its summit. It also describes an animal living there which looks like a fox with nine tails. The fox makes a baby-like noise and devours humans.

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