Animals frequently appear in folklore and mythology. Their traits are often exaggerated or Flanderized
to make a supernatural or intelligent version of themselves. The fox is no different.
Foxes are a nocturnal hunter, with an eerie, haunting cry, and a reputation for almost supernatural cunning and cleverness. It is no surprise that their mythological counterparts draw their inspiration from these traits.
Wisdom and Intelligence
In folklore and myth, the fox is often depicted as a very wise or clever animal.
Since the fox is very clever, it is often depicted as a trickster, using cunning to get what it wants. In this guise it may be benevolent, teaching a lesson to the deceived, but more often it is only out for its own amusement or advancement or even completely malicious.
Examples of trickster foxes appear in Native American myths, Asian myths about nine-tailed fox spirits (including Kitsune
), and Aesop's Fables. There is also the extensive tale of Reynard the Fox, who outwits multiple foes with cunning.
Since foxes steal from humans, this depiction is not surprising. Using cunning or treachery, a fox will outwit a human or other animal to steal what it wants. This is often closely related to the trickster version of the fox.
In Aesop's Fables, the fox uses flattery to steal cheese from the crow.
In keeping with being able to deceive, some legends paint foxes or fox spirits as shapeshifters, able to assume other forms under certain conditions or even at will. Quite often, the assumed form would be human but would retain some fox-like characteristics.
Asian nine-tailed fox spirits and Inuit fox spirits could transform into humans, usually beautiful girls.
Foxes are nocturnal and associated with the Moon, they are also extremely graceful animals, like cats. For these reasons, they are often associated with the feminine. If it is a shapeshifter, it will assume the form of an attractive female.
As mentioned above, Asian fox spirits were often depicted as female. The Chinese version, the huli jing, was believed to be made up entirely of feminine energy (yin or jing), and had to consume masculine energy (yang) to survive.
The mystery and eerie cry of the fox has led to many mythological versions having mystical or supernatural powers beyond shapeshifting.
In Scandanavian myths, foxes created the Northern Lights, called Fox Fire.
These myths and legends have both appeared in altered forms in modern stories and have influenced our own view of fox traits, leading to fox Animal Motifs
- Reynardine of Gunnerkrigg Court is based on the tale of Reynard the Fox.
- Bystrouška from the Opera The Cunning Little Vixen is a female trickster type.
- The titular fox in The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a cunning thief.
- In Real Life, calling a girl a fox is a compliment, implying she is sexually attractive. Calling her a vixen is similarly a comment on her attractiveness, with the added connotations that she is free-spirited or, alternatively, mean-spirited. A vulpine grin has fox-like characteristics - it often indicates the wearer is cunning or tricking the recipient.
- Swiper the Fox in the children's show Dora the Explorer is a thief, although often not a very cunning one.