Animals frequently appear in folklore and mythology, and 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. Trickster 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. Thieves 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. Shapeshifter 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. Feminine 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 feminine association is much weaker in European culture where the archtypical fox tended to be represented as male. Supernatural The mysterious 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. In Japan, Marsh-lights are sometimes referred to as Kitsune-bi meaning "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.
Specific Fox MythsNine-Tailed Foxes Many Asian mythologies include many-tailed, shapeshifting foxes. These spirits, which fulfill the same role as The Fair Folk do in European mythology, are clearly based on the same myths. Typically such fox spirits gain a new tail, and increase their power, every 100 years until they reach the full nine. Thus, the number of tails is an easy shorthand for how old and powerful an Asian fox spirit is. Kitsune By far the best known outside of its country of origin, the kitsune is the Japanese version of the myth. Kitsune were neutral tricksters in general, but could also be malicious or benevolent. See the main page for a full description and examples. Gumiho Gumiho are the Korean version of the legend. Their traditional depiction is far darker than the Japanese version, being demonically blood-thirsty and having a taste for human flesh — though in some tales they seem to just adore humans and wish to become one. It was believed that a fox that lived 1000 years would become a gumiho. Gumihos can change their form, although they nearly always retain some fox-like aspect such as paws, a tail, ears, eyes, or their voice. They were believed to eat either human hearts or human livers to survive, and some myths state that eating enough of these will allow the gumiho to become human. In other myths, a gumiho who abstains from killing and eating meat, or live undetected with a human man for 1000 days would lose its evil nature and become a human woman. Korean Gumiho's distinctive trait is that Gumihos tend to suck some of a man's life energy (Ki) by inserting a 'fox orb' (Yeowu-gusul) into that person's mouth via kissing (which is shown in South Korean Drama My Girlfriend Is A Nine Tailed Fox). However, this process can also work in reverse, as any man swallowing that orb can gain some special skills (such as astrology). Huli Jing The Chinese huli jing can be either a good or evil spirit. Like kitsune and gumiho, huli jings are shapeshifters, and often assume the forms of beautiful young women. Indeed, the Chinese believed that they were entirely made up of feminine energy (yin or jing) and needed to gather masculine energy (yang) to survive. Evil huli jing would often seduce or possess important men in order to trick them or consume their life force (yang). They were also known to seduce or mislead the innocent away from Dharma. Good huli jing are often featured in love stories with human men. European Foxes European foxes tended to be very intelligent tricksters, often anthropomorphic, which sometimes had supernatural powers. Scandinavian Fox Spirits In Scandinavian myth, the fox is a trickster, using guile to catch its prey (or just mess with others for the hell of it). It is also responsible for foxfire - the old name for the Aurora Borealis and the phosphoric light given off by decaying plant matter. There is also the Brunnmigi, foxlike creatures sometimes referred to as trolls that are known for tainting water. Sionnach The Celts believed that every individual and clan had an animal ally, similar to Native American myths of totem animals. The fox, called Madadh-Ruadh or Sionnach, is cunning, sly, and able to make fools of those who chase it. It also represents the ability to watch the motivations and movements of others while remaining unobserved yourself. The word shenanigan is thought to be derived from the Irish expression sionnachuighim, meaning "I play the fox." Reynard the Fox Reynard is an anthropomorphic fox that appeared in multiple European fables as a trickster. In basically all non-censored versions he plays the role of a black-hearted robber baron, whose only saving grace is that his opponents Noble the lion, Bruin the bear, and (most of all) Ysengrim the wolf, are equally greedy and vicious, but not as smart. He's well enough known in France that the entire Fox species was renamed after him. North American Foxes Foxes were regarded as tricksters in Native American myths, similar to how Coyote was viewed. Inuit Myths Foxes, like most animals in Native American myth, could speak and were believed to be able to remove their fur and become a woman, often in order to trick a human into believing that they, themselves, were human. Stealing the fur would prevent her from returning to her fox form. See Cunning Like a Fox for Animal Stereotypes associated with foxes and Kitsune for the specific Japanese myth. See also The Fair Folk and Petting Zoo People.
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