Myth Monday: The Fox’s Killing Stone (Japanese Legend)

Myth Monday: The Fox’s Killing Stone (Japanese Legend)

By Kara Newcastle

 

 

 

 

I’ve been trying to get to this story since the news broke this past March. Maybe you heard, maybe you didn’t, but after all the bull crap we’ve been through the last three years, I think a lot of people heard this and said, “Soooo, a rock in Japan broke open and possibly freed the spirit of a fox demon into the world. Sure, at this point, why not?”

All right, lemme back up so you can get the full story here …

Throughout Asia, foxes are creatures to be feared. Yes, they are funny and mischievous and have those gorgeous tails, but they are also highly likely to become powerful, shapeshifting demons that survive on the life essence of human beings. Usually, when a fox is born, it’s just an ordinary fox, but should it live to be one hundred years old, it grows a second tail. For every hundred years it lives, it gains another tail, and with each new tail it becomes even more powerful. In Japan, these creatures were known as kitsune.

Japan has many legends of kitsune (see my blog Kuzunoha, The Fox Mother here), and while a handful are somewhat benevolent, the vast majority of them are evil to the core. These evil kitsune will go after any human, but a high ranking male official—like the emperor—is a special target. The kitsune will transform themselves into astonishingly beautiful and talented women and make their way into the royal court, becoming courtesans and ingratiating themselves to the emperor, princes and other powerful men. The men become so enraptured by their seductive new companion that they spend as much of their time with the disguised fox spirit as they can. Gradually, the men’s health begins to fade until they die to what appears to be some kind of wasting disease.

Then the kitsune moves on … if she isn’t discovered first.

This particular kitsune we’re going to talk about seems to be one of the most aggressive demons out there, as her destruction spread over three kingdoms and cost thousands of men their lives.

Daji

We don’t know what this nine-tailed kitsune called herself before arriving in Japan, but the Japanese remember her as Tamamo no Mae. Tamamo no Mae made her appearance first in China during the Shang Dynasty. There, she killed Daji, King Zhou’s concubine, and transformed herself to resemble the dead girl. The fox spirit enraptured King Zhou to the point where he started to slack off on his royal duties spent lavishly on her, going so far as to have a lake of wine made for her. The false Daji was sadistic, laughing at executions and torturing innocent people because she was “curious” about how their bodies worked. This became too much for the Chinese people, and King Zhou was disposed in a rebellion. The new king, Wu, ordered Daji executed. Some records say that Daji was indeed killed, but others say that the fox spirit escaped, fleeing to India, where she resumed her murderous ways.

Lady Kayo carrying a severed head

Safe in India, the demon took on the guise of Lady Kayo, and became the concubine to crown prince Banzoku (if these don’t sound very much like Indian names, remember that the source material for this story comes from Japan.) She influenced the prince with so much evil that he was prompted to cut the heads off a thousand men. In time, the fox was discovered, so she ran back to China sometime around 780 B.C. This same year a fierce earthquake struck Guanzhong, and Bo Yangfo, a fortune teller, predicted that this signaled the end of the Zhou dynasty.

Indian crown prince Banzoku terrorized by Lady Kayo in her fox demon form

In 779 B.C., Bao Si, said to be one of the most beautiful women in all of Chinese history, became a concubine to King You. She rapidly became the king’s favorite, and after giving birth to his son, Bofu, King You kicked out his wife, Queen Shen, and their son the crowned prince and installed Bao Si as the new queen. Bao Si often seemed unhappy, so, to entertain her, King You would order the emergency beacons lit. This caused the nobles from the surrounding states to gather their armies and rush to the capital, but, instead of putting down an uprising or repelling an invasion, they only found Bao Si there, laughing at them. King You did this so many times that the nobles began to ignore the beacons.

Bao Si

Meanwhile, Queen Shen’s father was outraged that his daughter had been shunted aside in favor of a bratty concubine, and that his grandson, the legitimate heir, lost his rightful throne to an out of wedlock child. The queen’s father raised an army and attacked the palace. King You ordered the beacons lit, but the nobles no longer believed that there was any danger, and no one came to his aide. King You and Bofu were killed, and Bao Si was given first to the army’s commander, then to Queen Shen’s father. The queen’s father paid Bao Si to leave the capital. Bao Si did, but when confronted by an attack by nomad warriors, she hung herself.

Or did she?

Well, if this legend is to be believed, no. No, she did not.

At some point between the 700s B.C. And the 1100s A.D., the kitsune kept a low profile and traveled from China to Japan. When Emperor Toba was crowned in 1108, the kitsune decided to come out of retirement and was hired by a rival warlord to assassinate Emperor Toba. The kitsune disguised herself as Tamamo no Mae, an exquisitely beautiful, highly intelligent and very refined courtesan. Toba was immediately infatuated and spent all of his free time with her.

Tamamo no Mae

It wasn’t long before the emperor became deathly ill. The court doctors were at a loss, as his symptoms didn’t resemble anything they were familiar with. Out of desperation, they brought in a sorcerer named Abe no Yasuchika to examine the dying emperor. After examining Toba, Yasuchika declared that he was not dying from disease, he was slowly being killed with magic. The sorcerer accused Tamamo no Mae of cursing Emperor Toba.

Initially, the court was shocked; how could it possibly Tamamo no Mae? She was so beautiful. How could something that beautiful be evil?

 

Abe no Yasuchika reveals Tamamo no Mae to be a kitsune

Abe no Yasuchika said he could prove Tamamo no Mae’s guilt. He suggested that he preform a holy ritual with Tamamo no Mae in attendance. At first, the courtesan resisted, but agreed after the court pressured her to join. Almost as soon as the ritual began, nine fox tails sprang out from under Tamamo no Mae’s kimino. Before anyone could react, the exposed kitsune leapt out a window and fled into the mountains.

Emperor Toba was devastated to learn that the woman he loved was actually a monster, but he knew that she had to be stopped before she harmed any one else. He ordered his generals Kazusa no suke and Miura no suke to take an army and hunt her down.

Miura no suke catches up with Tamamo no Mae

As anyone who has hunted foxes knows (and I hope you never have), it is damned hard to hunt the red rascals as they are so clever, and Tamamo no Mae was no exception. Kazusa and Miura tracked the kitsune all over the country, finally catching up to her on the plains of Nasu. There, Miura managed to shoot an arrow through her neck. As her body fell to the ground, either the kitsune’s spirit sprang out of the corpse and leapt into a boulder, or the body itself transformed into a rock. From then on, anyone who touched the boulder died soon afterwards. It became known as the Sessho-seki, “The Killing Stone.”

Sessho-seki (the boulder with the prayer rope around it)

Interestingly, the Sessho-seki is not the only stone of it’s kind in Japan, it’s just the most famous due to the legend. This boulder and other rocks like it are found in areas where fissures release toxic volcanic gas, so to ancient people who didn’t understand this sort of thing, it’s easy to see why they would assume it was the rock itself doing the killing. This particular Sessho-seki remained on Mount Nasu I disturbed for over a thousand years before unexpectedly (or, like I said before, given everything that was going on at the time, it’s no surprise that it happened) split apart. This wasn’t exactly great news for some of the more superstitious folk in the area, but some more level-headed people suggested it was bound to happen, as the boulder had cracks that would fill with water and then freeze.

Sessho-seki, shattered (by Miyuki_Meinaka, May 6 2002, wikimedia commons)

Then there was that earthquake near Fukushima about a week later, but don’t worry about that.

However, we might actually escape any nine-tailed fox demon wrath. There is a story that many years after the kitsune had been defeated, a Buddhist monk named Genno was traveling through the area when he paused to rest near the stone. The kitsune’s spirit hurled abuse at the holy man, but, rather than be frightened or insulted, Genno kindly asked the spirit to talk with him. Eventually, he got the kitsune to tell him her life story and admit that she was ashamed of what she had done. Sensing that the kitsune truly was repentant, Genno preformed an exorcism and the kitsune’s spirit moved on, promising to never haunt the stone again.

Maybe it’s true, and we’ll scrape by this one … but if any phenomenally beautiful women suddenly start hanging on to any world leaders and weird crap starts happening, I’m checking for fox tails.

Red fox, by US Fish & Wildlife, wikimedia commons

 

 

 

 

 

Myth Monday: The Chiang-Shih (Chinese Foltale)

The Chiang-Shih

By Kara Newcastle

713px-Carroll_Borland_-_Mark_of_Vampire_still.jpg

“How much further?”

“Not much.”

“Chen, you said that over an hour ago.”

“It’s not that far! Trust me, we’re almost there.”

Liang paused at the base of the hill, uttering a deliberately loud, disbelieving grunt. He smirked as his three friends ahead of him stopped and looked at him, and Chen’s expression was decidedly not pleased. He rolled his eyes heavenward and sighed as Liang gestured to their friend Wing, standing between them. “Wing’s right, you said we’d be there an hour ago. Well, an hour’s gone by and we still haven’t found any inn. Are you sure you know where you’re going?”

Chen glared at Liang as Wing turned away quickly, hiding his chuckle behind his hand. “Yes, I know where I’m going. I grew up around here, I should know!”

Qiao arched an eyebrow at that. “I thought you said that you lived in a ritzy town? What are we doing out here in the wilderness?”

“Would you quit complaining and start walking?” Chen snapped, flinging his long braid over his shoulder so fast it whipped a pair of small leaves off the sapling behind him. “I know where I’m going.”

Wing sighed resignedly. “All right,” he said as he fell in strep behind Chen. “But if I’m late for this wedding my sister is going to kill me.”

“For the—just follow me and be quiet, please?”

 Grinning at Chen’s tensed back, Liang and Qiao sprinted after them.

***************

While not quite as close as Chen had promised, once the four scholars had cleared the top of the hill they could make out the sprawling old inn ahead of them in a wide clearing, smoke belching from the chimneys and the faint cluck and caw of chickens echoing through the trees around them. Relieved, Wing couldn’t help but laugh, Qiao threw his head back and praised the Seven Immortals, and Liang’s grin grew wider as he clapped Chen hard on the back.

Chen couldn’t suppress the satisfied smirk on his face. “Told you.”

Liang, Wing and Qiao were so happy just to see the damned inn that they let the remark slide. At this point, they didn’t care anymore. Just seeing the inn after three days of traveling from their university in Peking—raft, foot, ox cart and foot again!—the four young scholars were happy to see anything with a roof on it.

“You know what they’re all going to be asking us when we get to my house tomorrow?” Wing sighed as they trudged on, the inn growing incrementally larger as they approached. “About all those foreigners. They’re all going to talk about them like they’re devils.”

“They are devils,” Qiao fumed, glaring briefly at Wing. “Pale skin, yellow hair and round eyes—coming into China as if they have the right, demanding that we grow opium for them, and give them our treasures!”

“I didn’t think they’d keep coming like this,” Liang admitted, shrugging. “Nobody wants them here … I heard a rumor that Wong Fei Hung was training his students to get ready to fight them.”

Qiao frowned. “I don’t know about that. What kind of kung fu do they do again?”

“Drunken boxing. Impressive stuff.”

Chen nodded eagerly. “Yes, I’ve seen them—aw, dammit!”

Chen stopped short just at the edge of the inn’s courtyard, biting back a a curse as Qiao, Wing and Liang all collided into him, nearly bowling him over.

“Blast it all!” Groaning, Chen pointed to the caravan of mules lined up in the courtyard and the number of horses penned up behind the rambling inn itself. Dozens of people were scattered around the courtyard, and if the noise coming from the inside was anything to judge by, the place was packed.

Disgusted, Liang threw his arms up in the air. “Well, that’s just perfect. With all the caravans here, there probably isn’t a place available for us.”

Wing’s face paled. “My sister and mother are going to kill me for sure now.”

“Now hold on,” Chen said quickly, spinning around to face his friends. “They couldn’t have possibly filled up every space here. I’ll bet they have something we can spend the night in—the gods know that I’m not about to spend another night sleeping in a haystack again!”

“Me neither,” Qiao agreed. “I’ll take anything they have, as long as it has a roof. Walls too, but I’m not that picky.”

“Maybe they have a storage area we could use,” Chen added, already striding across the courtyard. “Just something to get us out of the elements, you know?”

Sighing, Liang shrugged and fell in step behind his friend. “Yeah, let’s ask.”

Despite the herd of people milling about, it was easy to find the innkeeper. He was a small, older man dressed in impressively expensive clothes. He was standing beside the single willow tree standing in the center of the courtyard, smiling and thanking a merchant who had just passed him a handful of coins.

“Greetings, young sirs!” the innkeeper said jovially as they approached. “Ah, I can tell by your clothes that you gentlemen are students.”

Chen grinned. “Good eye,” he said as the innkeeper waved over an older woman carrying a tray of cups and wine. “We were hoping we could spend the night here.”

The twinkle in the older man’s eye faded a bit. “I would love to host you, but, as you can see, we’re quite packed right now. We don’t have any rooms.”

“Oh, it’s all right,” Chen said quickly, nodding politely as the innkeeper’s wife came up to him and handed him a cup of wine. “We don’t mind not having a room. We just want a place that’s not out in the open.”

Qiao patted his shirt, rattling the pouch of coins tucked inside. “We’ll pay you.”

The man’s face brightened at the sound of the coins. “Hm. Well, I do have some space in the storage room, if that’s all right with you?”

At the mention of the room, the man’s wife stiffened, her eyes widening. She spun around, nearly flinging the bottle of wine off her tray. “Husband …!” she gasped.

Smiling mildly, the innkeeper waved a knobby hand. “Oh, it’ll be fine. Just don’t bother with the supplies behind the curtain, boys, and you’re welcomed to the space. Now, about the rate …”

***************

Liang woke up. He wasn’t sure what woke him—judging by the darkness of the storeroom, morning was still hours off, so it hadn’t been the sun …

He felt the breeze whispering past the back of his head and he shivered. That must have been it. The room had a draft. It didn’t surprise him, as the room was basically like an oversized closet, not meant for habitation. It had been stuffed with boxes and baskets and jars, and made smaller by the white sheet hanging across one-third of the space. He, Chen, Wing, and Qiao had pretty much thrown down their sleeping rolls wherever they could fit and made the best of it.

At least they weren’t outside—the draft felt could.

Sighing to himself, Liang pulled his blanket up higher over his shoulder and rolled over on the pallet. He glanced over in the direction of the draft, wondering how—

Everything inside of him froze.

Liang’s eyes widened. He blinked hard and looked again; the light in the store room was faint, the moonbeams streaming in through one narrow window, so he wasn’t sure he really saw what he was looking at. The curtain that had divided the room had been pulled aside … and there was something silhouetted in front of it.

The thing was hunched over Chen, its long, dark hair curtaining its face, clawed hands planted on either side of the sleeping man. It made a hissing noise. Liang felt the air move … no, wait … it was the thing. The thing, the creature, was breathing in, inhaling deeply, so deeply it was pulling the air around them.

Liang saw something faint, glittering softly, trickle out of Chen’s slackening mouth. It wafted up like a cloud of dust, pulled away from Chen, disappearing into the creature as it inhaled. As the sparkling motes vanished behind the thing’s long hair, the faint green glow around its crouched body grew incrementally brighter.

Chen never stirred. He never made a sound. His body seemed to sag down, growing looser, as the creature inhaled. The last speck of light left Chen’s lips and disappeared into the monster.

The creature stopped. The air in the room stilled.

Liang’s heart slammed itself against his chest as he watched the creature ease back off of the unmoving Chen. It sat back on its heels, its long hair sliding back, unveiling the softly gleaming face of …

 Aiya! It was a woman?!

The woman’s eyes were turned down to Chen below her, but when she lifted her head, Liang could see that both her eyes glowed as bright and red as coals. Choking back a scream, Liang slammed his own eyes shut, fighting to stay as still as possible though he was sure his heart was hammering so badly he must be shaking with each beat. He held his breath, his wild mind first praying that the thing would leave, then rapidly changing, telling him that he had to have been dreaming, then saying to himself that it must have been a girl from the inn, she must have gotten drunk and lost and was looking for her bed and thought Chen was her husband.

But the red eyes, the green glow—her hands were clawed, weren’t they? And the way she breathed in—the glowing substance that came out of Chen … no, Liang had to have been dreaming.

Swallowing hard, Liang opened his eyes slowly, cracking them open just enough to see. His fingers involuntarily clamped down more tightly on his blanket as he found the faintly glowing woman still there, poised over Chen. Not seeming to notice Liang, the woman pivoted, casting her blazing red eyes to the shape between the still Chen and Liang. It was Wing, flopped down on his stomach, a barely audible snore winding out of him.

Turning silently on the balls of her clawed feet, the woman placed her hands on the floor before her and propelled forward, hopping towards Wing. Coming up beside him, she lowered her face closer to his.

His eyes wide open now, Liang looked back at Chen. His friend laid motionless on the pallet, no rise or fall of his chest. Tilting his head as much as he dared, Liang looked over to Qiao. Cold fear burned through Liang as he saw the bigger student laying on his back, his eyes half-open, staring at nothing.

They were dead.

The air began to stir, and Liang, unable to stop himself, snapped back around in time to see the terrifying woman open her mouth wide over the sleeping Wing’s face and inhale. Again, Liang saw the glittering motes flittering out of Wing’s mouth, floating up into the woman’s parted lips.

It was then Liang realized what he was seeing; the glittering motes, it was chi, life energy. The woman—the red-eyed, glowing, clawed, hopping woman—was sucking the life out of Wing. She had done it to Chen, she had done it to Qiao.

She would do it to Liang.

And that’s when Liang finally recalled the name of the demon before him.

Chiang-shih. The life stealer.

Vampire.

The realization roared through Liang like a lightning bolt and, screaming, Liang ripped his blanket off and shot to his feet. Racing almost blindly, Liang tripped over the dead Qiao’s feet as he ran, slamming nearly face-first into the storeroom door. He heard the monstrous, enraged shriek of the chiang-shih behind him as his hands scrabbled for the handle, wrenching the door open. Liang threw himself outside, barely managing to keep his hold on the door to slam it shut.

No sooner did the door thunder closed than something rammed into it, buckling the wood with screeching cracks. Liang screamed and ducked, tearing forward into the inn’s courtyard as the chiang-shih battered the storeroom door down, her claws shredding through the wood.

“Somebody help me!” Liang shrieked as the chiang-shih plowed through the last of the wood. Unable to stop himself, Liang looked back as he ran, seeing the flaming red eyes staring hatefully back at him.

The chiang-shih snarled, and a long, pointed tongue darted out past her pointed teeth. She crouched down like a hunting cat and sprang forward, clearing a dozen feet in one bound. She hit the ground and lunged forward again, roaring.

Crazed with terror, Liang wrenched back around to run—and cried out in agony as his ankle twisted beneath him, flinging him to the flagstones at the base of the tree. His feet skidded out in the leaves as he pushed himself upright and he staggered wildly forward, colliding hard with the base of the tree.

Hearing the chiang-shih’s feet hit the ground behind him, Liang whipped himself over just in time to see the demon woman leap into the air again, her mouth gaping wide, her clawed hands flung high over her head. Liang screamed in helpless fear, squeezing his eyes shut and throwing his arms over his face.

Something hit the tree above him, and Liang heard a “whuff” of surprise, followed by the thudding of two feet on either side of him. Terrified, he curled himself into a ball, bracing himself to feel the chiang-shih dig her claws into him …

Nothing happened.

An eternity seemed to pass. Heaving for breath, Liang slowly opened his eyes, but kept his arms over his face. For an eon longer, he didn’t dare to move—he was sure he felt the chiang-shih standing over him.

Why wasn’t she attacking him?

Praying that he had been spared, Liang slowly lowered his arms and looked up.

The chiang-shih stood above him, her head bowed, her eyes closed. Her arms were extended straight out before her, above Liang’s head. Her claws were buried in the tree’s trunk, right up to the tips.

She was stuck!

Amazed, Liang stared at the spectacle. He propped himself up on an elbow—

Her flaming eyes shooting open, the chiang-shih screamed and lashed her head forward, her jaws snapping shut just inches from Liang’s face. The demon screamed again in rage and thrashed insanely, jerking back on her claws so hard that the entire tree shook. The wood refused to release its hold on the beast’s claws and she stood there, howling with fury.

It was too much for Liang to take. Darkness slipped over his eyes and he slumped to the flagstones, fainting away.

***************

“How did this happen? How could this have happened?!”

The voice roused Liang. His eyelids felt heavy and resistant as he worked them open, his vision struggling to adjust in the early morning light. He saw dozens of feet rushing back and forth before him, heard gasps and cries of a dozen unfamiliar voices. Grimacing, Liang rolled over onto his back—

And came nose to nose with a corpse.

Recognizing the woman, Liang shrieked and scrambled back, away from the chiang-shih, still hanging by her claws in the tree. Her knees had buckled and she had been hovering over Liang as he laid there, unconscious.

“Aiya, he’s alive!”

Hands grabbed Liang under the arms and he screamed again, lashing insanely out at whatever had caught him. The things dragged him away from the dead creature, out into the sunlight, and it took several minutes of them holding his fists steady and yelling at him before Liang broke out of his shock enough to recognize the innkeeper, grasping his left hand. A young man with a distraught expression clutched his right, and the innkeeper’s wife stood before Liang, weeping into a handkerchief. Nearby, guests from the inn clustered around the dead woman, whispering in shock and fear.

“It’s all right, my boy, you’re safe now,” the innkeeper said, thumping Liang hard on the back. “She’s not going to hurt you.”

It took Liang a moment to work any sound through his dry throat. “What … what happened?”

“The sun came up.” The innkeeper glanced back at the dead woman. “They don’t come out during the day.”

“Where did it come from?”

Guilt seeped into the innkeeper’s face. He looked apologetically at the younger man at Liang’s right. “She is … she was my daughter-in-law. She died yesterday morning, and we were keeping her body in the storage room until an auspicious time to bury her—”

“You mean until you weren’t so busy!” the younger man cried bitterly. “You were so overcome with your greed with all these travelers, you couldn’t spend a moment to bury my wife while I was away!”

Ashamed, the old innkeeper hung his head. “It is true. I am sorry.”

“Wait—you said the storage room.” Realizing what the old mean meant, Liang pointed a shaking finger back to the storeroom where he and his friends had bedded. “You told us not to go behind the curtain—she was back there? You put me and my friends in a room with a dead body?!”

“I didn’t think anything would happen!”

“My friends are all dead!” Liang shouted. Tears welled in his eyes, blurring the stricken man’s face. “My friends are dead because of you! I could have been killed by that thing!”

“I’m—I’m so sorry …” The innkeeper’s voice cracked.

Wiping her own tears away, the old man’s wife swatted at him with her sodden handkerchief. “You thick-headed idiot! Quickly, get this poor man inside and get him fed. The priest will be here soon.”

Liang had no appetite, but he allowed the innkeeper and his grief-stricken son to help him get to his feet and stagger into the inn. The maids wrapped him in blankets and heaped tea and wine and hot food before him as the family went back out to greet the Taoist priest, called in from town. They took down the dead woman’s body from the tree, and the priest said binding prayers over the corpse as it was swiftly taken away. Liang couldn’t bear to watch as each of his friends were carried out of the storage room and brought to the cemetery to be cremated along with the thing that had killed them. It was the best way to keep them from returning as chiang-shih as well.

The innkeeper paid for Liang to return to the academy in a fine carriage, but Liang returned a changed man. He gave up his law studies and feverishly devoted himself to the study of the chiang-shih and how to defeat them. He remained fearful, and could only sleep at night with posted guards and his bed surrounded by talismans and weapons. Many people approached him for advice for fighting the chiang-shih, but Liang never encountered another one again.

Myth Monday: Vampires from Around the World (World Mythology)

October 31, 2018

By Kara Newcastle

 

 

Everybody knows about the traditional European vampire: thin, pale, red lips, piercing eyes, sleeps in a coffin, survives on blood drawn from a victim’s throat which has been punctured by a pair of fangs, blah blah blah. Fortunately, that’s not the only kind of vampire out there—there are hoards of them all over the world, each more unique (or weirder) than the last. Take a look, and keep the garlic handy!

Oh, and fair warning … some of these can be a little gross.

  1. Bakeneko (Japan): Before the arrival of Europeans, Japanese people believed in vampires, but their versions weren’t reanimated human corpses out looking for blood; typically, a Japanese vampire was an everyday, run-of-the-mill animal that had developed nefarious powers. One famous story tells of how a bakeneko (ghost cat) sought revenge for the unfair death of her owner’s son by Nabeshima Mitsushige, a local daimyo (feudal lord.) The bakeneko killed Mitsushige’s favorite concubine and then took on her appearance so that she could drain the life from him at night. After noticing how Mitsushige seemed well during the day but increasingly weak and frail after spending the night with his concubine, the daimyo’s retainer Komori Hanzaemon hid in their bedchambers one night and caught the bakeneko attacking the prince. He drew his sword and slew the blood-drinking cat vampire.

  2. Chiang-shih/jiangshi (China): The Chinese vampire is one of the more unique reanimated human bloodsuckers in mythology. Why? Because it gets around by hopping! Long ago if a person died far from their home, their grieving relatives would hire a Taoist priest to bring the body home. The priest would go to the corpse, bind its arms and legs together, then attach a magic spell to its forehead to make it stand up and hop its way home—naturally, it only moved along at night when the roads were deserted, since the sight of a corpse bouncing along a road would surely give living witnesses heart attacks. In time the myth evolved, and a chiang-shih was thought to be the reanimated  or demon-possessed body of a dead person who had not been buried properly. They grew fangs and claws and attacked people for blood—all while still hopping around. If a chiang-shih was not disposed of quickly, it would move through seven stages of evolution (sort of like the worst Pokemon imaginable), growing increasingly more mobile, more powerful, and eventually gaining the ability to fly and transform into wolves. They were almost impossible to kill at that point. Salt, garlic and iron were effective tools against a chiang-shih.

  3. Chupacabra (North and South America, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean): The most modern of all vampires, the Chupacabra (“goat sucker”) is a creature that apparently comes in two different species: the half-ape-half-reptile-kangaroo-like-usually-fairly-large-and-may-or-may-not-be-winged variety most often reported in Mexico, South and Central American and certain places in the Caribbean, or the hairless, blue-eyed dog-like creature seen (and killed and taxidermized!) in the Southwest United States. The reptilian version gained notoriety in the early 1990s, particularly in Puerto Rico, when an unexplained rash of pet and livestock killings occurred. The animals—particularly goats, hence the name—were found dead and largely intact, save that they appeared to have been completely drained of blood. Sightings of the fanged kangaroo-lizard-monkey thing quickly followed, giving rise to a new legend. More recently, similar livestock deaths in the United States, particularly Texas, have been blamed on a highly unusual-looking canine-like animal seen lurking around. The dog thing is gray, hairless, has front legs shorter than the back, weird knobs on its hind end, only two mammary glands (unlike a dog’s typical six), piercing blue eyes and long white fangs. The animal has been sighted by hundreds of witnesses, including a sheriff’s deputy who caught it on her dashboard camera. Several have been shot and killed, and the body of one that was hit and killed by a car was rescued by Dr. Phylis Canion, who had it stuffed and mounted. DNA tests suggest that it’s probably a mix of coyote and wolf, but it sure is weird looking. See it here!

  4. Langsuyar and Pontianak (Indonesia): The langsuyar is a woman died either while pregnant or during childbirth, and a Pontianak is a baby that was stillborn (though some other regions believe that pontianak is an even more vicious version of the langsuyar.) The langsuyar appears as a beautiful woman with ankle length black hair (though sometimes she can be a detached head), long claw-like nails, hands that drag down by her feet, and wearing green robes. She hunts infants and especially likes the blood of newborn boys. The langsuyar can be recognized by a hole in the base of her neck, and she can be cured of her vampirism if you cut off all of her hair and fingernails and stuff them into the hole—good luck with that. To prevent the creation of either a langsuyar or a Pontianak, the mouths of the corpses must be filled with beads to keep them from screeching, eggs must be placed under their arms and needles in their hands to keep them from flying. As recently as 2013, villagers in Kelantan, Malaysia, reported a langsuyar flying over their houses, cackling.

  5. Leanan Sidhe (Ireland): Interestingly, while most of Europe west of Romania had never heard of the blood-drinking vampire, Ireland had a wealth of tales about fairies that would feast on the blood or life energies of human beings. One such fairy vampire was the beautiful leanan sidhe, who was highly attracted to poets and artists. If a leanan sidhe found and fell in love with a poet or artist, she would act a as their muse, granting them inspiration to created fabulous works of literature or art. However, there was a cost; the poet may gain inspiration, but he would slowly wither and die as the leanan sidhe fed off of his energy. Once the victim had passed away, the leanan sidhe would move on to find new prey.

  6. Manananggal and Aswang (Philippines): Perhaps the grossest of all the vampires, the manananggal is a woman who can either detach her head from her body or her upper torso from her lower torso (depends on the story). The detached part of her body then flies through the air, trailing its intestines behind it. The manananggal loves to prey on pregnant women and, upon finding one, will perch on the roof of the woman’s house and lower its needle-like tongue down inside. The tongue pierces the woman’s stomach through her bellybutton and sucks out the heart of the baby, resulting in a stillborn child. The manananggal can be defeated if the lower part of its body is found and filled with salt or garlic, preventing the upper half from rejoining the rest of its body, and then dying in the rising sunlight. Another way to defeat the manananggal is to cut its tongue; one popular story (I might be getting it confused with another similar vampire) tells of an expectant mother who was sitting in a chair sewing, and noticed a long dark thread on her lap. Annoyed that she couldn’t find the end of it, she snipped the thread with her scissors, then jumped in fright as she heard something yelp, fall off her roof and crash into her yard. The next morning a dead manananggal was found in her yard, and was recognized as a local woman. A similar creature, called the aswang, is male, doesn’t detach any part of his body but can shapeshift into an animal, and is impervious to sunlight. It feeds on babies and small children, but would never harm anyone in its village and can actually be a good friend. They are driven off by salt, garlic and holy items and can be killed by decapitation. In the 1950s, the CIA helped to curb an uprising in the Philippines by killing a rebel soldier and staging his body to look like he had been killed by an aswang (it worked—the rebels fled the area.) An episode of Destination Truth featured a hunt for an aswang near a mosque in the Philippines.

  7. Obayifo (West Africa): Here’s a interesting vampire for you: the Dahomey and Ashanti people of West Africa believed in a creature called an obayifo, a black-magic user who was so constantly hungry that they were known to steal children to eat (hence the Ashanti word obayifo, “child-snatcher”) and not only sucked blood out of living people but also the juice out of fruits and vegetables. They appeared as ordinary human men or women, and sometimes could leave their bodies and travel as balls of light. In their human forms, they were pretty easily identified as vampires: they glowed from their armpits and anuses.

  8. Penanggalan (Malaysia): Much like the manananggal, the penanggalan is a woman who detaches her head from her body and flies around at night with her organs trailing behind her like the world’s most disgusting kite tail. How the woman becomes a penanggalan varies from story to story, though frequently she’s cited as being a woman who died in childbirth or a midwife who has made a pact with the devil. When she needs to return to her body, she soaks her entrails in vinegar to shrink them down for easier insertion (hey, I don’t make this crap up, I just report it.) The penanggalan uses her long tongue to feed on the blood of pregnant women and infants, all of whom die from a wasting disease. She can be deterred by wrapping thorny branches around windows or planting prickly pineapples beneath the stilt legs of the woman’s house, where the penanggalan will be snagged and can be hacked to death with a machete. If the body is found it can be burned or filled with crushed glass, preventing the head from rejoining. The head will then be killed by sunlight.

  9. Rakshasas (India): Most often described as being infernally beautiful women, rakshasas are blood-thirsty demons that haunt Indian cemeteries and crematoriums, and are known to follow in the wake of Kali, the goddess of destruction. Travelling by night, these fanged beasts liked to prey on pregnant women and infants, and a hero who could kill a rakshasa was a powerful warrior indeed. Like many vampires, rakshasas could be killed with fire.

  10. Red caps (Scotland): Red caps are hard to miss; they’re Scottish dwarves that tramp through the roads and fields at night, brandishing axes and halberds as they go. The second they spy a human being, the chase the hapless person, hack him to death, and then soak their caps in his blood. No, they don’t drink the blood—they just like the color of it. That’s all.

  11. Sasasabonsam (West Africa): A freaky vampire, this thing had iron teeth and hooks for toes. It would sit in tree branches that extended over a trail and dangle their legs down, waiting for someone to pass by. When a human made to mistake of crossing under their tree, the sasasabonsam would grab them with their hook toes, haul them up into the tree and drain them dry.

  12. Soucouyant/loogaroo (Caribbean, United States): A soucouyant (often known as a loogaroo in the United States) is an old, black magic-wielding hag who peels off her skin at night, hides it, transforms into a fireball and then flies through the air seeking victims. She worms her way through a gap in a person’s house and then proceed to drink their blood from their limbs. If she drinks too much, her victim will die and possibly become a soucouyant as well. Like many vampires, the soucouyant is very OCD, and if you scatter rice around your bedroom, around the outside of your home or at a crossroads, she has to stop and count every single grain; if she doesn’t complete the task before dawn, the sunlight will burn her and she’ll rush screaming back to her skin. If you should find the soucouyant’s skin, you should coat the insides with salt and put it back in its hiding place. When the soucouyant tries to put the skin back on, the salt will burn and kill her.

  13. Tlahuelpuchi (Mexico): An interesting and unusual vampire from ancient Mesoamerican myth, the tlahuelpuchi is a person, most often a woman, who is cursed to become a vampire when they reach puberty. They feed largely on the blood of infants, and if they don’t consume blood once a month they will die of starvation. Tlahuelpuchi maintain their own hunting territories apart from one another, though the are in communication with other supernatural entities and magic workers. The tlahuelpuchi hunt by leaving their legs behind in their home, transform into a turkey or a vulture, then fly in a cross pattern above the house of their intended victim as part of a ritual (north to south, then east to west.) When a tlahuelpuchi is discovered, they have to be destroyed immediately, though if a family member kills them the curse can pass on to them. Garlic, certain metals and onions can protect people against the tlahuelpuchi.

  14. Vrykolakas (Greece, Bulgaria, Slavic folklore): Ever had a hard time deciding if you want to be a vampire or a werewolf? Well, you’re in luck, because if you’re a vrykolakas, you can be both! A vrykolakas is a person who lived a sinful life, was excommunicated, ate the meat of an animal killed by a wolf or was a werewolf in life. When this person dies, they can return to life as a vampire. The vrykolakas then roams through their hometown, killing villagers, spreading disease and terrorizing their surviving family members. Burning or dismembering the body, piling rocks atop the body, decapitation and staking were effective ways at killing the vrykolakas. Like a surprising number of vampires throughout the world, vrykolakas are obsessive-compulsive, so if you spread seeds of grains of sand over the grave, the vampire is compelled to count each grain—at a rate of one grain a year, so you’ll be pretty safe.

  15. Yara-ma-yha-who (Australian Aboriginal legend): Among the weirdest of vampires, this one takes the cake: the yara-ma-yha-who is a frog-like humanoid with red hair that sits in fig trees, waiting for humans to stop by. When a human does pause at the tree, the yara-ma-yha-who drops out of the tree and attaches its fingers—each tip of which has a sucker on it—to the victim, draining them of blood. Once the human is dead, the yara-ma-yha-who swallows them whole, drinks some water, sleeps for a little while, then spits the person back out. The victim is alive, but a little shorter than before, and their skin now has a red tint. The yara-ma-yha-who does this over and over again until their victim is turned into a yara-ma-yha-who. Interesting, the yara-ma-yha-who hunts exclusively during the daytime and will only go after living prey, so if you see one coming at you, drop to the ground and play dead until sunset; once it gets dark the yara-ma-yha-who will return to its tree and you can make a run for it.

Myth Monday: Why the Cat and the Rat Hate Each Other (Chinese Folktale)

August 21, 2018

By Kara Newcastle

 

Several thousand years ago, the cat and the rat used to be the best of friends. They were totally inseparable, playing together, sleeping snuggled side by side, sharing their food—where ever one went, the other was always with him.

One day, the Jade Emperor announced that he would assign twelve animals to represent a year of the zodiac, and that anyone born in that year would gain the qualities of that animal. However, the Jade Emperor decreed that he would not pick the animals himself—there would be a great race among them, and the first twelve that reached the finish line would be the winners.

The cat and the rat were ecstatic—what an honor, to represent an entire year in the zodiac! Knowing that they were small and swift, they were both sure that they could get ahead of the bigger animals and set out together. They made excellent time and were having great fun until they came to the banks of a wide, roiling river. The finish line was on the other side of the river, and though both the cat and the rat were decent swimmers, they could see that the current was too strong for either one of them to make it easily across.

As they sat on the shore wondering what to do, the cat noticed the ox unhesitatingly striding into the river. “Look!” said the cat to the rat, “The ox will be able to get across the river with no problem. If we got a ride on his back, we’ll be able to get across the river.”

“Great idea!” the rat squeaked, and together the two friends raced up to the ox. Gently taking the rat’s scruff in his mouth, the cat sprang up onto the ox’s back, and the two friends settled comfortably on the great beast’s back as it moved deeper into the water.

As the ox began to swim, the river water rose higher around its body, forcing the cat and the rat to move from the ox’s back to its shoulders, then its neck, then finally to the top of its head. Even then, the water continued to inch its way up, splashing threatening around the cat and the rat’s feet.

Worried, the cat looked down at the roiling brown water. “Wow. The water’s getting really high.”

The rat winced. “Yeah. We’re going to run out of room.”

“What will we do?” the cat asked worriedly as water splashed up on his whiskers. “If the water gets higher, there won’t be enough room for both of us. We’ll be swept off, and then we’ll never get to the finish line.”

Glancing at the cat, the rat slowly nodded. “Yeah … you’re right.”

And with that, the rat planted his grubby little hands against his best friend’s body and pushed, shoving the horrified cat off of the ox’s head and into the water! The cat hit the water with a yowl, plunging under, and was carried off by the strong current. The river dragged the poor cat several hundred yards downstream until the gasping, shocked creature was able to pull itself out on the bank from which he came.

By the time the cat recovered and found his way across the river, the race was over … and not only was the race over, but the rat had won first place! The remaining twelve positions had been filled by the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog and the pig, leaving no room for the heartbroken cat.

The cat swore revenge, and ever since that day, cats and rats have hated each other.