Myth Monday: The Princess Who Cried, or The Creation of Scargo Lake (Native American Legend)

Myth Monday: The Princess Who Cried, or The Creation of Scargo Lake (Native American Legend)

By Kara Newcastle

Holy crap, I actually have time to write?!

That aside, this is a story I’ve been dying to get to ever since I found out about it at the end of this past summer. I really love the beaches in Dennis, and in order to get to my favorite ones, you have to drive past a place called Scargo Hill. At the top of said hill, there’s a big thirty-foot tall tower, built out of old cobblestones, looking like something the Templar Knights built (it’s not, though as a child I had fun pretending it was.) If you can stomach climbing up the winding metal staircase, at the top you can get a great view of the area, particularly of the freshwater Scargo Lake.

Scargo Lake has two beaches that you can visit, one of which is called “Princess Beach.” For years, I wonder why it was called that, and this past summer I decided I was going to find out. And I’m so glad I did! This is a great story, and, as happens so freakin’ often in mythology, there are many different versions of the legend. I choose the one I liked the best to share with you. (There’s only one version I found that named both her father and her lover. I was a little skeptical about the authenticity of the names, so I kept her father’s name the same but changed Scargo’s lover’s. If I find out anything, I’ll change them to the correct names.)

Scargo Lake, by Costoa, Wikimedia commons

Hundreds of years ago, the sachem Mashantam ruled over his tribe, the Nobscussett, in the woodlands not far from Cape Cod Bay. The tribe at that time was small, just about one hundred people and the most beautiful of them was the sachem’s only child, his daughter Scargo. She was flawless both in visage and character, exceedingly sweet and kind, and because she felt such duty for her people, Scargo was placed as the caretaker of the freshwater spring that provided her village with drinking water.

Eagle of Delight, from the National Museum of Denmark

Late in the spring, warriors from neighboring villages came to visit, sent by the great chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag Nation to bring words of peace. One of these warriors, a bold and dashing young hunter named Megedagik, parted from his company just long enough to visit the freshwater spring by the Nobscussett village. As he came upon the little pond, he froze in place, struck dumb by the sight of a beautiful young woman kneeling down by the spring, collecting water to bring to her father. The girl glanced up as he approached, and she smiled at his stunned expression.

“Here for a drink?” she asked.

It took the warrior a second to remember that he had a voice. “Uh … yes. Yes, I am.” He cleared his throat and thrust out his chest, hoping to regain his composure after being caught gawking at the girl. “I am Megedagik I come with my brothers to bring greetings from Great Massasoit.”

The girl’s smile grew even brighter. “Then you met my father?”

Megedagik felt his heart falter for a moment. “Your … father? The sachem Mashantam?”

“That’s the one.” The girl stood up. “I’m Scargo.”

“I’m Megedagik.”

Scargo giggled. “You said that already.”

Any other time Megedagik would have turned himself inside out over making such a flub in front of a girl as lovely as Scargo, but he found himself smiling at her sweet laugh. Forgetting all about his drink, Megedagik walked with Scargo back to her village, talking and laughing with her the entire way. By that night, the pair were smitten, and by the next day, they were hopelessly in love.

Much to the princess and the warrior’s dismay, Megedagik could only stay a short time, as he and his fellow warriors had to continue their mission. The morning that he had to leave, Megedagik wrapped the trembling Scargo in his arms and pulled her tight against him.

“I promise I’ll come back,” he whispered into her silken black hair, “and when I do, we’ll marry right away. Until then, just stay strong. I’ll send you a present soon.”

Bitter though she was at the thought of letting him go, Scargo was brave, and she held back her tears, waving goodbye to Megedagik and his men until they vanished deep into the woods. Her father Mashantam and the other villagers comforted Scargo as much as they could, for they all knew how much she loved Megedagik.

Less than a day later, two strangers arrived in Scargo’s village. People emerged from their wigwams, staring dumbstruck as the two men, puffing and muttering mightily, staggered to carry the bright orange object up to Mashantam and Scargo’s home.

Alerted by their bemused warriors, the chief, and his daughter hurried out of their house, stopping short as the two men, wheezing in exhaustion, very carefully lowered a massive pumpkin down to the ground.

Groaning, one of the strangers straightened up, planting his hands on the small of his back and flexing his spine back. “Princess Scargo,” he panted, “this is a gift for you, sent by Megedagik. He says—agh, sorry, something just popped—that as long as the fish are alive, he will be protected and come back to you soon.”

Jumping at the sound of her true love’s name, Scargo hurried forward to inspect the pumpkin—and she cried out in delight. The massive gourd had been hollowed out and filled to the brim with clear water. Swirling around inside were four gorgeously shimmering fish, the likes of which no one had ever seen before.

“I will do everything I can to keep them alive,” Princess Scargo said as her father and their people bent to watch the fish. “If they are safe, then Megedagik will be safe.”

The villagers and the sachem were all charmed by the unusual gift, and over the days many people would visit Scargo and ask her how her pretty fish fared. Scargo would answer happily that the fish were healthy and that she couldn’t wait to show Megedagik when he returned.

As the weeks passed, summer arrived, promising to be brutally hot and dry. Scargo and the villagers moved the hollowed pumpkin to the shade of the trees to protect the fish, but soon the fish grew larger, and larger, taking up more and more room in the pumpkin. Seeing that her beloved pets were uncomfortable, Scargo decided to move them to the little pond by the spring. There they thrived … for a little while.

As the summer progressed with no rain and days of intensely blazing sun, the spring began to dry up. Scargo watched in horror as the little pond began to shrink, and her dear fish began to die, one after the other, until only one was left. This one was very big, and every day that passed, there was less water for it to swim in. It would not have long.

Scargo was devastated. Try as she might, there was nothing she could do to help her pet. Overcome with grief at her loss, shame that she had not fulfilled her promise, the realization that her people were running out of water to drink, and a growing fear that Megedagik would not return, Scargo collapsed by the dying spring and sobbed. She cried for so long and for so hard, that her father Mashantam’s heart broke for her, and he called his people together.

“My friends,” the sachem said, “my daughter is weeping. Yes, she weeps for her pets, she weeps for her lover, but she also weeps for all of us. We must find more water.”

The Nobscusset all winced, all feeling sorry for the sweet girl, but not knowing how to solve the problem of lost water. When they voiced this, Mashtantam held up his hands for silence.

“I have an idea,” he said. “We will dig a lake. Our finest hunter will shoot arrows in four directions. Where the arrows land, that will be as far as the lake goes. We will all dig out the land using clam shells.”

The people were perplexed. “That seems like a good idea,” they said cautiously. “But where will we get water to fill it?”

The sachem nodded. “Scargo’s tears will fill it.”

The village immediately went to work. Their best hunter shot arrows into four directions, and everyone immediately began digging, scooping out earth with clamshells, piling it up to form the hill overlooking the lake. They fashioned the shape of the new lake in the form of a great fish, to honor the creatures that Megedagik had sent their beloved princess.

The only person who did not work was the poor Princess Scargo, who lay there, weeping. As soon as the land was carved away, Scargo’s tears poured into the lake, filling it within hours with crystal clear, fresh water. When the princess saw what her people had worked to achieve, her tears finally stopped, and they released her last fish into the water. As soon as it slid beneath the surface, the fish magically spawned, creating hundreds more just like itself.

Realizing that calamity had been averted, Scargo was at last comforted and happy again. Before that fiery summer ended, Megedagik returned and he and Scargo were married, much to the joy of her people. Together they built their home and raised their children on the shores of the lake that now bears her name—Scargo.

Like I said, there are many versions of this story. Some have Scargo herself and her friends digging out the lake, some have her just sitting at the top of Scargo Hill, with her tears pooling down at the bottom. Sometimes it’s one fish that rapidly outgrows the pumpkin, sometimes Scargo finds out that her lover was killed in battle and that’s why she cries so much. Some stories say that Scargo cried so many tears that she eventually drowned in them, and transformed into the lake fish that fed her people. Another storyteller mentioned that “Scargo” actually means “skunk,” and the lake is supposed to be in the shape of a skunk. Obviously, I chose the nicer of the many versions. (There’s also one about the giant Maushop—known as Moshop around here, based on what I found—digging out the land to build a hill for him to sit on, and when he lights his pipe, the smoke causes a thunderstorm to fill the lake. You can read a bit more about Maushop in my blog about Granny Squannit here!) There are other, modern stories about the lake, including one about the ghost of a woman with long dark hair seen crying at the water’s edge at dusk … could it be Princess Scargo?

If you’re ever in the area, stop by Scargo Lake or Scargo Hill Tower. It’s a really beautiful location—just follow all the rules, please!

Myth Monday: The Colony of Cats (Italian Fairy Tale)

Myth Monday: The Colony of Cats (Italian Fairy Tale)

By Kara Newcastle

Once upon a time, animals could talk. Not just meow or bark or oink, they could actually speak real words. Back in those days the rodents absolutely ran amok, eating every piece of food they could get their nasty little teeth on, so the townsfolk were quite willing to pay someone—human or animal—to deal with the plague. In Sicily, a colony of cats hired themselves out as effective rat catchers, were paid handsomely, and used that money to buy their own villa.

Since they weren’t exactly capable of maintaining a house, the cats employed a human servant to cook and clean for them. When a lady in town found herself in need of a job, she would announce to the world, “I will go and live with the cats,” and then head to their villa to apply for work. The cats would hire her, but the maids who worked there usually became lonely for human company—or exasperated by the cats’ exacting demands—and would not stay long. Therefore, a position was usually available.

On the other side of the town lived a widow and her two daughters. The eldest, Peppina, was pretty, but she was also arrogant and snide. Her younger sister, Lizina, was even fairer and possessed a much more pleasant personality, but she was all too frequently at the receiving end of her mother’s bad temper and her sister’s cruel remarks. Their mother resented Lizina, seeing her as a burden when they had so little money to support themselves. Peppina, jealous of Lizina since the day she was born, did everything she could to humiliate and torture her little sister. If Lizina did anything to defend herself, she was beaten, and her food was taken away and given to Peppina.

Finally, Lizina couldn’t stand another moment of torment and she shouted at her family, “I don’t know why you hate me so much, but if you want me to go, fine! I’ll go live with the cats!”

“Then get going!” her mother howled, raising the broomstick she used to beat her child and chasing the poor girl out of the house. Lizina wasted no time in running away, leaving with only the ragged clothes on her back. Bitter but resolute, the girl traversed through town and over the countryside, hardly pausing for even a moment, until she reached the cats’ home.

Just as Lizina was walking up to the gate, the front door to the villa flew open and an older woman stormed out, angrily knotting her shawl over her head and muttering a thousand curses under her breath. As she stomped by, Lizina could see a dozen bright red scratch marks up and down the woman’s face.

“Mouse cacciatore! Rat stigghiola! Lizard ravioli!” the woman screeched. “Disgusting! I’ll never cook for those cats ever again!”

Watching the woman stomp away, Lizina hesitated for a moment. Mouse cacciatore …? That didn’t sound very appetizing. And those scratches—did the cats do that?

Wondering if she had made a mistake in leaving her mother, Lizina turned to look at the house again—and jumped in surprise. At her feet sat a very pretty little gray striped cat, gazing p at Lizina curiously. Behind the cat were five more, all of different sizes and colors, each spaced out along the walkway with the last one seated just inside the door.

The little gray cat at her feet cocked its head at her. “Hello,” it said. “How can I help you?”

Remember, this was a time when animals and humans could speak to one another, so Lizina was not at all surprised by a talking cat. The girl smiled politely down at the little cat. “Hello. My name is Lizina. I came looking for work?”

The little cat’s tongue flicked out and ran over its lips. “Well! As luck would have it, Papa Gatto just fired our last cook.”

Hearing that, Lizina nervously glanced down the road at the shrinking form of the angry, clawed-up woman. “Did he …?”

“Oh, the scratches?” Chuckling, the little cat quickly licked the tip of one forepaw. “That’s only because she tried to take a broom to him when he told her to leave. You seem like a much nicer human—I don’t think you have to worry at all. Please, follow us.”

Standing up, the gray cat trotted away from Lizina, its tail high in the air. The five other cats all meowed eagerly, falling in step behind the gray cat, trailing it back into the house. Feeling a little more assured, Lizina followed the cats into the villa.

Stepping inside the grand old house, Lizina stopped short and her jaw dropped open. Everywhere inside the house—all over the floor, on the tables and chairs, running up and down the stairs, strutting along the rafters … were cats! Hundreds of cats and kittens, cats that were big and small and skinny and fat, fluffy and slender, some with smushed-in faces, some with bobbed tails or crinkly little ears. They greeted Lizina with a cacophony of meows, many of them rushing to rub their bodies across her legs, some barely acknowledging her from where they lounged, a few bolting away in fear. Looking at them all, Lizina couldn’t help but smile in delight.

Sitting up on its haunches, the little gray cat waved both of its forepaws at Lizina to get her attention. “Follow me!” it shouted over the meowing. Nodding, Lizina shuffled onward, giggling as the cats wound in and out of her legs.

Lizina followed the gray cat into the kitchen, where the first thing she noticed was a large pile of brown wool laid lumped upon a table. Lizina was just started to think about how she could spin the wool into yarn when the pile suddenly yawned enormously, showing off huge white fangs.

The little gray cat sprang up onto the table. “Papa Gatto, look at this! As soon as you told off that rotten old lady, this new girl shows up!”

“Hm?” Lifting his head, the brown cat regarded Lizina through half-lidded eyes. He yawned again, then eased himself up onto all four paws, arching his back in the mightiest stretch he could manage. Lizina couldn’t stop herself from staring at the fluffy brown tabby in shock; all the other cats were relatively cat-sized, but this one, the one they called Father Cat, he was as big as a dog!

Sitting himself down on the corner of the table, Papa Gatto swiped at his incredibly long whiskers with one paw. “Fate works in mysterious ways, I suppose. What is your name, child?”

“L-Lizina, sir.”

“Very polite. Moreso than our previous employee.” Papa Gatto scanned Lizina up and down with calculating yellow eyes. “You’re come seeking work with us, hm? You understand that while we do need a maid, we are cats, and we will be making requests that would seem unusual for a human.”

“I understand, sir.”

Papa Gatto swished his tail as he studied her. His eyes narrowed briefly as he took in her thin body, the dark bruises on her arms. “Hmmm … My dear, as part of your pay, you are welcome to live with us here. I sense that would be best for you.”

Incredible relief washed through Lizina, and she nodded eagerly. “Yes, yes please … I’d like to stay here. I’ll do anything you need me to, and I won’t complain. I’ll work hard. Just let me stay.”

“Very good.” Leaping down from the table and landing with an impressive thump!, Papa Gatto sauntered towards the open back door. “I’m going back to the barn. My family will instruct you on what we need.”

And instruct the cats did, and straightaway. Lizina found her work cut out for her at first, and she discovered that some of the cats were very particular about how things should be done around the house. Other cats insisted on following her everywhere she went, sitting close by and scrutinizing the way Lizina prepared the food, swept the floors, tended the garden, made the beds. Some of the cats were extremely playful and loved to get under Lizina’s feet, scrambling around under the sheets as she made the bed, zipping through doors as she tried to close them, attacking her ankles as she walked by with loads of laundry. Even when Lizina needed a moment to refresh herself, she would hear a chorus of pathetic meowings and see little paws groping under the door. When she went to bed, at least a dozen cats insisted on cuddling with her, though a few couldn’t resist pouncing on her feet every time she rolled over.

As difficult as it was, Lizina didn’t complain, and she didn’t scold. The dread of returning to her mother’s house kept Lizina from losing her temper, but soon she found that she actually enjoyed working with the colony. Lizina began to learn things about the cats, that their purring meant they were happy, that the way they held their tails or moved their ears showed Lizina what they were thinking. She broke up spats and rescued kittens who had gotten caught or climbed too high, and took care of the sick, and of an old tomcat with a bad paw. Once she overcame her squeamishness, Lizina made all the wonderful foods the cats loved—fish and chicken and sparrows and rabbit and lizards and mice and rats—and the cats adored her. Every now and again Papa Gatto would come down from his barn and ask the colony of cats, “Are you happy with this nice girl?” and the cats would happily yowl, “Yes, Papa Gatto, she’s the best servant we ever had!”

Lizina continued to work hard and loved every one of the cats there in the villa, but as time went on, she became lonely. She thought about her mother and sister, and, despite the way they had mistreated her, she still missed them, as they were the only human family she had. She was thinking these thoughts one day and growing tearful when Papa Gatto came down for a visit.

Seeing Lizina crying in the corner of the kitchen, Papa Gatto rushed to her side, alarmed. “What is the matter, my sweet child? Was someone here cruel to you?”

Quickly wiping her face with her apron, Lizina shook her head. “Oh, no, not at all, Papa Gatto. The cats here are so wonderful to me, but I do miss my mother and sister.”

Papa Gatto nodded sagely. “Ah, I understand. This is a problem that has afflicted many of our servants. Lizina, you shall go home to visit your family, and come back whenever you are ready to. But, before you go, I would like to give you a reward for all of your loving services to me and my family. Please, follow me down to the cellar.”

Lizina was surprised by the request; she had never gone down into the cellars before, because Papa Gatto always kept the door locked. She followed Papa Gatto to the door, waiting patiently as he produced a key from somewhere in his luxurious fur and unlocked it. Papa Gatto led her down a short flight of stairs, bringing her up to two enormous earthenware pots. At Papa Gatto’s instruction, Lizina looked into each. One was filled with oil. The other was filled with gold.

Papa Gatto smiled at Lizina. “Child, which pot shall I bathe you in?”

“Bathe? Me?” Lizina looked back at the pots, then shyly back at Papa Gatto. She was too timid to ask for the gold. “W-well … the oil jar.”

Papa Gatto chortled, expecting that answer. “No, no. You deserve better than that.” Picking the startled Lizina up in his massive paws, Papa Gatto quickly dunked the girl into the pot of gold. When Papa Gatto pulled her out and set her upon her feet, Lizina looked down at herself in astonishment; her skin glowed like the sun! She looked like a statue of pure gold.

Pleased, Papa Gatto nodded towards the cellar door. “You may go now,” he purred. “But Lizina, take care—if you hear a cock crow, you must turn towards it. If a donkey brays, you must turn away.”

Overcome with delight, Lizina kissed the happy Papa Gatto and rushed on her way home. As she approached her human family’s shack, Lizina heard a rooster crowing off to her side. Remembering Papa Gatto’s warning, Lizina turned towards it, and immediately a golden star alighted itself in her black hair. A moment later, a donkey brayed, but Lizina resolutely turned her back toward it, and continued home.

As it so happened, Lizina’s mother and sister Peppina were outside their hovel, and when they saw Lizina they both shrieked in disbelief at her appearance. They rushed to her, grabbing at her golden arms, her golden clothing, gasping in astonishment. Lizina, even though she remembered how they had treated her, was overcome with happiness and her eyes filled with tears. As she drew a handkerchief out of her apron pocket, a dozen gold coins spilled out with it. In fact, every time Lizina reached into her pocket for something, more gold coins would miraculously pour out.

With all this good fortune and new money, Lizina’s mother was more than happy to have her youngest daughter back. Peppina was happy too—really, more for the magic money Lizina spilled than for Lizina’s return. As their mother fussed over Lizina, Peppina tried to pull the gold clothes and the golden star off the girl, but they would not budge.

Lizina stayed with her mother and sister for several days, using her magic money to fix their house, and buy them food and clothes. When she had a little time to herself, Lizina would sit in the front window and do some little chore. It was one of these times that Prince Cristoforo was passing by, and his eye was caught by Lizina’s glittering gold skin. The prince was so amazed by the sight, that he went straight up to the house and insisted that he meet the golden girl. Lizina’s sweet nature delighted Prince Cristoforo even more than her golden skin and magic coins, and, after visiting her two more times, he asked her to marry him, and Lizina agreed.

Now, this was just too much for Peppina to take. Deciding that Lizina’s good luck had come from working for the colony of cats, Peppina rose early one morning and marched over to the villa. Without bothering to knock, Peppina burst straight through the front door, sending twenty terrified felines scattering in every direction.

“My name is Peppina,” the older sister announced as she let herself in, stepping on two fluff tails, causing their owners to yowl in pain. “My sister is Lizina. She worked for you before, and I want to work for you now.”

Hearing that she was Lizina’s sister sent elation through the colony of cats, as they all missed Lizina terribly. But as Peppina stood there boldly before the slit-eyed Papa Gatto, the kittens looked at one another and whispered, “She doesn’t seem anything like Lizina.”

The older cats hushed the kittens. “Let’s give her a chance and see.”

Well, the cats didn’t have to wait long; Peppina was the absolute worst servant they ever had, the utter opposite of Lizina. Peppina refused to clean anything, wouldn’t make the cats’ favorite meals, chased the inspecting cats out of the kitchen, and even whacked one young tomcat with a rolling pin as he tried to jump in through the window!

The moment Papa Gatto returned to check on his household, the colony of cats swarmed him, all crying out in fury and horror. They told him how Peppina had hurt them, shouted insults and abuse and threats, how their home was filthy and the kittens were starving.

“Please get rid of her, Papa Gatto!” the cats begged.

His fur standing on end, Papa Gatto stalked into the kitchen where he found Peppina lounging in a chair, filing her nails. She barely spared him a glance.

“Get up,” Papa Gatto snarled, “and follow me to the cellar.”

Ecstatic, Peppina leapt to her feet and hurried after the huge cat. The cellar! Lizina had told the about how the big cat had brought her down to the cellar and gave her those wonderful gifts. Now Peppina would get them too!

Leading Peppina up to the earthenware jars, Papa Gatto growled deep in his throat, swishing his tail and laying his ears back. “In which jar should I dip yo—?”

Peppina immediately pointed to the jar of gold. “That one.”

Outraged, Papa Gatto bared all his teeth. “You don’t deserve it!” he roared. Latching his claws into Peppina’s backside, he lifted her up and dunked her repeatedly into the jar of oil. When Peppina was well soaked and sputtering, Papa Gatto threw her into the ash heap, batting her around until she was thoroughly filthy from head to toe. He then chased her out of the villa, shouting, “Begone from my sight! And when you hear a donkey bray, be sure to look in its direction!”

Beside herself with fury, Peppina staggered home, screeching curses at the cats the entire way. Just as she came into sight of her mother’s house, Peppina heard their donkey braying out in the field. Remembering what the huge tomcat had told her, Peppina turned to face the donkey and—poof!—instead of a golden star upon her brow, a donkey’s tail sprouted from the middle of her forehead!

Peppina ran the rest of the way home in hysterics, and it took Lizina two hours with two cakes of soap and extremely hot water to scrub her sister clean. When they couldn’t pull the donkey tail off of Peppina’s head, their mother went insane with rage. Picking up the old broomstick, the old woman beat Lizina within an inch of her life, then picked up the poor girl and threw her down an old well.

The next morning, Prince Cristoforo arrived to take Lizina away to be wed. He barely approached the door when it flew open, and Lizina’s mother pushed a girl, well wrapped in white veils, out to the prince.

“Here is your beautiful bride, Lizina!” the old woman said breathlessly. “Yes, this is Lizina, the girl you want to marry, this is her, this is Lizina.”

Eager to see his bride’s face, Prince Cristoforo reached for the edge of the veil. The old mother squawked and rushed out, swatting the prince’s hands away. “No! What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know it’s bad luck to see the bride before you’re married?”

Not knowing how to answer that, Prince Cristoforo agreed to wait, then helped the bride and her mother into his carriage, and away they went to be married.

Regrettably for the “bride,” the carriage’s path to the cathedral brought them straight past the colony of cats. Having heard the news that Lizina would marry the prince, every single cat gathered outside on the walls, in the yard, in the trees and on the roof, to see her pass and cheer for her. One whiff of the air told the cats everything, and all together they all burst out,

“Mew, mew, mew!

Prince, look back behind you!

In the well is fair Lizina,

And you’ve got nothing but Peppina!”

Startled, the prince rounded on the cringing bride, and before the mother could do anything about it, Prince Cristoforo ripped the veil off the girl—and screeched at the sight of a donkey tail flapping around Peppina’s face.

Enraged at the deception and fearful for Lizina’s safety, Prince Cristoforo ordered the carriage to be turned around. Reaching the hovel, Prince Cristoforo shoved Peppina and her mother out of the carriage and drew his sword, threatening them with horrible fates if they didn’t bring Lizina out that instant. Lizina’s mother was so terrified of the prince’s anger that she ran to the well and pulled Lizina out.

With Lizina freed and safe, the prince took her home to his father’s palace. The next morning they were wed, and every member of the colony of cats was in attendance.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Myth Monday: How the Cat Arrived on Noah’s Ark (Hebrew Legend)

Myth Monday: How the Cat Arrived on Noah’s Ark (Hebrew Legend)

Hunting cat by Olivier62 wikimedia commons

By Kara Newcastle

Interestingly, neither the Torah nor the Bible makes mention of the domestic cat. It’s not sure why, as the cat would have been known in ancient Israel at the time, but it’s likely that since the cat was regarded as a deity in the Egyptian pantheon, it came with some negative connotations for the Hebrews, which was summarily passed on to the Christians.

However, somebody had to explain where cats came from. Fortunately, we have legends and folklore to provide those answers … even if there are several versions and each one gets a little weirder than the last.

And they all take place on Noah’s ark.

Version 1:

Days into the voyage, as the rain continued to fall in sheets so dense that he could not see even the prow of his great boat, Noah made his rounds of all the animals he had collected. As he reached the lower levels, Noah was horrified to see two of the mice he collected speedily gnawing away at the ark’s walls and joists. The mice’s relentless chewing was weakening the supports, threatening to cause the ark to spring leaks that would rapidly sink the great boat.

Noah’s first thought was to smash the traitorous vermin with a hammer, but he dared not; he was expressly forbidden by the Lord God from harming any of the creatures aboard the ark … but he couldn’t stand by and do nothing at all. In rage and desperation, Noah ripped off one of his leather gloves and threw it at the mice with all his might.

As his glove arched through the air, it twisted over, the four fingers pointing downward, the thumb lifting up. As Noah watched in amazement, the glove shifted, lengthening, the fingers stretching, the thumb growing longer. A small round head pushed out of the top of the glove, sprouting pointed ears and whiskers.

Hitting the floor of the ark lightly on four rounded paws, the animal the world would know as the cat blinked, looked back at the astounded Noah briefly, then turned its attention to the mice gnawing away at the woodwork. The mice, sensing that this creature was not their friend, squeaked in alarm and fled into the bowels of the ark, the cat bounding after them with all speed.

That is how the cat was created, and how the cat saved the ark from sinking.

Version 2:

As Noah made his rounds of all the animals aboard the ark, he was outraged to discover that the mice, ignoring God’s orders, had multiplied wildly and were hard at work not only eating all of the ark’s food stores but also chewing the boat apart, putting the ark in danger of sinking. Knowing that he was not allowed to kill any of the animals aboard the ship, Noah pleaded to God for help. Hearing him, God directed Noah to approach the lioness and waved his hand in a circle three times above her head. Obeying, Noah went to the lioness and waved his hand three times around her head.

Once Noah was finished, the lioness snorted, then lowered her head to the floor of the ark.

“Blargh!” she growled, and spat out a cat.

(Another version has the lion spitting out a male cat and the lioness spitting out a female cat.)

Version 3:

Not wanting any of God’s creatures to survive the Great Flood, the Devil went to the mice aboard the ark and convinced them to chew through the wood, in hopes that they would eat straight through and cause the ark to sink. Discovering the plot, but knowing that he was not allowed to kill any animal aboard the ark, Noah asked God what he should do.

In response, a lion nearby shook his mane, snuffled, then wrinkled his nose.

“RA-CHOO!” it sneezed, and out of its nostrils, two cats came tumbling out: a male from its right nostril, and a female from its left.

(And yet another version has the lion sneezing out a male cat, while the lioness sneezes out a female cat at the same time.)

Version 4:

While aboard the ark during the height of the falling rain, a lecherous monkey decided he would put the moves on the lioness, wooing her away from under her oblivious husband’s snout. The lioness was apparently unsatisfied with her mate enough that she didn’t think twice about getting together with a monkey, and, as a result, cats were born.

Bonus Story!:

This is a story that comes much later, specifically from the Isle of Man. Aside from being a tiny island in the middle of the fearsome Irish Sea with one of the weirdest national flags you might come across, the Isle of Man is especially famous for its Manx cats. These cats are born either with stubby little tails or no tails at all. And the people there have their own explanation as to why their kitties look this way:

As God began to deluge the earth with forty days and nights of ceaseless rain, Noah and his family were making the final preparations for their ark. They had secured all their supplies and obtained two of every animal … except for the cats. For whatever reason, one of the cats just wasn’t willing to get on the ark. Noah and his family tried to grab it, corral it, herd it onto the ark, lure it with food, waved its mate around to get its attention, but it just would not get on.

Seeing the waters rapidly beginning to rise, Noah knew they couldn’t wait any longer. He and his sons climbed into the ark, pulled up the ramp, began pushing the heavy door shut—

And that’s when the cat decided to run inside.

Fortunately for Noah, that cat made it inside just in time, escaping the floodwaters and enabling Noah to keep his promise to God to protect his creations …

Unfortunately for the cat, it didn’t quite clear the door entirely, and its tail was snipped off. Once the floodwaters receded, the tailless cat made its home on what would become the Isle of Man.

And that’s why Manx cats don’t have tails.

Myth Monday: The Boy Who Drew Cats (Japanese Folktale)

Myth Monday: The Boy Who Drew Cats (Japanese Folktale)

By Kara Newcastle

Hundreds of years ago in Japan, there was a small village that was home to a big family. That family was headed by a hardworking farmer and his equally hardworking wife, and they had several hardworking children—except for the youngest one. His name was Akio, and he was a good boy, but he wasn’t born strong, and he couldn’t keep up with all that needed to be done on the farm. He was quite smart, and was especially talented at drawing, which is what he was often doing instead of hoeing the garden or carrying water. Akio’s favorite thing to draw were cats, and whenever he saw one, Akio dropped what he was doing and drew the cat. He drew cats in the dirt, on the walls of their house and barn, on their screens, anything that was nearby at the time.

Akio’s parents loved him as much as they loved their other children, but in time they came to realize that they no longer had the money to support their large family, and Akio was too weak to really contribute to the farm. His parents didn’t want to send Akio away, but it was his mother who suggested that they bring Akio to the temple nearby to become an acolyte. She reasoned that Akio was very smart and would learn things quickly, and the temple would provide him with a place to sleep, clothes and food. He wouldn’t be very far away, and he would be well taken care of.

Akio’s parents were saddened by the decision, but they thought it was best, and after telling their son about it, Akio agreed. The next day Akio and his parents went to the temple, where the head abbot welcomed Akio into their order. They shaved Akio’s head and gave him new clothes and food. Akio’s parents were relieved that their youngest child would want for nothing now.

Unfortunately, neither Akio’s mother nor father took into consideration just how much Akio loved to draw cats. Akio was an obedient student for the most part, but when he became bored, he drew cats. Whenever one of the temple cats sauntered past him, Akio would stop his studying or his prayers and draw the cat. He drew them all over the temple walls, in the abbot’s books, on the screens and pillars. The flustered abbot told Akio to stop drawing cats—he was at the temple to become a monk, not an artist! Akio genuinely tried to resist, but he just couldn’t help himself. He kept drawing cats.

One day the abbot set Akio to studying and left the boy at his books for a time. When the old abbot came back to see if Akio had any questions, he stopped short, horrified to see that Akio had pushed aside his texts and had spent the entire hour drawing a cat mural across one of the temple screens.

“That does it!” the abbot thundered, nearly startling the oblivious Akio right out of his skin. “I’ve asked, I’ve warned, I’ve scolded, I’ve all but begged you to stop drawing those cats, but you still do it. You have defied me for the last time! You must leave this temple—you’ll never be a good priest!”

Shaken by the rage in the old man’s voice, Akio dropped his paintbrush, ducking his head down so the abbot couldn’t see his tears. “I—I wasn’t trying to … I’m not doing it to be disobedient. I just …” He swallowed hard, his voice barely a whisper past the lump in his throat. “I just really like drawing cats.”

Grinding his teeth, the abbot glared down at the boy. The old man looked up at the screen Akio had ruined and opened his mouth to retort … but as he took in the images before him, the abbot’s anger faded. He studied each cat that Akio had painted, noting how graceful they appeared, how lifelike in their poses.

Akio might not have been an attentive student, but the abbot could clearly see how talented the boy was.

Sighing, the abbot shook his head. “Even so, it’s clear that this is not the place for you, son. You’d rather paint than study, so perhaps you should go and become a painter. But you can’t do that here.”

Akio was saddened, but he did what he was told and gathered what little he had, taking special care the pack his ink and paint brushes. The abbot was kind enough to walk Akio to the gate, and as he guided Akio through, the old monk said, “I’m sorry it has come to this, but please be safe. Remember—avoid large places and stick to small.”

With that, the abbot turned around and walked back to the temple. Shouldering his bag, Akio stood in the road, looking first to the monastery, then back I the direction of his family farm. His first thought was to return home, but he was sure his father would be furious at him for being disrespectful to the abbot, so Akio quickly decided against it. He turned in the opposite direction, towards the neighboring village. There was a temple there too … maybe he could go there and become an acolyte. This temple or that, it didn’t matter so long as his father didn’t find out.

Making up his mind, Akio started walking the twelve miles to the next village.

Now, the neighboring village did have a temple there, but what Akio didn’t know was that it had been abandoned for a long while. A disgusting rat monster had attacked the monks there and taken over the temple. A dozen different samurai had gone in to slay the yokai, but every single one of them met with a gruesome death at the rat demon’s kama-like teeth. The monster would often leave a lantern burning in the temple to attract unwitting travelers to come inside, where they would be devoured. Because there was no way to defeat the rat monster, the temple was abandoned. By the time Akio arrived in town, it was late at night, and everyone was asleep; no one was there to warn the boy.

Akio saw the silhouette of the temple in the distance, barely illuminated by the glow of a single lamp in the window. Relieved to see that at least one priest was awake, Akio hurried to the temple and pushed through the door. Inside, he found the lone lamp in the center of the temple, but no monk or abbot attending the flame.

Dropping his bag on the ground, Akio glanced around; ugh, the place was filthy! There were cobwebs hanging like sheets from the rafters, a carpet of dust all over the floor … obviously, these monks were too busy with their duties to clean. They must have been in desperate need of an acolyte. They’d take him in for certain.

Pleased with what he saw, Akio helped himself to a seat down by the lantern and waited, sure that somebody would be a long shortly. He sat and waited, and waited, and waited … and waited … but no one came. At length Akio began to grow bored. He fidgeted, looked around … and saw an immaculate white paper screen set up in a corner.

Akio just couldn’t help himself. Grabbing his writing box from his bag, Akio ground up his inks, added a bit of water, dipped his brushes, and set to work. Tired though he was, Akio was seized by creativity and drew over a dozen different kinds of cats: cats, kittens, old cats, jumping cats, fluffy cats, cats with short tails, cats sitting, cats colored like koi fish, cats licking their paws, skinny cats, fat cats, napping cats, hunting cats … cats and cats and cats!

As Akio put the finishing touches on his last cat, he felt his eyelids droop. He yawned and stretched, realizing groggily it must have been quite late now, and he still hadn’t seen anyone in the temple.

Grabbing his bag, Akio began to lie down in front of his masterpiece to go to sleep. His head was barely an eyelash-length above his bag when suddenly, inexplicably, the words of his old abbot raced through Akio’s head.

“Remember—avoid large places and stick to small.”

Blinking, Akio sat up. He hadn’t really thought about what the abbot had said until now. What did it mean?

Peering in the dusty darkness of the temple, Akio felt an odd shudder rippled through him. “Well,” he said to himself, aware of how his voice shook. “This place is so big … I’ll feel better in a small spot anyway.”

Picking up his bag, Akio stood and groped through the shadowy edges of the room until he found a cabinet with a sliding door. Pushing the door back, Akio crawled inside, and found that he fit perfectly.

“That’s better,” he said. Laying down, Akio slid the door shut. There was a small split in the door’s panel, allowing a bit of the lantern light to seep in, so Akio turned his back on it and went to sleep.

Akio didn’t know how long he had been asleep before the shrieking woke him up. It was the worst sound Akio had ever heard, cutting straight through his dreams, and shocking him awake. Terrified, Akio twisted around in the cabinet, struggling to remember where he was. The cabinet, that’s right … but he couldn’t see anything. The lantern in the center of the temple had gone out.

A second shriek ripped through the night, and now a chorus of hideous growls and hisses answered it. Something big thumped outside, and Akio felt the whole temple shake. His heart in his throat, he pressed his eye to the crack in the wood. He thought he saw two small red lights side by side each other, darting from a corner. Before Akio could register what it was, something huge rushed past the cabinet, thundering by on four feet.

Three more pairs of lights appeared at the edges of the room—yellow-green this time—and Akio shrank back from the door, choking back a gasp. He clapped his ink-stained hands over his mouth as the creatures screamed again, as another beast roared, as something slammed to the ground, as massive animals tore back and forth, making the temple shake down to its foundations. The screams and roars grew worse, louder, and faster until only one of the things was screeching, squealing, gagging …

Then it was over. All the growls and hisses stopped. Akio couldn’t hear any movement outside his cabinet, but he didn’t dare look through the crack to be sure. He sat there, trembling, rocking himself, barely able to breath for fear that the monsters would hear him. Akio stayed like that until he saw the rays of sunlight shining brightly through the chink in the door.

Slowly, Akio inched the door open, pausing to listen. Hearing nothing but the birds singing outside, Akio drew in a breath, then opened the door wider.

The first thing Akio saw was the blood. Buckets of it strewn across the floor, over the walls, up the pillars. Next, he saw that much of the temple furniture and decoration had been smashed, windows broken, walls buckled out. A fight had happened here, but between who?

Pausing, Akio looked back at his cabinet, then ahead of him, where his painted screen stood facing out. Everything had been obliterated except for that screen and his cabinet. It was like whoever was fighting was trying to stay away from where he was hiding.

Wanting nothing more than to get out of this cursed building, Akio circled around the screen—and stopped dead, a revolted, horrified scream catching in his chest.

Laying on the floor in the center of the temple was a mammoth rat, the size of his mother’s cow!

The thing was hideously ugly, made worse by the gaping, bloody wound in its throat. Akio stared at the dead monster in disbelief, scanning it from the tip of its ragged nose down to its snake-like tail …

Jolting, Akio shook his head, rubbed his eyes, then looked again, squinting at the blood around the rat’s foul body. Circling all around it were paw prints—cat’s paws! There looked to be hundreds of cat prints all around the body, trailing away and back to the …

Astounded, Akio didn’t even feel his jaw drop open as he stared at the screen he had painted the night before. All his cats were there as he had drawn them … but now every single one of them had blood smeared on their mouths. And they all seemed to have that satisfied, smug look cats would have after a successful hunt.

Akio’s cats … they had come to life that night. They had sprung down from the screen and saved him from the rat demon that was hiding in the temple!

When Akio recovered his senses, he raced down to the village to tell everyone what had happened. The villagers hailed Akio as a hero, and the temple was reclaimed and sanctified. Akio joined the temple as an acolyte …

But he never stopped drawing cats.

Myth Monday: The Mother Who Tricked a Tiger (Indian Folktale)

Myth Monday: The Mother Who Tricked a Tiger (Indian Folktale)

By Kara Newcastle

Tigers are frightening beasts, to be sure, but for the most part a tiger wouldn’t waste time on a human. Humans are too bony, too stringy—not worth the effort of hunting. Really, it’s the old tigers—the ones with brittle claws, with their teeth falling out, too stiff to run down prey, too weak to wrestle deer—that are the problem; the old tigers are the ones that hunt humans.

Still, even an old tiger is terrifying, and most humans can’t tell the difference between a old, fangless tiger and a fearsome creature in its prime just by looking at it. That’s what happened to a farmer named Kulpreet as he was working in his field one morning, guiding his plow behind his two oxen. The field lay at the edge of the dense jungle, and as Kulpreet steered the bulls away from the treeline, he glanced at the jungle, looked back to his bulls for a moment, then back to the trees—and right into the golden eyes of a snarling monster.

Seeing how close the tiger was to him, Kulpreet’s whole body locked up. Even if he could make his legs cooperate, he knew he’d never be able to outrun the tiger standing before him. He was as good as dead.

“No! No, please!” Terrified, Kulpreet dropped to his knees and threw his arms over his head. “Don’t eat me—you can’t eat me! I have a family to take care of!”

Towering over the man, the tiger snorted, its hot, damp breath ruffling Kulpreet’s hair. “Why should I care about your family? Maybe after I eat you, I’ll eat all of them!”

Disturbed by the appearance of the tiger, Kulpreet’s oxen jerked in their harnesses, one bellowing fearfully. The noise drew the tiger’s eye, and it studied the big animals thoughtfully.

After a considerable moment, the tiger swiped its rough tongue over its lips. “You’re not enough to satisfy me, human. Remove the yokes from your bulls. I will eat them instead.”

Any elation Kulpreet had at the thought that he was being spared evaporated in a heartbeat. “My bulls? You can’t do that—I need them for my plow. I can’t farm without them.”

Its fur prickling along its spine, the tiger swung its evil gaze back onto Kulpreet. “Then you suggest I eat you and your family instead?”

“Please don’t! Listen—you don’t have to eat any of us. My wife has a milk cow—it’s young and fat. I’ll give it to you if you leave us alone!”

Pahari_Cow,_Himachal_Pradesh,_India._8_Nov_2020._D35_0908_01 by ADARSHluck

The tiger arched an eyebrow. “A cow, hm? A cow does have more meat on it than your bony self does. Very well—bring the cow back here.”

Elated, Kulpreet looked up. “Thank you, Lord Tiger—”

“Don’t keep me waiting.” Settling down onto the cool, overturned earth, the tiger flicked its head towards Kulpreet’s house. “Go. Now.”

It took Kulpreet several moments for him to regain control over himself, though his legs quaked violently beneath him as he stood. He nodded rapidly, and barely had the presence of mind to untie his oxen and lead them away from the tiger as he rushed home. His mind raced as he ran into his yard, hastily tying the bulls to a post. He was early, but maybe his wife Ishani had left already doing laundry down by the stream. He could grab her cow and bring it to the tiger without her knowing—

Kulpreet’s heart shot to the pit of his stomach as he saw Ishani walking out of the house, their year-old son on her hip, a tied bundle of clothes in her free hand. She was looking down at their baby, a bright, pleased, proud, loving smile across her face. Their son looked up at her adoringly, giggling, his tiny fingers reaching up to stroke her cheek.

Seeing Ishani there like that made Kulpreet falter. She was a wonderful wife, and an incredible mother … she worked so hard, she was so devoted to him and their children …

Hearing him hurrying towards her, Ishani straightened up in surprise. “Back already? I’ve only just started my chores—”

“Where’s the cow?”

Blinking, Ishani hesitated, then waved to the house. “In back, as always. Why? What’s going on?”

Suddenly unable to meet her eyes, Kulpreet hurried to the back yard. Ishani, knowing something was wrong, dropped her laundry, cradled her baby to her and darted after Kulpreet. “Kulpreet! What is going on?”

“I need the cow,” Kulpreet said quickly, increasing his stride to get away from her. “A tiger came to me in the field. It said it would eat the oxen, but I offered it the cow instead.”

“You did what?!” Horrified, Ishani lunged forward and caught her husband’s elbow, jerking him back before he could reach her cow’s pen. “You’re going to give him my cow? How could you? How am I going to cook without butter and milk?”

Griding his teeth, Kulpreet yanked his arm out of Ishani’s grip. “And how am I supposed to grow grain without bulls to plow the field?”

“The children will starve without the cow!”

“The children will starve without the bulls! We need the bulls to plough the fields so we can grow the crops to eat!”

“The baby can’t eat bread yet!” Ishani shouted. “He needs milk! If you weren’t such a foolish coward, you’d think of a way to get out of this mess!”

Outraged by her words—and knowing that she was right—Kulpreet rounded sharply on Ishani. “Then you think of something, since you’re so smart!”

The viciousness in his tone made their son jump in fright in Ishani’s arms, and his bright eyes instantly welled with tears. Seeing the baby distressed, Ishani quickly shushed her son, stroking his head and kissing his cheek until he calmed.

Clutching the infant against her, Ishani turned back to Kulpreet, and the expression on her face was so filled with resentment that Kulpreet drew back in surprise.

Villagers_from_india_15 by Shrinivaskulkarni1388  wikimediacommons

“Fine then,” Ishani bit out, her voice shaking so badly that she could barely form the words. “If I have to think of a plan, then you’re going to be the one that follows the orders. Go back to the tiger right now and tell it that I’m coming with the cow.”

The thought of going back to the tiger without the cow made all the blood drain out of Kulpreet’s face. “But—”

“Say that the cow gave you too much trouble and it only listens to me.” Ishani spun away from Kulpreet. “Now go. I’ll be along soon.”

 Of course, Kulpreet was terrified of returning to the tiger empty-handed, but the look Ishani gave him unnerved Kulpreet even more, so he fearfully went back to the field. The tiger was still there, lying in the shade, its tail curling and snapping open impatiently.

The tiger laid its ears back as Kulpreet hesitantly approached. “I see you but not the cow you promised me,” the tiger snarled.

Gulping, Kulpreet shrank back. “It’s coming, the cow is coming, my lord, it is … my wife has to bring it, it won’t listen to me, I couldn’t make it follow.”

Its eyes blazing, the tiger hauled itself to its feet. “You promised me a cow,” it hissed. “You’ve reneged on that promise, and I am without food. Seeing as how you’re here …”

Suddenly, the tiger’s eyes narrowed, and it lifted its head, gazing out past Kulpreet at something beyond. Puzzled, Kulpreet turned to follow the tiger’s sight. He jerked back in surprise as he saw a white pony cantering across his half-finished field towards them. Astride the pony there was a man, dressed in fabulous robes and a high turban. As the man drew closer, he pulled a sword from a jeweled scabbard at his side and raised it over his head.

“Aha!” the man crowed. “Praise the gods, a tiger! I haven’t eaten any tiger meat since yesterday, and I had three then!”

Hearing those words, the tiger shrank back, its eyes wide in terror. Before the man and his pony were within ten strides, the tiger wheeled around and tore back into the jungle, disappearing into the shadows.

Astounded, Kulpreet watched the tiger flee, then spun around the face the stranger as he reined the pony to a stop. “Thank you, hunter! You have no idea what you’ve done for me—”

“Oh, stop it, Kulpreet,” the man huffed as he slid out of the saddle. “I only did what you were too afraid to do.”

“Afraid? What? Who are …?” Blinking rapidly, Kulpreet stooped down a bit to peer under the stranger’s turban. Seeing those annoyed eyes glaring back at him, the farmer nearly leapt out of his skin.

“Ishani?!” Kulpreet squawked.

Smirking, Kulpreet’s wife Ishani reached up and patted the turban back into place atop her head. She stood before Kulpreet dressed in his finest clothes, his father’s sword hanging from her belt, and their pony stomping its feet impatiently behind them.

Kulpreet’s jaw dangled. “You … you look just like a man!”

“And I acted like one too!” Ishani retorted. “You were too afraid to do anything, and I wasn’t about to let my children starve. I dressed up and thundered in here. And look—the tiger’s gone!”

As Ishani was saying this, the old tiger was indeed running for its life, running so fast and wildly that it almost trampled its lackey, a small jackal that liked to follow in the tiger’s wake to eat its scraps.

Jackal_(5216995231) by Sumeet Moghe wikimedia

Yipping in fright, the jackal dove out of the way, landing nose-first in a clump of fronds. “Lord Tiger! Where are going? Why are you running like that?”

Panting, the old tiger skidded to a stop. “Jackal, we have to run! There’s a hunter in that field over there—he says he ate three tigers yesterday, and he’s coming for me now!”

Arching a dubious eyebrow, the jackal slunk forward a pace, clinging close to the earth so it could not be seen. It reached the edge of the field and huddled down for a moment, cocking its head and listening intently as the disguised Ishani scolded her husband, and Kulpreet fumed, saying that as his wife she should have stayed home and he would have thought of something. Eventually.

Shaking its head in disbelief, the jackal scuttled backwards and trotted back to the trembling tiger. “Ah, my lord, you’ve been tricked—that’s no hunter. That’s the farmer’s wife, disguised as a man to scare you off.”

Terrified, the tiger shrank back. “No, it couldn’t be. That hunter was huge! He was going to eat me!”

The jackal rolled its eyes heavenward. “Ugh. Look, I promise you, it’s just a woman. Are you going to let a tiny human woman scare you away from our—um, I mean, your food?”

“I am not going back.”

“What if I went with you?”

The tiger bared its cracked teeth. “And then? You’d abandon me to be devoured by the hunter?”

The jackal bristled. “I will not. And if you’re that afraid, then let me tie my tail to yours. That way I can’t run away.”

The tiger found this offer to be agreeable, so it permitted the jackal to tie both their tails together, and they strode back to the field side by side. However, by walking this way neither one could fit comfortably on the path, and they wound up walking on the edges, noisily crunching through dried leaves. The sounds betrayed their approach.

At the edge of the field, just as the embarrassed Kulpreet bowed his head and began to agree that his wife was right, both he and Ishani heard the crackle of leaves and spun around. Seeing the tiger and jackal stalking towards them, Kulpreet reeled back in panic.

“Run!” he screamed. “The tiger’s back—it’ll kill us both!”

For a moment, Ishani was stunned; the tiger had run away in terror when it saw her, why would it come back? Peering closer, she saw the small shape of the jackal at the tiger’s side. Their tails were moving oddly, swishing back and forth …

Realizing what the tiger and the jackal had done, Ishani smirked and waved for her husband to calm himself. “Be quiet, will you? Let me take care of this.”


Shushing Kulpreet, Ishani drew her sword and turned to fully face the tiger and the jackal. Grinning, she raised the sword in a salute, and bellowed out in her deepest voice, “Thank you jackal! You captured the tiger for me. Once I’ve eaten all the meat, you can have its bones.”

The tiger slammed to a stop. “I knew it!” it screeched. Before the jackal had a chance to understand what was happening, the tiger whipped around and shot back into the woods, forgetting that their tails were still tied together. With a strangled yelp the jackal was yanked off all four of its paws and was sent bouncing off every rock and tree trunk in the jungle as it was dragged haplessly behind the spineless tiger.

Watching the pair fade away into the forest, Ishani lowered the sword and giggled. “Never tie your tail to a coward’s.”

Standing behind her, Kulpreet gaped. “You … you scared it away again.”

“And judging by the beating that jackal took, I don’t think it’s going to try to convince the tiger to come back a third time.” Sheathing the sword, Ishani looped her arm through her dumbstruck husband’s. “Now, you finish the field. I’m heading home—I still have laundry to do.”

Myth Monday: The King o’ Cats (Scottish Folktale)

Myth Monday: The King o’ Cats (Scottish Folktale)

By Kara Newcastle

The sun had barely disappeared over the horizon by the time Keir MacRae got home. The gravedigger burst through the door so suddenly that his two children, his daughter Gunna and son Earvin nearly leaped out of their skins with fright. Hearing the children screech in alarm, Bradana, their mother and Keir MacRae’s long suffering wife, came racing out of the pantry to see what the fuss was about. Discovering it was only her husband, Bradana scowled. “Well, well … look what the cat dragged in.”

“For God’s sake, don’t say that,” Keir hissed as he bolted the door. Swallowing hard, he ran a hand through his oddly mussed hair and minced over to the front window, peering out into the settling dark. “Ye would not believe the night I’ve had.”

“Oh, do tell,” Bradana sniffed, arching an eyebrow as she watched her husband look this way and that. “It must be a good story if it’s kept us all waiting an hour for ye to get home so the little ones can eat supper.”

“Oh, a good story it is, all right.” Keir grabbed each of the window curtains in either hand and yanked them shut. “The house is all locked up, aye?”

“What’s this all about?” Bradana demanded.

“Just tell me the house is locked up!”

“Aye, ‘tis!” Bradana felt her ire draining away as Keir finally turned to face his family. His face was as white as the driven snow, and his eyes darted wildly about. “Mr. MacRae, what’s gotten into ye?”

“I …” His shoulders sagging, Keir ran a hand over his face, his wide, rough palm hovering briefly over his eyes for a moment. He drew in a deep breath, but it shuddered the whole way in and out. “Earvin, lad, fetch yer da an ale, aye?”

Bradana frowned as Keir shuffled towards his chair before their fireplace. “I don’t know if ale’s the right thing for ye at the present.”

“Well it can’t hurt me none.” Waving for his bewildered son to hurry on, Keir came around his chair—and stopped dead.

Mystified, Bradana hurried towards her petrified husband, following his huge eyes down to the seat cushion of his favorite chair. Seeing the black lump, Bradana slowly raised her eyes to Keir. Keir continued to stare down at the shape, his mouth slack, a gleam of sweat forming along his brow.

He looked terrified.

Hesitating, Bradana slowly reached out and gently pressed the tips of her fingers against Keir’s forearm. “Keir,” she whispered, “’tis only the cat.”

For a moment, Keir didn’t stir a muscle, didn’t respond to her touch or her voice. He stared down at the big, sleeping black cat, looking for all the world as though he were staring down the mouth of hell itself. The cat itself was unperturbed, half twisted onto its back, its neat paws tucked up in front of the white blaze on its chest.

Confused by her father’s rigid state, little Gunna edged around him, closer to the chair. “Would ye like me to move him, Da?”

Keir jerked violently at the question, his body whipping from the soles of his feet to the top of his head, as though he were fighting free of a nightmare. “No!” he shouted, the ferocity of his voice causing Gunna to gasp and Bradana to shoot a hand out, catching her daughter by the shoulder and wrenching her away from her father, pushing her behind her skirts.

“Keir, what has gotten into ye?” Bradana cried, feeling Gunna quaking even through her petticoats. “Ye’re frightening the children!”

“I—?” Blinking, Keir snapped his head up. He looked at Bradana, bewildered. His eyes fell to Gunna, who scurried further behind her mother, then up to the pantry door where Earvin stood, a stein of ale clasped in both hands. His father’s roar had startled the boy so bad that he had jumped and sloshed the ale onto his shirtsleeves.

Seeing the shock on the faces of his wife and children, Keir grimaced, looked down at the cat—who, as usual, hadn’t batted so much as a whisker in his direction—and slowly backed away. “No … no dear, leave him be. I’ll just sit myself here at the table. Earvin, the ale if ye would?”

Earvin looked as though he’d rather chew his own hand off than go near his suddenly lunatic father, but the boy summoned up a bit of courage and tiptoed forward, hastily shoving the tankard across the rough table as Keir slumped into his usual chair at the head. He sat there looking almost boneless, his neck too weak to support his head.

Bradana knotted her hands into her apron. “Well, Mr. MacRae …? Will ye tell us what happened to ye tonight?”

Keir shook his head. “Ye’ll nay believe me.”

“I’ll believe anything at this point,” Bradana snapped, motioning for bewildered Earvin to back away. “I’ll believe anything if it explains why ye’ve gone out of yer senses!”

Keir frowned. He lifted his head, gazed into the worried and furious face of his wife, then sighed. “Aye. All right, so I had just finished digging a grave—for Mr. Fordyce, ye recall—and I right difficult time I had of it too. Moving all that dirt, the stones, cutting through the roots, I wore myself out so much that when I sat down to rest inside, I dozed off.”

Bradana frowned, resisting the urge to say she wasn’t surprised.

Not noticing her sour look, Keir went on. “I fell asleep. I woke up just as the sun was almost gone. A cat’s meow woke me.”

From the chair by the fire, the MacRaes’ big black cat opened one sage green eye, stretched and said, “Meow.” It was a soft, little sound, but it was enough to make Keir MacRae jolt as though he had been struck by lightning.

Keir swallowed hard. “Aye … l-like that.”

“Ignore the wee thing,” Bradana said, waving her hand to draw Keir’s terrified face back to hers. “Ye said a cat’s meow woke ye?”

“Uh … a-aye.” Shaking his head, Keir noticed the stein of ale on the table and grabbed it, taking a deep gulp before continuing. “So, aye, I heard a meow. It struck me as odd, so I stood up and looked over the edge of the grave, and what d’ye think I saw?”

“I haven’t a clue.”

“I’ll tell ye what I saw—nine cats! Nine black cats, all with white marks on their chests, much like …” Keir faltered. His eyes flicked back to their cat, who now was fully awake, rolled over onto its paws, watching Keir through half-lidded eyes.

Keir licked his lips. “Like our cat there,” he whispered.

“All right, ye saw nine black cats like ours,” Bradana said, barely sparing their own feline a glance as she spoke. “What of it? Ye’ve seen cats in the graveyard before.”

“Not like these!” Pausing to take another fortifying swallow, Keir ran the back of his hand over his upper lip. “Nay, these cats—can ye believe it?—these cats were walking on their hind legs, like people! One big one was in the lead, and eight of them, they were carrying a coffin!”

Silence settled over the household as Keir stopped for breath. Their big black cat’s eyes widen as young Earvin asked haltingly, “A coffin?”

“Aye!” Keir exploded, making Bradana and their poor children leap with fright. “A coffin! And not just any coffin—it had a black velvet pall on it. And on top of the pall was a golden crown! A golden crown, did ye hear me? A golden crown, and every third step these cats took, they’d say ‘meow’­—”

The MacRaes’ cat sprang up onto its feet. “Meow!” it cried.

His fear forgotten, Keir jabbed a finger at their cat. “Like that exactly! That’s what they did! They said meow, and their eyes were glowing green, I swear, like lanterns … Look at the cat, it’s like he knows what I’m talking about. Look at the way he listens to me!”

“Never mind that!” Bradana spat. “What happened next?”

“I’ll tell ye what happened next,” Keir exclaimed. He pointed to himself. “The big one, the one in front, he saw me, and he walked over to me and said—I swear on everything that’s holy, this is what he said—‘Tell Tom Tildrum—‘”


“I’m getting at it! The big cat said, ‘Tell Tom Tildrum that Tim Toldrum is dead.’ That’s what he said! He spoke to me like a man and told me to tell this Tom Tildrum blighter that Tim Toldrum is dead. I don’t know any Tom Tildrum, and I have no way of finding out, and I was right afraid to tell them all that, so I just nodded and lit out of there. Came straight here.” Keir flung his arms up in the air. “That’s the night I had! What d’ye all say to that?”

“I’ll tell you what I have to say!”

 Her head whipping around at the voice from the chair, Bradana’s eyes flew open and she screamed in horror, grabbing her two shrieking children to her. “God in heaven—look at the cat!”

Keir was looking. They all were—they were all staring in disbelieving terror as their big black cat with the white blaze on his chest rose up on his back legs, his tail excitedly lashing through the air. Grinning in delight, the cat threw his front paws up in the air.

“Tim Toldrum is dead?” the cat cried. “By Jove, that means I’m King o’ Cats now!”

Meowing in glee, the MacRaes cat—Tom Tildrum, the new king of the fairy cats, the cat sith—sprang off Keir’s favorite chair and leapt headlong into the fireplace, scrambling up the flue and disappearing from sight forever. To be sure the creature was gone, Bradana MacRae swatted around the inside of the chimney with her broom, while her beleaguered children tried to slap Keir Macrae awake, as he had fainted away at the sight.

Myth Monday: Why Dogs Chase Cats and Cats Chase Mice (Ukrainian Folktale)

Myth Monday: Why Dogs Chase Cats and Cats Chase Mice (Ukrainian Folktale)

By Kara Newcastle

Cats_17_2835956a by Vzatikyan wikimedia commons

Okay, the internet’s cooperating enough again that I can star posting blogs for one of my favorite themed blog months–and August is cat month!!

Many years ago in a great city in the Ukraine, cats, dogs and mice were all great friends. However, the dogs all ran wild through the city, barking at all hours of the day and night, helping themselves to whatever they could reach on the dinner table, spooking the horses, tracking their muddy paws everywhere, chewing on shoes, and leaving unpleasant messes right where everyone would walk. It wasn’t long before the human citizens of the city became frustrated with the frolicking dogs and decided that the canines must be brought under control. Several men were elected to become dog catchers, and every day they would set out and capture whatever dog they found, locking them away in a large pen with no bones to chew on.

This of course was very upsetting to the dogs; they used to run free all the time, and the thought of being penned and leashed was not an attractive one. After discussing this amongst themselves, the dogs sent a delegate of their own to approach the king and plead their case. This ambassador requested an audience with the king and, because the king adored dogs, he was more than happy to let the creature approach and speak.

“Dearest, wisest king,” said the dog ambassador, who, like most dogs, was exceptionally good at showing devotion to people. “I come to you humbly, seeking to make peace with you and your human subjects. We dogs used to roam freely and cause no one harm, but now a dog catcher has been established to chase us down and lock us away like criminals. This causes us great grief, as we have tried to serve the humans by guarding them, barking when a stranger or wolf approaches, keeping our owners warm at night by sleeping in their beds, and showing delight when they return. I ask you, dear king, is this any way to repay our love?”

The king nodded solemnly. “I hear your plight, and I agree with you. Dogs have done much to serve humans, and to round them up like vermin is indeed cruel. I will issue a license to you and your kind, declaring you free from arrest. Show this order to the dog catcher, and he will not take you away. But remember to keep the document safe—I can issue only one, and you must be able to show it when needed.”

The king then immediately ordered his scribes to create the document, which was rolled up, sealed and given to the dog ambassador. His tail wagging wildly, the dog rushed back to show all of his canine compatriots as they waited in the city square. There was such gleeful barking that it soon drew the attention of the city’s cats, bringing them streaming down from the rooftops to join in with the celebration.

“Congratulations, dogs,” said one cat, a mighty tom with a fluffy gray and white coat. “This is a wonderful victory for you.”

“It is indeed,” said the ambassador dog. “As long as we have this decree, the dog catcher cannot take us.”

“Where will you keep it?”

The dog’s wagging tail faltered a beat. “Keep it …?”

“Yes.” The cat stared at the dog, arching an eyebrow as the dog stared blankly back.

The cat frowned. “You need a place to keep the license safe.”

The dog blinked. “I was just going to carry it around.”

Inwardly, the fluffy cat winced; while dogs were wonderful at adulation, they typically weren’t the smartest of creatures. “Well, all right, I suppose you could do that. But what if it gets torn up or wet? It won’t do any of you any good of it’s ruined.”

“Oh, I didn’t think about that.” The dog looked down at the rolled parchment by his paws. “I don’t know where I could put it.”

The cat’s green eyes lit up. “Oh, I think I have just the place. I’ll keep it in the rafters of my home, where people can’t get at it. It’s dry, so it won’t get moldy. Whenever you need it, us cats can go and get it for you.”

All the city cats nodded in agreement and all the dogs barked their gratitude. The dog ambassador thought this was a wonderful idea, and he passed the rolled document to the cat. The cat clamped his sharp teeth down on the seal and swiftly carried it back to his house, tucking it away high in the rafters where it would be safe, in a notch just under the thatched roof.

With the decree safe, the dogs resumed their daily romps through the city. The humans were irritated, but hesitated to act, since a rumor had spread that the king had issued a decree to the dogs that they could not be rounded up and locked away. After a year of putting up with the dogs’ chaos, the humans finally lost their patience and summoned the dogcatchers.

The men went to work quickly, netting and roping all the dogs they found lounging in the sunshine or prancing down the street. The dogs yelped and whined, crying, “Stop! You can’t take us—we have the king’s permission to run free!”

“Oh really?” sneered one dogcatcher as he dragged the poor mongrels back to the pens. “Permission from the king, eh? Can you prove it?”

“Of course we can!” the dogs snarled. “Our friends the cats have the parchment. They’ll get it, and then you’ll see.”

“Fine. Bring me this mythical parchment. If it’s true, we’ll never bother you again.”

As luck would have it, the same tom who had secreted the document away witnessed the dogcatchers at work, and he rushed back to his house to find the document. Easily springing up to the rafters, the cat made his way to the corner of the roof where he had hidden the license.

As the cat approached the small notch in the wall, he jumped back in surprise as a portly brown mouse came racing out of the hole, disappearing up into the roof. His heart sinking, the cat rushed to the notch and stuck his paw inside, hooking his claw onto the parchment’s ribbon. Pulling it out, the cat gasped in horror when he saw the tattered shreds of the royal document … the mice had torn it completely apart.

Devastated, the cat collected what he could salvage and rushed back to the dogcatchers’ pens. As the smirking dogcatchers waited, and the whining dogs pressed their noses to the fence, the cat tried to piece the decree back together, but it was no use—the mice had destroyed too much of it.

The dogs were outraged. “How could you let this happen?” they howled from their pens. “You said you would keep it safe for us! You didn’t keep your word!”

No matter how much the cats tried to plead their innocence, the dogs didn’t believe them, calling them liars and traitors. From that day, cats and dogs were no longer friends. The resentful dogs chased the cats whenever they could, and the bitter cats in turn chased the mice, seeking revenge for their ruined friendship.

Myth Monday: Why Cats Like Women (African Folktale)

Myth Monday: Why Cats Like Women (African Folktale)

By Kara Newcastle




August has a lot of cat holidays, with International Cat Day on August 8, Black Cat Appreciation Day August 17th, and National Take Your Cat to the Vet Day August 22, so I thought I’d spend the month writing some cat-themed blogs! Here’s one of my favorite cat-related stories, a folktale from Africa. I’ve read a few different versions, so I put together pieces from all of them. Enjoy!


gray tabby cat
Photo by Erika Augusto on


Long ago there was a Cat. The Cat lived by herself on the savannah, but it wasn’t easy; there were lots of dangerous animals living in the tall grasses that would have no problem turning the Cat into a snack. The Cat could run fast, and she could climb trees, and she had sharp teeth and claws, but there were animals that were faster than she was, and animals that could climb trees and had sharper teeth and claws—and most of those animals were bigger than Cat. She knew she had no hope of protecting herself. So, one day, Cat decided that the best way to survive in the wild was to befriend the strongest, toughest animal out there, and have them be her guardian.

The Cat set out on a walk, and soon came upon a huge, fearsome lion as it strode through the grasses. Spotting Cat, Lion raised his huge shaggy head and licked his lips. He stared dead at Cat, and just as Cat was starting to think that she was about to become lunch, she blurted out, “Lion! I’m so happy to find you. There are so many animals out here that would eat me as soon as look at me. Can you help?”

nature africa wilderness lion
Photo by Pixabay on

Lion chuckled. “You need someone to protect you, cousin? Stick by me. There’s no predator bigger or stronger than me. I rule this land. All others flee before me.”

Delighted, Cat fell into step beside Lion, and for days they lived together as friends. Things were going well … until the ran into Elephant. Elephant was a huge bull with massive white tusks, and when he saw Lion, he didn’t even bat an eye. He was coming one way down the path while Cat and Lion were coming up the other. They met each other in the center and stopped dead.

Growling, Lion lashed a paw in the air. “You! Elephant! Stand aside.”

Lashing his trunk, Elephant trumpeted loudly. “Why don’t you make me, you sorry excuse for a hairball?”

Lion never could handle an insult, and he launched himself at Elephant with a thunderous roar. Elephant stood his ground, and as Cat watched in horror, Elephant scooped his massive tusks under Lion’s body, lifted Lion up and, with a sharp whip of his head, sent Lion flying into stand of trees.

“Yeah, let that be a lesson to you,” Elephant sneered as Lion slumped to the ground, dead from the impact.

Heartbroken, Cat wailed. “Oh no! The Lion was protecting me from all the big animals out here. What am I going to do? I’ll get eaten for sure!”

Surprised by her cry, Elephant squinted down at poor Cat. “What’s wrong? You need somebody to protect you? You should have come to me first! Lions might have teeth and claws, but I’m a lot bigger and stronger. Nothing messes with me.”

elephant near plants and trees
Photo by RENATO CONTI on

Taking a look at Elephant’s immense size, Cat decided that he was right and joined him. They lived together for many days, but in time, the unthinkable happened; as Elephant busied himself pulling leaves down from tree branches with his trunk, a strange, two-legged creature snuck up behind him. Reaching a safe distance, the thing launched a spear at Elephant’s neck, catching him dead on. The Elephant stood no chance against the attack and collapsed into a heap.

Cat huddled down nearby, too frightened to move. She flattened her ears back as the two-legged thing approached the dead Elephant. As it circled around Elephant’s legs, it saw the puffed-out Cat crouched there, watching it with huge, frightened eyes.

The two-legged beast cocked its head at Cat. “What are you? A tiny lion?”

Terrified, Cat shook her head wildly. “I’m not a lion! I’m a cat. I was just looking for somebody to protect me from the bigger and scarier animals out here, and Elephant said there wasn’t anybody bigger than him.”

The creature laughed. “Well, Elephant was wrong. I’m a Man. I can kill things that are big and scary.”

Cat winced. “How? You don’t have claws or fangs. You don’t look very strong.”

“No, but I’m smart. I make weapons and tools so I can hunt big animals. If you need protection, you should come with me. There are things out in the wild that are big and strong, but I can face any of them.”


Intrigued, Cat studied Man. No claws, no fangs, he wasn’t big and strong … but he had killed Elephant with just a pointy stick. Man should have been easily pickings for any animal out there, but he was totally unafraid.

Maybe he was the strongest, toughest animal out there.

Encouraged by the thought, Cat agreed, and walked alongside Man back to Man’s village. As they walked, Man proudly told Cat of all the animals he could hunt, and they were all animals that could have hurt or killed Cat, so Cat was feeling better and better about her new guardian. There couldn’t possibly be anything tougher than a man.

Reaching Man’s house, Cat saw movement in the open doorway. Another two-legged creature leaned out, watching them approach.

Smiling, Man pointed to the new two-legged thing. “That’s Woman. She’s my wife.”

Before Cat could ask what a “wife” was, she saw Woman’s face darken. Woman scowled, then stormed out of the house, meeting them halfway. She reached out and took the spear out of Man’s hand, and Cat felt her jaw drop open in amazement; Woman could just take Man’s weapon away like that? And he didn’t try to stop her?

“Took you long enough,” Woman snorted as she scanned Man from head to toe. “You were supposed to go out and get meat for your children, but you came back empty handed? Again?”

Taken aback, Man stood there and blinked rapidly. “I—well I—I did, but—I got an elephant—”

“Yeah? Where is it?”

Cringing, Man looked down at Cat. “Well … I—”

“You go back out there and bring back the food that you promised you’d get us!” Woman roared, thrusting the spear back at Man. “And make it fast, they’re hungry!”

Cat watched in utter disbelief as Man—the same weak, two-legged thing she had seen take down the huge Elephant with just a stick—stuttered an embarrassed apology to Woman and turned around, making his way swiftly back out to the savannah. Cat couldn’t believe it …

There was something tougher than Man?

Feeling eyes on her, Cat glanced up and flinched, seeing Woman staring down at her.

Woman arched an eyebrow. “What are you, little one?”

Cat blinked. “I’m Cat. I’ve been looking for someone to protect me from all the big animals out there. I thought Man was the strongest, but …”

An amused smile played at the corners of Woman’s mouth. “But what?”

“Well … you seem tougher than him.”

“Oh, yes I am.” Bursting into a grin, Woman turned back to her house, beckoning for Cat to follow. “You can stay with me. There’s nobody tougher than me.”

Initially, Cat had her doubts, but to her relief and delight she found that the Woman was correct; no one ever came to challenge the Woman at any time.

And that’s why cats like women.

Myth Monday: The Mermaid Bride (English Folktale)

July 24, 2018

By Kara Newcastle


If you ever visit England, try to work a side trip to the village of Zennor, Cornwall. More specifically, go to the church of St. Senara and take a look at a particular chair they keep in an alcove there. You might think that a chair is nothing to get worked up about, but it might interest you to know that the chair is about 500 years old, and is said to have been made to commemorate a fantastical love story—between a mermaid and a human man.


Five hundred years ago, the Church of St. Senara was the parish of the villagers of Zennor. The villagers all knew each other … except that, occasionally, a very beautiful woman would slip into the church and sit with them. No one knew who she was, but all were amazed by her singing. She had the most beautiful voice, it was almost mesmerizing to hear. As soon as services were conducted, the woman would slip out the door before anyone else and vanish.

In time, Mathew Trehwella, the handsome son of a local squire, joined the church and became renowned for his own incredible singing ability. His talent did not go unnoticed by the mysterious woman, and she was seen watching him with entranced, wistful eyes. Mathew would look back at her too and they sang together, their voices rising above the congregation’s.

 Pendour Cove by Tony Atkin

Little did anyone know, but the woman was actually a mermaid named Morveren, and she would emerge out of the waters of nearby Pendour Cove in order to join the humans in their singing. Upon meeting Mathew Trehwella, Morveren fell in love with the handsome youth and visited the church nearly every Sunday to see him. When she couldn’t, she would sit upon the boulders on the shore and sing up to Mathew—and he would sing back.

One day after church, Mathew followed a stream down to the cove. After that day, neither he nor the unknown woman was ever seen again. Many wondered what could have befallen such a talented man, but several years after his disappearance, a ship dropped anchor in Pendour Cove. Almost immediately, a beautiful mermaid surfaced and asked the petrified sailors to raise the anchor, as it was blocking her way to her children. Knowing mermaids to be dangerous, the sailors quickly obliged, but upon returning to town and regaling the locals with their tale, people realized that the mermaid’s description sounded very much like that of the mysterious woman who used to visit their church. They realized that she must have taken Mathew Trehwella down to her undersea kingdom and married him.

Moved by the event, the villagers of Zennor constructed a chair and carved an image of Morveren the mermaid into the backrest, placing it in the church where the two lovers met. And to this day, the townsfolk will tell you that if you listen carefully on an early summer’s night, you can hear Morveren and Mathew joyfully singing to each other from beneath the waves.


Myth Monday: Kuzunoha the Fox Mother (Japanese Legend)

May 23, 2018

By Kara Newcastle

The young nobleman Abe no Yasuna paused to take in the scenery around him. He had left home earlier that day to ride to the shrine of Inari, the god of rice, fertility and success, and he was sure that he was drawing nearer—the forest was quite beautiful, surely a blessing from Inari.

Yasuna pressed his snorting horse harder, urging it to speed up its gate as it trotted through the woodland, drawing closer to the shrine of Inari. He smiled, relieved that his destination was so near—

Branches and brush thrashed wildly and Yasuna’s horse started, rearing back and whinnying in fright. Startled, Yasuna jerked back hard on the reins, pulling the horse’s head back under control, urging it to set its stamping feet back on the ground again. Alarmed by the crashing of the underbrush, Yasuna reached for his sword. What in the world ….?

Panting wildly, a white fox shot out of the kudzu trees at the side of the road. It scrambled to a frightened stop before Yasuna’s horse, its hackles standing on end. Its tongue lolling out and sides heaving, it stared fearfully at Yasuna, then snapped its head around, looking back into the forest. A man’s voice shouted from the woods beyond.


Gasping, the fox spun around to face Yasuna. “Help me!” it shrieked.

His heart seizing, Yasuna jerked back in his saddle, his hand instinctively clamping down on the wrapped grip of his katana. The fox—it spoke to him!

Looking back over its shoulder, the terrified white fox burst into a run, springing into the undergrowth on the right side of the road . Just as the fox vanished into the growth, a sweating horse barreled through the trees from the opposite side, snorting angrily as its rider, a huntsman, pulled back hard on its reins, stopping the beast in the center of the road.

Scanning the road around them quickly, the huntsman snapped his furious eyes up at Yasuna. “You there! Did you see a white fox come through here?”

Yasuna straightened. He remembered the terror in the fox’s eyes, in its voice when it spoke to him, and he frowned at the hunter. “You would hunt a fox so close to Inari’s shrine? Don’t you know that the fox is Inari’s sacred animal?”

The hunter glared at him. “I need fox livers for medicine.”

“Let this one go. Inari would be angry if you hurt it.”

“Mind your own business, fool!”

Fury flooding through him, Yasuna drew his katana, pointing the razor tip at the huntsman. “This is my business now. Take your hunt somewhere else!”

“You dare—!” His face burning with rage, the huntsman drew his own sword, wheeled his horse around and charged at Yasuna, howling like a demon. Yasuna instinctively kicked his own horse into a gallop, his katana meeting the hunter’s own, the blades screaming against each other. They fought for what felt like hours, slashing and parrying, leaping down from their mounts to charge one another on foot. The huntsman was better trained than he appeared, and he tore open several deep slashes before then scoring a thrust at Yasuna’s ribs, punching open a bloody wound. Barely registering the pain, Yasuna pivoted and struck hard, the impact of his sword ripping the huntsman’s weapon out of his hands, sending it spinning off into the woods.

Wheezing for breath, Yasuna stepped back, planting one hand to his bloodied side as he extended his sword arm out, fitting the tip beneath the wide-eyed hunter’s chin, just barely pressing it against his throat.

“I will not kill you here, not so close to the shrine,” Yasuna rasped. “But if you continue to pursue the foxes here, I will take your life.” Lowering the sword, Yasuna backed a few cautious steps away, then waved the blade towards his opponent’s horse. “Leave.”

Aware at how close he had come to death, the huntsman didn’t argue. He sputtered a sort of thanks to Yasuna for his mercy, then turned and hurried to his horse, swinging up in the saddle and kicking it hard, racing away from the young warrior.

As the hunter disappeared over the crest of a hill, Yasuna finally began to feel his wounds and he staggered, hissing in pain. Awkwardly sliding the katana back into his scabbard, Yasuna winced, looking down at the blood on his hand, wondering how he would get back on his horse, if he would be able to make it to the shrine in time to find help.

“Um … e-excuse me?”

Startled, Yasuna snapped his head up in the direction of the soft voice. He blinked, his eyes widening in amazement as a woman—the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life, wearing the most exquisite silk kimono decorated with kudzu leaves—stepped uncertainly out of the woods. She hesitated at the edge of the road, her fingers nervously running through her waist length black hair. Her eyes widened when she saw the blood coursing down the front of his robes. “Oh, you’re hurt!”

“It’s nothing,” Yasuna said, though he was aware of how strained his voice sounded. “It’s just a … well, actually …”

Clearly not fooled by his bravado, the woman shook her head and hurried towards him, taking his free arm and draping it over her head. “Stop it. You need help.”

Yasuna opened his mouth to protest, but a wave of vertigo swept over him, weakening his legs. Grimacing, he allowed the woman to support his weight. “All right.”

“You live near here, don’t you? I’ll help you get home and treat your wounds.” Carefully turning Yasuna around, the woman helped him hobble back down the road, keeping one arm tightly around him, the other reaching for the reins of his horse as they walked past. She glanced up at him. “I saw you save the white fox. That was very brave of you. Inari will be pleased.”

Despite his mounting pain and weakness, Yasuna felt his cheeks flush at her words, and he smiled down at the beautiful woman beside him. “What is your name?”

Her own cheeks turning a shade of peony pink, the woman smiled shyly back up at him. “Kuzunoha.”

It took a bit of time, but Yasuna and Kuzunoha reached his home and Kuzunoha worked quickly to make him comfortable, treating his wounds, caring for him and his household until he recovered. Yasuna, already in love with the beautiful Kuzunoha, worked hard to regain his strength, and as soon as he was able to, he married Kuzunoha. They were completely devoted to each other and soon they had a son they named Seimei.

Seimei was unusual from the start. He looked like an ordinary boy, but it was clear early on that he was phenomenally smart and talented, more so than any child his age. Yasuna was beyond proud of his son’s intellect. Kuzunoha was proud as well, but often, when others weren’t watching, she would look at her son with a worried and knowing expression. When Seimei began to communicate and command spirits, Kuzunoha’s worry increased.

One beautiful day in early summer, Kuzunoha wandered through her gardens as five-year-old Seimei marched along behind her, stopping frequently to study various rocks and insects he came across. As Seimei paused to examine a stone, Kuzunoha bent down a bit to sniff at a lovely chrysanthemum flower. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Seimei freeze, staring at her, his mouth agape.

The boy blinked hard. “Mother?”

“Yes darling?”

“Why do you have a white fox tail?”

Horrified, Kuzunoha stood straight up and spun around. She stared in shock at her son, who only looked back at her in confusion.

Kuzunoha had to work to get her voice to come out of her throat. “What … what did you say?”

Disturbed by his mother’s reaction, Seimei hesitated, then timidly pointed to the hem of her kimono. “I saw a white fox’s tail peeking out when you were smelling the chrysanthemum. Why do you have a fox’s tail?”


Kuzunoha’s hands flew to her mouth, stifling a gasp; Seimei had somehow seen her true form. She was a kitsune, a fox with the ability to transform into a maiden. So long as she had been able to keep her true identity a secret she had been able to live happily with her family … but now Seimei had seen, and the power was undone. She had to return to the forest.

Devastated, Kuzunoha went to Yasuna’s teacher, the famed Kamo no Tadayuki and told him of her plight. She begged Tadayuki-sama to become Seimei’s teacher, to guide him and keep him from turning evil. Tadayuki solemnly agreed.

Kuzunoha then waited until nightfall when her husband and son were asleep, then removed her kimono and transformed back into a white fox. Unable to bear the thought of abandoning them completely without an explanation why, Kuzunoha picked up a calligraphy brush in her slender jaws, dipped it in ink, then trotted over to a nearby silk screen and wrote,

“If you love me, darling, come and see me.

You will find me yonder in the great wood

Of Shinoda of Izumi Province where the leaves

Of arrowroots always rustle in pensive mood.”

Stifling mournful sobs, Kuzunoha dropped the brush, slipped out of their home and ran away into the night.


The next morning Yasuna woke to find his cherished wife had vanished. Frantic, he searched all over the house until he came across the poem written on the silk screen. Reading the beautifully painted words, the memories came roaring back and Yasuna, shocked, realized that Kuzunoha was the white fox he had rescued.

Taking Seimei’s hand, Yasuna raced back to Shinoda, and as soon as they reached the shrine of Inari, father and son began to call for Kuzunoha, begging for her to come out. No sooner did they stop to take a breath than a beautiful white fox came bounding out of the shrine, her eyes filled with happy tears. Yipping in joy, she raced up to them, rubbing her fox body affectionately against their legs, standing up and planting her front paws on them and licking their hands and faces. When Yasuna and Seimei asked her to come home, Kuzunoha’s ears wilted and her tail drooped.

“I am so sorry, but I can’t,” Kuzunoha whispered, tears running down her vulpine face. “Now that my true form has been revealed, I have to return to the forest. I love you, I love you both desperately and believe me when I say that I don’t want to leave … but this is the way it has to be. I am the spirit of this shrine. I have to stay here now.”

Heartbroken, Seimei and Yasuna nodded, saddened but understanding that none of them had any power to change this situation. They embraced and petted and kissed Kuzunoha, Seimei promising to never forget his fox mother. As farewell gifts, Kuzunoha magically produced a golden box and a crystal ball for Seimei and Yasuna, and granted upon Seimei the power to communicate with all the world’s animals before sadly turning away and loping back into the shrine, never to be seen again.

In time, Abe no Seimei grew to become Japan’s greatest onmyōji (court scholar) and accomplished great feats of magic. The screen that the fox maiden Kuzunoha wrote her goodbye poem as donated to the Inari Shrine in Shinoda, and can still be seen there today.