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

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

By Kara Newcastle





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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Lady Kayo carrying a severed head

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

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

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

Bao Si

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

Or did she?

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

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

Tamamo no Mae

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

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


Abe no Yasuchika reveals Tamamo no Mae to be a kitsune

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

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

Miura no suke catches up with Tamamo no Mae

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red fox, by US Fish & Wildlife, wikimedia commons






Myth Monday: The Most Powerful Swords in Mythology (World Mythology)

Myth Monday: The Most Powerful Swords in Mythology

By Kara Newcastle

Ever seen Disney’s Hercules? At one point, Herc comes up against the evil centaur Nessus, loses his sword in the river and starts to panic. As Hercules thrashes around searching for his sword, he tries to refocus himself by repeating what he’s learned in hero-training.

“Right. Rule number 15 … A hero is only as good as his weapon!!”

Here, Hercules grabs a hold of something and brandishes it triumphantly … only to realize it’s a fish. That aside, Hercules wasn’t entirely wrong; for some mythological characters, the weapon makes the hero. And some of their swords are pretty damn cool (there were so many to chose from, I might do another list in the future!)

  1. Excalibur (England): Of course, this one’s a gimme, but no mystical weapons list would be complete without it. To begin, Excalibur was not the sword that King Arthur pulled from the stone (that’s a literary shortcut authors and Hollywood like to use); after Arthur pulled the sword from the stone, he used it on several campaigns, eventually shattering. Deciding it was time for Arthur to have a sword worthy of a king of all England, the wizard Merlin took the young king to meet the Lady of the Lake (one of many), where the water spirit gifted Arthur the magical sword Excalibur and its scabbard. The scabbard was enchanted so that whoever wore it would not bleed to death in battle. However, the sorceress Morgan Le Fey stole it and threw it back into the lake, so after Arthur fought his evil son Mordred he died from his wounds. In most versions of the story, Arthur orders his knight Sir Bedivere to throw Excalibur back into the lake, where it is caught by the Lady of the Lake.
Katana_blade_1505_Osofune_school by Rama

2. Kusanagi The Grasscutter (Japan): After slaying the multi-headed Orochi Serpent, the storm god Susanoo proceeded to chop up the dragon’s body. Upon cutting off the dragon’s fourth tail Susanoo was surprised to find a sword inside. Calling it Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi, Susanoo presented it to his sister, the sun goddess Amaterasu as a sort of peace offering after all their feuding. Amaterasu passed the sword down to her descendants, and eventually it came into the possession of the hero Yamato Takeru. One day Takeru was trapped in a field by his enemies, who set the grass on fire in the hopes of killing him. Depserate to escape, Takeru drew the divine sword to cut back the grass, but when he did he found that the sword had the power to control the wind. Takeru used the sword to turn the fire back onto his enemies, and afterwards gave it the name that it is known by today: Kusanagi no Tsurugi, the Grasscutter. The sword continues to be bestowed upon different family members and is featured in a number of stories. Today, it’s alleged that the Kusanagi no Tsurugi is kept at the Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya, Japan. Said to be too divine to be view by mortal eyes, its kept locked away. The last time it was seen was in 2019 at Emperor Naruhito’s ascension ceremony. It symbolizes the virtue of valor and is one of the Imperial Treasures.

3. Fragarach (Ireland): Forged by the gods, the sword was first owned by Manannan Mac Lir, the god of the sea. Also known as the Retaliator, the Whisperer and the Answerer, it was bestowed upon Nuada, the first high king of Ireland. Kings of Ireland had to be physically perfect, so when Nuada lost his arm in battle, he abdicated in favor of Lugh, the future god of the sun, and gave him Fragarach as the symbol of his kingship. Fragarach was incredibly powerful; it could easily cleave through a shield or wall, delivered wounds that were always fatal, made its opponents weak, and, when held against a person’s throat, had the ability to force the person to tell the truth (which is why it was also called the Answerer.)

  1. The Harpe (Greece): A harpe is a sword that is either sickle-shaped, or has a straight blade with a sickle-like point protruding out towards the tip. Sometimes the myths say that Cronus used a harpe made of flint or adamantine to castrated his father Uranus, but the harpe was most famously used by the hero Perseus. A son of Zeus (big surprise), Perseus was determined to protect his mother Danae from King Polydectes of Seriphos, who wanted to marry her. Wanting to get the boy out of the way, Polydectes manipulated Perseus into going on a quest to slay the monster Medusa and bring back her head. Perseus found the way to Medusa’s cave, but was at a loss as to how to kill her without being turned into stone by her stare. The answer of course came from the gods: Athena gave Perseus a highly reflective shield, Hades gave him his helmet of invisibility, Hermes gave him his winged sandals, and Zeus gave Perseus a harpe made of adamantine (sorry, I can’t help but look at Zeus at this point as an absentee father trying to make good with his son.) Not only as Perseus able to use the harpe and the other gifts to kill Medusa, he also used the sword to destroy a sea monster summoned by the god Poseidon. (Side note: it was not known as a kraken. The kraken is a Norwegian sea monster. All the same, that still stands as a really cool quote to yell.)

5. Shamshir-e Zomorrodnegār (Persian): This emerald-encrusted sword once owned by King Solomon was featured in the world’s longest epic poem, Amir Arsalan-e Namadar, and was wielded by the eponymous hero (Amir Arsalan, if that helps) on his many quests. One of his quests was to face the giant, horned demon Fulad-zereh, who had been terrorizing the world by flying through the air and kidnapping beautiful women, and now had usurped the throne of the fairy king and turned many of his courtiers to stone. Fulad-zereh’s mother was a powerful witch, and she had enchanted Fulad-zereh so that nothing could harm him … except for the sword Shamshir-e Zomorrodnegār (she might as well have been designing the first Death Star.) Knowing this, Fulad-zereh guarded the sword carefully, but Amir Arsalan was able to outwit him and kill both Fulad-zereh and his mother with Shamshir-e Zomorrodnegār. The sword was so powerful that any wound that it inflicted would not heal unless treated with a special potion—an ingredient of which was Fulad-zereh’s brain, but Amir Arsalan had no problem making it.

6. Beowulf’s swords Hrunting and Næġling (Danish): Two swords are noted in the epic poem Beowulf, and interestingly, despite their unique abilities neither one of them help him. Beowulf was a warrior from Geatland, and he and his men were summoned by King Hrothgar of the Danes to help them kill the monster Grendel, who had been raiding Hrothgar’s drinking hall. Not long after arriving at the great hall, Beowulf proceeded to boast about his many adventures, irritating the king’s retainer Unferth. Unferth accused Beowulf of lying, to which Beowulf mocked him back. After witnessing Beowulf disarm Grendel—literally—Unferth falls quiet. The Geats and Danes don’t have long to celebrate Beowulf’s victory, as Grendel’s even more monstrous mother comes for revenge. They pursue her to a lake, where she plunges to the depths. There, Unferth hands Beowulf his sword Hrunting, telling Beowulf that the sword would never fail the one who held it. Happy for the gift, Beowulf leapt into the lake after Grendel’s mother and drew Hrunting … only to find that it was useless against the creature. This has led some scholars to wonder if Unferth had lied about the sword’s power in the hopes that Beowulf would lose (don’t worry, he didn’t.) Many years later, Beowulf’s kingdom is attacked by a dragon, and Beowulf, now an old man, goes out to confront it. He takes with him the sword Næġling, a very ancient weapon that had been passed down to him through his family and was said to contain immense power. Unfortunately, by now Beowulf is too old to wield it properly, and he is killed by the dragon’s venom.

7. Gram (Norse): Once upon a time, the Norse warrior Sigmund was enjoying himself mightily at the wedding feast of his sister Signy. As he parties with the other Vikings, a stranger in a black cloak enters the hall and walks straight up to the Barnstokker tree growing in the middle of it. The man draws out a sword, lifts it up, and plunges it straight into the trunk of the tree. The man says to all in the stunned hall, “He who pulls out this sword will keep it as a gift from me, and he will know that he never carried a better sword than this.” The man was Odin, the king of the gods in disguise, and as soon as he walked out of the hall every man there lunged for the sword. Only Sigmund was able to pull it free. King Siggeir becomes envious and tries to buy the sword Gram, but when Sigmund won’t part with it, the king begins a campaign of murder and torture against Sigmund and his family. Sigmund manages to keep the sword until it is broken in battle by Odin himself. Sigmund’s wife Hjordis keeps both pieces for their future son, Sigurd. Years later a dwarf named Regin tells Sigurd about an amazing hoard of gold guarded by the dragon Fafnir, and Sigurd promises to slay the dragon if Regin can forge him a sword. Regin repairs Gram, and Sigurd uses it on several quests. The last time Gram is seen is when it is placed between the bodies of Sigurd and the Valkyrie Brunhilde on their funeral pyre.

8. Kladenets/Mech-samosek (Russia): The actual translation of “kladenets” is a little tricky, but most stories that feature the Kladenets describe it as a “self-swinging sword”—in other words, a sword that fights on its own. Also known as a mech-samosek, the sword cannot be forged, it has to be retrieved by a hero from a burial mound (the root word of the name means “treasure”,) and will do the fighting for the hero itself. Some versions state that the sword must be held, that it can kill anyone with a single blow, but if you hit the dead body a second time the sword will bounce back and cut your own head off. The Kladenets is most frequently listed as the weapon of the folk hero Ivan Tsarevich.

9. Thuận Thiên (Vietnam): In 1418, seeing that the land we now know as Vietnam was suffering under Ming control, Long Voung, the Dragon King, decided that it was time he helped the humans out. The best way to do that was to bestow his own sword upon them, but there was one problem: the sword came in two pieces. Long Voung sent the blade of the sword down river, where it was dredged up by a local fisherman three times. Realizing that this was something significant, the fisherman brought the blade home and kept it in a corner for several years. After some time Le Loi, a general at this time, visited the fisherman’s home. Almost immediately, the sword blade began to glow brightly. Holding it up, Le Loi saw the words Thuận Thiên, “Heaven’s Will,” etched on the blade. Seeing this as another sign, the fisherman insisted that General Le Loi take the blade. Some time later, Le Loi was fleeing his enemies through the woods, when a sparkle caught his eye. Looking up, he saw a jewel-studded empty sword hilt dangling in the branches of a banyan tree. Bewildered, Le Loi climbed up, pulled down the hilt, and fitted it into the blade he found at the fisherman’s house. Seeing that the pieces fit together perfectly, Le Loi realized this was a sign from heaven, showing him that he had the gods’ approval. The sword caused Le Loi to grow extremely tall, and have the strength of a thousand men, and seeing him with the divine weapon help rally the people of Vietnam to his side. Within ten years, the Vietnamese had driven out the Ming Chinese, and Vietnam was now an independent country with Le Loi as its king. A year later, Le Loi was on a pleasure cruise on Ho Luc Thuy (Green Lake), when a giant turtle with a golden shell emerged from the water and swam towards him. In a human voice, the turtle told Le Loi that his task was complete, and that he needed to return Thuận Thiên before its divine power corrupted him. Le Loi looked down at the sword at his side (which was twitching towards the turtle, as if wanting to go to it) and realized that the turtle was right. He tossed Thuận Thiên to the turtle, who caught it in its beak, and then sank beneath the water. Since then the lake has been known as the Lake of the Returned Sword, or Sword Lake.

10. Skofnung (Norse):I was trying to focus on as many different swords without repeating myself, but I came across this one. I don’t remember ever reading about it before, and there’s not a whole lot I found right now, but it’s just too cool not to mention.

The origins of Skofnung are a little murky, but early writings of the sword say that it was stolen from a burial mound by the Icelandic Viking Skeggi of Midfirth, who was chosen by lot to go in and get it. Eventually, it comes into the possession of Danish king Hrolf Kraki, who declared it to be the greatest sword of any in the Northlands. Not only was it supernaturally sharp and incredibly strong, it was also possessed by the souls of twelve of Hrolf’s most faithful warriors (and HOW did that happen? I’m not totally sure I want to know.) The sword passes hands several times and is even the lone survivor of a shipwreck. At one point one of the owners warns a friend that any cut made by Skofnung will not heal unless it is rubbed with the Skofnung Stone, which I don’t know exactly what that is. Mostly I’m just hung up on the ghosts of twelve dead berserkers bound to the sword right now.

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 Cats’ Elopement (Japanese Fairy Tale)

Myth Monday: The Cats’ Elopement (Japanese Fairy Tale)

By Kara Newcastle

Cats_sitting_on_sink by LaurenNicole7911


A long time ago in Japan, there lived two cats. One cat was Gon, a handsome male who lived in a house with an acclaimed music teacher. Gon was a lovable friend and excellent mouser, so the music teacher was very happy to have him.

Across town lived Koma, a beautiful female cat. She belonged to a lady who loved every little thing about the sweet cat. The lady often hugged Koma against her and said, “Oh, Koma, what would I ever do without you?”

At night, the cats of the city would wander the streets and rooftops to meet and play, and it was one these nights that Gon and Koma met, under the spreading limbs of a blossoming cherry tree. Gon was instantly captivated by the pretty green-eyed Koma, and Koma was immediately smitten by the strutting Gon. Every night they met, exploring the city, hunting mice together, whispering and cuddling. At last, Gon declared his love for Koma, and asked her to marry him. Koma was beside herself with delight and said yes.

The next morning, Gon went to his master and Koma went to her mistress, and each cat asked permission to depart from their home in order to marry and live together.

Gon’s master, the music teacher, was aghast. “What? Have you leave? Never! I need you here with me, hunting the rodents!”

Koma’s mistress, the lady, was horrified. “What? Have you leave? Never! I need you here with me, being my companion!”

Worried, the cats pleaded with their owners. Gon urged the music teacher to go to Koma’s owner and offer to buy her. The music teacher offered a price, but the lady refused. Koma begged the lady to buy Gon, but the music teacher dismissed any offers. Each human then grabbed their cat and spun away from the other, each telling their felines that they must never meet again, and that they had to stay home.

Furious, Gon charged out of his house the second the music teacher set him down. Angry that the lady would deny her the right to see her true love, Koma wriggled out of the woman’s grasp and ran away. The two cats met each other under the cherry tree and agreed; if their owners would not let them marry, then they were going to have to run away and elope.

And that’s exactly what Koma and Gon did. Wrapping their tails together, they struck out through the city, hunting mice and accepting offerings of food from kindly humans as they passed, searching for the perfect place the marry and start a family.

Not long after leaving their homes, Gon and Koma came upon a high wall. Scrambling up it was no effort for them, but they were overjoyed when they saw what was on the other side; an exquisite garden, filled with colorful, wonderfully scented flowers, winding trees and curving ponds.

sorakuen in kobe hyogo orefecture japan by 663highland

“This is the perfect place!” Gon declared as he sprang down into the garden, Koma right on his tail. “It’s so quiet, and the wall will keep strangers out—let’s live here!”

“Gon, it’s amazing,” Koma breathed as she gazed around the garden. “I love it!”

Pleased, Gon rubbed his head against Koma’s, and together they trotted across the trim grass, searching for the best place to make their home.

However, even paradise has its evils, and as Koma and Gon came down over an arching bridge, a growl cut the air around them. Startled, Koma and Gon froze, their heads snapping around in the direction of the fearsome sound. Their eyes widened when they saw the source; a big, lean, black guard dog, lounging beside the pond. It narrowed its beady eyes at them and slowly rose up onto its feet. It growled again, louder, its lips curling back over its hooked white teeth.

Horrified, Gon puffed all his fur out and raised his back. “Koma! Quick, climb a tree!”

Not needing to be told twice, Koma spun around, raced across the grass and scrambled up the trunk of a juniper tree just as the dog roared and lunged forward. Seeing that his beloved was only halfway to safety—well within the reach of the dog’s fangs—Gon screamed and threw himself in front of the charging dog, raking all of his claws across the beast’s nose and muzzle. Howling in pain, the dog barreled forward, opening its jaws wide and clamping them down on Gon’s body.

“Gon!” Koma shrieked as the dog shook the yowling cat back and forth. With a snap of its head, the dog whipped Gon to the ground. Gon bounced with the impact, rolling across the grass. He laid there, dazed, in pain, distantly aware of the dog stalking towards him—

“Stupid mongrel!”

Too weak to be surprised, Gon struggled to lift his head, watching as a human man—a groundskeeper—rushed down over the bridge he and Koma had traveled, raising a rake high over his head. Swearing through clenched teeth, the groundskeeper brought the handle of the rake down hard over the black dog’s head, making it yelp in pain and surprise.

“Get away from that poor cat!” the man shouted, swinging the handle at the dog’s face, making it whimper and back away with its tail between its legs. The man menaced the dog a bit more, driving it further away from Gon, making sure it wouldn’t dare come near him. Once he was satisfied that the dog would keep its distance, the groundskeeper spun around and fell to his knees beside Gon.

“Oh my,” he gasped, gingerly sliding his hands under Gon’s battered body. “You’re hurt. Don’t worry, I’ll bring you to Nozomi-hime—she knows how to heal animals.”

Gon barely heard any of this as he slipped into unconsciousness, the world closing in around him. He had no time to warn the groundskeeper that poor Koma was hiding in the juniper tree. Koma saw the groundskeeper hurry away with Gon in his arms, but when she tried to cry out, the dog snarled. Too frightened to speak, Koma huddled in the tree as the black dog circled beneath, trapping her there for hours until a guard came to collect it at night.

Koma had no idea where Gon was.


It was hours before Gon woke up, and he blinked in surprise to see the smiling face of a young woman dressed in beautiful robes kneeling beside him. She was Princess Nozomi, the daughter of the emperor. She loved animals, and it had so troubled her to see them hurt that she became very skilled in healing them. After the groundskeeper had brought Gon to her, Nozomi-hime tenderly cleaned Gon’s wounds and bandaged his bruised ribs, laying him gently down on a silken pillow, then waiting patiently for him to wake.

Seeing Gon’s puzzled face, Nozomi-hime smiled brighter. “It’s all right, little one, you’re safe here in the palace with me. Can you tell me your name?”

Gon opened his mouth and was alarmed when no sound came out. He swallowed hard and tried again. “Gon …”

“Gon? You look like a Gon.” Seeing him struggle to speak, Nozomi reached down and delicately stroked his head. “No, no, don’t waste your energy. It’ll be some time before you’re well enough to speak and move. You just lay right there, and I’ll bring you whatever you need.”

‘I need Koma!’ Gon wanted to wail, but he had no strength to speak. Distraught, he put his head down and told himself to concentrate on recovering. The sooner he recovered, the sooner he could find Koma.

He prayed she was all right.

Gon recovered slowly but steadily, still struggling to speak. Nozomi-hime took care of his every need, and Gon was thankful for everything she did. She kept him in her room, fed him and cleaned him and talked to him, helped him to walk again. Gon grew to like her very much.

As Gon recovered in the princess’s quarters, he soon learned that though Nozomi loved animals, there was one animal she absolutely despised; it was a large, green snake that lived in the gardens. The snake was obsessed with Princess Nozomi, visiting her every single day, proclaiming his love for her. Every day he asked her to marry him, and Nozomi repeatedly turned him away. When the snake demanded that she marry him—or else—Nozomi ordered him removed from her gardens. The snake was angry. Gon was worried that he would try to do something bad.

800px-North_American_green_snake,_San_Antonio_Zoo_DSCN0681 by Billy Hathorn

One night as Nozomi-hime slept in her bed and Gon dozed by her feet, the lattice shutters on her window rattled softly. One shutter nudged open, and the blunt nose of the jealous snake eased over the sill. He slithered down to the floor, his evil forked tongue darting out, his yellow eyes fixing on the princess’s sleeping form. He bared his fangs briefly in rage; she had denied him for the last time.

The sound of a venomous snake gliding along the floor is nearly imperceptible to human ears, but Gon’s ears were much more attuned. He snapped awake in a flash, sitting up just in time to see the snake’s tail vanish beneath the bed. Shocked, Gon spun around to warn Princess Nozomi, but he jolted in horror to see the wicked creature had already wound itself up along the bedpost beside Nozomi’s head. The snake’s head hovered over Nozomi’s throat. It bared its fangs. It hissed.

The alien sound startled Nozomi awake, and the second her eyes focused on the snake rearing above her, she screamed in terror.

Every inch of fur standing on head, Gon summoned an infuriated shriek and lunged, leaping over Nozomi-hime and slamming his jaws down around the snake’s throat. Shocked, the snake tried to roar and thrashed wildly, but Gon clung on, digging his fangs in deeper, raking the snake’s long body with his claws. As Nozomi darted out of the way, Gon wrestled the snake down off the bed, dragging it to the floor. Pulling the outraged serpent far away from the princess, Gon shook his head hard, beating the snake against the floor. At last, the evil thing hung limp in Gon’s jaws, and the brave cat spat the sinuous body out in disgust.

Astounded by what had happened, Princess Nozomi rushed to Gon and gathered him up in her arms, kissing his head. “Oh Gon! You were so brave. Thank you for saving me! How can I repay you? Name what you want, anything, it’s yours.”

Gon purred but said nothing, only resting his head sadly on the princess’s shoulder. All he wanted was Koma … but it felt like it had been so long.

What if she left?

Days passed, and though Gon at least regained his full strength and voice, he never told Nozomi-hime what he wanted, though she pleaded with him to share. One morning he padded over to a sunny spot on the princess’s veranda and laid down, sighing …

No sooner did Gon put his head down on his paws did he notice two shapes in the garden. Two cats. One was a big, rough looking male that Gon had seen around the palace before, bossing and bullying the other cats there. The other was much smaller, and the big male had driven it deeper under a bush. The small cat hissed wildly and swatted at the big brute, but he would not go away.

Gon’s hackles stood up; he could never stand to see big cats like that picking on smaller ones. Growling mightily, he sprang to his feet and charged down the path. “Hey! Leave that little cat alone!”

Baring his teeth, the bigger cat rounded on Gon. “And who’s going to make m—?” Realizing who was standing before him, the bigger cat’s eyes shot open. “O-oh, it’s you Gon, the Snake Killer. I didn’t—I—”

Gon puffed out his tail and laid back his ears. “I don’t care what your excuses are. Get lost, and don’t pick on any more cats!”

Cringing at Gon’s tone, the bigger cat muttered under his breath, but turned and slunk away without ever raising a claw—he knew better than to challenge the princess’s feline champion. Gon smirked at the bully’s retreating tail, then ducked down and peered under the bush. All he could see was the little cat’s paws and swishing tail. “It’s all right, you can come out now.”

Sighing gratefully, the little cat pushed through the bush’s woody twigs. “Oh, thank you so much. He just wouldn’t leave me alone …”

She stepped out of the leaves, and Gon felt his heart stop in his chest. He stared opened mouth at the beautiful little cat as she blinked in the bright sunlight up at him.

“Koma!” Gon cried.

Cat_1111 by huxiaofeng

Startled, Koma flinched. “How did you know my na—? Wait …” Blinking hard, Koma squinted, then slowly inched her tiny pink nose closer to Gon’s. She took a deep sniff.

Her eyes flying wide open, Koma jolted, all four of her paws actually leaving the ground. “Gon?! Is that you?”

“It is! It’s me!”

“Gon!” Koma squealed, throwing herself at her beloved. They fell into a laughing, purring pile, rubbing their faces and heads against each other, licking each other ecstatically.

“I didn’t recognize you,” Koma gasped as Gon wrapped his arms around her and buried is face in her soft fur. “You look so different. What happened? Where have you been?”

“Koma, I’m so sorry I couldn’t find you. That stupid dog hurt me, and Nozomi-hime kept me inside the palace until I was better.” Standing up, Gon took Koma’s paw. “I saved the princess’s life, and she promised me anything in return. Let’s go to her right now and asked to be married.”

Paw in paw, the two lovers ascended the steps and entered the palace, walking straight up to Princess Nozomi. Together they told their story, and Nozomi was so moved she was more than happy to permit them to marry, and promised them that they would never ever be separated again, inviting them to live with her.

In time, the princess took a prince as her husband, and he loved Koma and Gon just as much as she did. Koma and Gon had many kittens, and Princess Nozomi and her husband had many children, and they all lived happily ever after.

Myth Monday: Mermaids and Their Kin (World Mythology)

July 17, 2018

By Kara Newcastle


If you spend as much time researching mythology as I do, you start to notice certain things that are universally true. For example, every culture/society in the world either believes in or has legends regarding certain creatures, and any culture that largely bases its existence on being near the water has stories of aquatic humanoids. What, you thought that Hans Christian Andersen invented mermaids? Oh, no, no, no, they’re everywhere, they’ve been around for a while, and there have been some instances were people have found that they might actually be real. Here’s just a few of the most interesting ones:

  • Mermaids (Europe): Mermaids and the slightly less popular mermen are of course the most well known of the aquatic humanoids, appearing in legends and artwork from Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Germany, Norway and beyond. These creatures, collectively called merfolk,  are mostly considered to be sea-dwelling, though there have been stories of them living in pools of water inland. The females, or mermaids, have the upper torsos of beautiful human women, though below the waist they are depicted as having a long, scaly tail like a fish (though interestingly artwork usually shows them as having the up and down tail design of ocean mammals like dolphins, whereas fish have tails that swing from side to side.) Mermaids were reported by sailors as approaching their boats, swimming alongside them, or perching on rocks in the ocean, frequently brushing their hair. Typically, seeing a mermaid wasn’t good; stories abound of mermaids trying to lure sailors into the water with them where they would grab the poor sap and drag him underwater to drown him, or offering to guide the ships to safety while in reality they intend to cause the ships to crash upon hidden rock and reefs, killing everyone on board. Worse than the mermaids were the mermen, who, though possessing a generally human-like torso, was a little more like the Creature from the Black Lagoon on top than, say, Michael Phelps-ish, and they were much nastier than mermaids, often directly attacking passing ships in order to kill everyone on board. Christopher Columbus saw a group of mermaids (probably manatees, but how the hell do you mistake a manatee for a mermaid?) shortly before discovering the New World, Henry Hudson’s crew reported seeing them off the coast of Norway, John Smith (yes, that John Smith, of Pocahontas fame, but take anything he says with a grain of salt) saw a group in the West Indies, and the psychotic pirate Blackbeard was so terrified of them that he’d steer his ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, far from areas that were said to be populated with merfolk.


  • Orang Ikan (Indonesia): The orang ikan (“Fish man”) doesn’t quite fall into the category of mermaid, but, as an aquatic humanoid, can be classified as the same species. Said to look like a cross between an ape and a fish, the pinkish-colored bipedal orang ikan lives primarily in the lagoons of the Kei Islands, occasionally journeying out onto the beaches but largely remaining in the water where they can be seen hunting fish with great speed. Ugly and smelly, the native Indonesians choose to keep a respectful distance away from the creatures, and the orang ikan do likewise … with the exception of World War 2. In 1943, the Japanese had occupied the Kei Islands, and during the occupation soldiers periodically ran into groups (schools? pods?) of orang ikan. There were reports of the orang ikan growling at the soldiers and at least one instance of an orang ikan appearing to charge them through the water, but no actual physical interactions are known. The story goes that a commander and his men tried several times to trap one with no success, and when the commander returned to Japan after the war, he urged zoologists to look for the creatures, but no one took him seriously.

  • Selkies (Scotland): Selkies are a unique breed of merfolk; in the sea, they take on the forms of seals, but when they come upon land, they shuck off their sealskins and walk about as humans. Selkies can be either male or female (though, again, females are more widely reported) and are said to be extremely attractive as humans and known to seek out regular humans for romantic interludes. When a selkie is done with whatever business they had on land, they return to wherever they tucked away their sealskins, pull them on like furry scuba suits, and return to the ocean. If a human (and honestly, they’d have to be a real asshole to do this) found the selkie’s skin and hid it, the selkie would be so desperate to get it back that they would do anything for it. A famous folktale tells how a man stole a beautiful selkie woman’s skin and hid it, telling her that she’d get it back if she did what he wanted. He took the selkie home and married her, keeping her on land for years until one of their children accidentally discovered the hidden skin and showed the selkie. Overjoyed to have her freedom back, the selkie took the skin and ran down to the beach, never to be seen again. If you go to Scotland and ask if anyone can claim selkie ancestry, they’ll be easy to find—legend says that the children of selkies have webbed fingers.


  • Oceanids (Ancient Greece): The Oceanids were the three thousand beautiful daughters of the Titan Oceanus and the Titaness Tethys. Among them were the goddess Metis, the mother of Athena, Styx, the goddess of the Underworld river of blood that separated the land of the dead from the land of the living, and Doris, the mother of the Nereids. The goddess Amphitrite, who is the unwilling wife of the sea god Poseidon, is sometimes referred to as an Oceanid (sometimes as a Nereid, sometimes as both … mythology can be confusing) and is the mother of the merman Triton. Each Oceanid is the guardian goddess of a sea, lake, pond, fountain or spring (and because there aren’t three thousand different bodies of water in Greece, some were in charge of things like flowers and clouds), and the Greeks frequently made sacrifices to them to ensure a safe journey over the waters. In ancient art the Oceanids are portrayed as ordinary but beautiful young women who live in the sea. And in case you’re wondering, the Oceanids had three thousand brothers, called the Potomoi, who were the gods of rivers and also normal-looking.


  • Nereids (Ancient Greece): The Nereids were the 50 beautiful and human-looking daughters of Doris, an Oceanid, and Nereus, a shape-shifting river god who was sometimes portrayed with the upper torso of a human man and the lower body of a fish or eel-like animal.  The most famous of the Nereids was Thetis, a sea-dwelling goddess who inherited her father’s shape-shifting ability and is best known as the mother of Achilles, though some sources also cite her as the creator of the Amazons as well.

  • Encantados (South America): Ladies, if you’re ever near the Amazon River and you’re about to get it on with a handsome, hat-wearing local who says he needs to get home before the sun rises, check under the hat first—there could be a blowhole on top of his head! Much like the selkies, the encantados are actually river dolphins that emerge from the water and transform into handsome men in order to hook up with beautiful human women. For some reason that I haven’t found out yet, the encantados can’t get rid of their blowholes, so they hide them by wearing hats. In addition, the encantados can only transform into men at night, and they must return to the Amazon River before daybreak, when they’ll be forced to turn back into dolphins. The native South Americans take the existence of the encantados seriously, and even today there are stories of human women having sex with encantados and then giving birth to their children.

  • Merrow (Ireland): Remember the merrows from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? The merrow is a mermaid native to the coasts of Ireland. The females have a beautiful woman’s upper torso and a fish tail, and the mermen are ugly, as they always seem to be, and both sexes have webbed fingers. What sets them apart from other merfolk is that the merrows genuinely like humans and want to help them. Sailors still fear them because the merrows will surface to warn them about violent storms, but the merrows don’t actively try to hurt humans, and are known to fall in love and marry them, with their half-human children being born with scales on their bodies. Merrows can come on land, but only in the shape of hornless cattle (I have no idea why yet). In the sea, merrows wear bright red caps that help them swim underwater, and if a human is able to snag one of these caps, the merrow cannot return to the sea. A famous story from Ireland recounts how a female merrow was caught in a fisherman’s nets and, knowing that she was dying, she asked the fisherman to take her to a church so she could be baptized as a Christian. The merrow passed away soon after and was buried in the churchyard. A chair was carved with an image of the merrow on the back to celebrate the event.

  • Nixies (Germany): Nixies are nymph-like beings that live in freshwater lakes and rivers. Unlike sea-going mermaids, Nixies aren’t usually reported as being good-looking. In fact, they’re wrinkled and ugly (both the males and the females), and they actively try to lure humans to the water in order to drown them. Strangely, male Nixies look like old men from the neck up, but with a fox body and horse hooves.

  • Sirens (Ancient Greece): I have to include the Sirens here, even though they’re generally said to be half woman and half bird instead of half fish (though they are sometimes depicted that way, and have even been shown as one-third human woman, one-third bird and one-third fish!). The Sirens lived on a large rock in the Mediterranean Sea, and their sweet singing often hypnotized sailors, causing them to drift off course and smash into the rocks, where the Sirens would then devour them. Only one man was able to listen to the monsters and survive: Odysseus, king of Ithaca. En route home from the Trojan War, Odysseus was warned that he would pass the Sirens. Curious to hear what they sounded like but not wanting his men to be affected, Odysseus plugged the ears of his crew with beewax and had them tie him to the mast of his ship to keep him from taking a flying leap overboard. Odysseus got to hear the Sirens’ song and, so distraught that a mortal man had heard them but escaped, one of the Sirens threw herself into the sea and killed herself. The term siren came to mean any ocean-dwelling mermaid that sang to lure men to their deaths, and the medical term Sirenomelia describes a condition where infants are born with flipper-like feet.


  • Rusalki (Russia): Rusalki (singular; Rusalka) are beautiful but deadly water maidens that live in rivers, ponds and lakes. They are human-shaped and have translucent skin, but sometimes have tails that give them away. They can transform into various water creatures and even horses, and are known for their enticing singing. They sing to draw the attention of handsome young men, hoping to seduce them (though some stories say they aim merely to kill the poor saps) and drag them down into their watery world. One folktale recounts how a young man named Ivan was playing music in his house when he noticed a beautiful Rusalka dancing outside. Falling instantly in love, Ivan followed her down into the water, where they lived together for some time. Eventually, Ivan became homesick, but when Rusalka refused to set him free, he made the sign of the cross, scaring the pagan creature off. He managed to escape, but never dared to go near the water again. Sometimes the rusalki are lonely (or just malicious) and try to lure children into the water to keep them company.


  • Ningyo (Japan): Possibly the weirdest-looking mermaid yet, the Ningyo is usually described as a fish with the head of a lovely woman, though the head is also sometimes described as being ape-like, and occasionally the Ningyo has scaly arms with clawed hands. She is peaceful and benevolent … and humans try to catch them to eat them. The story goes that if one were to eat the flesh of the Ningyo then they would live forever, or that old women would become youthful and beautiful again. Stories abound of the Ningyo being caught in fishermen’s nets and pleading for their lives, crying tears of real pearls. Sometimes the fishermen let them go, and sometimes they don’t. It was recorded that one was captured in the year 619 and kept for two days in a tank in Empress Suiko’s court before it finally expired.

  • Mondao (Zimbabwe): While there are many types of merfolk from Africa, I just wanted to end this already-long list with the Mondao. The Mondao is a particularly vicious type of mermaid, said to look like a pale-skinned human with black hair and a fish tail. I didn’t find any particular myth, but in 2012 construction on the Gowke and the Manicaland dams was suspended because terrified local workers claimed that they were being attacked and pursued by angry Mondao, and that a few of them had even vanished. As a solution, the local workers were shipped out and white workers—hired because they didn’t believe in Zimbabwean legends and superstition—were trucked in … only to refuse to work because they were being continuously stalked by angry merfolk. Tribal shamans and chieftains were asked to come in to appease the spirits. The rituals were carried out and the Mondao relented, though the chiefs warned it would only be a matter of time before they became angry again.


christopher columbus


the queen anne’s revenge

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.