“I’ve always been afraid when I heard the foxes barking up in the mountains.”
“One evening, as she passed the Kusuhara Shrine, she began to hear the bark of baby foxes, whereupon she began to say that she had actually been hearing this sound ever since the night when her strange behavior had begun.”
I had the opportunity to read about fox possession in the journal Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry. The article is titled BETWEEN FOLK CONCEPTS OF ILLNESS AND PSYCHIATRIC DIAGNOSIS: KITSUNE-TSUKI (FOX POSSESSION) IN A MOUNTAIN VILLAGE OF WESTERN JAPAN and its written by SHIGEYUKI EGUCHI. Shigeyuki traveled to Kusuhara, and lived amidst the villagers there for years, documenting several cases of what was believed to be fox possession. Here is a description of one case…
“Takao is an 18-year old factory worker… His family reported that he had been involved in a traffic accident about one month previously, and during the subsequent examination at the police station he had started imitating a fox, jumping onto the table and shouting. As he was being driven home by his mother, he suddenly bit her in the arm, and even after he arrived home his state of excitement continued. It was not until he was found some days later walking the narrow streets of the village brandishing a huge sickle and dressed in a work raincoat and helmet with a towel wrapped around his neck, that his family tied him up (hand and foot) and brought him to the hospital.
After he was hospitalized, he remained in a state of excitement and was placed in a padded cell. There for some time he was unapproachable: he tore up the bedding and his own clothing and stuffed it into the toilet, took apart the metal bed-frame and used it to pound the walls, imitated karate kicks and jumped up and down. He was suspicious of hospital personnel, saying, “Someone is controlling the doctors.” He was judged to be in an acute psychotic state, and was prescribed a relatively large dose of a major tranquilizer.”
The rural folks of Kusuhara attribute persistent deviant behavior to fox possession. Here Shigeyuki breaks down the many reasons for this:
“From an examination of this mythopoetic context, it is easy to discover why the fox is the animal by which people of the area are most likely to be possessed. In Japan, foxes are generally believed to be able to assume other forms in order to trick people, and a collection of folk tales from this area includes many which tell of this happening (“The Fox Jizo;” “The Fox in the Vegetable Field,” “The Young Man and the Beautiful Fox Maiden”).
In addition, real foxes are often seen foraging near houses of the village in the snowy depths of winter. Like Takao, every villager remembers having shuddered during childhood at the cry of foxes carried on the wind from high in the mountains behind the village.
Another important background element is the kyogen play Tsuri-gitsune (The Fox Hunt) enacted at Shorakuji. This temple was the family temple of a famous feudal lord, Sasaki Takauji (1306-1373) who was renowned as a lover of lavish, elegant forms of entertainment. In the play, a fox first transforms himself into a high priest, then later returns to his true form.” Shorakuji was actually the birthplace of Tsuri-gitsune, and in the weed-covered remains of an ancient castle behind the temple can be found a “fox mound” said to be connected to this play. Performances of the play are rare, but one was given soon after the war, and was witnessed by many people, including the temple members from Kusuhara.
This kyogen is enacted only rarely. The lead actor is required to crawl and jump around in imitation of a real fox. This is considered a very difficult role. The technique is kept secret and only transmitted orally. The role is thought to have the potential for inducing insanity: it is said that there have been cases in which the actor, in the midst of an impassioned performance, passed over into a state of psychotic possession. Consequently, to recall the actor to reality, the script has been altered to include a portion where the actor is called by his own name by one of the other performers.”
I found a copy of this play… Tsuri-gitsune or The Fox and The Trapper, and read aloud the role of the Fox. Here is part of the story the Fox tells the Trapper, involving a gargantuan fox whose spirit transforms into a killer asteroid:
“On the hundredth day, a huge fox suddenly appeared. It was enormous – forty feet long from head to tail. The first arrow and the second one both hit their mark. ‘We got him,’ they shouted. Alighting from their mounts, they drew their swords to finish the fox. The fox was presented to the Emperor and he instantly recovered. Order was restored throughout and peace again prevailed.
The vengeful spirit of the fox then transformed itself into a huge rock. The number of lives consumed by the rock was countless. Beasts that roamed the earth and birds that soared the skies fell prey to the rock’s spell. The rock was thus given the name of sesshoseki, because of the toll of lives it took.
There was a priest, Gen-o by name. He challenged the rock in a philosophical debate.
‘You, spirit of the rock, who’s essential nature is to consume lives,’ I ask you; ‘Where does the spirit of life come from and where does it go to?’ The priest struck the rock three times with his staff. The rock cracked, but the spirit of the fox still remained. It continued to rob people of their lives. The vengeful spirit of the fox holds such great power. You must, by all means, stop trapping foxes.”
Now I have started barking and yipping. I chased Roly Poly under the bed. I feel like I am undergoing a transformation.
Shigeyuki partly concludes that some form of fox possession are self-correcting… “the (mental) breakdown experience contains in itself the seeds of reconstruction (or of making sense of the experience). This process of breakdown and reconstruction is completed when the patient settles down either into his previous reality or into an entirely new one. The entire process is circumscribed in accord with social and cultural influences. I believe that, particularly in the reconstruction phase, portions of numerous alternate realities are brought together, and a new narrative of experience appears to create a new interpretation of the experience.”
The difference between me and the Japanese is that I do not fear foxes. I am content to become a fox myself.