The Wild Fox Spirit
Name and form may change with the times, but the function remains the same
Episode 6 — Meet Me In Daegu’s theme has brought back so much from my ancestral memory, I’m a little worried to open the lid did off the canister, but here goes nothin’. Allow me to lay down the background by explaining a phenomena that spans thousands of years.
The Wild Fox Spirit in Ancient Asia
In ancient Asian cultures the Wild Fox Spirit was called Kitsume in Japanese, Huli jing in Chinese, or Kumiho in Korean. All three terms refer to the same kind of entity which for this post I’ll refer to as Kitsume (there’s a lot more Japanese info on Wikipedia). I would rather use Kumiho, but I don’t know if my readers are ready for it yet (Koreans are a little passionately macabre when it comes to the Wild Fox Spirit — the Japanese are more friendly with their bushido ready to die attitude).
The Kitsume were thought of as intelligent beings, possessing paranormal abilities that increased as they got older and wiser. According to folklore, foxes were able to shapeshift and assume human form. While some folktales speak of Kitsume employing this ability to trick others — as foxes in folklore often do — other stories portray them as faithful guardians, friends, lovers, and wives.
Foxes and humans lived close together in ancient Asia; this companionship gave rise to legends about the creatures. Kitsume have become closely associated with Inari, a Shinto kami or spirit, and serve as it’s messengers. Inari is the Kami of fertility, of agriculture and industry, of general prosperity and worldly success. This role reinforced the fox’s supernatural significance.
Kitsume fall into two categories:
•The ‘good foxes’ who are benevolent, celestial foxes associated with Inari; they are sometimes simply called Inari foxes in English.
•The ‘field foxes’ that tend to be mischievous or even malicious.
The Wild Fox Spirit in Zen Kong-an’s — Pai Chang’s Fox Pt.1
I first heard about the Wild Fox Spirit listening to a dharma speech by my teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn:
An old man appeared whenever Zen Master Pai Chang gave a dharma talk. Nobody knew who he was; he just appeared, sat in the back, and then left. Every time Pai Chang gave a talk, the old man appeared, sat in the back, and then left.
But one day he stayed behind to talk to Pai Chang. It turns out that an unimaginably long time ago, in fact, several Buddhas ago, he had been the master on the mountain. But when a monk asked him if an enlightened person were subject to cause and effect, he answered no. For this, he had been reborn a fox for five hundred generations.
After telling his story, the old man/fox spirit begged Pai Chang, “Give me one sentence to liberate me from this fox’s body. Tell me, is an enlightened person subject to cause and effect?”
To which Pai Chang answered: “Cause and effect are clear.”
Pai Chang’s Fox kong-an is primarily speaking about a field fox or one of the mischevous Kitsume. This mischevous Kitsume reminds me of Preident Trump’s recent boondoggle. Telling his followers to drink bleach, arguing with Dr. Fauci instead of supporting his message to wear masks, and blaming China instead of protecting American lives. Cause and effect are clear!