Goblin foxes are peculiarly dreaded in Izumo for three evil habits attributed to them. The first is that of deceiving people by enchantment, either for revenge or pure mischief. The second is that of quartering themselves as retainers upon some family and thereby making that family a terror to its neighbors. The third and worst is that of entering into people and taking diabolical possession of them and tormenting them into madness. This affliction is called “kitsune tsuki.”
The favorite shape assumed by the goblin fox for the purpose of deluding mankind is that of a beautiful woman; much less frequently the form of a young man is taken in order to deceive someone of the other sex. Innumerable are the stories told or written about the wiles of fox women. And a dangerous woman of that class whose art is to enslave men and strip them of all they possess is popularly named by a word of deadly insult—kitsune.
Many declare that the fox never really assumes human shape, but that he only deceives people into the belief that he does so by a sort of magnetic power, or by spreading about them a certain magical effluvium.
The fox does not always appear in the guise of a woman for evil purposes. There are several stories, and one really pretty play, about a fox who took the shape of a beautiful woman, married a man, and bore him children—all out of gratitude for some favor received—the happiness of the family being only disturbed by some odd carnivorous propensities on the part of the offspring. Merely to achieve a diabolical purpose, the form of a woman is not always the best disguise. There are men quite insusceptible to feminine witchcraft. But the fox is never at a loss for a disguise; he can assume more forms than Proteus. Furthermore, he can make you see or hear or imagine whatever he wishes you to see, hear, or imagine. He can make you see out of time and space; he can recall the past and reveal the future. His power has not been destroyed by the introduction of Western ideas, for did he not, only a few years ago, cause phantom trains to run upon the Tokkaido railway, thereby greatly confounding and terrifying the engineers of the company? But, like all goblins, he prefers to haunt solitary places. At night he is fond of making queer ghostly lights in semblance of lantern fires flit about dangerous places, and to protect yourself from this trick of his, it is necessary to learn that by joining your hands in a particular way, so as to leave a diamond-shaped aperture between the crossed fingers, you can extinguish the witch fire at any distance simply by blowing through the aperture in the direction of the light and uttering a certain Buddhist formula.
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