Category Archives: Intelligent
Alternative Spellings: 狐狸精, 狐, きつね
Alternative Names: Kitsune-Tsuki
Hailing from the island nation of Japan or Nihon comes the mystical and mischievous kitsune! Stories of fox spirits or kitsune are rather common and popular and feature in a good number of manga, anime, and video games. So much so they have even become a popular staple even in Western literature and stories. The mystical, shape-shifting kitsune are seen as akin and like the stories of European faeries. One can usually tell if they’re dealing with a kitsune spirit or yokai rather than an ordinary fox by the number of tails that they have. The number of tails can denote a kitsune’s age and thus the wisdom and magical powers they’re reputed to possess.
What’s In A Name
The Japanese or Nihonjin word for fox is kitsune. Now, depending on how the word is used and the context in which it is used, with emphasis on the syllables and vowels, kitsune can refer to an ordinary animal or the supernatural fox entity.
A fun thing to discover and note is that the usage of the word spirit, when it comes from an Eastern meaning, refers to a state of knowledge or enlightenment. When we look at Japan, they have a lot of stories about animals and even objects that when they gain a certain age, become sentient and powerful. Some will become yokai or monsters and others are more benevolent. Focusing on the fox spirits, there are two types of kitsune, the myobu or the celestial fox who are associated with Inari or there are the nogitsune, the wild foxes are far more unpredictable and malicious in their tricks and antics.
For the ordinary animal, there is the Red Fox and the Hondo Kitsune found in Japan and both lend a paw and inspiration to the spirit, mystical foxes.
While it is easy enough to give a fairly direct translation of kitsune into English, there is more to the word. Some of the etymological suggestions for the word seem contradictory among various scholars. Nozaki says that kitsune is an onomatopoeia for the sound that a fox makes when it cries seen in the word “kitsu” and that the last part “ne” is an affix for an honorific. In this respect, kitsu is an archaic word for a fox’s cry and modern Japanese words used are kon kon or gon gon. Interestingly enough, I have found that kitsu also means “come here.”
Other etymologies are from Myogoki in 1268 who says that kitsune comes from the words “tsune” or “always” and “ki” or “yellow.” Arai Hakuseki in Toga, 1717 says that “ki” means “stench” and “tsu” is a possessive part and “ne” as in “inu” for “dog.” Then there is Kotosuga in Wakun no Shiori (1777-1887) who agrees about “ki” meaning “yellow,” “tsu” is still a possessive part and “ne” is from neko, for cat.
In the numerous folktales told of kitsune, these are foxes that are intelligent and hold great magical or mystical powers. This power only increases as the fox gets older. When a kitsune becomes old enough, sometimes 50 years of age, other stories say 100 years, a kitsune gains or learns the ability to transform into a human. Frequently, it is a female kitsune who will transform into a young human woman. In this guise, the kitsune is sometimes portrayed as a lover or wife until she is discovered and the kitsune runs away back to the wilds in its fox form. Other times the kitsune acts as a protector or guardian. Because of the kitsune’s power and abilities, some people would make offerings to them much like they would deities.
Fox Tails – One way to gauge how old and thus powerful a kitsune is, is to count the number of tails. The more tails, the more powerful a kitsune will be. Fortunately, this power tops out at nine tails, but that is still a formidable being to encounter. Other folktales say that a kitsune gains one tail for every hundred years of life until they’ve reached 1,000 years of age. Other stories say that a kitsune gains their extra tails from Inari for their deeds and actions. When a kitsune gains its ninth tail, they are believed to have its fur turn silver, white, or gold. These kyubi no kitsune or nine-tailed foxes are particularly powerful in that they can hear and see anything happening around the world. These foxes are also known for their infinite wisdom.
Illusions – Kitsune can create illusions that are incredibly realistic. As an offshoot of this power, other sources have tried to say the kitsune ability to bend reality, drive people mad, take on various shapes, or create a second moon. These may just be an extent to how realistic kitsune illusions can be.
Kitsune-Bi – Or foxfire, this is the ability of kitsune to create fire from their tails or to breathe fire. This foxfire has also been compared to will-o-wisps.
Hoshi no tama – This is similar to the kitsune-bi or foxfire. Some depictions of kitsune show them carrying around a white ball or hoshi no tama (star ball). These star balls are often glowing with foxfire. When in its fox form, a kitsune will keep or carry this star ball around in their mouth. When they’re in the guise of a human, this star ball may take the form of a jewel or piece of jewelry. There is a belief that this star ball holds part of the kitsune’s power or when the star ball is described as a pearl, a part of the kitsune’s soul and that the kitsune will die if they are separated too long from their jewel. Those who can get hold of a kitsune’s hoshi no tama can potentially get a favor from the kitsune.
Kitsune-ken – Translated as fox-fist, this refers to a kitsune’s power over humans. There is a game similar to rock, paper, and scissors, however, these three hand positions signify a fox, hunter, and village headman. The headman beats the hunter, the hunter beats the fox, and the fox beats the headman.
Shapeshifters – Aside from an increased number of tails, depending on the story, after a kitsune has reached the age 50 or 100, they are able to shapeshift into a human. Often, they will change into the form of a beautiful young woman or an old man.
Mirrors & Shadows – There is a limit to this shapeshifting, a fox will need to place reeds, a broad leaf or skull over their head to shapeshift. Another limit in folk tales is to look for the fox tail that a disguised kitsune will try to hide and other stories hold that looking at a person’s shadow will reveal if they’re a shapeshifted kitsune or not. Sometimes a shapeshifted kitsune’s true form will be revealed if they look into a mirror or other reflective surface.
Kitsune-gao – Or fox-faced, this is in reference to human women who have a narrow face with close-set eyes, thin eyebrows and high cheekbones. These facial features are considered attractive, and some stories hold that this is a sign of a fox in human form.
Tricksters – With their use of shapeshifting and illusions, it’s easy to see how kitsune are known for their mischievous natures and playing tricks on people. The more benevolent kitsune are prone to pranks and tricks on those that need to be taken down a notch while more malevolent kitsune are going to have more harmful tricks that they pull.
Like the Fae of Ireland, kitsune will keep a promise or oath given, seeking to repay any favor or debt that is owed. A kitsune may even go so far as to guard a particular individual or household and so long as they’re treated with respect, they will benefit their chosen companions.
Vampire Foxes – Some stories will depict kitsune-like vampires or succubus & incubuses who feed on the life energy or spirit of humans, most often through sex. These could be stories that are actually Kumiho or Huli jing.
Dogs – Kitsune are believed to have a fear and hatred of dogs even in their human guises. Some transformed kitsune will become so frightened that they will change back to their fox form to escape.
Food – I’m not sure if I would call this a weakness. Kitsune are known for having a fondness for deep-fried tofu which can be seen in the number of Japanese dishes that have deep-fried tofu and names such as Kitsune Udon and Inari zushi. Any dish that has red beans and deep-fried tofu is sure to be a favorite of a mischievous kitsune.
Old Fashion Speech – Some folklore suggests that kitsune only have interactions with humans every hundred years and for this reason, they have antiquated, outdated speech. Close to this is that kitsune have certain words that they have trouble pronouncing certain words. One of these words is “moshi,” so many Japanese have taken to answering their doors and phones with the greeting “moshi moshi!” to make sure a potential guess isn’t a kitsune.
As popular and old as the numerous legends and folklore of kitsune in Japan are, many scholars believe that all these stories likely trace their origins back to China, Korea, and possibly even India. The earliest collection of stories that we have were written down in the 11th-century manuscript, the Konjaku Monogatari, with stories hailing from China, India, and Japan.
Chinese folklore has stories of fox spirits known as Huli Jing and in Korea, there is the Kumiho both have strong similarities to the Japanese kitsune. There are similarities in the stories of these fox spirits with those from Japan, however, those attributes are negative ones.
There are some scholars who disagree on the origins of kitsune, whether that’s China and Korea or if they’re solely Japanese in origin. The Japanese folklorist Kiyoshi Nozaki sees the kitsune as being held in a positive light in the 4th century C.E. and the negative traits from China and Korea are later additions.
Some scholars say that the kitsune can trace their origins to India where the fox has a role as a trickster in Indian spirituality. In this respect, the kitsune is compared to the Ruksasha. The Chinese story of the “White Ghost Tiger” of China as an enemy of the Chinese fox is likely a translation from India that the fox and Ruksasha have. The kitsune powers of illusion also have in common with the illusion powers of Ruksasha. Lastly, we see a connection between the Ruksasha’s tendency to devour humans has been compared to the vampiric traits seen with the huli jing and kumiho that are associated with kitsune.
Nozaki says that in the 16th-century book of records, Nihon Ryakki, foxes and humans have lived in close proximity to each other in ancient Japan. The Inari scholar Karen Smyers takes note that foxes being portrayed as seductresses have a connection to fox myths in Buddhism and were then introduced into Japanese folklore through similar Chinese folklore.
Kami Or Yokai?
Depending on the source, kitsune can be classified as either a kami or a yokai. The name yokai is a broad general term and category for a good number of various supernatural monsters and spirits within Japanese mythology. The word Kami refers to the deities, any divine being, and spirits that are considered holy. Given the nature of kitsune and that not all of them will be divine and can be more negative in their antics, such as the nogitsune, it is easy to why the term yokai applies more to the mischievous shape-shifting kitsune. With the term kami, depending on the inflection or with a lowercase spelling, the word kami refers to a lesser spirit.
Are You A Good Fox Or A Bad Fox?
Within Japanese mythology and folklore, there are said to be thirteen types of kitsune, all of which correspond to different element such as celestial, wind, spirit, darkness, fire, earth, river, ocean, forest, mountain, thunder, sound, and time. In broad terms, these various kitsune can be divided into two groups of zenko (good) and nogitsune (bad) kitsune.
Kyubi no Kitsune – The nine-tailed foxes that many people will think of as kitsune. These are kitsune who have lived over a thousand years, gaining infinite wisdom. The kyubi no kitsune’s fur is often either silver, white or gold from their extreme age and they have the ability to see and hear anything happening around the world.
Myobu – The celestial fox, they are associated and aligned with the goddess Inari.
Ninko – They are an invisible fox spirit that people can perceive and only once it possesses them.
Yako – Translating to “field fox.” They are also known as Nogitsune. These kitsune are considered dangerous in that their tricks and mischievousness are more malevolent.
Zenko – These kitsune are considered good or benevolent and helpful. Most of the zenko kitsune will be aligned with the goddess Inari.
Also spelled as kitsune-tsuki, translates to fox possession. With kitsunetsuki, what happens, is a fox spirit will possess someone, who is always a young woman. The fox spirit is believed to enter through either beneath the fingernails or her breasts. A woman’s facial expressions are believed to have changed, becoming more fox-like. Other beliefs are that a person who was illiterate could gain the ability to read. A victim of kitsunetsuki will have a craving for rice or sweet red beans, become listless, restless and have an aversion to eye contact.
All kitsune can possess a person according to folklore, though they will only do so if someone agrees and lets them.
Japanese Witchcraft – Those who force a fox possession are those of a hereditary fox employee or tsukimono-suji. This does take us a step in the direction of looking at superstition. In Japan, a familiar would be the source of a person’s magical power. While nearly any animal could be a witch’s familiar, foxes and snakes are the most noted. There for a familiar acting as a tsukemono or “possessing being” would be used to explain a sudden illness, floods, and any number of misfortunes that could be attributed to evil spirits.
Insanity – With the hereditary fox possession, this would have explained mental illness, especially where it is hereditary. The victim of kitsunetsuki would frequently be treated cruelly in an effort of trying to drive out the possessing spirit. A victim would be taken to an Inari shrine in hopes that a priest would be able to perform an exorcism. If such a priest could not be found, then people would either beat or burn the victim in the hopes to drive out the fox spirit. There are some cases where an entire family could be ostracized if someone was believed to be kitsunetsuki.
Records of fox possession date from the Heian era and continue until the 20th century as a common diagnosis for insanity. Diagnosis’ of kitsunetsuki is specific to Japanese culture like clinical lycanthropy among Westerners. Stories of fox possession can still appear in tabloid media and other forums.
I say that as it puts me to the mind of fairy gold, where a person is paid in gold by a fae, and in the morning, the gold coins have turned to leaves and twigs.
The same thing happens with kitsune. Any payment or reward that involves money from a kitsune is going turn out to be the same thing. Pieces of paper, leaves, twigs, stones, and other similar junk items under an illusion. A kitsune sincere in their rewards and not tricking a human is more likely to offer intangible rewards such as protection, knowledge, and a long life.
As previously mentioned, the kitsune known as zenko are associated with the Shinto kami known as Inari, a deity of rice and such association has only reinforced the kitsune’s connection to the supernatural. These kitsune serve as Inari’s messengers and there are times that Inari themself is depicted as a fox. These kitsune also worship Inari and can be found in shrines and cemeteries. Devotees to Inari will also leave offerings of fried tofu and udon in offering for the fox spirits who they might petition to aid and protect against the nogitsune. The zenko or Inari kitsune can be identified by the red bibs that they were and that they cannot bring harm to humans. These kitsune will be white in color and seen as a good omen. In the same vein, black foxes and nine-tailed kitsune are also regarded as good omens. There is some speculation among folklorists on if there was another Shinto fox deity that existed prior to Inari and his association with kitsune.
Better known as fusui in Japan, it is believed that a statue of a fox is able to repel evil kimon or energy that comes from the northeast. There are many Inari shrines, notable is the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto where there large numbers of kitsune statues.
In the Buddhist religion, the goddess Dakiniten is seen as Inari’s female aspect. Dakiniten is often shown as a female boddhisattva riding a flying white fox as she wields a sword.
This is an old card game whose name translates to either “Ghost” or “Monster Cards” that people would play during the Edo period in the 19th century. Players would try to collect the most cards in order to win. The game is clearly a predecessor to the more modern Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! Card games that collect and showcase different, various monsters. At any rate, one such obake karuta has a picture of a kitsune on it.
The Kitsune’s Hoshi no Tama
This is a 12th-century story where a man was able to gain a kitsune’s favor after taking their hoshi no tama or star ball. The kitsune pleaded with the man who ignored them. After a bit, the fox told the man that star ball wouldn’t do them any good and that if the man didn’t give him the star ball back, he would have a terrible enemy. However, if the man gave the star ball back, the kitsune promised to be a protector deity. The man gave the star ball back and the fox did indeed save his life by guiding the man past a band of robbers.
This is the name of a popular figure in folklore and kabuki plays, they always cast a fox’s shadow, even in their human form.
Lovers & Wives
It should come as no surprise that with kitsune being known to primarily shapeshift into beautiful women, they also frequently take on the roles of lovers or seductresses and wives. In many of these stories, sometimes a young man will unknowingly marry a kitsune, eventually, he learns of her real nature and she is forced to flee, reverting back to her fox form.
Sometimes the man will wake up finding himself in a fox den or some other place far from home, filthy and dirty. Other stories have the fox wife bearing the man children who inherit the kitsune abilities. There are several historical Japanese reputed to have been born of a kitsune mother. One such figure is the astrologer and magician Abe no Seimei.
Kitsune Wedding – When rain falls from a clear sky, this is called a kitsune no yomeiri or the kitsune’s wedding. There is a folktale where a kitsune wedding is described as happening in just such conditions. The events are considered good omens and the kitsune seek retribution on any who are uninvited.
For the versions of the kitsune reported to be a type of energy vampire or succubae/incubi, this makes sense for them to go this route in order to get close to their prey and feed.
This story concerns a historical person by the name of Koan who had been staying in the home of one of his devotees. As Koan entered the bathhouse, he scaled his foot after the water had been drawn too hot. Yelping in pain, Koan fled the bathhouse naked and the people present who saw him were astonished to see fur covering much of his body and a fox’s tail. Koan transformed into a fox in front of everyone into an elderly fox before running away.
An Old Fox Tale
This story is one of the oldest surviving kitsune tales that date to C.E. 545. It is found in the Nihon Ryouiki or “Japanese Ghost Stories” collection. There are many numerous stories of kitsune appearing to a human man as a woman and then her fox nature is revealed that she must flee and run away. This story is slightly different from how it ends.
A man by the name of Ono who lived on the island of Mino, spent years longing for his ideal image of feminine beauty. One evening, Ono met a beautiful woman out on a moor and married her after proposing to her on the spot and detailing all the ways in which he would take care of her. At the time of the birth of their son, Ono’s dog also gave birth to a pup. As the pup grew, it became more and more hostile to the woman. She begged Ono to kill the pup, but he refused. One day, the dog attacked the woman so aggressively that she became frightened, transforming into a kitsune with nine tails who to lept over a fence as she fled.
Ono called after the fox that “You may be a fox! But you are the mother of my son and I love you! Come back when you please, you will always be welcome!”
So, the fox did, every evening she would return to sleep in Ono’s arms and then leave in the morning.
In this story, it is noted there is an old etymology for kitsune with kitsu-ne meaning “come and sleep,” and ki-tsune meaning “always comes.” Which I find interesting depending on the emphasis for the syllables.
Kitsune Versus Tanuki Rivalries
The tanuki or raccoon dogs of Japan are another notable trickster, and they share a lot of traits in common with kitsune such as shapeshifting. There is a Japanese phrase that says a fox has seven disguises, but the tanuki has eight. Popular motifs show the kitsune as classy and elegant where the tanuki comes across as more the party lover. A kitsune is often more snobbish and someone said to have a triangular, foxlike or kitsune-face is given as a compliment. In comparison, the tanuki is regarded as clumsier or a bit of a slop and to say that someone is tanuki-faced, having a more squarish or round face is to say they’re silly.
I find it interesting to learn that when you take the kanji for kitsune (狐) and the kanji for tanuki (狸) and put them together to form 狐狸, this reads as kori and is a metaphor for a “sly person.” Then, when you place the kanji for dog or inu (狗) between those kanji, you get the word kokkuri (狐狗狸), which is the name for a Japanese divination game much like the party atmosphere use of Ouija boards.
There is a Japanese phrase that says a fox has seven disguises, but the tanuki has eight. Popular motifs show the kitsune as classy and elegant where the tanuki comes across as more the party lover.
Other Fox Spirits
Hồ ly tinh – This is the name for the Vietnamese fox spirit.
Hulijing – These more dangerous fox spirits and shapeshifters hail from China.
Komihu – These fox spirits and shapeshifters hail from Korea.
Reynard the Fox – The familiar fox trickster from Western literature. Reynard is the name of the fox in the French The Beast Epic. The name Reynard is often the stock name for a fox character.
Etymology: Strike from shan
Also Known As: Badé, Changó, Esango (Edo people), Hevioso, Jakuta, Nzazi, Sango, Ṣàngó, Siete Rayos, Xangô (Latin America), Sogbo or Ebioso (Fon people)
In Nigeria, among the Yoruban people and the Dahomey religion, Shango is a god or Orisha of fire, thunder, and lightning. Like many storm and thunder gods, Shango lives up in the sky where he hurls thunderstones down to the earth, killing those who offended him or setting houses on fire.
Animal: Black Cat, Dog, Duck, Fresh Water Turtles, Quail, Ram, Sheep, Tortoise
Colors: Red, White
Day of the Week: Friday and Ojo Jakuta, the fifth day of the week in Yorubaland.
Feast Day: December 4th, same as Saint Barbara
Gemstones: Thunderstones; either meteorites or stone celts
Number: 3 and 6
Patron of: Resistance, Strength, Power
Sphere of Influence: Thunder, Lightning, Fertility, War, Truth, Intelligence, Courage, Power, Dominance, Resistance
Symbols: Stone Celt, Double-Headed Axe, Bangles, Brass Crown, any object struck by lightning
Taboo (Yoruba): Cowpea, don’t eat this.
Statues, imagery, and other art featuring Shango show him with a double axe on his head that represent thunder. He will often be dressed in clothing that’s red and white. Sometimes Shango has six eyes and other times he has three heads. In some traditions, Shango wears a headdress with cowrie shells on it.
In the Candomblé traditions, Xangô as he is called wears red and has a brass crown.
There is a religious ritual of Shango designed to help devotees and followers of Shango to gain and have self-control. Shango beads tell the story of his essence with white beads representing Obatala’s logic alternating in balance with the red beads of Aganju’s fire and passion when pursuing a goal.
The initiation ceremony of Shango came about after his deification which preserves his memory and the prosperity he brings to his followers on a personal level just as he brought prosperity to the Oyo kingdom in life.
Altars to Shango will often have a carved image of a woman holding her bosom as a gift to Shango with a double-bladed axe sticking out of her head. The axe symbolizes the devotee as being possessed by Shango. The woman has an expression that is calm and collected, representing the attributes or qualities she has gained from her faith.
Ritual foods for Shango include guguru, bitter cola, àmàlà, and gbegiri soup. The Bata drum is also used during Shango’s worship and rituals.
In this religion, Shango or Xangô was the son of the Oyo king Oranyan. During the African diaspora, Xangô gained strong importance among the slaves in Brazil for his strength, resistance, and aggression. Xangô became a patron orixa of plantations and many Candomblé terreiros. In contrast, Oko, the orixa of agriculture didn’t receive as much favor among slaves in Brazil and given the circumstances, I don’t blame them.
A dish known as amalá (a stew of okra with shrimp and palm oil) is sacred to Xangô.
In the Santería religion, Shango, or Changó as he is known is the focal or center point of the religion and represents the Oyo people of West Africa. Changó is a representative of the ancestors and all who adhere to the Santeria faith.
In Latin America, there is a major initiation ceremony that has been held for the last few hundred years that is based on the Shango ceremony of the Ancient Oyo. It is a ceremony that has survived and is considered the most complete to have arrived on the Western shores.
There is an initiation ceremony that is also based on the Shango ceremony and is the basis for all the Orisha initiation ceremonies within the Americas.
Other traditions that venerate Shango are Folk Catholicism, Louisiana Voodoo, Palo, the Portuguese Candomblé and Umbanda, the Trinidad Orisha, Haitian Vodou, and Vodun.
Before becoming deified or an orisha, Shango was once a mortal king, the third king of the Oyo Kingdom. After his death, Shango became deified. I have other sources that say Shango is the fourth king.
The lineage of kings is as follows: Oduduwa, Oranyan, and Ajaka. In life, Shango was known as Jakuta and was the third king or Alafin of Oyo kingdom. Jakuta was the brother to Ajaka known to be more peaceful compared to Jakuta’s more violent rule who could wield supernatural forces to create thunder and lightning. Jakuta ruled for a period of seven years that was noted for constant war campaigns and numerous battles. Towards the end of Jakuta’s reign, it is said he caused the unintentional destruction of his palace with lightning. While alive, Jakuta was married to three women named Oshun, Oba, and Oya.
Oral traditions tell how during Shango’s mortal reign, a subordinate chief challenged Shango’s rule. Many people were impressed by the subordinate chief’s feats and demonstration of magic, such that they went to follow this new leader. Dismayed by this public defeat and humiliation, Shango left Oyo and committed suicide by hanging.
A variation to this story I came across is that Shango was so fascinated by the use of magic that while calling down the powers of thunder and lightning, Shango accidentally set fire to his palace and killed his wives and many of his children. It is in shame from that, that Shango left the kingdom of Oyo.
When enemies and detractors of Shango were contemptuous and spreading his shame, a series of storms swept over Oyo, destroying many homes. This caused people to believe that Shango’s powers had made him a god or orisha and these storms were proof of his wrath. There are suggestions that Shango’s followers set fire to these homes.
However, those loyal to Shango said that he really ascended to the heavens by climbing a chain and that he became an orisha. Shango would gain the attributes of an earlier orisha, Jakuta who represented the wrath of the supreme deity Olorun-Olodumare. Shango’s cult and worship would continue to grow and spread throughout Oyo and Yorubaland. Even neighboring people of the Edo and Fon would adopt Shango into their religions.
Shango is a member of the Orisha, who are either a spirit or deity. In the Yoruba religion, a nature-based tradition, it is believed that the source of everything is called Olorun or Olodumare. The Orisha themselves are regarded as being different aspects of the main deity, Olorun-Olodumare. Shango is regarded as the most powerful of all the Orisha.
With the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the worship of Shango was brought with the slaves and is now found throughout much of the southern U.S., Latin America, and South America.
Much like the Hindi avatars, Shango has had many Irunmole or manifestations. The names of some of them are Airá, Agodo, Afonja, Lubé, and Obomin. All of these people are believed to have been an incarnation of Shango and like many such Irunmole, had great wisdom and power while they lived.
Parentage and Family
Oranyan – The mortal king of Oyo before Shango become deified.
Yemaja – Orisha mother goddess and protector of birth.
In some traditions, Shango’s wives are said to be the rivers.
Oba – She tried to win Shango’s love by offering her ear to him to eat. In anger, Shango sent her away and she became a river goddess.
Oshun – A river goddess and Shango’s favorite as he loves her cooking.
Oya – A Storm and Mother goddess, she is also the Niger river. It is said she stole the secrets of Shango’s magic.
Oya – Depending on the stories or tradition, Oya and Shango are brother and sister, not husband and wife.
As noted, the main wives of Shango are venerated as Orisha. All three are associated with rivers in Nigeria. The first is Oya, connected to the Oya River. Oya would become the orisha of battle, storms, and hurricanes. Oya had once been married to Ogun but would fall in love with Shango. Together, Oya and Shango partner up when going out to battle.
Then there is Oshun who is connected to the Osun River. Oshun is the orisha associated with love, sensuality, and femininity.
Lastly, we have Oba who was forever hopelessly in love with Shango. Oba would find herself rejected by Shango after another of his wives tricked Oba into cutting off her ear to feed to him. Oba went into exile in a cemetery and become the orisha of violent storms and death. She would also become the Oba River, specifically where it meets with the Osun River.
Orisha Of Thunder & Lighting
Shango is known as an orisha of thunder and lightning.
Fire – It should come as no surprise that one of Shango’s domains is that of fire as well. After all, lighting strikes are known to cause a fire.
Oṣè – This is the name that the double axe in Yorubaland that Shango has is called. The double axe symbolizes and represents lightning.
Resistance – During the African diaspora and slavery, Shango became a very important symbol of resistance.
Thunderbolts – Stone Celt
A celt in this case is a primitive stone tool like an adze, hoe or axe. Farmers would sometimes find these primitive, prehistoric tools while out-tilling their fields. Believing these stone celts were Shango’s thunderbolts, the farmers would take them to Shango’s priests who kept these in Shango’s shrine in an inverted mortar.
Shango was renowned and feared for his powers and whenever he spoke, fire came out of his mouth.
Jakuta – When not identified as an ancestor, it is believed that Shango likely usurped the duties and aspects of an older deity by the name of Jakuta. This older deity, Jakuta was known to hurl fire stones as punishment towards people if they acted against the wishes of Olodumre, the Supreme God, or Orisha. The name Jakuta means “Hurler of stones” or “Fighter with stones.” The prefix Ja means to hurl from aloft and the suffix okuta means stone. That’s interesting to note in connection to the stone celts that farmers would find out in fields and believed to be thunderbolts. Jakuta is also associated with a fellowship of meteorites.
Possession – Those who worship Shango and become possessed by him can eat fire, using oil-soaked cloth known as itufu to do so. Some may carry pots of live coal on their head or shove their hands into coals without any harm.
As a fertility deity, particularly masculine fertility, Shango grants wealth and prosperity to his followers just as he did for the kingdom of Oyo during his mortal life and reign.
Dance – Shango’s power, seen in his ritual dances represents the dangerous side of sexual relationships. Another interpretation is a warning of the arrogancy in using military force for political gains and leadership. The bata drums are beaten to represent the sound of thunder.
As seen in the dances that Shango does, he is also he orisha of war as in life, he held many continuous campaigns and battles to expand his influence.
Oṣè – The double axe that represents lightning is also a symbol of military prowess and the use of violence.
Justice – There is also a close association of the use of force or might to make right and enforce justice. Shango was known for being rather harsh and strict with his subjects.
There are a few different Saints that Shango has been equated to and it varies by the religion revering him.
Saint Barbara – The Saint whom Shango is equated to in the Candomble tradition. She is the patron saint of armorers, artillerymen, military engineers, miners, and others who work with explosives. She has an old legend that connects her to lightning and mathematicians.
Saint Jerome – They are the patron saint of translators, librarians, and encyclopedists. In some traditions, he is regarded as the husband to Saint Barbara and for that reason, Saint Jerome gets syncretized or equated with Shango.
Jupiter – The Roman god of the heavens, his attributes are the lightning bolt.
Marduk – The Mesopotamian god of fertility and storms can be comparable to Shango.
Raijin – The Japanese god of thunder.
Teshub – The Hurrian god of the sky and thunder.
Thor – The mighty thunderer of Norse mythology, he is the god of thunder and war.
Zeus – The Greek god of the heavens, his attributes are the lightning bolt.
Zeus Part 2
Birth Of A God
We start with Cronus and Rhea, the parents of Zeus and all his siblings.
As the story goes, Cronus defeated his father, Uranus, overthrowing him to become the leader and King of the Titans. Shortly after, Cronus receives a prophesy that just as he killed his father, so too, would a child of his kill him.
This prompts Cronus to decide to devour his children whole as soon as they are born. This happens five times. Poor Rhea just gets to where she can’t take it anymore. With the birth of her sixth child, Zeus, Rhea, with the help of Gaia hides him away and manages to convince Cronus that this large stone is their latest child. Bon Appetite, Cronus eats the “stone baby” none the wiser that he’s been tricked.
Here, it gets a little muddled as to what exactly happens next for Zeus’ infancy and being raised in secret before returning to reclaim his birthright.
It largely depends on which accounts of the story you read.
At Rhea’s behest, Gaia takes the infant Zeus to Crete where she hides in a cave located on Mount Dicte or Mount Ida.
There, Gaia raised the child with the divine goat, Amalthea providing milk for the infant Zeus. The Kouretes, soldiers or minor gods would dance, shout and clash their spears to hide the sounds of the baby’s cries from Cronus.
If Amalthea is instead a nymph, she raises a young Zeus in a cave called Dictaeon Andron on the Lasithi plateau.
Sounding a little more messed up, in Hyginus’ Fabulae, another nymph Adamanthea is who takes and raises Zeus. She dangled the infant on a rope between the heavens and sea as Cronus ruled over the earth, thus preventing him from discovering his son. Yay?
Cynosura is sometimes said to have raised Zeus and in thanks, he placed her up in the heavens to become a constellation.
Then there’s Melissa who nursed the infant on goat milk and honey.
The Promise They Were Sheeped
And while they’re not nymphs, a family of shepherds raises the baby with the promise that their flock of sheep would be protected from wolves.
Claiming His Birthright
An older Zeus returns to fulfill the prophecy killing his father Cronus. With either Gaia or Metis’ help, Zeus is able to administer a potion that causes Cronus to regurgitate all of his siblings along with the stone that was swallowed.
An alternate scenario has Zeus splitting open Cronus’ stomach, freeing all of his brothers and sisters: Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hera, and Hestia. Incidentally, Hades is the last of Cronus’ children that is either regurgitated or comes out after Zeus splits their father open.
There is a ten-year-long divine war known as the Titanomachy, and by the end, Zeus takes his place as ruler and king of the gods on Mount Olympus. Hades and the other gods take up their roles as part of the newly formed Pantheon.
During the war, Gaia gave a prophesy to Zeus that he would have victory over the Titans by freeing the Cyclops who were then prisoners in Tartaros. Zeus slew Campe, the jail-keeper of the Cyclops. As a reward and thanks for releasing them, the Cyclcops forged weapons for the three brothers. Thunderbolts for Zeus, a Trident for Poseidon and a Bident for Hades along with a magical helmet of invisibility.
During this war, Hades used his helmet of invisibility to sneak into the Titans’ camp and destroy their weapons. After the war, the Titans were imprisoned within Tartoros and the Hecatoncheires were placed in charge of guarding the new prisoners. One titan, Atlas would be punished by forever having to hold the earth up.
Dividing the Spoils of War – After defeating Cronus and all of his father’s followers, the three brothers, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus divided up rulership of the cosmos between them. Hades would become ruler of the Underworld; Poseidon would become ruler of the seas and Zeus would become ruler of the air. The earth, the domain of Gaia, would be available to all three gods.
Iliad – The Iliad describes the three brothers as pulling lots to determine who would rule which realm.
Hades & Typhon – While not exactly a flattering story of Hades; the story is that of Zeus battling the giant monstrous serpent Typhon during or after the Titanomachy. Hesiod’s Theogony describes Hades as cowering down below in the Underworld while Zeus is busy hurling thunderbolts and battling Typhon to take his place as king of the Olympian gods.
Gigantomachy – Battle For The Heavens!
While the Titans would be defeated, Zeus would still have to contend with other beings to secure his throne. Namely, because Gaia wasn’t happy with how her children, the Titans were treated and imprisoned in Tartarus. There would come a series of three additional attacks.
If that doesn’t have parallels with the story of Marduk and Tiamat.
The first were the Gigantes, another of Gaia’s children who would be defeated and sent to Tartarus.
Typhon & Echidna
Second would come the mighty Typhon, husband to Echidna and Father of All Monsters. Typhon or Typhoeus is described as a serpentine monster that breathes fire. Zeus fought him using his thunderbolts and aegis.
Eventually, Zeus would defeat Typhon and trap him under Mount Etna. Echidna would be allowed to live along with her monstrous children. In Grecian myths, this is how Mount Etna became a volcano. In other versions of the myth, the gods Hermes and Pan would come to Zeus’ aid.
The third would be the twin brothers. These two would attempt to gain entrance to the heavens by stacking Mount Ossa on top of Mount Olympus. Then by stacking Mount Pelion on top of Mount Ossa.
That doesn’t seem like it would work. Zeus manages to defeat the Aloadae and just as he had with the Titans, he banished them too down to Tartarus.
One Last Final Challenge
It is curious that only when I went researching Zeus that I came across this story for the first time.
Sometime after Zeus has succeeded in overcoming all the previous challenges from Gaia, the various giants, and titans to become ruler of the heavens, a young Zeus had gotten rather prideful, temperamental, and arrogant in his rulership.
Enter Apollo, Hera, and Poseidon (and depending on the source, all the other gods except Hestia join in) deciding that Zeus needs to be taught a lesson.
While Zeus is sleeping, they come in to steal his thunderbolts and tie him up with some one hundred knots. Powerless, Zeus lays there until the Nereid, Thetis comes and seeing the god’s predicament, call the Hecatoncheire, Briareus who comes and unties Zeus.
With Briareus’ support, Zeus is able to put an end to the rebellion and punish those involved. Most notable is Hera who is punished as she led the rebellion. Zeus only relents and ends the punishments after Hera and all the gods swear never to rise up against him again.
Metis – First Marriage (Birth Of Athena)
Most mythological accounts jump straight to Zeus being married to Hera. Before that, there was Metis, the daughter of the Ocean and goddess of Wisdom, Prudence, and Cunning.
Metis resisted Zeus’ advances at first but eventually, she gives in to him and from their union would eventually come Athena. Just not a normal birth would follow for Athena.
Sins Of The Father – Now, just as Cronus did to his father Uranis and Zeus did to Cronus in time… Gaia informed Zeus that Metis would bear a daughter and from her, there would be a son who would overthrow him.
Thinking he’s clever and going to break the cycle of constant fratricide, Zeus goes and swallows Metis whole on the belief that this would prevent the unwanted birth or because he gives birth to a child, it will prevent the prophecy.
Birth Of Athena – By swallowing Metis, Zeus will either give birth to Athena, causing a lot of anger and outrage from Hera as this is Zeus circumventing the entire birthing process.
Hera is so angry with Zeus over this, that she gives birth to Hephaestus by immaculate conception or parthenogenetically, take your pick. Either way, Hera gives birth without the need for sex.
Sometime later, Zeus is experiencing a skull splitting headache. When he goes to seek relief and splits open his head with Hephaestus’ help, out pops Athena fully clothed, armed and already an adult.
Good thing Hera gave birth to Hephaestus. Who knows what Zeus would have done to alleviate his splitting headache?
The other version that I’m familiar with, Metis is swallowed with Zeus never knowing that she was ever pregnant to begin with.
I Have A Gut Feeling – I’ve found this story a bit curious in swallowing Metis. The ancient Greeks believed that the stomach rather than the brain were the source of intellect and emotions. With this belief, mindset in mind, it makes sense why Zeus would swallow Metis, that way, her powers of wisdom existed in some form inside him.
It gives a new meaning to the phrase: “thinking with one’s stomach” or “listening to one’s gut” would come from.
Hera – Second Marriage
Going back to the normal course of events with Greek myths, Zeus is married to his sister Hera. For gods and immortals, this works out. There just weren’t very many other options. For those who are mortal and human, ewww…. Inbreeding. Don’t do it!
Naturally, being his wife, goddess of marriage, birth, women, and fidelity, I do not blame Hera for getting angry with Zeus. The myths will say she was jealous and vengeful towards Zeus’ lovers and numerous children. Hera’s myths likely reflect what life was like for woman of the day. If she couldn’t punish her husband outright, she took her anger out on his lovers and any resulting children.
Zeus had to trick Hera into marrying him too. Knowing that Hera holds an affinity for animals, the god came to her in the form of a cuckoo. When Hera picked up the bird to hold close to her, Zeus transformed back his godly form and shamed her into having to marry him.
I really just don’t see how that will be a lasting or happy marriage.
Hera & Echo – This is one of the more famous stories depicting Hera’s anger and jealously. The nymph Echo was instructed by Zeus to distract Hera while he was out having his many “affairs.” Since Hera couldn’t punish Zeus, she would punish others. In Echo’s case, she was cursed to forever repeat what was said to her.
There are plenty of studies to show and suggest that the Greeks were originally a matriarchal people. As patriarchy took over and the myths are rewritten, the resistance of the older religion and people twisted these myths and stories around to make Hera look jealous and petty as so many of the Greek gods appear to be when their myths, especially original ones get co-opted and rewritten.
Battle Of The Sexes – If you don’t already have an idea of Zeus’ amorous reputation in mythology, keep reading, you will…
Hera would be rather upset and angry with her husband from his numerous affairs. I can only imagine, that as the goddess of marriage, Hera would try to have it out with Zeus over having sex and who got the most pleasure out of it.
The mortal Tiresias was given the job of acting as a judge for this contest. When he ruled in favor of Zeus that men have more pleasure in having sex, Tiresias was rewarded with getting to live three times longer than other mortals.
Your Reputation Precedes You Sir!
Politely put, Zeus has quite a reputation with all of the “love interests” and “affairs” and the vast number of children he is to have fathered over the millennia. Zeus is rather busy for a married man, I mean god.
There are numerous stories of Zeus’ many love affairs, romances and some of which that are just outright rape stories no matter how euphemistically later rewrites try to retell them.
There’s a certain prestige, especially seen in the ancient Egyptian culture where all the Pharaohs are earthly incarnations of Ra. This divine birthright is what justifies them to be the rulers over the common, ordinary people.
I can imagine a similar thing happening among the Greeks where they want to claim a divine heritage to justify their rule over various cities states. Stories that often just served to explain how a thing came to be, why something is and to explain divine right of rulership.
We also know there’s two major areas of Greek history, the Mycenean Greek era and the those whom we think of as the Ancient or Classical Greeks with a dark age period in between. If you look at the myths carefully from these periods, Poseidon had been the ruler of the Olympian gods during the Mycenean era of Greek history. This later changes to Zeus being the head of the pantheon.
There is also a Neolithic, Cycladic culture that is best known for its female idols. Couple this with Hera and her vehemence towards Zeus and his numerous affairs. Now it appears to be clear that the Greek myths we get of Zeus are the result of revisionist history and storytelling.
As there’s a theological takeover of replacing Poseidon with Zeus as the head of the pantheon and a patriarchal takeover of the regions that reduce goddesses like Hera’s importance. Just taking a close look at some of these myths, you can see the hints of it and some of the discrepancies that come up as Greece and then Rome expanded, trying to absorb all of these locals myths and to equate local deities and variations with their own.
The most obvious being the Titanomachy story where Zeus and his siblings all displace the older pantheon and the survivors get absorbed into the new divine order.
Other names: zmaj (Serbian) змај, (Croatian and Bosnian), zmaj (Slovene), zmey, змей (Bulgarian, Russian), zmiy (Old Church Slavonic), змеj (Macedonian), żmij (Polish), змій (Ukrainian)
It should be noted that most of these words are the masculine forms for the Slavic word “snake.” In Russian, the feminine is zmeya. Other names include zmajček or zmajić that is used as a diminutive form of endearment.
Etymology – Dragon, Snake or Serpent
In the Slavic language, a dragon is called a Zmej. It appears as multi-headed dragon with three, seven or nine heads that are capable of breathing fire. The Eastern Slavic dragons are believed to be able to regrow their heads like a hydra if one head is chopped off. In all cases, their large size makes them fearsome foes. Also, among the Southern Slavic countries, the Zmej appears more as an anthropomorphic draconic of fishlike humanoid.
The Zmej is primarily associated with fire, like a good many other dragons of European folklore. It either breathes fire or it can throw fiery arrows or lightning bolts. It is exceedingly strong and the Zmej’s strength can be taken by a person who eats the dragon’s heart. That puts a whole new light on the movie Dragon Heart. The precise abilities of the Slavic dragons vary by locality and country.
The male Zmej were often portrayed in a positive light, acting as protectors of their family and tribe. He was seen as a good demonic force, using the power of weather in the way of hail, storms and strong winds to protect crops and harvests from getting ruined. Among the Southern Slavs, it’s very common to see the imagery of a dragon representing a good demonic force.
While I note the use of the word and spelling demonic to describe the Zmej; given the context and influence of Christianity upon an older Pagan religion, beliefs and traditions; it is very likely that the Greek term and usage of daimon is more appropriate.
You Called Him A Daimon!
Yes, as in the Greek term and meaning for the word spirit. It is Christianity that takes and twists the word and meaning to Demon, for an evil spirit or being.
Among the ancient Greeks, the word daimon means spirit or “replete with knowledge.” They recognized both good (eudemons) and bad (cacodemons). The word or term daimon also means “divine power,” “fate,” or “god.” And in Greek mythology, daimons could also include deified heroes.
Daimons functioned as messengers or intermediary spirits between men and gods. The good daimons were viewed as guardian spirits who gave guidance and protection to those they watched over. The bad daimons, naturally, weren’t so nice and could mislead people, getting them into trouble.
Sometimes the Zmej also appears as an anthropomorphic dragon man, much like the Romanian Zmeu, seen as very intelligent, wise and knowledgeable with great magical proficiency, breath fire and superhuman strength. Like the Romanian Zmeu, the Slavic Zmej was also known for being very wealthy with castles and realms in otherworlds. They too lusted after women with home they could bear children. Respect was always given to these Zmej as one never knew what to expect in terms of behavior.
National And Folk Heroes
A good many heroes were considered dragons or the son of a Zmej. A number of these heroes include:
Husein-Kapetan Gradaščević – A successful Bosniak general who fought for the independence of the Ottoman Empire from Bosnia. He is known as “Zmaj od Bosnia,” or “The Dragon of Bosnia.”
Vlad III Dracula – A Romanian Hero and more infamously known as Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s book Dracula and depicted as a Vampire. Among the Romanians of Wallachia, Vlad is a hero, having been inducted into the Order of the Dragon by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund to defend a Christian Europe against the Ottoman Empire.
Vuk Grgurević – A Serbian Despot known as “Zmaj-Ognjeni Vuk” or “Vuk the Fiery-Dragon” due to the vicioness of his rule and his many battles against the Turks.
In the folk songs of Bulgaria, the Zmej appears as a popular motif as a Draconic Lover. Most of these songs featuring a Dragon Love, have a male Zmej. More heroic songs involving a Zmej will be female.
It’s interesting to note a very stark contrast and distinction male and female dragons in Bulgarian folklore. For one, the male and female dragons were seen as brother and sister. Yet for all this, they were very staunchly opposed to each other. The female dragons were known for representing the destructive weather that would destroy crops and agriculture. Whereas, the male dragons protected the fields and crops for harvest. Such that the two often fought each other, representing the dueling, opposing forces of female/water with male/fire symbolism.
Macedonia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, Slovenia and Montenegro Folklore
In these Southern Slavic countries and areas, a dragon is known by the name of zmaj, zmej and lamja. Similar to the Russian dragons, it has three, seven or even nine heads, all of which breathe fire. Additionally, in Serbia the dragon is called aždaja or hala and in Bosnia is called aždaha.
Polish And Belarussian Folklore
In both of these cultures, aside from Zmej, they also have the word smok, coming from the Indo-Iranian word for swallow. Other spellings for smok are: смок and цмок.
As previously mentioned, there is a very similar dragon-like creature in Romania with an equally similar name called the Zmeu. It is distinguished from many of the Slavic Zmej as it is anthropomorphic in nature and always a destructive force.
Russian And Ukrainian Folklore
Representing the Eastern Slavic people, there are a few different dragons found in their folklore. A number of prehistoric sites such as the Serpent’s Wall near Kiev have associations with dragons and act as symbols for foreign people. The Russian dragons are known to have heads that come in multiples of three and will grow back if every single head isn’t chopped off or promptly covered in ash or burnt.
Zmey Gorynych – This green colored dragon has three heads and walks on two back paws with two smaller front paws. Like many dragons, it breathes fire. The hero Dobrynya Nikitich is who killed this dragon.
Tugarin Zmeyevich – This dragon very strongly represented the Mongols and other Steppe peoples who often threatened the borders of Russia. Tugarin’s name is Turkic in origin. He was defeated by the hero Alyosha Popovich.
Saint George And The Dragon – It is without question that the hero Saint George symbolizes Christianity and that his killing of the Dragon symbolizes the Devil or Satan. It is a motif often portrayed on the coat of arms for Moscow.
The Serbian folklore for dragons is very similar to that of Bulgarian folklore. Essentially the differences come down to the different countries and regions’ name for them. Here, the Zmaj or Zmey is seen as very intelligent with superhuman strength and well versed in the use of magic. Like many European dragons, they breath fire and lust over young women. An image that sounds very much so like the Romanian Zmeu. The big difference here is that the Zmaj or Zmey are defenders of the crops and fight against a demon known as Ala that they attack using lightning.
The Slovene word of zmaj is of an uncertain, archaic origin. Another word used for dragons is pozoj. Like many European dragons, the zmaj are often seen in a negative light and associated with Saint George in his slaying the dragon.
There are other Pre-Christian Folk Tales involving dragons.
Ljubljana Dragon – This dragon features on the city of Ljubljana’s coat of arms that it guarded over and protected.
Wawel Dragon – This Polish dragon is often defeated by tricking it into eating a lime. It should be noted that this dragon isn’t always harmful towards people.
Also known as aždaha, ala or hala in Persian mythology. Some Southern Slavic countries will mention Aždaja as a type of dragon. Its true nature is considered to be drastically different than that of a real dragon and considered separate. While the Zmej is often seen as a positive force, the Aždaja is seen as a negative force and woefully evil. Ultimately the nature of the Aždaja seems contradictory and should be a type of dragon as it shares all of the hall marks of the European dragons that are often sinister in nature. After all, the Aždaja is draconic in appearance, they live in dark places such as caves. Like many other Slavic dragons, the Aždaja is frequently multi-headed with three, seven or nine heads and breathes fire. In some of the Christian mythologies of Saint George, he is shown slaying the Aždaja and not Zmej.
While the Zmej is male, the Southern Slavic folklore makes mention of a female version known as Lamya. This name derives from the name Lamia, a Queen and former lover of the god Zeus who turns into a daemon that devours children and in some versions of her story, Lamia becomes more serpentine. Later stories will equate Lamia to vampires and succubae.
In Bulgaria and Macedonia, there is a Bulgarian legend about the hero Mavrud who succeeds in cutting off all of the heads of Lamya; who appears in this story as a hydra-like dragon. It has been commented that this story seems to symbolize the pruning of grape vines. Further, there is a variety of Bulgarian grapes known as Mavrud.