Friday, November 28, 2014

The Culture Column #45: The Fox Courts [A]

All things must needs come to an end, or at least this column must, and so we close with a two-part feature. I’m not quite sure why I decided to go with kitsune or magic fox people or whatever to round out this column but I did. I kind of regret the timing of it all, actually, and the imminent death of this column, because there’s a lot more that I have than what I can give you in the two articles that I have left.

That’s what you get for trying to make sure they’re fleshed-out. You get more than you can fit into two articles. Never fear, though. I’m working on a compilation of the column’s cultures, with lots of bonus material, and all of the extra stuff will find its way there.

And now, without further ado, I give you the Fox Court.
“The dead and the living walk different roads, but foxes are between the dead and the living. Transcendents and monsters travel different paths, but foxes are between transcendants and monsters.” – Ji Yun, Notebook from the Thatched Cottage of Close Scrutiny
To describe the Foxes clinically is perhaps a kind of betrayal. What are the Foxes, truly? “Earnest scholars, dedicated rakes, devoted lovers, seductresses par excellence, tricksters, poltergeists, drinking companions, karmic avengers, and always, always great moralizers.”

The Foxes consider themselves, treat themselves, as a kind of poetry, and it is fitting to describe them so, in flights of fancy and with a force of boundless creation.

But no matter what else is said of them, no matter how cruelly served they are by the styling of the words that follow, remember this: that between paths of light and darkness, between immortals and demons, there walk the Foxes.

Or maybe they’re just sneaky little bastards.

General Physiology


The Foxes are native to (and found predominantly in) Japan, which they call Wo-ko-ku, and in physical measurements they are a little bit smaller than the average Japanese. In some respects they have other similarities to humankind, including a bipedal stance, but in many others they are, as they call themselves, Foxes. No one looking at a Fox in its natural form could mistake it for as being human.

Foxes are nocturnal, like their common brethren (with whom they really do not seem to share any strong relationship but only a few incidentals of appearance and behavior). They also live for hundreds of years, which they ascribe to the former. It is their belief that the sun’s rays incite aging and that the way to prolong life is by avoiding it. While humans are healthiest when they have regular exposure to sunlight, this belief is based in fact when it comes to the Foxes themselves. Foxes regularly exposed to sunlight are more prone to cancer than others of their kind, but they also age much faster and it is possible that a fully diurnal Fox might live not much longer than the average human.

Reproduction revolves around the middle of summer. With a nine month gestation, like humans, Fox children are born around the middle of spring, after any unseasonal cold snaps should have passed them by. While this has biological basis the Foxes wouldn’t plan it any other way, and they have a cultural aversion to the idea of childbirth occurring at any earlier time. Their children are very sensitive to the cold until they are three months old, sensitive enough that a chill autumn’s night could kill an infant Fox in a few minutes. An additional difficulty that Foxes suffer early in life is blindness. The condition is only temporary and leaves them around the age of five months, but it is still a period of exceptional vulnerability. Either because infant mortality was once so high in this early period or because of the symbolism behind gaining sight for the first time, Foxes only receive their permanent names after they this milestone.

Psychology


By human standards Foxes are insane.

They are slow to act, as appropriate for beings with such long lives, and as a culture they prefer misdirection to open confrontation (especially the violent kind). Their duels are fought not with the blade but with barbed wit and plans within plans. They are loathe to put themselves in severe danger either proactively or by failure to think ahead and act appropriately, so they cache food and magic and squirrel away all sorts of items for the rainy days that will surely come.

There is always a third way between violence and retreat, the Foxes believe.

Their ways are not our ways. They suffer from a pareidolia more pronounced than the human norm, something even approaching the edges of schizophrenia. They find connections that make no sense. They are paranoiacs because they sense danger behind every corner, and this is in part why they are such packrats. On the other hand their minds are well-developed for creating traps just as much as for detecting them, and trying to match wits with a Fox can be an awful experience indeed.

They talk to themselves often. Their speech is disorganized, rambling and incoherent. They wander from topic to topic, going whither they go, and they provide answers that do not respond to questions. If their minds are like mazes then it may not be incorrect to suggest that the Foxes have become utterly lost in them.

Other peculiarities abound. They climb trees with abandon, as if it were a mild compulsion that can be fought off only with strong reasons and considerable effort. Their gazes are flat and expressionless. They develop sleeping problems, especially insomnia, as they get older and older. They are obsessive-compulsive (one might even say control freaks) and this behavior manifests most interestingly in their obsession with not getting sick.

Oh, the Foxes go over their plans again and again. And they like their belongings to be arranged just so, despite how difficult it is for humans and even some Foxes to understand the logic behind the placement. But they absolutely do not abide sickness.

Spirit and Ritual


In fact, a large part of their religion, such as it is, concerns itself with ritual cleanliness. There is a conflation of ritual and physical cleanliness, and one cannot be clean in spirit without being clean in body. Minor failures of purity are only temporary and easily amended by fixing them at the source (Foxes like to take baths), but it is possible to stain the spirit through acts so damaging that further action must be taken to achieve restoration. While it is not strictly immoral and is even regarded as necessary for many Foxes to undergo for the good of the Court, spending more than a few days as an active part of human society is an act that requires extensive purification thereafter.

While purity is regained in other religions through practices like washing, the Foxes repair the damage of major infractions via ritual eating and purging. This seems to be based in symbolism like that found in sin-eating, but where the sin-eater takes the sins of the community upon himself as a scapegoat, the food being the vehicle for and representation of these sins, in the Fox Court the food is ingested not to take on impurity but to represent the acquisition of impurity that is already there. The tainting having thus been mirrored, it is regurgitated in order to symbolize the expulsion of that impurity. Bulimia is actually less common among Foxes than humans.

The sick are impure by virtue of their sickness. After they recover they must purify themselves. Meat is impure by its nature and must be roasted or boiled before being eaten in order to avoid contamination. While there is technical debate among some humans on the matter, Foxes consider both fish and insects to be “meat.”

Their religion is the Land, Wo-ko-ku. It is a holy Land, a sacred Land, the first to be fashioned at the beginning of time, hallowed and consecrated to Spirit itself. It is the embodiment of purity, and to depart from the Land (which is why the Foxes are only rarely encountered away from it) or to touch the soil of any other is defiling in the highest degree. For Wo-ko-ku is a reflection of the islands of the immortals, which islands are visible in the night sky and to which the Foxes wish to ascend. After they have sojourned in the islands for a time they may return and be reborn as new Foxes. After many such turnings of the wheel their souls may be purified enough to enter the celestial realms, which… do not quite exist yet. Maybe.

That some of these ideas have vague similarities to Buddhism, especially their concept of reincarnation, is not lost on the Foxes. It is their opinion, held as fact in their circles, that the Buddha was either a mad-Fox (as evidenced by his travels far from the islands) or someone who heard the ramblings of a probably-drunk Fox and gravely misunderstood. Reincarnation is a truth, yes, but only for Foxes.

And who would ever want to be a human? Oh, for a little while that’s fine, of course, but humans can’t ascend to the islands of the immortals or the celestial realms.

Humans certainly serve an important purpose, though. As one might have gathered a few paragraphs ago there is some uncertainty as to whether the celestial realms are an actual thing right now. More properly they are named To-shi-to-shi, or The City, The City. For as far back as their tales can be dated, the Foxes have understood the celestial realms to be a metropolis, and humans have been the means of their “realizing Heaven,” as some Foxes have put it. Perhaps To-shi-to-shi exists elsewhere, right now, and will be extended or called forth or summoned here. Perhaps it does not yet exist but will be built in the future. Either way, the “realization” will be an actual, physical engineering project, the conversion of Wo-ko-ku into a single interlinked city, so that the City and the Land are indistinguishable from one another.

The Foxes worship a single deity, Tan-ya-ba, the Fox of three stations. In English the usual pronoun set is they/them/their, which serves doubly well because it notes their plurality and avoids assigning sex to them, which in turn is useful because they are both of these things, a unified being like a kind of Fox Adam Kadmon, Wadj-wer, or Loki (which the Foxes would almost certainly argue are muddled versions of the true deity). Tan-ya-ba is a deity of fertility, power, and immortality, the creator of the Foxes and “They (that) Will Come with The City, The City.”

They are usually depicted with a more feminine appearance. They sometimes have three faces on a single head or just three heads and are always shown with three arms, usually with a spider hanging from one finger, suspended on silk. Life springs out of Tan-ya-ba’s bleeding arms, and in some depictions the blood turns into a river as or soon after it hits the ground. These wounds in their arms are inflicted either by an enemy or by Tan-ya-ba themselves.

Tan-ya-ba has three heads, three guises, three stations: Mi-no-ru, Tsu-bu, and Toch-I, meaning Real(ness)/Water, Grain, and Land. The last is specifically the actual plot of Land that one farms (in this respect Tan-ya-ba has many Toch-I heads, one for each farmer or manager). These are referred to, without strong consistency as to pairing role with purview, as “the hand that makes the blade, the hand that wields it, and the hand that passes it to another.” This passing-on may be either as an end to conflict (giving it up for peace) or perpetuating it (giving it to another so they may continue the fight after one’s death). Despite the theme of conflict, however, the blade is usually a sickle rather than a sword.

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