Friday, December 26, 2014

The Culture Column #46: The Fox Courts [B]

Today we finish up the Fox Court and the Culture Column. As I’ve mentioned before I’m working on a collection that you should be seeing signs of pretty soon, if not already, and it’ll have a lot of extra stuff. Expansions on cultures that have already been featured and even some additional cultures that you’ve never read about yet.

Oh, and just because the column’s dying doesn’t mean I am. Look for something else from me next month, same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel.

Diet


Foxes like to eat beetles, grasshoppers, and other insects, and are fond of chocolate-covered ants in modern times. They also eat snakes, frogs, small mammals, grapes, tubers, and pork, and enjoy drinking wine. They prefer eating foods that are associated with the earth, like roots, rabbits, and moles.

They do eat human corpses, but this behavior is very rare. It is not frowned upon, in the sense that it is considered ritually impure or shameful, but it is considered part of a starvation diet. Foxes are capable of living on human corpses alone for years, even decades, but the meat is distasteful enough that there’s no reason to do it if other sources of food are available.

Because Vitamin D accelerates their aging, they avoid fatty fish like tuna and catfish, liver, mushrooms, and similar foods. They are inordinately fond of eggs and will eat them raw or hardboiled (without removing the shell), but these are taken only in very rare amounts. The practice of egg-eating could be likened unto drinking alcohol in human cultures: most (not all) consider it permissible, but it is possible to indulge past the point of social acceptance.

Magic


The Foxes have a number of small magical tricks to their name, but the greatest of these, or at least one of the most important, is their ability to take human form. It is part of the reason that they are associated with the dead, because they require both oak leaves and a human skull to change shape. The skull even has some relation to what kind of person they can change into, based on factors like the original possessor’s physical appearance, emotional make-up, and loved ones. They may wear these skulls around their heads.

Foxes come into their greatest power when they become a hundred years old. Such White Foxes know what is happening far distances away, can beguile both humans and Foxes, and make people lose their physical senses one by one or all at once.

Dens and lairs


Foxes prefer to live liminal places: near to humans, but not belonging to humans. In the domain of humans, but not inhabited by them.

They are found in isolated monasteries, with or without humans who may or may not know what they are. They may insinuate themselves into insane asylums, as either patients or doctors. Because they need human skulls to transform into human shape, and can subsist on human corpses in a pinch, they often live near graveyards. They may live in abandoned houses, which are often regarded as haunted (if they were not sought out specifically because they were already rumored so), and in rafters or attics of inhabited houses. Occasionally, rare but not so much as to be unheard of, they may take up residence in a specific room in an inhabited house and develop a crippling fear about ever leaving it. These rooms are usually in the basement, where that’s possible (Foxes have a… burrowing thing).

Whatever their situation, they like to have thick grass around their dwellings. Overgrown houses on the grounds of old houses are especially liked. Foxes possess their own hunting grounds. They will refrain from bothering humans who infringe upon their rights, in the way that one humors, rather than punishes, an especially slow child who keeps getting where xe shouldn’t go, but they demand that other Foxes respect the grounds “in their charge.”

Social structure


The majority of the population are “field Foxes.” These are tricksters, farmers, and drinkers, and even a few autodidactic scholars. They may be wandering priests or drifting philosophers. They are often connected to uprisings and their involvement in any kind of numbers generally heralds some manner of social change.

Above these are the celestial Foxes. They are distinguished not so much by holding special rank over the field Foxes but by secret knowledge and unofficial influence. Both classes are organized into clans that the Foxes refer to as “dynasties,” and celestial dynasties are each built around a kind of mystery cult that initiates its members into additional light and knowledge regarding Tan-ya-ba, which is not known to outsiders. Those who are aware of multiple cults’ teachings and perceive inconsistencies will usually consider all of the teachings to be true, each shedding light on an aspect of Tan-ya-ba that is otherwise unknown. From their knowledge comes their influence, for they are usually perceived as having special wisdom.

Dynasties are rooted, in story and song, to a certain homeland but their actual hunting grounds may be just about anywhere. Almost constituting a class of their own, despite officially being Celestial Foxes, the highest members of the Court are the Transcendental Foxes, the Dynasty of the Magatama. Though the other dynasties ultimately choose the Dame Regent, it is from the Magatama that all potential candidates must come. Reflecting their role in presiding over the Fox Court, they may be referred to (only collectively, never individually) as “the sword in the hands of Tan-ya-ba.”

The most ancient of the Foxes, the aptly-named Old Foxes, are asexual, even aromantic. For such a people as the Foxes, who are not known for abstinence, this transition grants them incredible focus. It is as if they are making up, with singular bloody-minded determination, for all of the distractible centuries that they had lived before. Old Foxes are given the appellation “Blessed” by all except for the Transcendental Foxes.

Customs


Foxes prefer pigs and cats for pets over other animals. They really, really don’t like dogs, and dogs don’t like them.

Foxes are interested and skilled in a wide variety of artistic pursuits, including painting, dance, and music. An art form that is now peculiar to them (it once existed elsewhere among humans but has since died out) is at first glance analogous to headhunting (which it may be, in a literal sense). At once both a game and a craft, one element exists as a kind of scavenger hunt for a skull that fits certain broad criteria and the other is the art of repairing it and painting it so that it becomes a kind of macabre, three-dimensional sculpture of a human. A human with a very prominent skull behind their horrifying face, anyway. A major theme of their artwork, whatever it may be, is equilibrium.

They are especially adept at pottery. It is an important art form to the Foxes, nearly sacred. They make their pottery by hand, not with a wheel, and make markings in their work with their nails before it sets. This importance may be because they are the craft’s originators in Japan, but they were responsible for other early advances in the area as well and tool-making in general is not so prized as pottery.

While they were responsible for the Paleolithic Japanese using ground stone and polished stone tools about 20,000 years before the rest of the world it was the Japanese themselves who made the advance to bronze and handed it to the Foxes. This effect of having jumpstarted civilization and afterwards receiving immense dividends may have influenced the development of their To-shi-to-shi concept, with its parallel of the Foxes aiding humanity so that it can, through greater advancement under its own volition (in this case city-building) can translate back to benefits for the Foxes. Whatever effects it may or may not have had on their mythology, though, the gift of bronze has made it beloved in Fox Court culture.

Clothing is preferably woven from bark. Traditional clothing includes a kind of red skirt that is worn by both sexes. Earrings are worn by both sexes.

At marriage female Foxes are partially shaved so that they can tattoo their mouths and forearms. The tattoos declare that she now has power, for she is respected and her voice will be heard by the Transcendentals of the Fox Court, for she has a household (otherwise “her voice is silent” and her opinions carry no weight in the Court’s decisions). Betrothals are made while those concerned are still children, by one who has been appointed as matchmaker but is removed from the local community (or communities) to which the children belong.

Marriage is not the same as comradeship, or teamship, however. Foxes still pair off into teams, as humans in many cultures (and Foxes themselves) do for marriage, but many of the aspects of human marriage are handled in the context of the team. In human terms, spousal pairs are like work partners (as these betrothals are usually arranged to secure alliances, etc) and teams are comparable to deep friendships. To the Foxes, sex (expressed within the spousal pair) and romance (expressed within the team) are very separate and not guaranteed to come together in the same individual. Teams and spouse pairs may be one and the same, but not always.

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