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Magdalena Karbowska The topic of this essay is shapeshifting in mythology as well as in folklore compared to contemporary. The metamorphosis is a wide subject but in this essay different myths about greek gods and legends about folklore shapeshifters will be included and explored. In the mythology many gods were able to change their apperance and gender like Proteus from greek mythology was able to change into lion, serpent, leopard, pig and take a form of water and tree. Then the most important folklore shapeshifter legends will be compared to mythological gods. The research will be based on many myths and legends: Metamorphoses Ovid,Stanley Lombardo,W. R. (INT) Johnson Gods, goddesses, and mythology, Volume 11 By C. Scott Littleton, Marshall Cavendish Corporation Fox Wives and Other Dangerous Women by Heinz Insu Fenkl Shapeshifting is present to us from many centuries ago in form of mythological and folklore creatures. Depending on the culture and the time the myths and legends come from the apperance of shapeshifters differs. Proteus is well known as being a greek god, who knew everything about past, present and future. Fig. 1. Thanks to his ability to change his apperance he wasn't an easy target to people who wanted to know their future. Proteus would never lie to anyone and as long as he would be forced to return to his original form of an old man he would tell anything a person would ask of him. „... Sometimes you are seen As a young man, sometimes a lion or a raging boar; A snake no one would like to touch; or horns Might make you into a bull; you could be a stone, Or take a form of running water, a river, Or you could be the enemy of water, fire.” (Ovid, 2010, 229) Proteus was a minor sea god who had a great ability to shape shift into anything and as the quote above states he was using this ability to great extent taking a form of different life forms as well as inanimate Fig. 1: Shape shifting Proteus; Littleton, objects. Gods, goddesses, and mythology, Volume 11, People have always tried to acquire information which is not avaliable to them, but then many wouldPage 1186 be afraid of knowing of something which could possible have great impact on their lives. Proteus could have been a barrier between average person and people obsessed to know more because of his abilities he wasn't an easy target. In greek mythology Proteus wasn't the only one who could shapeshift, because for example Thetis, Proteus sister was also capable to change her shape. This trait is only known to show up in gods and no ordinary humans were ever able to so. Gods were always treated as the „higher beings” able to do things humans either look up to or are afraid of. „The theme of the magical ability to change shape is also found throughout mythology. In the case of Proteus, it may be connected to his role as a sea god, reflecting the changing and unpredictable nature of the sea itself” (Littleton, 2005, 1186) In the greek mythology there are gods to almost any part of the daily activites the average inhabitant could be doing. Proteus could be an impersonation of all the knowledge people had at a time, all gathered in one place, but because a single person wasn't able to have all of this knowledge Proteus
was changing it's shape and running away, refusing to share the knowledge he possesed. Unlike in Europe where shapeshifters were more associated with gods in Asia they were connected to demons. Kumiho is a female nine tailed fox and she is able to transform into a form which will allow her to gain power and death. She kills and then eats her prey. „In the old days there was a custom of burying dead maidens in a flat grave on or near a well-traveled road in the hopes that some passing gentleman would expose to the maiden's spirit his "most precious thing."” (Fenkl, 1999) This suggests that women who didn't get married and haven't got children were treated like plague, which had to be treated to not spread too far. Maidens spirits were supposed to transform into Kumiho and then they could change their apperance to a maiden, wife or succubus. In the Korean folklore fox spirits are nearly always female and evil. They are able to seduce a man, and suck out his life force. This means anyone who meets a Kumiho will die. Unlike Japanese Kitsune, Kumiho is purely evil, and even modern view is still the same as the one from legends. „By the moonlight I could see her as she did a little dance. Then she oiled her hand and her arm with sesame oil. She shoved her whole arm into the cow's anus and pulled out its liver. She ate it raw while the cow died without a sound.” ( Fenkl, 1999) Kumiho are very cruel creatures and even after taking an apperance of a human they have instincts of a fox. They are exceptionary good at shapeshifting and it is said even parents couldn't tell apart their daughters from Kumiho. Fig. 2. Kumiho as a beautiful woman, the expression of the fox it Fig. 2: Kumiho, the nine is clear it's plotting something. The nature of those spirit foxes is tailed fox, http://academia.issendai.com unchanged, no matter how beautiful they might look or the /fox-korean.shtml 19.10.2011 illusions they will create in the end anything Kumiho sets it's eyes on will be eaten by her. The way Tengu are seen have changed from creatures who harm people to ones who are able to protect them. What remained unchanged is that Tengu are prankers and curious about things happening around them. Fig. 3. On this painting Tengu is riding a wild boar. There are two kinds of Tengu's the one present on the image is Karasu Tengu and the other one is Yamabushi Tengu. Yamabushi Tengu apperance differs from Karasu Tengu, he have human posture with wings and unnaturaly long nose. Both of those Tengu's are able to change their apperance to man, Fig. 3: Fig. 3: Tengu riding a boar; woman or a child and both of them http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/tengu.shtml 19.10.2011
love pranks. Karasu Tengu is the evil one while Yamabushi Tengu is the more human and kind one. „Both the magical tanuki (badger) and oinari (fox) can also change to human form, and in some Japanese traditions these two creatures are actually considered to be animal manifestations of Tengu.” (http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/tengu.shtml 19.10.2011) This fact highlights two main qualities of Yamabushi Tengu; trickery and human protection, making it very similar to Proteus. Both of them didn't always help humans when asked, but never did any harm to them. On the other hand Karasu Tengu is similar to Kumiho, both of them was meant to trick people. Karasu Tengu is in modern days often forgotten and the stage now belongs to Yamabushi Tengu, who is considered a deity or a god of mountains. Sculptures of Tengu as well as Oinari can be seen in many places in Japan, like temples and mountains. On many festivals it is possible to buy masks representing those shapeshifters. Be it Tengu, Kumiho or Proteus, they were seen as great and fearfull creatures. In Europe the shapeshifters as well as other gods used to be more forgivefull then shapeshifters from Asia. Asiatic shapeshifters were monsters capable of easily tricking and killing people, sometimes they didn't even realise who the culpirt really was. The modern culture have changed and the same happened with the view on shapeshifters. Many of them have different personality compared to old legends, and their purpose have changed. People have been fascinated by the ability of shape shifting, and even after centuries, we can see them around. Tengu have found it's way in modern Japanese comics, making him more popular and changing it's view for good. This makes us forget about the other evil part of Tengu.
Fig. 4: Tengu and a girl, http://www.mangafox.com/manga/ machi_de_uwasa_no_tengu_no_ko /v01/c001/4.html 19.10.1011 Bibliography Fox Wives and Other Dangerous Women, Heinz Insu Fenkl, http://www.endicottstudio.com/rdrm/fordangr.html 19.10.2011 Gods, goddesses, and mythology, Volume 11, Scott Littleton, Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2005 Metamorphoses, Ovid,Stanley Lombardo,W. R. (INT) Johnson, Hackett Publishing, 2010 TENGU The Slayer of Vanity, http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/tengu.shtml 19.10.2011
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