Posts Tagged ‘tengu’

Sorry folks, last weeks post got interrupted by a little ol’ thing called Hurricane Isaac.  What a gods bedamned blow hard. He just would not take a hint and leave.  However, I’ve now officially flown a kite in a hurricane.  The bucket list grows ever smaller.

Now I thought about doing another storm based critter, like the tengu and their bag of winds.  However, the sun is shining and hot today, and that always makes me think of one thing.  Vampires.  Buckle in kiddies, let’s talk about those supernatural leeches, those over grown ticks, the venerable suck heads, the vampires.

We’ve got to start with definitions, because blood is a powerful force and form of sustenance in a lot of mythologies.  Lots of things drink blood, from gods to sphinxes, to the little alp when he can’t get his preferred meal.  To be considered a vampire you have to be pretty much defined by your hunger, by the one thing that drives you.  To be a vampire you don’t have to just like or need blood, you have to be consumed by it.

And that’s just a little sad.  It’s like being impressed by an alcoholic’s need for booze.  Vampires, especially the earlier you go back in the mythos, are wretchedly simple creatures.   Oh sure, they have died and come back, and that’s neato, but they spend all their immortal nights chasing after the red stuff, and it doesn’t give them time for much else.  There is some evidence that the older they got, the more self control they learned, but even Dracula got all hot and bothered by a paper cut.  Even I don’t go nutso over a spilled drink, and I’m a proper lush.   Okay… I’ll wince if it’s scotch… but that’s not my only defining feature damn it!

And most vampires probably don’t live all that long.  This whole Anne Rice thing of a vampire protecting his progeny and teaching them the glorious rites of immortal life is a damn new thing.  In ninety percent of stories, vampires crawl their way out of their own coffins and are left to their own devices.  Sometimes it’s not even another vampire that makes a baby vamp.  Sometimes it’s a curse or the wrong funeral rites being performed, it depends on the culture.  However, a lot of newly risen vamps spend the first night running around like savage dogs, and there is no daddy vamp to tell them ‘sun hot, sun bad’.   They get to find that out at dawn, and maybe they get to cover and maybe they don’t, but by now the villagers are probably looking for them anyway.  It’s a hard knock unlife.

The idea of undead blood suckers is neigh onto universal, like a lot of the big beasties I focus on. Like most things, vampires in different regions can have a variety of powers. We can put this down to cultural differences, or maybe different strains or bloodlines of vampires, or a few other things.   Sometimes the vampires can turn into animals, or mist.  Sometimes they can hypnotize, sometimes not.  Sometimes the vampire is dead to the world, pun intended, during daylight and sometimes it is perfectly awake, just trapped indoors.  There is no one formula.

What’s more interesting though is the variety of weaknesses the vampires get.  I mean, dragons vary from region to region, but you still pretty much need a hell of a sword or lance to actually deal with one.  Vampires get a doozy of restrictions, some that make sense and some that are outright whacky.  The idea that vampires can’t willingly cross running water, and have to be ferried or carried across, is a common one.  Several authors have used the idea of vampires being restricted in cities because of underground water pipes.   Garlic isn’t the only herb that keeps them at bay, everything from myrrh to lavender has been used, and the ever useful wolves bane.  Silver usually isn’t in the vampire myths, unless it’s a silver cross, but it shows up occasionally.  My favorites are the various cultures that have the vampires as extremely o.c.d.  In these legends you can distract a vampire by throwing beans or rice at it, and it is compelled to gather them all up and count them.  This is weird, not only because the idea of a savage animal in ragged grave cloths being compelled to neaten and count is amusing, but also because a form of this shows up in China and Romania, separate cultures with a very similar myth.

And of course killing a vampire is only as hard as driving a wooden stake through a breastbone… which is actually pretty hard.   Tip for you all, go up under the ribcage with a longer stake, the heart is still there.  The fastest way to a vamp’s heart is through the stomach, and Up.   Oh, and some cultures require a rowan stake, or more commonly one of ash.  Got to love the ever helpful vamp and snake killing ash tree.   It is wise to bury the corpse at a crossroads, and removing the head is just common sense. In case some fool removes the stake and the creature rises again.   For the totally obsessive (show of hands people) burn head and body separately and scatter the ashes into different bodies of water.  That recipe would keep Freddy bloody Kruger from making another movie, much less your average vampire.

Now, the origins of vampires are many and varied.  Quite frankly, the idea of vampires having one single origin may be something fairly modern, because obsession with vampires has grown startling since Victorian times.  Why?  Because the Victorians gave them the sexy.  They turned vampires into seducers more than any other culture, and the act of feeding into something down right dirty.  Oh, they weren’t the only ones, but they were the ones that shaped the culture for us.  In a lot of cultures, humans are food and just food, and it is doubtful how many vampires would spare the precious blood on fueling a hard-on anyway.

Likewise, the connection between vampire and church has grown in modern times.  Though faith usually repelled vampires in most cultures, it was the faith of the person more than the symbol of any one faith.   Now there are a few takes on vampires that have Judas as the first earthly vampire, punished by God to be a night-walking bloodsucker because of his betrayal.  The same God who sent his own kid to get hammered?  Why yes, yes it was, but no one ever accused him of constancy.  Lilith actually makes a better candidate for mother of vampires, but hell there are a couple of versions of the first vampires being of alien origin, and only later mixing their blood with human stock.

The most common scientific explanation for vampire myths may be one of the least satisfying ever.  The current theory is that primitive people saw the movements and swellings caused by rigor and thought it was a sign of the body coming back to life.  Because primitive equals beyond stupid in most of these theories.   Blood was a part because of the way blood will leak from the mouth and eyes of a non-formaldehyde filled corpse.  Twitching bleeding body equals bloodthirsty night fiend the world over just doesn’t quite satisfy me, not a bit, but hey, I try to look at all the angles.

I could bring up Vlad Tepish here or Elizabeth Bathory, but I won’t.  Just being a power hungry psycho doesn’t make you a vampire, and bathing in virgin blood may be one person’s search for immortality, but is probably just another one’s kink.  I also consider the ‘energy vampire’ that has become so popular with goth kids to be a separate phenomena.  Sure, there are creatures that feed off pure energy, but that would be another category. And just because you suck all the life out of the party kid, don’t make you a vampire per say.

So where to end this post?  Ah, I know!  Holy water jello shots all around!  First one whose stomach melts goes out in the sun!


Writing Posts-

More inventive vampire killing strategies.  Wooden bullets are done to death.  How but a wood shot claymore?

Vampire blood sports.  Humans are sick cookies, you know they are going to toss two starved vamps in a cage at some point and see who wins.

Diabetic vampires.


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Okay, last week I got caught up in other creative projects (blogging to come soon!) and by the time I thought of Monster Monday it was already two in the morning Tuesday.  My bad.  Hey, I almost made ten whole installments before my absentminded puckity mind got distracted.  Be amazed, I know I am.

To make up for it, this week I’m going to do a request for one of my friends and readers.  Appropriately I’m going to talk about a monster whose lore is about as consistent as you can expect from something that is sometimes thought to be flesh, sometimes a ghost, and has the brain of a not too bright bird.   It’s time to hop to an island with almost as much crazy folk belief as Ireland.  Let’s go to the land of the rising sun, catch some sushi, and talk about tengu.

Tengu come from Japan and actually are one of the creatures that show up a lot in popular culture, both in the East and the West.  However, the name tengu gets a little slippery sometimes, for reasons I’ll go into. Some of it is down to actual cultural evolution.   It doesn’t help that we are talking Japanese, with fundamentally different structures and concepts than English when it comes to the things that go bump in the night. Let’s face it, the difference between a kami and a yokai is often just the viewpoint of the human using the word.  Tengu also sounds damn close to a dog faced demon from China, and the words may have root origins in common.  But I’m getting way off the point as that absent minded brain of mine goes into lecture mode.

So, Tengu.   Originally they started as kite-like creatures, who were spirits in flesh, an odd concept for some.  They weren’t demons, as they weren’t evil, nor where they ghosts or elementals or spirits of a place or object.  No they were their own separate class of creature, their own separate race or species if you will, with the common abilities of shape-shifting to various degrees and later on the ghost-like powers of possession.

I should say straight off that when I say kite-like, I don’t mean that they are made of paper and flown on strings by eager children.  The kite is a type of bird of prey, somewhat more graceful than a hawk.  It has broad wings made for gliding, and in the earliest depictions the ‘human form’ of the tengu was little more than the critters growing man-sized, folding their wings up to resemble robes, and their very bird-like head staying just the same but speaking human words.  As birds of prey, the early tengu could be quite militaristic, had a proper warrior spirit, and had no problem killing someone who offended them.  They did collect knowledge and had a tendency to strike at abusers of power, but for the most part their actions were inscrutable to most men, and the best way to deal with one was with a quick sword, or a healthy healthy amount of respect.

Whether the early tengu were good or bad depended largely on your perspective.  They seemed to very much enjoy attacking priests and monks.   The early Buddhists didn’t like stories of bird creatures snatching their high priests up and then dropping them off cliffs, go figure.  They spoke of the tengu as demons and ghosts who hated Buddha and would distract the unfaithful with lies and false images, leading people on the ‘tengu way’ and away from Heaven. This was the first concept of tengu as tempters, not tricksters but tempters.  The monks tried to discredit thinking of tengu as physical creatures, and pushed stories of the tengu possessing people and driving them to madness. Then there were a few stories of a priest and young boy getting abducted by tengu, with the boy wandering back traumatized and the priest ending up tied up high in a tree.

Considering modern politics, my twisted and disturbed mind wonders if the tengu abducted them both, or if the priest (not the catholic variety but still) and the boy were off in the woods for other purposes that the tengu then disapproved of.

The folklore from less organized religious viewpoints, you know the kind that can actually respect the various monsters and creatures of Japan, tends to indicate that the tengu only attacked those who got too full of themselves and/or tried to put Buddha symbols into older holy places without asking permission.  It didn’t help that people who wanted to mock the priests would use the tengu imagery, drawing caricatures of current political figures with long beaks or feathers coming out of their back.  Both sides agree that the tengu could be extremely dangerous.  Attacking with sharp beaks and talons, or if you really pissed them off using a fan made of magic feathers to control the wind and weather.  Then the tengu, and this was only in a few stories, could devastate whole valleys with floods and winds, wiping out temples and communities alike.

If one were to find a middle ground, you’d pretty much have to assume that tengu range in attitude and personality just like any group of people.  None of them liked priests much originally, but most wouldn’t do anything too drastic unless that priest did something really irritating.  Usually the worst punishments were reserved for the most powerful priests, and the ones with the most power to abuse.  One has to wonder what the supposed holy sorts did to deserve the attention.

The idea of tengu as protectors of holy places shows up very sporadically early on, and really is a more modern development. Since about the 17th century you get a concentration of stories about tengu fiercely defending certain forests, often without anyone quite knowing why that particular bit of wood got a guardian.  It seems like they are territorial more than anything else, causing problems for the pious and the impious alike if they wander into the wrong forest.  Always forest and mountain locations too, lakes and river holy places were protected by a different class of critter entirely.

Now, anyone who has watched a bit of anime or played too many video games is going to be fidgeting by now, because I haven’t once used the words crow or raven.  The more popular modern renditions of the tengu makes the birds more crow-like, and the human form much more human.  Often tengu get depicted as old men with black wings and long noses, or as monks with raven heads.  The interesting thing is that this style of tengu does have its roots in the old concept, but the crow/ raven variety (no one quite agrees which black bird they really are supposed to turn into though crow seems to be the more accurate interpretation) was a lesser subspecies of the tengu race.

Yep, that’s right.  If the tengu had a high school, the kites would be the jocks and popular kids, and the crows would be stuck in A.V. club and forced to do the other tengus’ homework.   The crow tengu were the underlings of the other tengu, and often got stuck with scribe work and record keeping.  When the crow tengu went out and indulged in a bit of trickery, they would normally target lowly monks and minor officials who abused their power.  It was the more deadly bird of prey variety that went after the big evil doers and other demons.  Still, the fact that they are remembered and the kites have faded some is a pure example of geek power baby.  So I’ll throw a little affection to the little black feathers even if they don’t often seem to be all that bright.

The whole concept of the tengu as tricksters is also a more modern idea than really shows up in most of the historical stuff.  Or I should say, the concept of them as effective, clever tricksters is a modern thing.  They always enjoyed punishing people, and at least with the crow variety the punishments tended to be more frustrating than harmful. They even had a sense of humor, or at least a sense of ironical justice, but they weren’t the big pranksters like the kitsune or tanuki.  In fact, in most stories where the crow tengu thinks it is being clever it quickly gets outwitted by the simplest peasant, or a child.  It’s got to be embarrassing to get pranked by a kid or tricked into throwing gold at a gambler because your birdy brain thinks the gambler is afraid of money. Vicious and fierce we can give the tengu, and they sure thought they were clever sometimes, but that was often a whole lot of pride talking. Pride that was seriously out of tune with reality.

Kinda like the very priests the poor birdies targeted.

One more note on the language thing.  Much like shen gets more and more overused in China, tengu is starting to become a fall back general term for minor spirit creatures that aren’t good or bad.  Usually with a qualifier word, like crow tengu for what we’ve been talking about, but I’ve heard of lawn tengu and foliage tengu which seem to be other beasts entirely.  A mask with a long nose has been used to represent the bird tengu for the last couple of hundred years, the nose being a symbol for the beak.   In fact in many stories even the most human shaped tengu had a long nose, couldn’t seem to get rid of it.  Now the long nose mask is getting used more and more for any impish or obnoxious spirit, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the avian concept either fade, or go back to an older name to keep it separate from the generalities.

Yes, I know I normally just end on a joke, but I find the whole evolution of language and mythology fascinating, and this is something that can be actually tracked in our time.

Oh all right, so a tengu flies into a bar…

No, never mind.


Writing Prompts

Tengu high school

What if the priests dealing with tengu had been the Catholics, not the Buddhists?

What is in the forests that the tengu are so fierce about protecting?  Nesting sites perhaps?

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