Friday, March 16, 2012

Vampire Cats in Japanese Fairy Tales

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“One day Otoyo (a beautiful princess) sat alone in her room working on her embroidery with a big cat which had been in the palace for some time lounging beside her. As Otoyo looked up briefly from her work she saw the cat suddenly look at her with such hateful and evil eyes that she let out an involuntary cry of fear. But no sooner had the cry escaped her lips then the cat leapt upon the beautiful Otoyo’s throat and bit deep into veins sucking the blood from her.”
The Vampire Cat – Japanese Fairy Tale

Bakeneko (magical cats which can take on human form) are some of the most feared vampires in Japanese folklore because they are able to observe humans, calculating and planning their attack. In one fairy tale a bakeneko watches a boy as he prepares to go hunting, counting the number of arrows the boy takes so it can wait until he’s used them all before attacking.
Beyond simply being cunning the bakeneko was also powerful, in the story of ‘The Vampire Cat,’ the bakeneko drains a concubine in a prince’s court then takes her form so that she can drain the prince of his blood. She then puts all the guards to sleep before making her move. In this form she is able to sleep with the prince, and she drains a little of his blood each night, making him weaker and weaker.
Seeing that the prince is dying of a magical illness his soldiers try to guard him constantly, but the cat in the form of Otoyo puts them all to sleep with her powers. What we see is that the cat in Japanese mythology can be much like the vampires of Slavic mythology, able to kill quickly if they wish to, but they choose to slowly drain those they love, causing them to whither away.
Cats do often fall in love with people, in one tale a woman falls in love with a man believed to be a bakeneko. Eventually the word spreads that she is sleeping with a cat so she tries to break of her relationship with him. She is found later with her throat torn out.
Unlike the vampire, however, the Bakeneko is always watching humans, in the form of a cat or by taking the form of a person’s friend or lover. The problem is that a person can’t simply get rid of the cat which is watching them intently, nor can they avoid owning a cat at times. In the fairy tale “The Guardian Cat” a man sees a cat following his daughter everywhere and so thinks to kill it. The cat however turns out to be protecting her from another evil. In addition to being the vampires of Japanese mythology cats can also the guardians of humans, sent by the kami (gods) to protect humans from other evil man eating monsters. Thus a people often needed cats in mythology to survive, so the cats would watch them, live with them but they could never be certain if the cat watching them closely was a protector or a vampire.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Russian Vampires: Lonely Solitary Hunters

“Presently up ran the first corpse--the one that had chased the Soldier--and dashed into the chapel. Thereupon the one that was lying on the table jumped up, and cried
to it: "What hast thou come here for?"
"I've chased a soldier in here, so I'm going to eat him."
"Come now, brother! he's run into my house. I shall eat him myself."
"No, I shall!"
"No, I shall!"
And they set to work fighting; the dust flew like anything.
The Two Corpses – Russian Fairy Tale


Those who encounter vampires in Russian fairy tales and live to tell the tale are often not strong, they are the lucky. They are those who through happenstance survived until the cocks crow (morning) when the dead loose the ability to move. Humans in these tales are swept into the dark world of the dead, rarely if ever do they go in search of it. They spend their night in fear, praying, begging for the light, hoping for some reprieve as the vampires, as evil descends upon them. Then something happens, and through luck they survive until dawn, when in Russian tales the dead loose the ability to move.
This all is typical of such stories, what’s unique about this story is that while most Russian folk tales involve a single vampire this one has two. The two vampires in the tale meet not as friends or kindred spirits, instead they meet as two predators hunting the same prey. So it would seem that in the Russian conception of the world, those who haunted the night were territorial, typically solitary hunters.
At the same time vampires in the Russian tradition seem to crave company. Other fiendish beings will befriend travelers or the people of a village. They don’t simply do so to eat them because that would be easy enough without a long term deceit. Indeed in the tale “The Soldier and the Vampire” the vampire eats everyone but the soldier who he tries to befriend. As strange as it might seem this does paint vampires as both tragically lonely figures and deadly hunters.

Nukiuk is a folklorist who’s been translating Russian Fairy Tales into English and writing on them. You can find these at http://zeluna.net/russian-fairy-tale.html.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Baba Yaga and the Young Man


In this Russian fairy tale we get the description of Baba Yaga as riding a mortar and pestle.

A brave young man lived with a can and a sparrow. One day the cat and the sparrow went out into the forest to chop some wood, and as they left they told the brave young man to keep the house; “but if Baba Yaga comes and counts the spoons be sure to keep quite.”
“Okay,” the brave young man agreed.
Once the cat and the sparrow left, the young man sat down behind the stoves chimney. Sure enough Baba Yaga came in and began to count the spoons.
“This is the cats spoon, and this is the birds spoon, and this third spoon must be the young mans,” Baba Yaga said.
The Young man could not stand it so he shouted: “don’t touch my spoon Baba Yaga.”
Baba Yaga seized the young man, and flew of in her mortar paddling it with a pestle as she swept away her tracks with a broom.
“Run cant, Fly Sparrow,” the young man called for his friends.
They heard his cries and came and the cat scratched Baba Yaga while the sparrow pecked at her, and together they took the young man from her.
The next day the cat and the sparrow had to go once more into the forest to gather wood.
“Don’t say anything if Baba Yaga comes today,” they warned the young man again.
When they left the young man sat down behind the chimney again. Sure enough Baba Yaga came in and began to count the spoons.
“This is the cats spoon, and this is the birds spoon, and this third spoon must be the young mans,” Baba Yaga said.
The Young man could not stand it so he shouted: “don’t touch my spoon Baba Yaga.”
Baba Yaga seized the young man, and flew of in her mortar paddling it with a pestle as she swept away her tracks with a broom.
The next day the cat and the sparrow warned the youth very urgently not to say anything if Baba Yaga came for they were going very far away on that day.
Sure enough Baba Yaga came in and began to count the spoons.
“This is the cats spoon, and this is the birds spoon, and this third spoon must be the young mans,” Baba Yaga said.
This time however the young man managed to remain silent. So Baba Yaga counted the spoons again “This is the cats spoon, and this is the birds spoon, and this third spoon must be the young mans,” Baba Yaga said.
But still the young man remained quite so Baba Yaga counted the spoons a third time: “This is the cats spoon, and this is the birds spoon, and this third spoon must be the young mans,” Baba Yaga said.
The Young man could not stand it any longer so he shouted: “don’t touch my spoon whore.”
Baba Yaga seized the young man, and flew of in her mortar paddling it with a pestle as she swept away her tracks with a broom.
Again the young man called for help, but this time his friends didn’t hear him.
Baba Yaga dragged the young man to her home and put him in a shed then filled the stove with wood.
“I’m going to Russia, in the mean time roast this young man for my supper,” she told her eldest daughter.
“Okay,” her daughter agreed.
She then heated the stove and told the young man to come out of the shed and lay down on the cooking pan. So he laid down on the pan but he had one foot touch the ceiling and one foot touch the floor so she couldn’t get him in the oven.
“No, don’t lay down like that,” she told him.
“How then?” he asked.
So the girl laid down as she wanted him to and the young man seized the tongs and shoved her into the oven and roasted her instead. The young man then went back to the shed to wait for Baba Yaga.
Baba Yaga came running into the house saying that she was going to feast on the young mans bones.
“Feast on your own daughter’s bones,” the young man called out to her.
Realizing that it was indeed her daughter in the oven Baba Yaga cried: “Oh you rascal, you won’t escape.”
The next day she orered her second daughter to roast the young man before going out again.
Baba Yaga’s daughter heated the oven as her elder sister had and then went to get the young man. Once more the young man laid down on the pan with one leg on the ceiling and th other on the floor. Just as before Baba Yaga’s daughter scolded him and he asked how he should lay down. When she showed him he throw her in the oven as well.
Baba Yaga returned singing: “I’m going to feast on the young mans bones, I’m going to feast on the young mans bones.”
“You can feast on your own daughters bones,” the young man called to her.
Yagishna grew furious then.
“You won’t get away,” she told the young man. She then instructed her youngest daughter to roast the young man. But she had no more luck then her elder sisters, and was roasted as well.
Baba Yaga of the Forest grew furious and swore that he would not escape
Baba Yaga heated the oven and then called for the young man to come out.
As before he came out and laid down on the pan, with one leg on the ceiling and the other on the floor.
“That’s not how to do it,” Baba Yaga scolded him.
“Show me then,” he replied.
So Baba Yaga laid down on the pan and the young man shoved her into the oven. He then ran home to his brothers and told them: “That’s what I did with Baba Yaga.”

Baba Yaga Forest angry: "Wait a minute - he says - I do not uverneshsya!" Heated the oven, shouting: "Come out, zhiharko! Get down here on debugging. " Zhikhar lay down, he seated with one leg in the ceiling, the other in Navolok, not a thing of the human 7 . Baba Yaga says, "Not so, not so!" A Zhikhar not seem to know. "I, - he says - I do not know, learn it myself!" Witch-woman pursed her once and went to debugging. Zhikhar not timid, but he took it and shoved into the oven; he go home, he ran, skazyvat brothers: "That's what I did with Baba-Yaga!"