The animal demons—those whose evil repute is the result of something in their nature which may be inimical to man—should be distinguished from the forms which have been diabolised by association with mythological personages or ideas. The lion, tiger, and wolf are examples of the one class; the stag, horse, owl, and raven of the other. But there are circumstances which render it very difficult to observe this distinction. The line has to be drawn, if at all, between the measureless forces of degradation on the one side, discovering some evil in animals which, but for their bad associations, would not have been much thought of; and of euphemism on the other, transforming harmful beasts to benignant agents by dwelling upon some minor characteristic.
There are a few obviously dangerous animals, such as the serpent, where it is easy to pick our way; we can recognise the fear that flatters it to an agathodemon and the diminished fear that pronounces it accurst. But what shall be said of the Goat? Was there really anything in its smell or in its flesh when first eaten, its butting, or injury to plants, which originally classed it among the unclean animals? or was it merely demonised because of its uncanny and shaggy appearance? What explanation can be given of the evil repute of our household friend the Cat? Is it derived by inheritance from its fierce ancestors of the jungle? Was it first suggested by its horrible human-like sleep-murdering caterwaulings at night? or has it simply suffered from a theological curse on the cats said to draw the chariots of the goddesses of Beauty? The demonic Dog is, if anything, a still more complex subject. The student of mythology and folklore speedily becomes familiar with the trivial sources from which vast streams of superstition often issue. The cock’s challenge to the all-detecting sun no doubt originated his ominous career from the Code of Manu to the cock-headed devils frescoed in the cathedrals of Russia. The fleshy, forked roots of a soporific plant issued in that vast Mandrake Mythology which has been the subject of many volumes, without being even yet fully explored. The Italians have a saying that ‘One knavery of the hedgehog is worth more than many of the fox;’ yet the nocturnal and hibernating habits and general quaintness of the humble hedgehog, rather than his furtive propensity to prey on eggs and chickens, must have raised him to the honours of demonhood. In various popular fables this little animal proves more than a match for the wolf and the serpent. It was in the form of a hedgehog that the Devil is said to have made the attempt to let in the sea through the Brighton Downs, which was prevented by a light being ]brought, though the seriousness of the scheme is still attested in the Devil’s Dyke. There is an ancient tradition that when the Devil had smuggled himself into Noah’s Ark, he tried to sink it by boring a hole; but this scheme was defeated, and the human race saved, by the hedgehog stuffing himself into the hole. In the Brighton story the Devil would appear to have remembered his former failure in drowning people, and to have appropriated the form which defeated him.
The Fox, as incarnation of cunning, holds in the primitive belief of the Japanese almost the same position as the Serpent in the nations that have worshipped, until bold enough to curse it. In many of the early pictures of Japanese demons one may generally detect amid their human, wolfish, or other characters some traits of the kitsune (fox). He is always the soul of the three-eyed demon of Japan He is the sagacious ‘Vizier,’ as the Persian Desatir calls him, and is practically the Japanese scape-goat. If a fox has appeared in any neighbourhood, the next trouble is attributed ]to his visit; and on such occasions the sufferers and their friends repair to some ancient gnarled tree in which the fox is theoretically resident and propitiate him, just as would be done to a serpent in other regions. In Japan the fox is not regarded as always harmful, but generally so. He is not to be killed on any account. Being thus spared through superstition, the foxes increase sufficiently to supply abundant material for the continuance of its demonic character. ‘Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines,’ is an admonition reversed in Japan. The correspondence between the cunning respected in this animal and that of the serpent, reverenced elsewhere, is confirmed by Mr. Fitz Cunliffe Owen, who observed, as he informs me, that the Japanese will not kill even the poisonous snakes which crawl freely amid the decaying Buddhist temples of Nikko, one of the most sacred places in Japan, where once as many as eight thousand monastic Buddhists were harboured. It is the red fox that abounds in Japan, and its human-like cry at night near human habitations is such as might easily encourage these superstitions. But, furthermore, mythology supplies many illustrations of a creditable tendency among rude tribes to mark out for special veneration or fear any force in nature finer than mere strength. Emerson says, ‘Foxes are so cunning because they are not strong.’ In our Japanese demon, whose three eyes alone connect it with the præternatural vision ascribed by that race to the fox, the harelip is very pronounced. That little animal, the Hare, is associated with a large mythology, perhaps because out of its weakness proceeds its main forces of survival—timidity, vigilance, and swiftness. The superstition concerning the hare is found in Africa. The same animal is the much-venerated good genius of the Calmucs, who call ]him Sákya-muni (Buddha), and say that on earth he submitted himself to be eaten by a starving man, for which gracious deed he was raised to dominion over the moon, where they profess to see him. The legend is probably traceable back to the Sanskrit word sasin, moon, which means literally ‘the hare-marked.’ Sasa means ‘hare.’ Pausanias relates the story of the moon-goddess instructing exiles to build their city where they shall see a hare take refuge in a myrtle-grove.3 In the demonic fauna of Japan another cunning animal figures—the Weasel. The name of this demon is ‘the sickle weasel,’ and it also seems to occupy the position of a scape-goat. In the language of a Japanese report, ‘When a person’s clogs slip from under his feet, and he falls and cuts his face on the gravel, or when a person, who is out at night when he ought to have been at home, presents himself to his family with a freshly-scarred face, the wound is referred to the agency of the malignant invisible weasel and his sharp sickle.’ In an aboriginal legend of America, also, two sister demons commonly take the form of weasels.
The popular feeling which underlay much of the animal-worship in ancient times was probably that which is reflected in the Japanese notions of to-day, as told in the subjoined sketch from an amusing book.
‘One of these visitors was an old man, who himself was at the time a victim of a popular superstition that the departed revisit the scenes of their life in this world in shapes of different animals. We noticed that he was not in his usual spirits, and pressed him to unburden his mind to us. He said he had lost his little son Chiosin, but that was not so much the cause of his grief as the absurd way in which his wife, backed up by a whole conclave of old women who had taken up their abode in his house to 6]comfort her, was going on. ‘What do they all do?’ we asked sympathetically. ‘Why,’ he replied, ‘every beastly animal that comes to my house, there is a cry amongst them all, ‘Chiosin, Chiosin has come back!’ and the whole house swarms with cats and dogs and bats—for they say they are not quite sure which is Chiosin, and that they had better be kind to the lot than run the chance of treating him badly; the consequence is, all these brutes are fed on my rice and meat, and now I am driven out of doors and called an unnatural parent because I killed a mosquito which bit me!’
The strange and inexplicable behaviour of animals in cases of fear, panic, or pain has been generally attributed by ignorant races to their possession by demons. Of this nature is the story of the devil entering the herd of swine and carrying them into the sea, related in the New Testament. It is said that even yet in some parts of Scotland the milkmaid carries a switch of the magical rowan to expel the demon that sometimes enters the cow. Professor Monier Williams writes from Southern India—‘When my fellow-travellers and myself were nearly dashed to pieces over a precipice the other day by some restive horses on a ghat near Poona, we were told that the road at this particular point was haunted by devils who often caused similar accidents, and we were given to understand that we should have done well to conciliate Ganesa, son of the god Siva, and all his troops of evil spirits, before starting.’ The same writer also tells us that the guardian spirits or ‘mothers’ who haunt most regions of the Peninsula are believed to ride about on horses, and if they are angry, scatter blight and disease. Hence the traveller just arrived from Europe is startled and puzzled by apparitions of rudely-formed terra-cotta horses, often as large as life, placed by the peasantry round shrines in the middle of fields as acceptable propitiatory offerings, or in the fulfilment of vows in periods of sickness.