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TRANSLATION: ceremonial spirit
ALTERNATE NAMES: shikijin, shiki no kami
DIET: varies

APPEARANCE: Shikigami are servant spirits used by onmyōji in rituals for various purposes. Some are used as charms for good fortune, some are used as amulets for protection, and some are used as curses. To call a shikigami means to call a god, a demon, a yōkai, or a ghost and to utilize its power for some deed or another.

INTERACTIONS: Shikigami can be powerful and dangerous. They come in many forms. The most common are enshrined in small objects, such as strips of paper or amulets. Others may come in the form of animal possessions, using the bodies of chickens, cows, or dogs as vessels. The most dreadful shikigami take the form of humans, ghosts, yōkai, or oni.

While shikigami are powerful and terrifying, perhaps their most horrifying aspect is that they never act under their own will; they are slaves in the service of human magic users who tell them what to do.

Kitsune tsuki


TRANSLATION: fox possession

APPEARANCE: Some kitsune are able to possess human beings and cause them to behave in strange ways. Compared with other types of animal spirit possessions, kitsune tsuki is a relatively common form of possession in humans. A person possessed by a fox spirit often develops physical features that appear fox-like, such as sharper teeth or a streamlined, pointy face. For much of Japanese history—until modern medicine was introduced—mental illness and insanity were usually blamed on kitsune tsuki.

INTERACTIONS: There are three main types of kitsune possession: possession of an individual, possession of a family, and possession for use as a medium.

When a kitsune possesses an individual, it is often in retaliation for something done to the kitsune—killing one of its family members, for example. The possessing spirit causes its host to behave erratically and emotionally, making them prone to violent outbreaks and hysteria. People possessed by kitsune sometimes run naked through the streets, foam at the mouth, and yelp like a fox. Kitsune can speak through their hosts mouths. Victims are often able to speak and read languages that they previously had no knowledge of. Kitsune can even control their hosts like a puppet, causing them to do all sorts of evil things. According to folklore, women are more susceptible to fox possession than men. Kitsune are also said to possess people who are weak-minded.

When a kitsune possesses a family, that family becomes rich and fertile. These families were called kitsune mochi, and were able to manipulate the possessing kitsune spirits. In addition to bringing prosperity to their owners, kitsune could be used to bring ruin upon a family’s enemies. Kitsune mochi people used these spirits to place curses, possess, or bring sickness to others. Kitsune mochi families kept their fox spirits for generations, handing down their secrets from parent to child. A kitsune mochi family would honor and care for its possessing spirit, for it could just as easily bring the same ruin upon their entire family line. People suspected of belonging to kitsune mochi families were mistrusted for their unnatural abilities and feared by their neighbors. Even today, in some parts of Japan, people belonging to these lineages occasionally have trouble finding marriage partners, as few parents would allow their son or daughter to join such a family.

Kitsune tsuki for use as a medium involves inviting a kitsune to possess a willing person in order to perform divinations. A kitsune would enter the medium’s body and speak through her mouth, predicting the future or giving secret knowledge. This was a very dangerous practice, as it relies on the willingness of the kitsune to leave the body after the possession—and kitsune are very powerful creatures.

Recognizing possession in a person can be difficult if the victim does not display any obvious physical signs. However, there are a few ways to diagnose kitsune possession. Despite living in a human’s body, kitsune retain certain traits which can betray their presence. All kitsune love fried tofu and azuki beans. A possessed person will strongly crave these foods, often eating them large amounts and not filling up. A possessed person also develops a strong fear of dogs. In addition, a small lump can often be found hidden on the victim’s body. This is the place where the fox spirit resides. If pushed or pricked, this lump slips away and hides in another part of the body. It cannot be caught or removed by any physical means.

Because of widespread belief in fox possession, a number of folk cures have been invented over the centuries to deal with it. Exorcism was usually performed at Inari shrines, as foxes are sacred to Inari. One fairly benign treatment included having the victim licked from head to toe by dogs, which foxes fear intensely. Other less fortunate victims were beaten or burned in attempts to drive out the fox spirit. In some cases, priests would burn fresh pine leaves, suffocating the patient in thick, toxic smoke in an attempt to drive out the possessing spirit. Unfortunately this sometimes killed the patient before driving out the kitsune. In the end, even if the victim was cured of the possession, the families of people accused of kitsune tsuki often suffered ostracism and social isolation for the rest of their lives.

Tanuki tsuki



TRANSLATION: tanuki (raccoon dog) possession

APPEARANCE: Spirit possession can be caused by humans and ghosts, but frequently it is the work of animals with supernatural powers. One of the most common animal possessions is called tanuki tsuki—possession by tanuki spirits.

INTERACTIONS: When tanuki possess human beings, their victims develop strange new personality traits. One of the most common changes is gluttony. Victims become intensely hungry and eat and eat, even going so far as to eat spoiled and ruined food. Although possessed humans grow vast waists from this gluttony, all of the nutrition goes to the tanuki spirits. Victims only grow weaker and weaker until finally they die from malnutrition. Other common symptoms of tanuki possession include unexplained illness, melancholy, becoming overly talkative, sudden outbursts of violence, or abnormally increased libido.

Tanuki possess humans for various reasons, but common ones include revenge for destroying the tanuki’s den, or simply just as a prank. In rare cases, some human families have harnessed the power of animal possession for their own use. Some legends tell of people offering food to old, wild tanuki, taming them, and then using their spirits to possess their enemies.

Because tanuki are powerful yōkai, it is difficult to escape tanuki tsuki. Either the tanuki must leave of its own will, or it must be driven out by a powerful yamabushi, priest, or onmyōji. Another solution is to deify the tanuki. A tanuki elevated to the level of a kami will no longer possess humans. Many villages—particularly in Shikoku—have built shrines to worship particularly troublesome tanuki.



TRANSLATION: dog god, dog spirit
ALTERNATE NAMES: in-game, irigami
HABITAT: towns and cities; usually in the service of wealthy families
DIET: carnivorous, though they are usually starved on purpose

APPEARANCE: Inugami are a kind of familiar, or spirit of possession, which are found in Kyushu, Shikoku, and elsewhere in West Japan. In public, an inugami looks identical to an ordinary dog in order to blend in with society. However, its true form is that of a desiccated, mummified dog’s head, often dressed up in ceremonial trappings. This is kept safe (and away from prying eyes) in a secret shrine in its owner’s house.

BEHAVIOR: Inugami have much in common with other familiars, such as shikigami and kitsune-tsuki. Inugami are more commonly used in areas where foxes are not found, such as major population centers. There is even evidence of an ancient tradition of Inugami worship stretching from Western Japan down to Okinawa. Powerful sorcerers were said to be able to create these spirits through monstrous ceremonies and use them to all sorts of nefarious deeds. Inugami serve their masters loyally, performing tasks just like a faithful dog. They are loyal to one person or one family only, and unless seriously mistreated they remain loyal forever; these spirits can be passed down from generation to generation like an heirloom.

The technique for creating these fetishes was passed down along bloodlines, and such families are known as inugami-mochi. These families would keep their inugami hidden in the back rooms of their houses, under their beds, in dressers, or hidden among water jars. It is said that a family owned as many inugami as there were members of the household, and when a new person joined the family, they too received their own familiar. Inugami were treated like family members by inugami-mochi families, and most of the time would quickly run out to do their master’s bidding any time their master wanted something. However, like living dogs, occasionally a resentful inugami might betray a master that grew too abusive or domineering, savagely biting him to death. And while inugami, like other familiar spirits, were created to bring wealth and prosperity to their families, occasionally they might also cause a family to fall into ruin.

INTERACTIONS: Like other tsukimono, or possession spirits, inugami are beings of powerful emotion and are very good at possessing emotionally unstable or weak people. They do so usually by entering through the ears and settling into the internal organs. People who have found themselves possessed by an inugami — or even if it was only suspected that a person might be possessed — were in for some serious misfortune. The only way to be cured of inugami-tsuki is to hire another sorcerer to remove it. This could take a very, very long time and involve a lot of money. Signs of inugami possession include chest pain, pain in the hands, feet, or shoulders, feelings of deep jealousy, and suddenly barking like a dog. Some victims develop intense hunger and turn into gluttons, and it is said that people who die while possessed by an inugami are found with markings all over their body resembling the teeth and claw marks of a dog. Not only humans, but animals like cows and horses, or even inanimate objects, can be possessed by inugami. Tools possessed by such a spirit become totally and completely unusable.

Practicing this sort of black magic was illegal and strongly frowned upon, although that didn’t stop the aristocracy from dabbling in sorcery, known as onmyōdō. If an inugami-mochi family was even suspected of cursing another family, the accused person would be forced to apologize and leave his comfortable estate to live on the outskirts of town, secluded from family, friends, and the comfortable aristocratic life. Even if the alleged victim was eventually cured of his possession, the accused (and all of his offspring for all generations to follow) usually had to maintain a solitary lifestyle, outcast from the rest of society, to be viewed by others as wicked and tainted.

ORIGIN: How long the practice of creating inugami begun is unknown. However, by the Heian period (some 1000 years ago, at the height of classical Japanese civilization) the practice had already been outlawed along with the use of other animal spirits as tools of sorcery. According to legend, the creation of an inugami is accomplished like this: the head of a starved dog must be cut off (often this was accomplished by chaining a dog up just out of reach of some food, or else burying it up to its neck, so that it would go berserk out of desperate hunger and its head could be cut off at the point of greatest desperation). Then, the severed head is buried in the street — usually a crossroads where many people pass. The trampling of hundreds or thousands of people over this buried head would add to its stress and cause the animal’s spirit to transform into an onryō (a powerful maleficent spirit). Occasionally these severed heads were said to escape and fly about, chasing after food, animated solely by the onryō’s anger — such was the power of the dog’s hunger. The head was then baked or dried and enshrined in a bowl, after which the spirit could be used as a kind of fetish by a wicked sorcerer, doing whatever he or she commanded for the rest of time.