Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Monstrous Profiles - #3 - The Tengu

Onto number three! Special thanks to all my readers so far!

Before we got to the profile, I must apologize to everyone. I meant to have this up on Tuesday, but over the weekend I came down with a nasty ear infection, and that put me out of commission for the weekend. (And it was a such a nice weekend too!) Monday I went back to the doctor and got a couple of new prescriptions which really helped. Either way, I still missed school (having spent all morning in the doctor's office, 85% of it waiting to see the doctor) and didn't go to any of my other activities. Instead I got to rest. Tuesday afternoon I got dragged to Indianapolis for a school field trip and, since we got there too early, got to spend all afternoon there. So that's why I'm late.

Alright, enough of my excuses and/or life's story. Let's get to the monsters!!

Late one autumn afternoon, a man was travelling through a forest deep in the heart of Japan. As he climbed a hill, he noticed an enormous egg sitting off to the side of the trail. Curios, he headed over to take a closer look.

But as he approached the egg, three strange creatures swooped out of the trees, blocking his way and keeping him from the egg. The creatures seemed like humans, but the had birds beaks for mouth, and wings and tails on their backs.

The man had mistakenly walked into a tengu's nest.

Name: Tengu*, subdivided into Karasu-tengu and Hanadaka-tengu.
Location: Japan

Tengu are possibly one of the oldest creatures in Japanese mythology, having first appeared in legend between the sixth and eighth centuries. Since then, they have been everything from demons to minor deities in the Shinto religion of Japan. They are often seen as the protective spirits of mountains and forests.

Tengu are said to begin their lives by hatching out of giants eggs located deep in the mountain, despite the fact that they are almost always male. they are usually depicted wearing the pom-pommed sash and small black cap of a yamabushi, as the tengu later came to be associated with the mountain hermits. The creatures are also said to live mostly in Cryptomeria trees.

From The Obakemono Project:

The origins of the tengu are somewhat obscured. They may be ultimately descended from ancient native bird dieties, but they have most likely had some foreign influence as well. The name tengu is derived from the Chinese tian-gou, and both are written with the same characters. The tian-gou was also a mischievous, mountain-dwelling entity, and while tian-gou means "heavenly dog" (apparently a reference to the fiery tail of a certain meteor), its physical descriptions are various. How much the tengu take from their Chinese namesake is not entirely clear, but at least one source describes a tian-gou with a bird's beak and wings and tangled hair. The tengu's shape may have also been influenced by the Hindu/Buddhist eagle deity Garuda, or the owl-like Chinese thunder god Lei Gong, both of whom it also resembles.
Tengu are subdivided into two groups, the Karasu-tengu, and the Hanadaka-tengu. Karasu-tengu are the lesser tengu, who according to some sources actually serve the hanadaka-tengu. They are said to be a bit more birdlike, having birdlike feet and a bird's beak for a mouth. The hanadaka-tengu were a bit more humanoid, having a long nose in place of a beak and human feet on which they wear one-toothed geta sandals. The greatest of the hanadaka-tengu were known as O-tengu or Daitengu**, and they led clans of tengu. The greatest of the O-tengu was said to be Sōjōbō, and he is said to be king over all the tengu.

The creatures are said have magical straw or feather cloaks that turn the wearer invisible and posses either a magical feathered fan or a leaf of the Japanese Arlia plant. Both of these are called hauchiwa. From Obakemono:
The hauchiwa is used either as a device to alter the length of the tengu's nose (making him less obviously inhuman), or to produce a ferocious, hurricane-like wind. The latter use is not surprising, as tengu were supposedly descended from the furious storm god Susano-o-No-Mikoto.

That legend, according to Obakemono, goes as follows:
It is said that once the storm god Susano-o-No-Mikoto let his raging spirit build up inside him until, like a grotesque Athena, this princess deity [,the Ama-no-zako,] burst forth. She had a beastly head with long ears, nose, and fangs, the latter of which were so strong they could easily chew through steel blades, and she could fly for thousands of miles at a go. This ferocious female spirit is considered the ancestor of such creatures as Ama-no-jaku and the tengu.

Tengu are said to be arrogant creatures, but given their powers they may have a valid reason for this. They have many powers, including flight, shapeshifting, telepathy, teleportation, casting illusions, and creating hurricane-like winds. They are also very skilled in Martial arts and have been credited with training many ninja and samurai. Tengu are also said to be able to posses human hosts.

These creatures appear in many Japanese folktales, sometimes being easily tricked, but at other times helping people.

So if you ever visit Japan, be careful when travelling through forests and mountains. If you're disrespectful to the place, you might just find yourself attacked by a tengu protecting it's home.

Footnotes: There was so much information about the tengu I had a hard time sifting through it to make this profile. More information about the tengu can be found on Wikipedia, and of course the main source I used here, The Obakemono Project, has a large article which you can see here. Over here is another article that was very informative. Bookmice, along with Wikipedia, both have summaries of Japanese legend about the tengu.

This site has a couple of little stories, and another thing I found interesting was that they claim that tengu are also responsible for causing the sound of trees crashing to the ground, when later none seem to have been cut. I found this to be rather interesting as over on the Wikipedia list of Japanese monsters, there is a thing called soraki-gaeshi which is described as "the sound of trees being cut down, when later none seem to have been cut." In theory, the soraki-gaeshi could probably be the work of the tengu, though I've never attempted to research it.

*Tengu means bird goblin in Japanese. **As another interesting fact, dai is a Japanese prefix that means great. O- is used to indicate respect.

Well, I'm all out of footnotes. If you made it this far, more power to you and thanks for reading.

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