Vulpes, Vixen and … Vulpix? Foxes in folklore and popular culture
This blog was written by writing intern Amanda Simard.
This month’s calendar photo features a Red Fox and was taken near Ottawa, ON. The Red Fox is one of the most widespread Canids, and foxes have featured in a variety of folklore and myths around the world.
Often, they are portrayed as cunning tricksters, but they also feature as a wise magical spirits or alluring enchantresses. Here are a few instances of foxes found in folklore and in popular culture!
The Native American fox
In Native American folklore, foxes appear in a variety of capacities, but often Fox is a trickster companion to Coyote, a male anthropomorphized Coyote spirit.
In some myths, foxes are wise and benevolent. In others, they are connected to fire and the sun. Sometimes, Fox is a minor and clever spirit who helps people and animals in need, or punishes those who are arrogant. And sometimes, Fox is a bad omen, a greedy and mean-spirited thief.
Did you know? Foxes are common clan animals in Native American culture.
In Celtic mythology, the fox is wise and cunning. A trickster who knows the forest better than anyone else, the fox symbolizes the need to think fast and strategically. Highly adaptable creatures, they also symbolize the need to adjust to new situations.
The Celtic fox is a shapeshifter who can switch between canine and human forms at will. This unique ability means the fox can easily slip in and out of places, especially those dangerous to anyone else. Foxes are also seducers, captivating unwitting souls with their charm and good looks.
The Asian fox
The different interpretations of the fox in Asian folklore feature similar ideology of the fox as a magical being, though it varies between being a good and bad omen. The Chinese Huli Jing is a playful trickster who integrates itself into human society. The Japanese Kitsune is a more deified being with an ambivalent stance on humanity. The Korean kumiho tends to be an ill omen, a seductress who is a literal man-eater.
While scholars are unsure where any of the myths truly started, cross-pollination of fox spirit myths has resulted in some common themes. Generally, the Asian fox spirit is a magical shapeshifter, sometimes portrayed as having up to nine tails depending on its age and wisdom.
Foxes in Popular Culture
Foxes and references to fox mythology appear all over the place in popular culture.
In North America for instance, programming aimed at kids — though often appreciated and beloved by children and adults alike – often features foxes aplenty. Disney is no exception to the trope, with Tod and Vixey from The Fox and the Hound, or Robin Hood himself in the film by the same name. Let us not forget the recent film Zootopia, which features a fox named Nick Wilde as the witty and misunderstood secondary main character.
And for all 90s kids out there, or for those still hooked on Pokemon GO — it would be remiss to talk about foxes in popular culture without mentioning, at least once, the adorable Vulpix — the fox-like fire-type pokemon who evolves into Ninetails.