When the fox is around, the message for me is always Pay attention. The fox is a liminal animal, and its appearances suggest that we are entering an edgy time. I feel a Trickster energy in play when the fox is about.
Once, when I was talking about the fox in front of a workshop circle in the Big House at Esalen, a fox popped up behind me, clearly visible to the group through the window. When they started laughing and pointing, I turned around. The fox promptly disappeared. This scene was repeated several times. That fox seemed to enjoy performing for the group while playing hide-and-seek with me. I became quite careful about monitoring the shifting energies of the group that week.
I pay special attention to the comings and goings of the red fox. In my personal mythology, the red fox connects me to ancestral dramas. In shamanic lucid dreaming, I once tracked a red fox, glimpsed in dreams, to a scene in ancient Britain involving a tragic love affair and a druid sacrifice and the issues these raised in my current life.
The oldest evidence we have of shamanism in Europe is the remains of a woman of power who was buried inside a crypt of mammoth bonesin the wooded Pavlov hills of what is now the Czech Republic. She was interred 30,000 years ago. Her body was painted red, and in her hand was placed the body of a fox,apparently her spirit ally.
Similar clues to the importance of the fox in early magic come from other parts of Europe. The druid prince dug out of the Lindow Moss in northern England, preserved by the chemical stew of the bog, was found to be wearing a collar of red fox fur.
As a power animal, fox brings many gifts, of craft and cunning and camouflage. Fox knows when to hide and when to hunt, and how to wait in concealment for the right opportunity.
There are clues in language to the qualities associated with the fox. To “outfox” someone is to outsmart them. “Foxy” can mean crafty, or sexy, or simply red-haired. ”Shenanigan” – an act of mischief – is derived from the old Irish sionnachuighim, meaning “play the fox”.The Trickster character of the fox is central to countless folk tales, fables, and children’s stories.
East Asian cultures are uneasy about the fox, and especially about foxy women. In traditional Japanese and Chinese culture, possession by a fox spirit is held to account for many problems, especially in women. In folk tales there are women who are foxes, putting on human disguise to seduce men.
Here are some verses from a long poem I wrote from a hundred encounters with the red fox, on the roads of two worlds:
From Brushes with the Red Fox
You live on the edges of my life
at the margin of the tame land and the wild
and your appearances are always edgy for me.
You know when to hide and when to hunt.
Men chase you on horseback, with dogs,
yet turn chicken when you turn up unannounced.
You are tricky. I doubt I’ll ever be at ease with you.
But you are a determined messenger
and a necessary link to old and sacred things
You call women I care for to reclaim lost soul
and become foxy girls, immune to glass ceilings,
setting their own boundaries, living unbounded life.
Fox as Trickster: Reynard-the-fox by Ernest Griset, in an 1869 children’s book