Delphox is a Kitsune bearing heavy western influence. For better or worse, generation 6 introduced job-like themes for starter Pokémon – a formula that’s here to stay, from the looks of it. The Greninja, Delphox, Chesnaught trio pulls inspiration from the prominent ninja, sorcerer, paladin template.
Delphox has fur that resembles a wizard’s garb. Still, she takes the form of a fox – a tender reminder that Japan overcame some massive culture-defining superstitions, no different than Europeans.
So far, I’ve only romanticized Japanese culture.
Delphox’s origin story offers unique insight into drawing parallels between overarching cultures injected into Pokémon. I want to take a moment to appreciate how far we’ve come as the human species.
Delphox befalls our final classification of kitsune, the man-fox or ninko. Folklore suggests that ninko are parasitic, no larger than a weasel, and only visible in their true form moments before becoming their host.
But before we get ahead of ourselves…
Can we take a moment to appreciate how adorable Fennekin’s evolution line is? They’re based on the real-life fennec fox – super-social desert foxes that roam the dunes of the Sahara.
The giant ears on fennec foxes lend themselves to hearing prey rustling around underground. They also help the fennec fox diffuse body heat during hot afternoons.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way let’s plunge deep into the occult. We’ve already dredged up information on Zenko when talking about Ninetales. Likewise, Zoroark’s origin article had plenty of info on kitsune shapeshifting, so we’ll focus on kitsunetsuki (fox possession) and kitsunebi (foxfire)
You are magical. I know this because you’re reading my post!
During the European dark ages, illiteracy became so prevalent that anyone who could ‘speak with the runes of a sign’ was considered a sorcerer.
Our obsession with wizardry carried on for longer than we may care to admit. Let’s fast-forward to the notorious Salem Witch Trials of 1692, where nearly two hundred men, women, and children withstood accusations of witchcraft because a few women claimed they felt possessed by the devil.
An infectious dogma prattled in the background: The devil himself granted certain humans supernatural powers in return for unwavering devotion.
The reality was that a rye fungus, ergot, caused the townspeople to hallucinate. Don’t underestimate the power of ergot. It’s the active ingredient that spawns LSD. The burning visions that citizens claimed to see were genuine and incredibly terrifying! It didn’t help that livestock was overcoming a bout of smallpox, either.
Women blighted with the title of beggars faced imprisonment. Women ditching church faced the same fate. Families held personal grudges and claimed “spectral evidence” against the accused.
Prisoners found innocent still suffered ‘room and board’ charges before their release. They accumulated massive, unpayable debts. Government officials eventually seized their land. And, of course, the less fortunate met the gallows.
Meanwhile, Japan shut its doors to the outside world throughout the Edo period (1603-1868.) They called it Sakoku:
Word of the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, never reached the shoreline.
History books claim Sakoku had a solitary intent: to block out Christian clout, such as ‘the devil made me do it!’ Even placid lakes run deep. Japanese leaders clutched onto a hidden agenda, hoping to oppress the trade of potential rival daimyos and commoners.
Anyway, as Japan sealed itself away for centuries, they developed their own style of witch hunts. They pursued victims of Kitsunetsuki. Japan whole-heartedly believed foxes possessed their mentally ill.
Overall, tsukimono (possessive beings) remained ubiquitous. According to Japanese myth, nearly anything could possess a human: horses, cats, raccoons, tengu, kappa, snakes…
But fox possessions had a particular air of stigma encapsulating them.
Delphox is more than a mere love letter to European culture. The origins of Delphox are an acknowledgment that, despite our limited communication between cultures, we suffered many of the same hiccups.
Foxes prevailed as the witches of Japan. They held insurmountable spellbinding powers. They were mysterious, always gazing upon humans with condescending glares and smiling with knowing mockery.
That’s a bold statement. I’d better throw down some proof. We’ll start by checking the most popular Kami’s mailbox for angry fan letters. Ah, here’s the one:
To Inari Daimyojin:—
My Lord—I have the honor to inform you that one of the foxes under your jurisdiction has bewitched one of my servants, causing her and others a great deal of trouble. I request that you make minute inquiries into the matter, endeavor to find out why your subject misbehaves in this way, and let me know the result.
If it turns out that the fox has no adequate reason to give for his behavior, you are to arrest and punish him at once. If you hesitate to take action in this matter, I shall issue orders for the destruction of every fox in the land.
Any other particulars that you may wish to be informed of in reference to what has occurred, you can learn from the high-priest, Yoshida.
Apologizing for the imperfections of this letter, I have the honor to be Your obedient servant,
Your obedient servant,
Signing off as Taiko is a total flex, by the way.
The man who wrote that letter was no ordinary person you meet on the streets. That man was Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the three great unifiers of Japan during the Sengoku period of warring states. He achieved the highest rank any man could obtain. He’s the guy responsible for banning peasants from owning weapons. He banned citizens of Japan from moving to different states.
And he cut some time out of his busy day to write a letter, threatening fox genocide, to a Kami.
Hideyoshi famously rose from rags to riches. He also hated foxes. The man ushered in the Edo period that became a treasure trove of gripping fantasies worldwide. Also, did I mention he hated foxes?
To this day, kitsune statues add an air of luster and respect to countryside shrines, but Japan began to worship kitsune purely out of fear. Fear of the wise and mysterious. Fear of the sly and crafty. Fear of those who can possess a man and lure him off course using lights and illusions.
So they cast stones at those who claimed to be possessed. They rub sulfur into the eyes of loved ones who eat a little too much tofu. People charred their skin and set them ablaze. They answer their phones with ‘Moshi-Moshi’ because a fox couldn’t pronounce the phrase. They warn young men not to approach a lonesome woman during the darkest hours of the night.
A mighty ninko possesses the boundless power of hiding in plain sight.
Kitsune are the witches of Japan.
Yōkai find proud, greedy, and vain targets irresistible. We primarily view these attributes as a weakness in men. A kitsune marks the same audience with it’s shapeshifting.
But women suffer a more agonizing fate.
A kitsune generally approaches women to seize control of their bodies. It provides a lazy ninko alternative to shapeshifting. After all, it can still yield similar results for our cunning vulpine yōkai. Greedy ninko may temporarily possess a woman to taste a yummy snack that’s otherwise difficult to get their grubby little paws on.
Usually, possession is how a ninko resorts to seeking some old-fashioned vengeance after losing a family member. Women who fall victim to kitsunetsuki rampage and stir up violent outbreaks.
But I’m not going to share a folklore story today.
Instead, I’m going to share stunningly real and exceptionally tangible accounts – people claiming to be possessed by a kitsune, speaking in earnest conviction. Superstition often leads to tragedy, and an enormous part of reflecting on old fables is understanding the gravity of their implications.
These are accounts taken by Dr. Shimamura; a man swarmed with numerous cases of kitsunetsuki. He became so overwhelmed, he ventured halfway across the planet to Vienna and Berlin, studying alongside Psychological titans like Sigmond Freud:
A woman attacked a child, convinced it was a dog. Afterward, she struggled to eat, drink, or converse with others. She spoke to herself often. Sometimes she argued with herself. The only words she uttered to anyone else was a mantra: “Go away. A fox has possessed me!”
A man drew a beautiful picture of a fox. Beside it was a note written to Inari, written in delicate and divine brushstrokes. Although, the man was completely illiterate.
A woman habitually mentioned having symptoms of insomnia. She attempted suicide. Although, she found solace in collecting hair. It was an obsession. She stored it in her kimono sleeve and stashed it in her special place. One day, someone found her special spot. The men murdered her after finding evidence of her alleged fox fur.
A woman claimed symptoms such as:
The woman attempted to stab her hand, hoping to rid herself of the unwelcome ninko. When that failed, she tried to slice her stomach through seppuku. That also failed.
The family of a madwoman called a sorcerer in for help. He specialized in kitsunetsuki. First, he attempted to starve her. No results. So, he rubbed pepper in her eyes, nose, and mouth to purge the fox from her body. Still nothing. The alchemist grabbed a set of hot tongs, scalding her belly. The woman died shortly after.
A woman transformed into a crazy hermit. Her brother and daughter wanted to rid her of the fox spirit within. They rubbed sulfur in her eyes, killing her by accident. The two turned themselves in for murder.
Victims of fox possession display outlandish symptoms. Some are completely normal, like cravings for tofu, twitching, or restlessness. Other traits are culture-bound self-fulfilling prophecies. People exhibiting the behaviors of a fox: Scratching behind the ears, digging holes, pouncing from bushes.
There are reports of physical symptoms like developing sharper teeth or a pointy face. The type of stuff you’d see on a humanoid Delphox.
Since the theme here is uncovering parallels between the East and the West, I can comfortably quote Lafcadio Hearn for the first time ever. Hearn was a left-eye-blind Greek immigrant with a background in writing, teaching, and translating. Hearn irks me because his version of the yuki-onna tale is the only version people recite these days.
Here’s an excerpt from Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan:
“Strange is the madness of those into whom demon foxes enter. Sometimes they run naked, shouting through the streets. Sometimes they lie down and froth at the mouth, and yelp as a fox yelps. And on some part of the body of the possessed, a moving lump appears under the skin, which seems to have a life of its own. Prick it with a needle, and it glides instantly to another place. By no grasp can it be so tightly compressed by a strong hand that it will not slip from under the fingers. Possessed folk are also said to speak and write languages of which they were totally ignorant prior to possession. They eat only what foxes are presumed to like — tofu, aburagé, azukimeshi, etc. — and they eat a great deal, alleging that not they, but the possessing foxes, are hungry.”
The abnormal little fox spirit balls that Hearn begins to obsess over are called Hoshi no Tama (Star balls); they are unique pearls or jewels that encase a ninko’s life force, memories, sometimes their souls. When a fox doesn’t actively possess a human, it’s said to carry its Hoshi no Tama in its mouth. Most kitsune statues resting outside of shrines echo that.
Anyway, Hearn is pretty helpful here. The fact that a scholar with an outside perspective identified a Hoshi no Tama and felt equally perplexed by it adds a layer of mystery to this adventure. Sure, he could be playing along. After all, he’s Greek, boasting a confirmed obsession with raiding his aunt’s mythology library.
But it wouldn’t be any fun if we ruled out the other option. You know the one. The spooky, paranormal, unsolved mystery style drama that draws you into these types of articles.
At the end of Delphox’s staff, the ball of fire could remain eternally lit to represent her Hoshi no Tama, although a typical Hoshi no Tama resembles a shade of white-gold.
Although, there’s a good reason Delphox wields fire…
I’d wager that 80% of you nicknamed your Delphox Mozilla.
Kitsunebi translates to foxfire. It’s a divine trickery used for setting a traveler off course. These little fireballs point weary vagrants toward desolate areas with no roads or paths. Lonely targets are easier to manipulate with the dark magic of delirium, thanks to a lack of external interference. Kitsunebi also explains the trope of victims waking up stranded and confused.
We’ll paraphrase an explanation of foxfire from Kimimori Sarashina:
Mystifying flames resembling torches or paper lanterns fill the skies in locations where no fire ought to be present. They appear in rows and, like a mirage, flicker out when approached.
Kitsunebi appears most frequently amidst hot summers, on an overcast evening when the weather is preparing to shift. Witnesses claim to see anywhere from ten to thousands of these mysterious lights.
Witnesses generally describe kitsunebi as red or orange, but the veneer of blue flames leading wanderers astray is also a possibility.
These perplexing fireballs aren’t always cast with malicious intent. A story in Nagano claims a vassal sought a location to build his castle, and a helpful kitsune utilized its fire prowess to guide the vassal to the perfect spot.
Sometimes foxes use kitsunebi for preparing a formal occasion. This behavior is more prominent in zenko foxes. They’ll dress up in uniforms and call ranks before setting off to a shrine.
Kitsunebi paired with rain on a sunny day signifies the marriage of two foxes. While witnessing a fox wedding is typically a good omen, uninvited guests are cursed or vengefully hunted down.
Ninetales and Delphox both employ elements of kitsunebi in their design!
Taming a fox is easy, according to folklore. A fox separated from its Hoshi no Tama for too long will eventually perish. Stealing the enchanted star ball from a kitsune turns a potential fox adversary into a genie who grants a wish.
Here’s a quote from a popular 12th-century tale:
“Confound you!” snapped the fox. “Give me back my ball!” The man ignored its pleas till finally, it said tearfully, “All right, you’ve got the ball, but you don’t know how to keep it. It won’t be any good to you. For me, it’s a terrible loss. I tell you, if you don’t give it back, I’ll be your enemy forever. If you do give it back, though, I’ll stick to you like a protector god.”
While a kitsune is notorious for giving rubbish gifts, they are famously loyal servants. Taming a kitsune isn’t always a painstaking act like capturing their Hoshi no Tama, either.
Delphox may have lingering origins from kitsune-mochi. These are sorcerers who lure in fox familiars with food, then offer an exchange of nourishment for otherworldly assistance. Ninko, having the ability to possess humans, were among the most coveted familiars – proving to be an abundant form of tsukimono (Possessive Beings.)
Of course, legends about horrendous luck surrounding the possessed and anyone nearby carried over to fox owners.
Once tamed, a tsukimono followed a family for generations. Along the way, the family gained a nasty reputation as a tsukimono-suji. People felt reluctant to carry out business with a family labeled a tsukimono-suji, stranding them in old, beaten-up houses for generations.
Additionally, family pets follow the female lineage, so marrying into a wealthier family was unfathomable. Although, to be frank, families labeled as tsukimono-suji rarely had actual foxes. It was a convenient label to slap on a wealthy family you didn’t like. Not unlike the women labeled as witches during the Salem Trials.
Once a family was marked, their reputation imploded. Worst yet, that reputation followed their lineage for many years to come.
If Delphox were a character from a Dickens novel, she would forever be haunted by the ghost of Christmas Past. She would have found herself burrowing into Great Expectations, only to realize prisoners had granted her wealth.
Delphox is more than a mere kitsune. She carries the torch of discord, compelling travelers to veer off course. She hauls the millennia-old burden of the ninko. She balances the weight of female oppression older than time itself. Delphox conjures her flames from a human history full of strife, longing, and self-doubt.
Delphox is the sorceress Pokémon who ties our vastly varied worlds together in a tidy little knot.
I hope you enjoyed my kitsune series. As always, much love and thank you for reading.