Fox Fire (Old China Legend — author and dynasty unknown)

Once there was a strong young farmer who came home late one evening from market. His way led him past the lovely gardens of a wealthy gentleman, in which stood painted pavilions and jade-like towers. Suddenly he saw something which glowed like a ball of crystal. Astonished, he climbed over the garden wall to see what the glowing ball could be. In the midst of the garden sat a dog-like creature. Whenever it exhaled a breath, out came a ball of fire which rose upward towards the moon. And whenever the creature inhaled, the fiery ball was caught back into the creature’s fierce jaws. And so it went on, rhythmically, without stopping.

Soon the farmer figured out what was going on: The creature was a fox-spirit, preparing the elixir of life. The farmer, hidden by tall grass, quietly drew nearer. He waited for the fox-spirit to inhale again, and when the fiery ball neared its jaws the farmer leaped forward, grabbed and swallowed it. He immediately felt a glow pass down his throat and into his stomach. When the fox-spirit saw what happened, it became angry and gave the farmer a furious look; but fearing what supernatural strength the farmer now possessed, the fox-spirit hastily departed.

From that time on, the farmer could make himself invisible, could see ghosts, and could interact with all sorts of spirits. In cases of sickness, when people lay unconscious, he could call back their souls. If someone committed a wrong, the farmer could plead forgiveness to Divine beings on that person’s behalf. He soon amassed a fortune, owing to these abilities.

Upon turning fifty the man retired from use of his supernatural abilities. One summer evening nearing midnight, while enjoying cool air and many goblets of wine in his luxurious courtyard, he fell asleep. He then suddenly awoke, feeling ill. Then it seemed as though someone were patting him on the back. He belched, and out leaped the ball of fire. At once a hand snatched the fiery ball away while a voice said, “For thirty long years you’ve kept my treasure from me. You went from being a poor farmer to a wealthy man. Now you have enough, and I want my fire-ball back again!”

The man immediately knew what had happened, but the fox-spirit had already vanished.

(From “The Chinese Fairy Book” edited by Richard Wilhelm…with some additional help from me.)

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