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Gumiho(kumiho) Nine tailed fox


Aug 19, 2019
The Kumiho

The Kumiho (구미호), or Gumiho*, is a nine-tailed fox spirit. In Korean tradition foxes that have lived for a thousand years, accumulating a great deal of energy, turn into Kumiho. The Kumiho is similar to other fox creatures, such as the Japanese kitsune and Chinese huli jing. Though they have similar magical abilities and longevity, Kumiho are more malevolent than other fox spirits. Of these long-lived legendary creatures, the Kumiho is the only fox that kills and eats humans.

The Kumiho has the supernatural ability of transforming into a human—usually a beautiful woman. Though able to shape-shift, there is still something quintessentially fox-like about a Kumiho, even in human form. A Kumiho in human form might have foxy features, pointed ears hidden beneath flowing locks, or nine tails that only become evident when a wedding dress is removed. Though able to change between human and fox forms, a Kumiho carefully guards its true identity.

Though ancient tales of the Kumiho indicate they could sometimes be helpful to humans, in modern times Kumiho are known to be evil, bloodthirsty creatures that eat human livers or hearts. The Kumiho tricks unsuspecting people in order to consume their hearts by taking the form of a human. They can sometimes be found in graveyards, where they feast on the hearts of the recently dead. In other accounts, Kumiho must consume human livers in order to attain the life force or energy of the human. The fairy tale The Fox Sister depicts a fox spirit preying on a family for livers.

The Kumiho is bound by supernatural forces, living a life connected to humanity yet outside the human realm. Like werewolves and other shape-shifters, the Kumiho’s existence is the envy of some, but a curse to the creature. Humans and foxes alike believe that humanity is a preferable state. In Buddhism, part of the karmic ladder with which souls migrate according to spiritual merit, humans are at the summit. It’s believed that with great will a Kumiho can ascend from its yokwe (monster) state, becoming permanently human and shedding its evil disposition. Ways in which a Kumiho can become human include:

• The Kumiho must refrain from killing and eating humans (or in some tales any meat) for 1,000 days. (Korean folklore)

• A person who has found the Kumiho’s true nature, must tell no one of its secret for 10 years. (Kumiho: Tale of the Fox’s Child)

• Over a period of 100 days, the Kumiho must not show its true form to a human, take no human or animal lives, and help anyone that needs aid. If the Kumiho fails on this quest it will lose any chance of becoming human and will be a demon for 1,000 years. (Gu Family Book)

• The Kumiho must consume the livers of 1,000 men over 1,000 years. If the feat is not accomplished at the end of the 1,000 years, the Kumiho will dissolve into bubbles. (The Thousandth Man)

The Fox Sister
A Kumiho Tale

A man had three sons and no daughter. He prayed for a daughter, even if she was a fox. His wife gave birth to a daughter, but when the girl was six, one of their cows died every night. He set his oldest son to watch. The boy watched, and told him that his sister did it, by pulling the liver out of the cow and eating it. His father accused him of having fallen asleep and having a nightmare. He threw his son out. The second son was set to watch over the cows, and nothing happened until the moon was full again, but then the sister struck, and the second son was also thrown out. When the youngest son was set to watch, and claimed that their sister had gone to the outhouse, he claimed that the cows must have died from seeing the moon.

The older brothers wandered until they met a Buddhist monk, who sent them back with three magical bottles. They found their sister living alone; she told them their parents and brother had died, and implored them to stay. Finally, she persuaded them to stay the night and somehow made a rich meal for them. In the night, the older brother was woken by the sounds of chewing. He rolled over, saw the meal, and realized that they had been eating corpses. The sister stood over his dead brother, eating his liver. She told him that she needed only one more to become a human.

He fled, throwing the white bottle behind him, and it became a thicket of thorns. As a fox, she made her way through it. He threw the blue bottle behind him, and trapped her in a river, but as a fox, she swam ashore. He threw the red bottle behind, and she was trapped in fire. It burned her until she was no more than a mosquito.


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