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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/568

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

Occidentals, however, by no means enjoy a monopoly of the romances and legends which may be gathered about the flickering flame of the elusive ignis fatuus. Very few countries have developed so rich a folk-lore as the Japanese, and the very fertile imaginations of her people have not failed to apply many weird explanations to an object capable of so many interpretations, sometimes investing their 'ghost-fire' with the same attributes that attach to our 'corpse-candle'; again attributing to their 'demon-light' the possession of singularly baleful influences; or in the 'badger-blaze,' 'fox-flame' and 'dragon-torch' finding a medium for the most varied witchery, sometimes comical, sometimes serious, and not always devoid of tragic results.

According to accounts by Brinkley, it is related of the 'badger-blaze' that it wanders in the Kawabe district of Settsu on rainy nights, and that uninitiated rustics, mistaking it for the glowing pipe of an ox-driver, hold commune with the badger, who is at all times a sociable fellow, and have even lit their own tobacco at his and puffed it in his company. Or again, at the base of the Ivatada hills, in the province of Omi, there lies a lake from whose margin on cloudy nights in early autumn a little ball of fire emerges. Creeping toward the foot of the mountains, it grows as it goes, sometimes swelling to a brilliant sphere three feet in diameter, sometimes not developing to more than a third of that size, but always when it rises to the height of a man's stature above ground, showing within its glow two faces, to which gradually the bosses of two naked wrestlers, struggling fiercely, attach themselves. It takes its way slowly and harmlessly to the recesses of the hills, but resents, with superhuman force, any attempt to interrupt its passage. Once a wrestler of unconquered fame waited at midnight for its coming, and sprang to grasp it as it passed through the mists. He was hurled to a distance of ten or twelve yards and barely escaped with his life.

The fox is an animal particularly addicted to assuming a great variety of shapes and disguises, often entering into and taking possession of people for evil purposes, or otherwise imitating various natural or artificial objects, thereby giving rise to great confusion or even distress, as witness the phantom train on the Tokaido railway some years since, which so terrified and confused an engineer as to nearly cause a disaster. Among other disguises of this animal is that of the so-called 'fox-flame,' which is assumed at night in dangerous and solitary places. The initiated, however, may readily overcome the spells of the 'fox-flame,' since all that is necessary is to join hands so as to leave a diamond-shaped opening between the crossed fingers. By blowing through this opening in the direction of the light, at the same time repeating a Buddhist formula, it is possible to extinguish the witch-fire at any distance.