Many of you may or may not know, I was president very happily for a year and a half of the St. Mary’s University Japanese Culture and Anime Club (The JCAC for short.). Which of course means that I have at least a little bit of knowledge in Japanese culture and mythos. Actually, understatement, I am a full dual-culturalist, many of you will note my bowing habit and my love of suffixes. In my time as club president, or senpai (and for many of them still to this day as close friend) as many called me the members of the StMU JCAC picked up quite a few odd traits. Most of them rubbed off from extended contact with me.
One of the most notable is this: we bow to cats.
Now, this is going to require A LOT of context, so just in time for the Halloween season, sit down for a spell and a tale.
For the Halloween season, I decided to show my kohai (club members) a special movie as a treat. I decided to show them The Ayakashi Samurai Horror Tales: The Goblin Cat. Now, additional context, The Ayakashi Samurai Horror Tales is a series of stories based off of 17th and 18th century horror stories from Japan many of them root in the mythological and demonic tales told to keep wayward children out of the woods at night, men faithful to their wives and the utmost respect and maintenance of the natural order. These were of course fantastical cautionary tales.
The Goblin Cat episode was one I found particularly interesting and couldn’t help but share the story with my club members. Now, secondary context. The phrase Goblin Cat refers to what is in Japanese myth as the bakeneko or goblin cat. This is however very different from the nekomata or cat demon, which like the kitsune and tanuki are just mischievous spirits. The bakeneko is a vengeful cat spirit of a wronged animal that either takes the ills of the owner or the cat to the grave and it manifests into a purely vicious and malicious spirit that can do harm and even kill. It is to be feared and respected.
Any questions? Good. Now, back to the story.
I decided to show my kohai this film but I left out one key detail: The bakeneko as a spirit does not like being talked about. Like the wendigo, spreading the name of the bakeneko brings it forward and brings it to life. By whispering the curse, you curse yourself. So I showed a cursed movie to about…15 or so of my closest friends. What’s the worst that can happen?
The movie is great! Anyone interested in Japanese myth can find no better of an illustrated tale than in the Ayakashi Samurai Horror Tales and there are other stories than just that of the bakeneko, some even scarier. (Yes, it gets much much scarier. )
I naturally told my kohai of the curse afterwards to which many met with blank stares. Tertiary context, while many of us in the JCAC are dual-culturalists, both of the cultures we maintain are highly superstitious. I come from a superstitious and spiritually-connected background and many of my friends and kohai did as well. This set the perfect tone for what can only be described next as a series of wonderfully unexplainable events.
It was a fall night, I had walked a friend of mine Shawna back to her room and we were sitting and talking enjoying the for once cool night underneath a tree swing. Now, any of you who have been to St. Mary’s after dark, it’s unbearably creepy at times. It is also in itself a very haunted school. So we sat and chatted, blissfully talking the night away but something continued to tug at my attention. I couldn’t help but in the trees notice a pair of eyes. A green glowing set of eyes that appeared to be in a cattish form. Now, I did my best to shake it off and ignore it. I was being terribly rude by not paying attention to our conversation but finally after several minutes I broke, I broke down and asked:
Shawna, certainly I’ve gone crazy but…do you see those eyes in the tree? It’s probably just a glow worm or something right? But they look just like a cat’s eyes…
I was not met with staunch realism. “No, I’ve seen them ever since we sat down.” We both promptly got up and returned to our respective rooms.
I could tell you, fair readership countless stories of the time I found scratches on my leg in the wicked pattern of 3 to when my kohai came to me after they found scratches on their arms and heard noises in their dorms.
I could tell you stories. But here’s the tie-in. What’s the way to defeat the goblin cat? How did we fight off the curse? The only way you can. With respect. The goblin cat was a creature that in life was mistreated or disrespected, the best thing you can do is to respect the creature in life so when they pass on they carry with them positive memories into the afterlife. The best thing to do in Japanese myth is just to die, not to die and come back as something else (though anything over 113 years old is said to turn into a demon and a cat with whiskers too long will be cut for fear of a nekomata or a bakeneko). So how do we as StMU students respect cats? We show them the respect their deserve with bowing. We’re dual-culturalists, remember? And StMU is FILLED with cats. We take care of several strays from the neighborhood and in turn they provide a great deal of stress relief for us students. Or for a student worried about a cat curse a source of constant fear. So when a cat crossed our path, we would bow to them. We only petted them when they approached and when fed them when they wanted. We did all we could to respect the creatures in life, so that they would not come to curse us in death.
Every once in a while, you’ll still see a StMU student bow to a cat out of habit, when moving into my new apartment several came to help me move in and we all out of habit bowed to the new cat neighbors I found. It’s just one more step in keeping the curse away.
Sweet dreams, fair readership.