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Sunday, July 8, 2007

Foxes, Fires and the Art of Deception: or "Is the sky REALLY falling?"

April 19th, a day that is no stranger to this site. Again we peer through the looking glass to The Festival of Ceres, specifically the Cerealia and it's main rite. The release of foxes into the Circus Maximus with torches tied to their backs. Too many "red" flags going up with this tidbit to let it go any further. An odd scene to say the least or is it? What was the purpose? A punishment, an eye for an eye tale? or has the fox been scapegoated, and these stories suggest much more, about human deception and less about the evil nature of foxes. In Ovid's Fasti Book IV:

When the third dawn from the vanishing of the Hyades

Breaks, the horses will be in their stalls in the Circus.

So I must explain why foxes are loosed then,

Carrying torches fastened to scorched backs.

The land round Carseoli’s cold, not suited for growing

Olives, but the soil there’s appropriate for corn.

I passed it on the way to my native Pelignian country,

A small region, yet always supplied by constant streams.

There I entered, as usual, the house of my former host:

Phoebus had already unyoked his weary horses.

My host used to tell me of many things, including this,

As a preparation for my present work:

‘In that plain,’ he said (pointing at the plain),

A thrifty peasant woman and her sturdy husband had a small

Plot, he tilled the land himself, whether it needed ploughing,

Or required the curving sickle or the hoe.

They would sweep the cottage, set on timber piles,

She’d set eggs to hatch under the mother hen’s feathers,

Or collect green mallows or gather white mushrooms,

Or warm the humble hearth with welcome fire,

And still worked her hands assiduously at the loom,

To provision them against the threat of winter cold.

She had a son: he was a playful child,

Who was already twelve years old.

In a valley, he caught, in the depths of a willow copse,

A vixen, who’d stolen many birds from the yard.

He wrapped his captive in straw and hay, and set fire

To it all: she fled the hands that were out to burn her:

In fleeing she set the crops, that covered the fields, ablaze:

And a breeze lent strength to the devouring flames.

The thing’s forgotten, but a relic remains: since now

There’s a certain law of Carseoli, that bans foxes:

And they burn a fox at the Cerialia to punish the species,

Destroyed in the same way as it destroyed the crops.

or the biblical story of Samson from Judges 15:4-5 :

So he (Samson) went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails, lit the torches and let the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. He burned up the shocks and standing grain, together with the vineyards and olive groves.

From days of yore until now, the fox, always the cunning deceiver. This perception has circled the globe, although in some cultures with perhaps less vile and more veneration. The Apache Indians of North America credit the fox in it's origin of fire myth (Prometheus), in China the vixen (female) comes as a tempter of married men, for the Japanese the fox (Kitsune) exists somewhere between our world and the spirit world, and is considered a messenger. The Western Christians deamonized the fox in Phylologus' Beastiaries, and condemned them as thieves in the Song of Solomon. There are literally hundreds of fables involving foxes, and it has even been suggested that no other creature has been written about more. [see Hans-Jorg Uther's incredible "The Fox in Literature" PDF here]

It would seem that the literal fox has taken on a much more human persona in the modern world, and not without setting a few fires and satisfying it's role as deceiver. Take 20th Century Fox, and it's sister (vixen) company Fox news. The all too familiar logos of the "Fox" franchise make use of the searchlight. Here they are shedding the proverbial light on the very tool that they are using to burn us with. Known in fox hunting as "lamping" a common practice is to shine spotlights into the eyes of foxes to freeze them before they are either shot in the head or neck. During World War II searchlights were often employed as tactical weapons, used to blind bomber pilots.

Our friends at Disney are certainly no strangers to the fox, and it appears they know the legends well. Here are a few: Pinocchio (1940), Robin Hood (1973), The Fox and the Hound (1981)...let's stop here for a second...anyone remember who voiced "Copper" the hound? That's right, Stargate master, and Disney for lifer Kurt Russell. The Chronicles of Narnia:The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005). Which leads us to perhaps the most subtle and compelling switcheroo in the Disney arsenal, Chicken Little (2005). Oh yes Mr. Kotze, you hit the nail on the head.

What is so significant about Disney's Chicken Little? For the purpose of this exploration it's what was left out, and perhaps what is at the heart of the Burning Fox story. In the countless versions of the Chicken Little fable one thing does indeed remain constant, the sometimes lethal deception of Foxy Loxy...which, for those of you who have seen the film will realize is nowhere to be found. Without going into too much detail, Foxy Loxy is a decoy and thus the greatest "red" herring of all. (For Ben Fairhall's consideration a cleverly hidden clue is embedded on a newsstand copy of "MM" (Modern Mallard) magazine. The headline blurb "How to Detect Decoys" slips by nearly invisible, and cloaked under the guise of a harmless pun).

The early story arch teases at a building conflict between Chicken Little and Foxy (as would be expected), but Disney throws a curve ball. In fact, in two of Foxy's primary screen moments actual "spotlights" appear and affect the action. Early in the film during a baseball game, Chicken Little is "blinded" by the sun's rays thus allowing Foxy to make a game saving catch. Later, towards the end of the film Foxy is literally "lamped" by the invading aliens, and beamed aboard one of their octopi surface vehicles. The question here is what is the true deception? Is "The End Near" as the films tagline would suggest or is it perhaps aliens themselves...does Disney want us to believe the sky is falling or don't they?

I'd very much like to thank fellow blogger aferrismoon for invaluable insights, research and persistence on this topic. Please check out his blog for additional details. And, for those of you itching to draw a parallel between my name (Todd) and the fact that a "Tod" is a name given to a male fox, please contain yourselves, aferrismoon was quick to remind me. Not to mention that "Tod" in German means death. Make of that what you wish, you have been warned! There is plenty more to come, stay tuned! Next time we look at foxes and the art of War, as well as more synchromystic "Foxes" all around us.


hoi polloi said...

:0 Decoys, huh? Very interesting!

aferrismoon said...

Great poem, begins to show the range of the Fox in myth-reality.
I' ll read it a few times b4 feeding back.
Did find the mischievous Fox in related to the Dogon people - The Pale Fox
and the Pretty Blue Fox Gameplayers in PKDick's The Gameplayers of Titan.
Decoys , Searchlights.
I remember Chicken Licken from when I was young, a short book, did Disney change the title a bit.
I remember all the animals had rhyming names.

aferrismoon said...

As a redhead I am well aware of the myth that we are supposed to be hot-tempered , quick to anger, etc. Redheads often appear skipping a generation or two, landing some parents with the mystery of whence came the red-hair. In older times I imagine the lack of scientific knowledge led to some suspicion within the community.
Red is the colour of Set, the brother of Horus whose hieroglyph is the jackal-creature with a bifurcated tail.
Esau was red among others. Apparently certain Jews did their best not to annoy redheads, I base this on a story told in medieval Prague to do with Rabbi Lev of Golem fame, but I could be inaccurate.
If u know the series Doctor Who [BBC] a 44 year old Sci-fi tv series the new regenerated doctor looks at himself in the mirror and says' At least I'm not ginger' which i doubt would be acceptable to any other group , so this attitude [ which doesn't bother any redheads I know] still prevails.
Red-haired women were often accused of witchery and burned, overtones of Salome. The Jews may have killed Christ but Redheads offed the Baptist.
School nicknames included - copperknob, matchstick, GinGa [ hard Gs] and young red-haired girls used to get a bit for their freckles, white skin and red hair. I know of only 1 monarch with redhair - Elizabeth 1 and I know no Prime Ministers. Any redhaired Presidents? Perhaps the Canadians with a lot of Scots ancestry had 1 or 2