The Slayer of Vanity
Origins: India + China + Japan
Tengu 天狗 are mountain and forest goblins with both Shinto and Buddhist attributes. Their supernatural powers include shape-shifting into human or animal forms, the ability to speak to humans without moving their mouth, the magic of moving instantly from place to place without using their wings, and the sorcery to appear uninvited in the dreams of the living.
The patron of martial arts, the bird-like Tengu is a skilled warrior and mischief maker, especially prone to playing tricks on arrogant and vainglorious Buddhist priests, and to punishing those who willfully misuse knowledge and authority to gain fame or position. In bygone days, they also inflicted their punishments on vain and arrogant samurai warriors. They dislike braggarts, and those who corrupt the Dharma (Buddhist Law).
The literal meaning of Tengu is “Heaven 天” and “Dog 狗.” In Chinese mythology, there is a related creature named Tien Kou (Tiangou 天狗), or “celestial hound.” The name is misleading, however, as the crow-like Tengu looks nothing like a dog. One plausible theory is that the Chinese Tien Kou derived its name from a destructive meteor that hit China sometime in the 6th century BC. The tail of the falling body resembled that of a dog, hence the name and its initial association with destructive powers.
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And that’s all cool… BUT
Tengu was a screen-name before there were screens. Letters, memos, posters and other amusing tidbits bearing the 天狗 signature were the bane of pompous Imperial bureaucrats of bye-gone days. They poked fun at pompous bosses. Jeered at stupid policies. Laughed at the amusing news of the day… and generally helped the paper shufflers of government to keep their sanity in a manner not unfamiliar to anyone who has worked for any large organization.
Let’s see if I can keep up the tradition!