This week on #VNmyth: Linh Miêu – A cat that can bring back the dead.
Note to self: cats always win, don’t put them in future polls, just write about them whenever you want.
Anyway, let’s begin with the cat that I promised to cover.
I. How they were born:
Surprised!! They are born out of Fengshui!! But, they are not some kind of “energy creature” you would typically see in that manhua Fengshui Monster.
Let me explain…It’s generally believed that any location, may that be a building, a room, or a village, city, even country, has its own “energy.” If it is positive, the place will prosper, and good omens will come. Yet, if the energy of the land is negative, strange phenomena will happen. Among which, there is one known as “Rắn phủ mèo,” or in English: “snake conducting sexual intercourse with a cat.”
Usually, the two main characters are a cobra (or any other poisonous snake) and a stray black cat. They would meet up deep in the wood, at a graveyard or an abandoned house, all those great places to haunt later, and bang.
The outcome of this strange event will be an egg, laid by the feline, left in an abandoned house or somewhere out of sight and sunlight. It will hatch into a kitten with black fur and a snakeskin pattern of any color running across its whole body.
II. Other things about them:
The kitty will mature at an accelerated rate, much faster than an average cat, and will develop a taste for hot chicken blood and egg yolk. Its deafeningly intense gaze can petrify any animals below or equal to its size for an easy kill. Besides that, they are actually no more harmful than your typical kitten, so some people would treat them as any stray cat, either chase them away or keep them as a pet to deal with mouses problem. And all is good and normal, at least until there is a funeral at your local.
Now to the fun and a bit of a clickbait part :)) there! I admit to having click baited a bit. Sue me.
Now, in Asian culture, especially Vietnamese, one’s soul doesn’t simply leave their body without intervention, nor can they just return as if nothing happens. You either have to learn a spell/magic to do so, or you will need external forces (a calling of a spirit, dark magic, tragic incident, etc.).I think by now you can guess it already, that cat, whose father was a snake, is one of those external forces. It can’t suck the soul out of you, but it can let things in by simply jumping over the corpse, creating a phenomenon we call “quỷ nhập tràng.”
But here’s the thing. What it brings back is entirely random since, in our culture, hungry ghosts, all kinds of wild demons roam the earth on a daily basis. So, any spiritual being can get brought into the newly dead corpse via the Linh Miêu.
This is exponentially more dangerous at the hour of the Buffalo, namely from 1-3 am. That’s the time when the gateway of hell opened, and the spirits have two hours to go around. It’s not that the cat will get stronger; it’s that more dangerous stuff will roam freely at that hour. There was once an urban legend that a demonic spirit got brought back via a Linh Miêu’s jump. The corpse started to lunge itself onto people, and once it did so, the demon transferred itself onto a new victim as if it was an infectious disease. Before long, all the guests at that funeral were but lifeless corpses.
This is why if you come to the rural part of Vietnam and stumble upon a funeral, you will see cats and dogs being bound and keep in their place to prevent this from happening.
In a nutshell, these Linh Miêu are like necromancy slot machines. While their intention is trivial in this process, most rural and urban legends told that the cats were evil and they did the jump on purpose.
III. Their origin:
Now, there is a loosely tied-in folktale regarding these cats.
Once, in imperial Vietnam, a girl was known for her beauty, both in appearance and personality. She came from a poor family and had to work a lot to sustain her family. One day, a servant of a rich man came to their house with many expensive presents and asked if the young girl would be the second wife of his master. The parents agreed, thinking she would be better off married to a rich man and lived a happy life rather than be with them. But only when she arrived at her new home did the young girl realize what kind of s*** hole she had just gotten herself into.
The rich man’s first wife can’t bear a child, so he married her to continue the family life. Moreover, the big wife is a cold-blooded and cruel woman. She worried that her position in the house will be threatened if the young girl can bear a son for the husband, so she came up with a plan.
On the outside, she pretended to be gentle and caring, but every time the young woman got pregnant, she would poison the fetus in its mother’s womb, killing it before it could be born. The young girl knew this, and on the third time when it happened, she desperately tried to protect her child. But the first wife had already anticipated this and bribe the doctor to put the child down once more. This was the last straw for the young woman. On her dying bed, having lost her children three times, she swore that if they were all reincarnated, she would exact her revenge on the cruel woman in the next life. It was noted that on the day she drew her last breath, fur could be seen on her chin, and her eyes glowed green, brightly like cat eyes.
And they were both reincarnated. The young woman was a cat, and the big wife was a hen, living in the same household. Due to the antagonist of their previous life, the cat would eat every egg that the hen laid. On the third time, she ate the hen as well.
The grudge of the hen turned it into a jaguar in the next life, and the cat into a deer. Just as before, the jaguar hunted the deer’s offsprings three times before finishing it as well.
The deer grudge grew exponentially, and in turn, turned into a demon cat called black yaksha, while the jaguar was reincarnated into a beautiful woman. Every time her kid was born, the yaksha would disguise itself as a young woman to lure the child away and eat it. On her third child, the woman was terrified, so she ran away with her husband. On their way, she saw a young girl approaching them. Her mother sense was tingling Peter Parker’s style, so she ran, somehow knowing that the girl before her was the demon who came for her last child. The yaksha turned back into its true form of a hideous monster cat and chased them all the way into a pagoda. There, Buddha showed up and restored their memory of those past lives.
There, finally grew tired of the vicious cycle of getting revenge and getting murdered in retaliation, also realized what the quest for vengeance had made her become, the yaksha spare the mother and her child, knowing that in this life, they’re innocent. She became a saint later on for doing something most of us simply can’t.
It’s said that the Linh Miêu retained some power of the black yaksha; therefore, it had demonic property as well as having a taste for chicken blood and yolk.
IV. Cultural context explanation and my comments:
_ The marriage part is well, in the day when starvation is typical, I think the parent had their reason. The story didn’t say anything about them wanting the richness of those gifts, so I wouldn’t make any assumptions on that front.
_ Those were the days when polygamy is a thing, and the wife’s position is determined by her child. So yeah, that explained the big wife acted like that. I’m not saying she’s right and not a horrible person, but to show that her motivation is understandable during that period of time.
_ In the feudal time, Vietnam too was influenced by Confucius’s thinking. Among which, there is a saying, “the worst thing a child/person can do to a family line is discontinuing it.” So that’s the reason why the rich man needed a new wife.
But funnily enough, polygamy isn’t that common like you might think or hear of in fiction and novels. There were strict rules about who can have more wives and economic requirements for doing so. In fact, in Vietnamese, the three most challenging things in the life of a farmer are buying his own buffalo, building his own house, and marrying a woman. All in all, ordinary folks like us would most likely have a monogamous life even several hundred years ago.
_ While some Vietnamese do believe in reincarnation, they only loosely believe in punishments/rewards of the previous life carry on into the next life. This is showcased in this story above, as it’s not some divine punishment that comes for the two women involved, but the grudge among themselves that kept them in a dead loop. Also, I kind of like the metaphor of “people can lose themselves in vengeance and turn into the very monster they hate” of this story.
_ Side note: Buddha in Vietnamese Folklore had been, what to say, changed a bit. Sometimes he played the role of Bodhisatva or fairy godmother; in other cases, he was the mentor/supporter. In rare cases, Buddha even appeared to use a staff and single-handedly stale-mated a whole army of demons, but that is another story for another time.
_ If you were to google “Linh Miêu,” you will probably come up with the images of “Lynx.” This is actually something that got lost in translation as Vietnamese is pretty lazy with giving new names. The Lynxes were actually named after the necromancer cat in this post in our language when we first saw them, not the other way around.
Have fun and see you next week.