Why do cats chase rats? (Mythology #1)

Happy Monday!

Saturday, 28 January 2017, was Chinese New Year and I got to thinking about this anime I used to watch when I was seeing this girl who was like really into anime.

fruits-basket
Fruits Basket, pretty amusing from what I remember.

I remember there being a 13th character in the show, a cat and I forgot all about why or what happened to the cat and I figured this might be an apt time.

Roughly the story goes as follows:

The Great Race

The Jade Emperor of Heaven decided as a way to celebrate his birthday he would invent time.  He decided on a 12 year cycle, based on Jupiter’s orbit and for festivities he summoned all the animals and announced that he wanted to hold a race and the first 12 animals to cross the finish line will have a year named after them.

Just before the finish line was a river.  The Cat and the Rat reached the river first but neither could swim.  Along came the Ox who could swim and, being a nice person, em offered the Cat and the Rat a ride on it’s back.  Just as they were reaching the shore, the rat pushed the Cat off the Ox’s back and jumped for the shore and won first place.  The Ox was a close second.

The Tiger, who also swam, arrived third and explained to The Jade Emperor that em would have arrived sooner but despite em’s strong swimming skill, the current kept pushing em down delaying arrival.

From up the river bank came a pad-pad-padding, the rabbit was hopping down the river bank.  The Emperor asked “How did you cross the river?” the Rabbit answered “I found a set of hopping stones.” The Rabbit is granted fourth place.

Down comes flying the Dragon and The Emperor is very surprised that the Dragon, who has the ability to fly, did not get first place.  The Dragon explains em self “on my way here, there was a village on fire, so I brought them rain then while flying over the river I saw Rabbit slip on a log crossing the river and gave em a helping  claw.” The Emperor was very pleased and granted the Dragon fifth place.

From down the bank, again comes a funny noise. This time it’s a clop-colp-clopping of the Horse’s hooves, confidently striding towards the finish line when the Snake drops off the front hoof of the horse giving the Horse a great fright, for the Horse did not know the snake was hitching a ride, causing the Horse to loose sixth by a nose.

Down the river comes a raft with the Goat, the Monkey, and the Rooster.  They explained to The Emperor that they could not but worked together to secure a raft and crossed the river together.  The Emperor is pleased and grants them eighth, ninth, and tenth respectively.

The dog comes swimming ashore and The Emperor is again surprised, why should the dog who is the strongest swimmer finish so late? The Dog explains that em was having such a good time playing that em wasn’t ready to call it yet.  The Dog is given eleventh.

Lastly comes the Pig trotting down, looking fully satisfied regardless of being so late.  The Pig starts to go on about all the food em found on the way, which gave everyone a hearty chuckle.

The Emperor declares the race over and the victors named.  When the soaking wet, half drowned cat washes up ashore the only one to notice was the Cat’s former friend, the Rat.  The Cat made a revenge promise which is why cat’s chase rats today.

 

All this talk about a thirteenth sign reminds me about this thing I heard about on the radio originally, back in 2009 some time around the time The Prince of PoP’s reign ended, something about a thirteenth zodiac sign.  I never investigated it much until now but apparently this idea isn’t new and originally popped up in the with the book “The Thirteen Signs of the Zodiac” by Walter Berg in 1995.  The book was a best seller in Japan in 1996 and influenced some popular video games at the time such as Final Fantasy IX.

final-fantasy
Remember this side quest?

The symbol for Ophiuchus (pronounced “o-few-cus”) is the Rod of Asclepius symbol, wielded by Asclepius a Greek hero and god in medicidne, commonly confused with the Caduceus symbol, wielded by Hermes.

staffs
The Reason these are mixed up: The US Army Medical Corps erroneously adopted the Caduceus for their symbol. 

Anyway it’s now the year of the Rooster.  Happy Chinese New Year!

 

 

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Good Morning, Mr. Magpie (Urban Legends #2)

Happy mystery Monday!

Several months back, I did a post on an urban legend from my home town of St Louis about the spooky Zombie Road and to quote one of my favourite you tubers, Ross Scott of Accursed Farms, “Like a porn series that already knows it’s going to have a sequel, I’m putting a big number 1 in the title.”, I named the last post “Urban Legends #1” because I knew that this is a subject that I would like to revisit because I value the tradition of story telling and urban legends are something I feel like are waning in style.  I don’t mean to say I feel like they’re going obsolete nor that I believe there will ever be a time we move away from them, in fact Slender Man is arguable proof that urban legends are alive and well(1), however there are smaller local legends that rarely leave the city or place of their origin unless told and retold by wandering bards(2), like yours truly.

This one, however, is much less sinister then the two previously mentioned but none the less has an element of morbidity which, I’ve come to terms with, is quite an attractive element in stories to me(3).

scary-stories-to-tell
This was one of my favourite images from the my favourite anthology series “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”.

I first learned about this story because I was walking with a friend and we saw a solitary Magpie and she saluted it and said “Good Morning, Mr. Magpie. How are the wife and kids?” and kept going like it was something completely normal well adjusted adults do.

magpie
Just in case if you didn’t know what they look like. I had never seen any before coming to England.

And I’m not one to judge I talk to animals and plants like they’re people all the time however, never have I ever considered saluting one (or anyone for that matter). I asked and they just told me “That’s just what you do when you see one alone.” and then recited the following nursery rhyme:

One for sorrow,

Two for joy,

Three for a girl,

Four for a boy,

Five for silver,

Six for gold,

Seven for a secret never to be told.

“Brilliant. That Explains everything. ಠ_ಠ”

So I did what I do and learned a few things about the magpie and why this became a thing.

I learned that magpies, like many species of bird, mate for life and that seeing a solitary magpie is a sign of sorrow because it can mean the solitary bird has lost its mate and if you see two it is a sign of joy ergo the rhyme “One for sorrow; two for joy…”.  The salute is a sign of respect, similar to tipping of the hat, and asking after its wife and kids is to assume that it just happens to be away from the family.

The rest of the rhyme comes from a tradition of divining the future based on the behavior of birds called “Augury”, IE if you see five magpies you’re in for some money.

augur-magic
I *finally* understand the name of this card.

The depth of the myth goes on with variations of the rhyme, why magpies are bad luck (or in Chinese symbolism, they’re actually good luck), and different ways to ward off the bad luck crossing a singular magpie.

If you have a piece of urban lore you want to share, please feel free to leave a comment below about it.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Slender Man seems to fit the definition of “urban legend” as provided by dictionary.com

Urban Legend (n)

a modern story of obscure origin and with little or no supporting evidence that spreads spontaneously in varying forms and often has elements of humor, moralizing, or horror
2. I realise that “bard” is defined as “one who composes and recites poems” and as I do write poetry (rarely) but do not identify as a “poet” I am abiding by the archaic Greek definition of poet meaning “maker, author”, the use of poetry can be seen as recently as 1821 by Percy Shelly‘s essay “A Defense of Poetry” which is an excellent and extremely empowering read for any writer.
3. In talking to one of my friends about some of my favourite authors, bands, poets, movies, video games, and the stories I’m working on she said to me “Fin, I think you might be a little death obsessed.”  Now I’m taking a Victorian Gothic Horror class at university and I kind love it.  Love thy self, right?