worshiped the uncountable higher spirits of Shinto or Kami, and not a single god.
The tengu, that originally were tien-kou-legends, first occurred in Japan during the sixth and seventh century. It is believed that these legends origin from the Yamabushi, or "Monks living reclusively in the mountains", who were members of a Buddhist sect from the 10th century. Their philosophy dates from around the year 700. They
Some Yamabushi practised martial arts to strengthen their mind and body, and it is told by some legends that fallen Yamabushi becomes Konsha-tengu. Adding folkloristic imagination to them, like the ability to fly, is how one thinks the legends of the tengu began.
The king of all tengu is Sojobo, an elderly, white-haired Yamabushi tengu. He is said to have taught swordsmanship to many of the clans in Japan. Even the ninjas are told to have had their skills from the tengu. The great twelfth-century warrior, Yoshitsune, was reputed to have a tengu teacher, who instructed him in martial arts and military tactics. These lessons enabled the famed warlord to win a decisive victory over his enemies.
Today the tengus still have a reputation as highly skilled martial artists and master swordsmen, and throughout the world many Dojos have names including the word "tengu".
T'ien-kou is Chinese, and means heavenly or celestial dogs. The same Chinese characters are pronounced "ten-gu" in Japanese, and the resemblance between the two descriptions of the creatures is probably how the tengu got its name.
It is believed that the Chinese t'ien-kou derived their names from comets or meteors falling to earth, the trails of which resemble the tails of dogs or foxes, or from the Dog Star of Chinese astronomy.
after which he climbed a tree. Thinking he was a real tengu, the villagers left offerings at the base of the tree. Suddenly the man lost his balance and fell from the tree. He died immediately.
In the Chinese legends the t'ien-kous are mountain demons, and the early tengu were evil birdlike demons. The tengu was often accused of kami-kakushi, divine kidnapping, and both adults and children were allegedly kidnapped. With the adult victims, it often took the form of mysterious pranks in which a person would become disoriented and in a difficult-to-reach place without a clue to how he or she got there. They do not however take lightly on being the subject of pranks themselves. One legend tells the story of a man dressing up in a tengu costume
A different legend tells the tale of a man who insulted the tengu. An enchanted sword pursued him, hovering over his head, taking swipes at him. He, however, lived to tell the tale, and never insulted a tengu again.
When a child went missing it was often believed that a tengu had stolen it. The reason for this is its Chinese origin. The Dog Star from Chinese astrology was believed to hold the soul of a young virgin eager to seize a child to take her place in the sky, allowing the virgin to be reincarnated as a mortal.
However, if the tengu does good deeds, it can also be reborn as a human.
The tengu is born from a giant egg, and they live in the primordial mountain forests of Japan. Stealing one of these giant eggs for a king size breakfast omelette is best avoided, as it would most likely incur the wrath of the tengu whose young it encases.
A tengu would not hesitate to exact a swift revenge. Tengu were fiercely protective of their territory and sternly punished those who entered areas under their control. Sometimes identified with the vengeful spirits of the dead, many chroniclers believed they could take possession of people and use them as mouthpieces. The tengu does not speak directly to humans, but uses telepathy to communicate. They have been accused of invading the minds of men and driving them to madness.
Over time, the peasants who lived in mountain villages learned to coexist with the tengu.
Tengus have been portrayed as being more mischievous than evil and were often depicted helping people. Then again it is said that the tengu doesn't want human society to become stable and powerful, so they intervene to evoke war and civil disorder. Tengu often encourage and help the people to fight against the ruler. This is probably because the tengu was regarded an evil being until the 14th century and evil legends were told, but they later evolved to both good and bad beings.
Many tales were told of tengu overcoming evil. In the Buddhist belief they became guides for monks in understanding the Dharma tenets and sacred rites. They also protected Buddhist shrines. Tengus are very curious and they are all very knowledgeable about almost everything.
In the 18th and 19th centuries they were revered as mountain deities, and tributes were offered to them to bring woodcutters and huntsmen success in their work. Today ceremonial festivals are held in their honour. In some areas, woodsmen still offer rice cakes to the tengu before starting their work.
There are different kinds of tengus, like the Ko-tengu (or small tengu), also called Karasu-tengu that look like crows, and the Konsha- or Daitengu that are humanlike and have long noses. Dai-tengu means Tengu King. They are sometimes even called Konoha-tengu. But even the Konsha-tengu is known to have the appearance of a crow in some legends. Also the tengu is known as an anthropomorphic, a shape shifter, which may be reason why there is some confusion to the question about the tengus appearance.
The Konsha-tengu has according to legends the ability to extend and retract its nose by using a magic fan made of leaf from the Aralia japonica, a medium-sized evergreen shrub. This made the tengu look more like a human, as the nose often revealed the tengu. Some of the tengus even revealed themselves by their shadow.
The characteristics of the tengu however changes and depends a lot on the perspective of history. Some say they carried a magic fan made of bird feathers that could make a hellish tornado.
The Konsha tengu is described either as a character with a crow's head, or a humanlike head with an extended nose. Perhaps the latter is a shape-shifted tengu, and unable to make the beak disappear, it turns into a long nose?
They are also connected to the Japanese god of the sea and storms, called Susanowo.
The Konsha-tengu is associated with Saruta-hiko, a giant Japanese god that has a nose the length of seven hands. Saruta-hiko acted as a guide for Prince Ninigi no Mikoto when he descended from heaven. Saruta-hikos eyes shone like multi-planed mirrors, and he radiated light, but it was his long nose that caused him to be regarded as a phallic deity.
The Ko-tengu or Karasu-tengu has the head and wings of a black crow, and its body is covered with feathers. This tengu is a servant to the Konsha-tengu.
Ko-tengus are frequently seen carrying ring-tipped staffs called shakujos. These tools provide their owners with protection against enchantments and are useful in exorcising demons. On a more down-to-earth level, shakujos can also be used in combat to tangle and snap spear blades. The strangely shaped cap (or token) worn by the karasu, doubles as a drinking cup.
Sometimes the Kitsune, the fox spirit of Japan, is regarded as a tengu, but with a different shape. Kitsune is usually female, unlike the tengu that is usually a male. Tanuki, badger spirits, are also sometimes regarded as a tengu.