Part I: What is a Tengu?

We like to consider ourselves the biggest and best source for tengu information...this may or may not be correct. But here is the information we have gathered.

Tengu, crow-spirits, have been  surrounded by an aura of mystery and magic for centuries; they are connected with many circles of influence, including Budo, Ninpo, Buddhism, Shintoism, natural magic and chaos. It is important to note that while Tengu love to cause mischief and confusion, they are never evil. They are connected to the Japanese god of the sea and storms, Susanowo. He was the son of Izanagi and Izanami, and the brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu, who became his consort.

Varieties of Tengu

oldtengumask.jpg (20487 bytes)Tengu are generally described or envisioned as a bird-like entity, taking on one form of several varieties. First there is the Karasu Tengu, a winged bird-man who can harness the powers of nature These types of tengu usually have a beak and seem more bird-like than man-like, and they wear a cap on their head, and carry a sword or jo staff. The mask to the left is an example of this sort of Tengu. 

 Then there is the Tengu variety with a human face and a beak-like nose. These Tengu are the ones stereotyped by Buddhism as being pride-fallen priests or warriors. They usually have a red face with a very prominent nose which ranges in appearance from rediculous to beak-like. They have, more often than not, a pair of wings and sometimes wear the garb of a priest or samurai. The black and white image to the right is this type of Tengu.

yoshitsune+tengu.jpg (147050 bytes)Lastly there is the Yamabushi Tengu, pictured with Yoshitsune to the left, a Tengu disguised as a human mountain hermit or priest, or possibly a great hermit sage who has become a Tengu through meditation and exercises. This type of Tengu is the most potentially dangerous, but also can be the most helpful. Tengu have been known to impart valuable information about the martial arts among other things, when they take this form. 

All of the Tengu listed above may carry a special feather fan that they use to stir up storms of any sort, as well as some buddhist implements, like a staff with rings atop it, though Tengu existed long before Buddhism ever reached the shores of Japan, and that is a long time! Tengu have been known to cause trouble when their special place in Shintoism as minor deities is threatened. Stories have been told of them tormenting Buddhist priests (all in good fun) kidnapping children, and generally causing alot of mischief. Tengu are known to be anthropomorphic, meaning, they can change their shape at will. In some traditions, the Kitsune (fox-spirit of Japan) is the same as a Tengu, in different shape. While Tengu are usually male, Kitsune are usually female, but it is not the rule. Perhaps the females prefer the fox shape, and the males the crow shape.  Tanuki (badger spirits) are also said to be a Tengu form. Japanese culture was not always male-dominated. In the early formative years of Nippon, the people were lead by tribal medicine women.


Sojobo is the king of Tengu, and is usually depicted as a yamabushi with long white hair. He is said to have taught swordsmanship to many of the clans in Japan, and lives in the high mountains, especially Mt Kurama.

Tengu Powers And Legend

The most interesting aspect of Tengu today is how their reputation as martial artists and master swordsmen attracts the interest of martial artists even today! It is thought that if you gain the favor of a Tengu, they will grant you arcane knowledge of combat skills. A paragraph from a very old document concerning Buddhist philosophy, I believe from the very earliest times of Buddhism in Japan reads: 

"In addition to this, there are other stories such as Tenguyurashi, which tells of mountain huts shaking in the middle of the night, and Tenguwarai, which tells of people hearing sudden loud laughter during the night." This would all seem to point to the conclusion that Tengu are nocturnal. It continues: "In the mountains, there are trees where Tengu live. These trees are called Tengu no tomarigi and we must not cut them down. Tengu's treasures ----- a magic cloak, a sedge hat, a small mallet Other names for Tengu -----Guhin, Yamabito, Yamanokami"

Tengu communicate via telepathy, and can also teleport to wherever they like in the blink of an eye. They can move unseen and unheard, and are also connected in myth to the ninja rebels of feudal japan. It is said that the Tengu gave the secret to fighting the shogunate to a man who started the first peasant uprising that gave birth to the ninja, meaning, 'enduring man'.

Reportedly in 1860, to prepare the way for the Shogun's visit to a sacred mausoleum, local authorities posted notices in all seriousness ordering the Tengu of the district to relocate to a specified mountain haunt until the Shogun had left.

Tengu are very curious and all Tengu are very knowledgeable about almost everything.

Part II: Bird Spirits and Crow in Other Cultures


Tien'Kou or Celestial/Heavenly Dog

It has been mentioned time and again in other guides to Tengu, that the chinese Tien'kou, or "celestial dog"  is perhaps the same as Tengu. I don't think they are the same exactly, but perhaps they serve the same purpose. In his yang form, Tien'Kou helps the god Erh-lang drive off evil spirits, however, during the night, he is yin, and his energy is destructive and catastrophic. He was the meteor demon, causing comets, eclipsing the sun by eating it, and also caused meteor showers. The first appearance of Tien'kou was in the sixth century BCE, he came to earth in comet with a long tail of fire. It poisoned all the crops and water where it fell. It is said there is more than one Tien'kou, but only one appears at a time. The Tien'kou appeared again in the second century, in the shape of a shooting star. He is always accompanied by thunder. Tien'Kou can be driven away with a bow made of mulberry wood, and an amulet of dog hair.

Some of these descriptions of the Tien'Kou have prompted some good people to conclude that the events are in fact alien visitations, and Tengu are alien as well. Some of the attributes of Tengu and Tien'kou do seem alien-like, such as the telepathic communication and the loud thunder that accompanies the visitations of the celestial dog. I myself believe that there are aliens, but I don't think Tengu are from another planet.


Garuda is the favored servant of Lord Vishnu, one of the trinity of high-powered gods in Hindu theology. His brave efforts and valor in rescuing his mother earned him immortality gifted by Lord Vishnu. 

He is identical in appearance to the Karasu type of Tengu, and is depicted with a serpent or two in his claws, which he protects against. 

A tibetan form of Garuda is known of, but information on him is obscure, however, I do have an amulet that depicts him looking just like a tengu, but holding the serpents. The serpents may represent the Kundalini, and the burning bite repercussions you can suffer from awakening it prematurely.

The picture to the right is of Garuda. Notice the Indian nose which is prominent and could possibly be mistaken for a Tengu nose.

Garuda is also shown in full bird form, as a parrot, swan or crow. 

Indians also once revered the crow as an animal who was close to god, and they were often given food by people seeking help or favor of the divine. Such customs have been largely forgotten today.


Pre-dating Japanese culture by more than 5,000 years, the egyptian gods have many attributes similar to Tengu, such as long beaks (Tehuti, god of knowledge, wisdom and logic) feathery wings, and feather patterns on their robes (Ptah,Aset,Sekhmet) Even some of the gods, especially Ptah, have very chinese features. Even the pharoahic beard resembles a tengu nose! This could be a red herring who knows, but there are some interesting clues to be found within the egyptian mythology and artwork. It awaits further exploration.

Native American Spirituality

raven.jpg (35123 bytes)Kwekwaxa'we (or kwakiutl, pictured at right) is the raven entity honored by the Northwestern tribes of America. It was this raven spirit who freed the sun and the moon for all to enjoy, and in other tribes, raven is the gatekeeper to the realm of magic, and a powerful sorcerer. I must reiterate his magical abilities are extremely great, and he is one of the most important figures to the northwest coast indians. 

angwusi.jpg (94725 bytes)The Navajo, Hopi and Zuni tribes honor the spirits of nature in the form of Kachinas, manifested in the form of small cottonwood dolls, or as a dancer in the appropriate mask. There are almost a thousand recognized Kachinas. 

There are several crow kachinas, the most important to us in this subject is Angwusi, the crow, who is a whipping kachina, or a law keeper. In the clown dances he watches the heyokahs or clowns as they try their best to get a laugh out of everyone, and as their behavior gets more and more outrageous the Angwusi will descend upon them and beat them soundly for being so ridiculous. Together with owl and lizard he performs this task. 

Also of note are Angwusnasomtaqa (pictured above, right) and Crow Bride kachinas, who are benevolent and do not behave in the same manner as Angwusi, however Angwusnasomtaqa is the mother of all the whipping kachinas.

At left is an example of an Angwusi Kachina, and a particularily fine one at that, carved in the Hopi tradition out of one piece of cottonwood. The markings are quite distinct , the four crosses on the hem of his blanket, the winged bird face and the yucca canes held in a threatening manner.

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