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Pronunciation: Tee-yen Goo
Alternative names: Celestial Dog, Heavenly Dog, T'ien-Kou, Tian Gou
Celebration or Feast Day: Unknown at present
In charge of: Transformation
Area of expertise: Transformation
Good/Evil Rating: NEUTRAL, may not care
Popularity index: 2282
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Article last revised on April 21, 2019 by the Godchecker data dwarves.
Editors: Peter J. Allen, Chas Saunders
References: Coming soon.
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The dog that ate the moon
A hunter shoots an arrow at a winged black dog. Chinese gouache painting, date unknown.
In Chinese mythology, a dog is responsible for the solar eclipse. Legend has it that Tiangou (the Heavenly Dog) ate the moon, but he was captured and forced to spit the moon back out. Zhang Xian, god of birth and protector of male children, is the enemy of Tiangou. He is often depicted aiming at the sky with his bow and arrow waiting for the black dog to appear.
Here’s a look at some famous dogs in mythology from around the world.
China is home to several breeds of dogs today which have DNA dating back some 14,000 years, suggesting that this was one of the places where dogs were first domesticated and where those dogs survived to the present day. The Shar Pei and the Chow Chow are among these oldest dogs. The Shiba Inu and the Akita, from Japan, are likewise ancient. Dogs often accompany heroes in Chinese tales. The dog is one of the twelve symbols in the Chinese zodiac https://www.ancient.eu/article/1327/dogs-in-ancient-china/.
Panhu – the dog of the legendary Chinese ruler Di Ku. Panhu helped the ruler win a great battle by killing the enemy general and bringing him his head https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog_in_Chinese_mythology.
Tiangou – a dog creature. The name means “heavenly dog https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-ancient-traditions/loyal-companion-and-much-more-dogs-ancient-china-004695.” When he gets hungry he devours the sun or moon. This was part of a Chinese myth to explain eclipses.
Foo Dogs – Chinese guardian dogs that resembles a lion https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_guardian_lions. They are often seen as a pair of statues protecting a home or building. Pekingese and other small dogs of Chinese origin are sometimes referred to as Foo Dogs.
Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest religions, dating back more than 4,000 years. It began in India’s Iron Age but encompasses many other regional influences and spread through southeast Asia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinduism. This is another area where the dog was domesticated very early. The Afghan Hound, from a mountainous region, is an ancient breed from Afghanistan, a country that borders Pakistan (formerly part of India), Iran, and China, among other countries. There are a number of dogs in Hindu mythology.
Shvan – means dog in Sanskrit.
Sharvara – one of the two dogs that guards the netherworld https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharvara. Associated with Canis Major. The word “sharvara” means variegated or spotted.
Sarama – The Apsara of Indra, a Vedic god. Depicted as the mother of all wolves https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarama.
Rudra, Nirriti, and Virabhadra are all deities associated with dogs.
Shiva – in the form of Bhairava https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhairava, Shiva had a dog as a vehicle (called a vahana).
Khandoba – a deity associated with the dog he rides.
Dattatreya – associated with four dogs that are considered to symbolize the four Vedas or the most ancient Hindu scriptures.
Tihar – a Hindu festival (Nepal). On the second day (Kukur Tihar) dogs are celebrated during Dog Tihar.
Land of the Pharaohs, Egypt was also home to a vast array of gods, many of which are still known today thanks to archaeology, films, and fiction. Tomb walls show the likenesses of dogs that resemble the Pharaoh Hound and the Ibizan Hound, though these two breeds are not ancient. Bedouins still use Salukis to hunt in the desert. According to some sources, there are pedigrees for Salukis that date back over 4000 years. DNA evidence suggests that Salukis are one of the oldest of all breeds, dating back some 14,000 years. Basenjis, another sighthound, are from Africa, and also one of the oldest breeds. Many of the kinds of dogs we have today were known and kept in ancient Egypt including the Basenji, the Greyhound, the Saluki, molosser dogs (mastiff types), dogs that resembled the Pharaoh Hound and Ibizan Hound, some kind of small hound dog for hunting, and small pet dogs. Egyptians were very fond of dogs and kept them for hunting, as guard dogs, and as pets https://www.ancient.eu/article/1031/dogs-in-ancient-egypt/.
Anubis – a god of death and the afterlife https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anubis, is portrayed with the head of a dog or jackal. His sacred animal was an Egyptian canid or African golden wolf. Anubis was clothed in black.
Wepwawet – brother of Anubis. Wepwawet also had the head of a dog. Wepwawet had grey or white fur.
Set (or Seth) – the brother of the god Osiris, Set had the physical form of a man with the head of a canine. Set is sometimes described as having a long tail, curved muzzle, and erect ears, making him look like a combination of a fox, jackal, donkey, and other animals.
Duamutef – the son of Horus. Duamutef https://exhibitions.kelsey.lsa.umich.edu/jackal-gods-ancient-egypt/duamutef.php was another god associated with death and the afterlife. His image often guarded canopic jars in tombs.
Not a land but a people, the Celts migrated across Europe and through the British Isles between 1200 B.C. and the time of the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 A.D. While there were many different tribes and different names for some of their gods, the Celtic culture was consistent across much of Europe and the British Isles for centuries. Celts were known as a horse culture but many of their myths and legends also feature dogs. Greyhounds are attributed to Celtic breeding https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_Hounds, along with the Irish Wolfhound and the Scottish Deerhound.
Setanta – Irish hero https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_Hounds who killed a giant guard dog in self-defense. He took the dog’s place to guard Ireland.
Cú Chulainn – Setanta’s name after he became the guardian of Ireland in place of the dog that he killed.
Bran – one of the dogs of the warrior-poet Fionn mac Cumhaill.
Sceolan – one of the dogs of the warrior-poet Fionn mac Cumhaill.
Gelert – the hound of Prince Llewellyn (Welsh). The dog was unjustly killed by his master when it was thought he had killed a child. (There are other versions of this story. In Wales the story concerns Rhiannon, a goddess of the moon associated with horses.)
Epona – Epona is mostly a goddess associated with horses and foals and even with the military (since they rode horses). Even Romans paid tribute to her. But in some depictions she is shown with dogs, too. Epona was widely known throughout the Celtic world though she was especially popular in Gaul (France). Epona is sometimes associated with Rhiannon in Wales.
Nuada – also called Nodens or Nudd, Nuada was a Celtic god of healing. He was associated with dogs since it was believed that a dog licking a wound could help to cure it (don’t try this at home).
The Greeks and Romans
Most people are familiar with elements of Greek and Roman mythology. They have come down to us as part of Western culture. Greece was the older culture, though Rome’s early history draws on the Etruscans and earlier people. Rome took over much of Greece’s mythology and their stories became entwined. As for deities https://www.ancient.eu/article/184/dogs-in-the-ancient-world/, dogs or hounds are associated with the goddesses Hecate (the underworld) and with Artemis (hunting).
Romulus and Remus – according to legend, Rome was founded by the twins, Romulus and Remus, who were suckled by a she-wolf.
Argus – Odysseus’s dog. Argus http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/content/animals/animals/breeds/dogtopics/dog_mythology.htm waited faithfully for 20 years for Odysseus to return from the siege of Troy and died as soon as he came home.
Laelaps – a dog that protects Zeus as a baby.
Cerberus – the three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades.
Trivia – Roman goddess of ghosts, haunted crossroads, and graveyards. Dogs were associated with her because it was believed that dogs that were barking at “nothing” were warning of her approach.
Mesoamerica was the home to several remarkable civilizations from about 3500 B.C. until the Spanish Conquest in 1521 A.D. (Even now there are still an estimated seven million people of Mayan descent living in central Mexico.) The Olmec, the Toltecs, the Mayans, and the Aztec all had dogs as part of their cultures. Dogs filled many roles for the peoples of Mesoamerica. They were a food source at times but they were also healers, guardians, pets, hunters, and they were thought to guide the soul in the afterlife. The Xoloitzcuintli is a hairless dog from Mesoamerica. Archaeological evidence has shown that the Xoloitzcuintli probably dates back some 3500 years https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogs_in_Mesoamerican_folklore_and_myth.
The ancient dog which accompanied the ancestors of Native Americans from Siberia to North America (and subsequently down to central and South America) is thought to be extinct.
Xolotl – the Aztec god of death that was pictured as a huge dog.
Norse mythology includes stories and early religious beliefs of north Germanic and Scandinavian peoples. The time period includes but the pagan and early Christian eras. Some of the Old Norse texts that pass on the stories are thought to be from Iceland where an oral tradition kept the pre-Christian tales and sagas alive into the Middle Ages. Dogs were an important part of Norse culture, acting as guardians, hunters, herders, and in some locales pulling sleds. DNA evidence shows that the Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malamute are both ancient breeds. The Norwegian Elkhound claims a direct Scandinavian origin dating back to ancient times. Many spitz breeds use in Scandinavian countries for herding and sled pulling likely have very early roots. Dogs were often buried with their people so they could protect and guide them in the afterlife. Dogs would also feast at the feet of their warrior masters in Valhalla after death.
Garm – also called Garmr is a wolf or dog associated with Hel and Ragnorok. He is described as a blood-stained guardian of Hel’s gate. He kept the dead souls inside and the living out.
Frigg – Odin’s consort. She is associated with dogs since she is often seen in a chariot pulled by dogs.
The tengu in art appears in a large number of shapes, but it usually falls somewhere between a large, monstrous bird and a wholly anthropomorphized being, often with a red face or an unusually large or long nose. Early depictions of tengu show them as kite-like beings who can take a human-like form, often retaining avian wings, head or beak. The tengu's long nose seems to have been conceived in the 14th century, likely as a humanization of the original bird's bill. The tengu's long noses ally them with the Shinto deity Sarutahiko, who is described in the Japanese historical text, the Nihon Shoki, with a similar proboscis measuring seven hand-spans in length. In village festivals the two figures are often portrayed with identical red, phallic-nosed mask designs.
Some of the earliest representations of tengu appear in Japanese picture scrolls, such as the Tenguzōshi Emaki (天狗草子絵巻), painted c. 1296, which parodies high-ranking priests by endowing them the hawk-like beaks of tengu demons. Tengu are often pictured as taking the shape of some sort of priest. Beginning in the 13th century, tengu came to be associated in particular with the yamabushi, the mountain ascetics who practice Shugendō. The association soon found its way into Japanese art, where tengu are most frequently depicted in the yamabushi's distinctive costume, which includes a small black cap (頭襟, tokin) and a pom-pommed sash (結袈裟, yuigesa). Due to their priestly aesthetic, they are often shown wielding the Shakujo, a distinct staff used by Buddhist monks.
Tengu are commonly depicted holding magical ha-uchiwa (羽団扇 "feather fan"), fans made of feathers. In folk tales, these fans sometimes have the ability to grow or shrink a person's nose, but usually they are attributed the power to stir up great winds. Various other strange accessories may be associated with tengu, such as a type of tall, one-toothed geta sandal often called tengu-geta.
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When a wandering dog chooses to settle down in a home, it is thought that that family will prosper. The dog also is considered a symbol of loyalty. Possibly for this reason, dogs were buried in Bronze Age tombs as sacrifices at the bottom of the pits, below the coffin. A Chinese legend holds that in the sky there is a Heavenly Dog (Tiangou), which is the spirit of a woman who died unmarried and without children. The Heavenly Dog is said to steal the souls of infants in order to adopt them or, according to other accounts, to have a chance to return to earth. For this reason, newly married women keep the image of a spirit in the act of shooting an arrow to the Heavenly Dog in their room. The Heavenly Dog, which is actually a star (Tiangou xing), was also supposed to devour the moon and cause eclipses. Dogs appear in various guises in Chinese art. Ceramic or porcelain figures were formerly buried in tombs as protectors. Statues of liondogs often guard the entrances of temples or important buildings. Paintings may represent favorite pets or the imperial hunting dogs. —Paola Demattè in Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals, ed. Susan Delson
Numerous statuary of Chinese guardian lions exist, which are often called "Fu Dogs" "Foo Dogs", "Fu Lions", "Fo Lions", and "Lion Dogs". Modern lions are not native in the area of China, except perhaps the extreme west however, their existence was well known, and associated symbolism and ideas about lions were familiar however, in China, artistic representations of lions tended to be dog-like. Indeed, "[t]he 'lion' which we see depicted in Chinese paintings and in sculpture bears little resemblance to the real animal, which, however, plays a big part in Chinese folklore."(Eberhard, 2003: 164) The reasons for referencing "guardian lions" as "dogs" in Western cultures may be obscure, however the phenomenon is well known.
In the study of historical Chinese culture, many of the stories that have been told regarding characters and events which have been written or told of the distant past have a double tradition: one which tradition which presents a more historicized and one which presents a more mythological version.(Yang 2005: 12-13) This is also true of some accounts related to mythological dogs in China.
Wolfram Eberhard points out that compared to other cultures it is "striking " that Chinese literature rarely has given names for dogs. (Eberhard 2003: 82) This means that in the context of Chinese mythology, often a dog will play an important role, but that it will not be given a proper name, but rather being referred to as "dog". As Chinese grammar does not require the use of definite or indefinite articles or marking for singular or plural number, there may be ambiguity regarding whether the reference to dog means "Dog" (proper name), "dogs", "a dog", "the dog", "some dogs", or "the dogs".
For thousands of years, a twelve-year cycle named after various real or mythological animals has been used in Southeast Asia. This twelve-year cycle which may be referred to as the "Chinese zodiac" associates each year in turn with a certain creature, in a fixed order of twelve animals, after which it returns to the first in the order, the Rat. The eleventh in the cycle is the Dog. One account is that the order of the beings-of-the-year is due to their order in a racing contest involving swimming across a river, in the so-called Great Race. The reason for the Dog finishing the race second from last despite generally being a talented swimmer is explained as being due to its playful nature: the Dog played and frolicked along the way, thus delaying completing the course and reaching the finishing line. As of 2012, the next Year of the Dog in the traditional Chinese sexagenary calendar is February 19, 2018 to February 4, 2019 (Year of the Yang Earth Dog). The personalities of people born in Dog years are popularly supposed to share certain attributes associated with Dogs, such as loyalty or exuberance however, this would be modified according to other considerations of Chinese astrology, such as the influences of the month, day and hour of birth, according to the traditional system of Earthly Branches, in which the zodiacal animals are also associated with the months and times of the day (and night), in twelve two-hour increments. The Hour of the Dog is 7 to 9 p.m., and the Dog is associated with the ninth lunar month.
There are various myths and legends in which various ethnic groups claimed or were claimed to have had a divine dog as a forebear, one of these is the story of Panhu. The legendary Chinese sovereign Di Ku has been said to have a dog named Panhu. Panhu helped him win a war by killing the enemy general and bringing him his head and ended up with marriage to the emperor's daughter as a reward. The dog carried his bride to the mountainous region of the south, where they produced numerous progeny. Because of their self-identification as descendents from these original ancestors, Panhu has been worshiped by the Yao people and the She people, often as King Pan, and the eating of dog meat tabooed.(Yang 2005: 52-53) This ancestral myth is also has been found among the Miao people and Li people.(Yang 2005: 100 and 180) An early documentary source for the Pan-hu origin myth is by the Jin dynasty (265-420) author Gan Bao, who records this origin myth for a southern (that is, south of the Yangzi River) ethnic group which he refers to as "Man" (蠻) (Mair October, 1998: 3-5 and note 3, 31-32).
There are various variations of the Panhu mythology. According to one version, the Emperor had promised his daughter in marriage as a reward to the one who brought back the enemy general's head, but due to the perceived difficulties of a dog marriage with a human bride (especially an imperial princess), the dog proposed to magically turn into a human being, by means of a process in which he would be sequestered beneath a bell for 280 days. But, the curious emperor, unable to restrain himself, lifted up the rim of the bell on the 279th day: the spell was thus broken before the transformation was completed, and, although the rest of the body had been transformed to human, the head had not (Christie 1968: 121-122).
Culturally-relative interpretations Edit
Victor Mair (October, 1998) brings up the point that the idea of being descended from dogs may have a pejorative connotation or connotations. Whether this would be the case or not would be relative to assumed cultural evaluations of dogs versus humans.
One of the stock heroic supernatural beings with mighty martial prowess in Chinese culture is Erlang, a character in Journey to the West. Erlang has been said to have a dog. In the epic novel, Journey to the West Erlang's dog helps him in his fight against the evolved-monkey hero, Sun Wukong, critically biting him on the leg. Later on in the story (Chapter 63), Sun Wukong with Erlang (now both on the same side) and their companions-in-fight battle against a Nine-headed Insect monster, when, again, Erlang's small hound comes to the rescue and defeats by biting off the monster's retractable head, which popped in and out of its torso: the monster then flees, dripping blood, off into the unknown. The author of the Journey to the West comments that this is the origin of the "nine-headed blood-dripping bird", and that this trait was passed on to its descendant. Anthony C. Yu, editor and translator of Journey to the West associates this bird with the ts'ang kêng of Chinese mythology (1980: Volume III, 441, note 5 on chapter 63).
The Tiangou ("Heavenly Dog") has been said to resemble a black dog or meteor, which is thought to eat the sun or moon during an eclipse, unless frightened away.
According to the myths of various ethnic groups, a dog provided humans with the first grain seeds enabling the seasonal cycle of planting, harvesting, and replanting staple agricultural products by saving some of the seed grains to replant, thus explaining the genetic origin of domesticated cereal crops. This myth is common to the Buyi, Gelao, Hani, Miao, Shui, Tibetan, Tujia, and Zhuang peoples. (Yang 2005: 53) A version of this myth collected from ethnic Tibetan people in Sichuan tells that in ancient times grain was tall and bountiful, but that rather than being duly grateful for the plenty that people even used it for personal hygiene after defecation, which so angered the God of Heaven that he came down to earth to repossess it all. However, a dog grasped his pant leg, piteously crying, and so moving God of Heaven to leave a few seeds from each type of grain with the dog, thus providing the seed stock of today's crops. Thus it is said that because humans owe their possession of grain seed stocks to a dog, people should share some of their food with dogs.(Yang 2005: 53-54) Another myth, of the Miao people, recounts the time of the distantly remote era when dogs had nine tails, until a dog went to steal grains from heaven, and lost eight of its tails to the weapons of the heavenly guards while making its escape, but bringing back grain seeds stuck onto its surviving tail. According to this, when Miao people hold their harvest celebration festival, the dogs are the first to be fed.(Yang 2005: 54) The Zhuang and Gelao peoples have a similar myth explaining why it is that the ripe heads of grain stalks are curly, bushy, and bent – just so as is the tail of a dog.(Yang 2005: 54)
Paper dogs Edit
In northern China, dog images made by cutting paper were thrown in the water as part of the ritual of the Double Fifth (Duanwu Festival) holiday, celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, as an apotropaic magic act meant to drive away evil spirits. Paper dogs were also provided for protecting the dead. (Eberhard, 2003: 80)
Traces of Visual History
Firstly, an unrelated note here. I know I have neglected this blog for a long time, and I really do regret it. I will try harder from now on. Oh, and my main blog is here, so you might want to take a look.
My last post in my main blog was about iGoogle (Google’s customizable page). I use the tea house theme for my own iGoogle, which I think is wonderful because it changes all the time. I love foxes and the illustration of this particular fox is amazingly cute. Plus it changes during the day. You can see the different illustrations of the upper bar during the different times of the day in the post on my main blog. You might have noticed the spirits there at 03:14 who eat the oranges which are offerings, they are some kind of a Yōkai which are a class of preternatural creatures in Japanese folklore ranging from the evil oni (ogre) to the mischievous kitsune (fox) or snow woman Yuki-onna.
Here are some Yōkai images that were illustrated during the Edo period. They are ukiyo-e prints, which are Japanese woodblock prints or paintings.
Below is a Kappa, which is a type of water sprite found in Japanese folklore.
Below, there are images of Tengu (天狗 ? , “heavenly dogs”) which are a class of supernatural creatures found in Japanese folklore, art, theater, and literature. They are one of the best known yōkai (monster-spirits) and are sometimes worshipped as Shinto kami (revered spirits or gods). Although they take their name from a dog-like Chinese demon (Tiangou), the tengu were originally thought to take the forms of birds of prey, and they are traditionally depicted with both human and avian characteristics. They appear in the children’s story Banner in the sky when the main character trips over one and falls off the face of the mountain. The earliest tengu were pictured with beaks, but this feature has often been humanized as an unnaturally long nose, which today is practically the tengu’s defining characteristic in the popular imagination.
Buddhism long held that the tengu were disruptive demons and harbingers of war. Their image gradually softened, however, into one of protective, if still dangerous, spirits of the mountains and forests. Tengu are associated with the ascetic practice known as Shugendō, and they are usually depicted in the distinctive garb of its followers, the yamabushi.
To add some more differentiation to Yokai, there are also my favorite types, the Kitsune and the Yuki-onna:
Kitsune, 狐, きつね is the Japanese word for fox. Foxes are a common subject of Japanese folklore kitsune usually refers to them in this context. Stories depict them as intelligent beings and as possessing magical abilities that increase with their age and wisdom. Foremost among these is the ability to assume human form. While some folktales speak of kitsune employing this ability to trick others—as foxes in folklore often do—other stories portray them as faithful guardians, friends, lovers, and wives.
Foxes and human beings lived in close proximity in ancient Japan this companionship gave rise to legends about the creatures. Kitsune have become closely associated with Inari, a Shinto kami or spirit, and serve as his messengers. This role has reinforced the fox’s supernatural significance. The more tails a kitsune has—they may have as many as nine—the older, wiser, and more powerful it is. Because of their potential power and influence, some people make offerings to them as to a deity.
Yuki Onna (雪女, snow woman) is a spirit or yōkai in Japanese folklore. She is a popular figure in Japanese animation, manga, and literature.
Yuki-onna appears on snowy nights as a tall, beautiful woman with long hair. Her inhumanly pale or even transparent skin makes her blend into the snowy landscape (as famously described in Lafcadio Hearn‘s Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things). She sometimes wears a white kimono, but other legends describe her as nude, with only her face and hair standing out against the snow. Despite her inhuman beauty, her eyes can strike terror into mortals. She floats across the snow, leaving no footprints (in fact, some tales say she has no feet, a feature of many Japanese ghosts), and she can transform into a cloud of mist or snow if threatened.
Some legends say the Yuki-onna, being associated with winter and snowstorms, is the spirit of someone who perished in the snow. She is at the same time beautiful and serene, yet ruthless in killing unsuspecting mortals. Until the 18th century, she was almost uniformly portrayed as evil. Today, however, stories often color her as more human, emphasizing her ghost-like nature and ephemeral beauty.
In many stories, Yuki-onna appears to travelers trapped in snowstorms, and uses her icy breath to leave them as frost-coated corpses. Other legends say she leads them astray so they simply die of exposure. Other times, she manifests holding a child. When a well-intentioned soul takes the “child” from her, they are frozen in place. Parents searching for lost children are particularly susceptible to this tactic. Other legends make Yuki-onna much more aggressive. In these stories, she often invades homes, blowing in the door with a gust of wind to kill residents in their sleep (Some legends require her to be invited inside first.)
What Yuki-onna is after varies from tale to tale. Sometimes she is simply satisfied to see a victim die. Other times, she is more vampiric, draining her victims’ blood or “life force.” She occasionally takes on a succubus-like manner, preying on weak-willed men to drain or freeze them through sex or a kiss.
Like the snow and winter weather she represents, Yuki-onna has a softer side. She sometimes lets would-be victims go for various reasons. In one popular Yuki-onna legend, for example, she sets a young boy free because of his beauty and age. She makes him promise never to speak of her, but later in life, he tells the story to his wife who reveals herself to be the snow woman. She reviles him for breaking his promise, but spares him again, this time out of concern for their children (but if he dares mistreat their children, she will return with no mercy. Luckily for him, he is a loving father). In a similar legend, Yuki-onna melts away once her husband discovers her true nature.
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