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Originally, the mtythical Tengu were depicted as bird-like beings, but over time came to take on more human-like form, yet retaining wings and crow-like heads,
with red faces and long noses.

Described as 'forest goblins' by some, the Tengu are the guardians the mountainous regions, and highly skilled in the martial arts.

They are said to be possessed of supernatural powers including shape-shifting, the ability to move instantly from place to place,
to speak without moving their mouths, and the power to appear uninvited in peoples dreams.

Tengu are also said to have mastery over rain and wind and to be responsible for mysterious lights seen in the mountains

Not only are they said to be skilled warriors, but the Tengu are also mischief makers, and are especially prone to playing tricks on vainglorious and arrogant monks and priests.

Likewise they take it on themselves to punish those who willfully misuse knowledge and authority to gain fame or further their position. The have a great dislike for braggarts, and for those who would corrupt the Dharma (law), and are regarded as guardians of Buddhist shrines and temples.

Yamabushi and Shugendokurama yama yamabushi shugendo shugenja
Over the centuries, the Tengu became closely associated with the Yamabushi or Shugenja (followers of the path of Shugendo).

These ascetic mountain priests
are part of an ancient tradition involving the practice of strict and rigourous mystical disciplines often referred to collectively as shugyo.

The original meaning of the kanji for shu was something like 'sweeping away the dust that obscures a persons primal elegance', however the kanji-pair shu-gyo is commonly now translated as "austere training"- and the term Shugendo, this is generally translated something along the lines of: 'the way of cultivating psychic and spiritual powers'

Shugendo's origins lie in the Nara Period, and can be traced to the legendary En no gyoja ('En, the ascetic' - Gyoja is a general term for an ascetic mountain-dwelling monk) who lived near Kyoto in the late 7th Century.

Retreating deep into the mountainous regions, these practitioners - a great many of them devotees of Fudo Myo-o, undergo harsh training, and through the practice of rituals, fasting, abstaining for drinking water, sutra recitation, meditation, and sitting in misogi (spiritual purification under waterfalls), and the practice of sammitsu (involving use of incantation and mudra-like techniques), seek mystical states and the development of powers including exorcism and healing.

It has often been said that the Tengu would instruct these priests in sacred rites and magical knowledge. In legend, the distinction between Yamabushi / Shugenja and the Tengu often becomes blurred. It is said that
shape-shifting Tengu often take on the form of these mountain priests, and in turn, the ascetic priests often take on the guise of Tengu to deter the uninitiated from interrupting their seclusion.

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