Hello Lady Scribes!
I’m Sidney Bristol, you might have seen me around here a time or two before.
Lately I’ve been all over the place celebrating the release of the second book in my So Inked series. These books are about a bunch of female tattoo artists, how they fall in love and sometimes even save the day.
You probably don’t know this, but I’m something of a tattoo nut. I have a bunch, and I’m a sucker for big, brightly colored pieces. So of course I’d write books about tattoo artists!
Since not all artists are the same, and many focus on different schools of tattooing, I thought it was important that the So Inked cast represent the different popular divisions. The heroine of The Harder He Falls is a half Korean second generation artist who specializes in Asian tattoos and artwork. The most popular form we see today are the images borrowed from Japanese culture. While a lot of them are easily identifiable, like the stylized dragon, koi fish, samurai or phoenix, there are traditional tattoo elements which aren’t as popular in America.
When I was digging through Japanese tattoo history I stumbled on this strange little creature called a baku. It baffled me.
Just picture this with me. The body of an ox, an elephant's trunk and head, tusks, the legs of a tiger and the tail of an ox, covered in yellow fur.
Pretty strange, isn’t it?
The baku seems to have come to Japan via China, and while the two cultures have a similar view on the animal, there are a few differences. The baku is known as a nightmare or dream devouring creature. Considering the early Japanese belief about the power of dreams, the baku could be a welcomed or feared creature.
The story goes that a child could wake up from a nightmare, hug their pillow and whisper, “Baku-san, come eat my dream. Baku-san, come eat my dream. Baku-san, come eat my dream.” Sort of like caling Beetlejuice three times! The catch here is what kind of baku are you getting? A baku could come into the child’s room and suck the bad dream away, which helped them sleep and guarded against evil spirits taking up residence in the child. But a starving baku could not only eat the nightmare, but all of the child’s dreams, hopes and ambitions could be sucked away, leaving an empty husk.
Through history, the baku has become a talisman against evil spirits. Families would hang pictures of the baku above their bed to protect their sleep. At one time it was popular to buy baku shaped pillows!
Besides being a guardian of dreams, the different components that make up the baku, elephant, ox, tiger, etc, all have symbolic meanings. The tiger legs and paws, for example, guard against pestilence and evil.
As it turns out, the baku is one of the traditional creatures that has translated to modern times pretty well in Japan. It’s often depicted in modern day as a shy, friendly creature, and is even featured in many anime cartoons.
In tattooing, the baku has generally taken on a more fierce depiction. There’s no arguing that it’s odd coloring and formation make it a unique tattooing piece. Since it’s not often tattooed outside of Japan, the baku is usually included in large, body suit tattoos characteristic of the Japanese tattoo culture.
The baku is one of the strangest mythological creatures I’ve run across. What odd creatures have you found reading or researching?
It can never be said that Sidney Bristol has had a ‘normal’ life. She is a recovering roller derby queen, former missionary, and tattoo addict. She grew up in a motor-home on the US highways (with an occasional jaunt into Canada and Mexico), traveling the rodeo circuit with her parents. Sidney has lived abroad in both Russia and Thailand, working with children and teenagers. She now lives in Texas where she splits her time between a job she loves, writing, reading and belly dancing.