Horse Face and Ox Head

Besides the judges and those being judged, hell is populated by a large number of ghoulish bureaucrats, namely demons and beadles leading the guilty to their sites of punishment and carrying out their tortures. Horse Face and Ox Head, the former here pictured in the upper right dragging along two people who had conducted an illicit relationship in life, are two creatures depicted over and over again in the hell scrolls. As one verse from "The journey to the West" describes the transgressors in their afterlife journey (here translated by Anthony C. Yu):

"Each is firmly bound and tightly tied,
Shackled by both ropes and cords.
The slightest move brings on the Red-hair demons,
The Black-face demons,
With long spears and sharp swords;
The Bull-head demons
The Horse-face demons
With iron spikes and bronze gavels,
They strike till faces contort and blood flows down;
But the cries to Earth and Heaven find no response.
So it is that man should not betray his own conscience,
For gods are knowing; whom will they overlook?
Vice and virtue will get their due in the end -
A matter of payment early or late."

Echoing the many bits of texts scattered throughout these scrolls, this verse highlights the mechanical nature of karmic retribution. If there is a common theme to this particular scroll - and we should not automatically assume there is one - it may be that of breaking fiduciary relationships, whether to friend, spouse, parent, ruler or superior of any type.

S21 Oxhead
Horse Face and Ox Head extracting tongues and intestines in another hell scroll (S21).

Horse Face as depicted at Fengdu, the City of Ghosts.

Horse Face (on back of the bridge) as depicted at Fengdu, the City of Ghosts.

Ox Head as depicted at Fengdu, the City of Ghosts.

Ox Head as depicted at the Dazu Rock Carvings.

Honoring horse and ox kings
A woodblock religious print honoring the horse and ox kings. (While not directly related to Horse Face and Ox Head as hell guards, the horse and ox became anthropomorphized in other religious ways.)