DOG. — It seems that nature has given the dog to man for his defense and for his pleasure. Of all the animals it is the most faithful: it is the best friend man can have. - Voltaire
Often you will hear people say that their dogs are the best judge of character. If my dog doesn’t like you, then there is something wrong with you. They can seemingly pick up on negative energy and body language easily. Some even suggest that dogs are able to sense and/or see those entities that are hidden to us, like spirits, ghosts, and demons. Dogs are often chosen to be protectors, guards, and friends for humans.
We have heard mentioned on our show a few times, stories of black dogs being present at supernatural events. It’s difficult to find a starting point of the origin of black dog folklore, as tales reach back to the Garmr of Norse folklore, associated with the goddess Hel and Ragnorok. And even Greek mythology has Cerberus, often referred to as the hound of Hades, a multi-headed dog that guards the gates of the Underworld to prevent the dead from leaving. We are going to focus on the black dog as a motif of a spectral or demonic entity found primarily in the folklore of the British Isles. The black dog is essentially a nocturnal apparition, in some cases a shapeshifter, and is often said to be associated with the Devil or described as a ghost or supernatural hellhound. If you go to the Wikipedia page for the black dog(ghost) you will find a plethora of tales detailing the presence of black dogs around events both good and bad.
But I don’t want to talk about all the “goodest puppers” who deserve all the nose boops and 14 out of 10 on We Rate Dogs. I am going to tell you about the truly bad dogs. Those canine beasts who seem to be the harbingers of death and destruction.
First up, Shuck
Otherwise known as Black Shuck, Old Shuck, Old Shock is the name given to an East Anglian ghostly black dog which is said to roam the coastline and countryside of East Anglia. The first mention in print of "Black Shuck" is by Reverend E.S. Taylor in an 1850 edition of the journal Notes and Queries which describes "Shuck the Dog-fiend"; "This phantom I have heard many persons in East Norfolk, and even Cambridgeshire, describes as having seen as a black shaggy dog, with fiery eyes, and of immense size, and who visits churchyards at midnight."]
Descriptions of Black Shuck vary in both shape and size, from that of a large dog to being the size of a calf or horse. W. A. Dutt, in his 1901 Highways & Byways in East Anglia describes the creature thus:
“He takes the form of a huge black dog, and prowls along dark lanes and lonesome field footpaths, where, although his howling makes the hearer's blood run cold, his footfalls make no sound. You may know him at once, should you see him, by his fiery eye; he has but one, and that, like the Cyclops', is in the middle of his head. But such an encounter might bring you the worst of luck: it is even said that to meet him is to be warned that your death will occur before the end of the year. So you will do well to shut your eyes if you hear him howling; shut them even if you are uncertain whether it is the dog fiend or the voice of the wind you hear. Should you never set eyes on our Norfolk Snarleyow you may perhaps doubt his existence, and, like other learned folks, tell us that his story is nothing but the old Scandinavian myth of the black hound of Odin, brought to us by the Vikings who long ago settled down on the Norfolk coast. “
One of the most notable reports of Black Shuck is of his appearance at the churches of Bungay and Blythburgh in Suffolk. On 4 August 1577, at Blythburgh, Black Shuck is said to have burst in through the doors of Holy Trinity Church to a clap of thunder. He ran up the nave, past a large congregation, killing a man and boy and causing the church steeple to collapse through the roof. As the dog left, he left scorch marks on the north door which can be seen at the church to this day.
Another type of black ghost dog is called the barghest.
The Barghest is one of the black dogs that is also considered to be a shapeshifter. Able to transform into headless men dressed in black, black rabbits, and fire humanlike figures. But, the barghest is most often a large, shaggy dog, with green or red eyes seeming to be aflame amongst their pitch-black fur. And despite its large size and huge claws, it can run at top speeds while its paws never make a sound upon the ground. And don’t bother with walls or doors. They are no use against the barghest.
They have a terrifying howl and if you are unlucky enough to see one, be assured that death is soon to follow. The barghest and other such black dog ghosts are often associated and seen in conjunction with violent electrical storms, crossroads, places of execution, and ancient pathways.
Below are more examples from the Yorkshire area and around England where the barghest is seen in all its many forms and meanings:
On Dartmoor, the notorious squire Cabell was said to have been a huntsman who sold his soul to the Devil. When he died in 1677, black hounds are said to have appeared around his burial chamber. The ghostly huntsman is said to ride with black dogs; this tale inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to write his well-known story The Hound of the Baskervilles.
In Tring, Hertfordshire, a fierce-looking black hound with red eyes is said to haunt the middle of the road in the area where the gallows once stood. Locally it is known as Lean Dog and is the spirit of a chimney sweep executed for murder. When approached, the lean dog sinks into the ground.
A black dog has been said to haunt the Newgate Prison for over 400 years, appearing before executions. According to legend, in 1596, a scholar was sent to prison for witchcraft but was killed and eaten by starving prisoners before he was given a trial. (#endcashbail) The dog was said to appear soon after, and although the terrified men killed their guards and escaped, the beast is said to have haunted them wherever they fled.
Black Dogs are often associated with crossroads, ancient trackways, and places of execution especially as a gallows or gibbet was often placed at a crossroads. Such places are the haunt of the Black Dog. The assumed habitat of the Black Dog is its natural home of a road, by a stream or river, a place of passage from one place, one realm, to another. At these junctures, they are often encountered. Black Dogs also haunt prehistoric burial sites, and hollowed or burnt-out trees, and sometimes are actually associated with a family or particular person (Brown, 1958). Their habitat can include isolated burials and old sites of battles. As portents of death Black Dogs have been sighted in churchyards where they are called Kirk or Church Grims. In this guise, these creatures frequent liminal places such as “…ancient lanes, trackways, crossroads, old churchyards, and prehistoric sites.” (Parkinson, 2011).
In parts of Europe and Scotland, some people believe if a strange black dog follows you home, it’s good luck for you. But if a dog follows you on a rainy day, or crosses your path, it’s bad luck. It’s also thought among some that if a black dog appears in your car, an accident is portended (if a strange black dog appeared in your car, wouldn’t you wonder how it got there?) Heaven forbid that a running dog cross between a dating couple. They’ll have a quarrel! Evidently, black dogs are good for friendships, however, because having one appear at your front door means you will meet with an old friend, and if the dog comes inside, an old friend is coming to your house. In India, it’s thought that if you have a black pet dog, it’ll protect you and your family from bad souls. Because the Indian death god vehicle itself is driven by black dogs, they have certain “superpowers,” a belief that’s actually held in many cultures, including Native Americans. Black dogs have a supernatural instinct that’s greater than any other color of the dog, and this allows them to see evil spirits, detect an evil soul, and sense upcoming death and disasters.
Black dogs have been commonly associated with depression, grief, loss, loneliness, and death. However, just like in the tarot, drawing the death card doesn’t mean physical death – just what death represents, which is change. Dreaming of a black dog is a sign that you are going through a deep transformation, and are ready to face the darker sides of yourself so that you can keep growing. This might mean having uncomfortable conversations with people, leaving unhealthy relationships, quitting a job, or taking responsibility for your own energetic health.
There is little in the way of what to do if one sees a black dog, as generally nothing really can be done. By the time you’ve seen one, it’s supposedly already too late. Ways of warding off Black Dogs are also vague and nondescript. In Christian countries, simply wearing a cross or the picture of a saint is enough to keep the dog at bay. Other superstitions include carrying a coffin nail, sprinkling fresh water on the ground behind you as you walk, or having a pair of scissors (preferably iron) on your person. Also, avoid crossroads, moving bodies of water (like rivers and streams), and stay away from woods or long stretches of field.
Hellhounds and Helpful Ghost Dogs: Conflicting Perceptions of “Man’s Best Friend” Encoded in Supernatural Narrative by Kiersten Carr, Utah State University