A black dog is the name given to a being found primarily in the folklores of the British Isle, often said to be associated with the Devil or a Hellhound. Its appearance was regarded as a portent of death. It is generally supposed to be larger than a normal dog, and often has large, glowing eyes. It is often associated with electrical storms (such as Black Shuck’s appearance at Bungay, Suffolk), and also with crossroads, places of execution and ancient pathways. Throughout European mythology, dogs have been associated with death. Examples of this are the Garmr and Cerberus, who were in some way guardians of the underworld.
Where They’re Found
Black dogs are almost universally regarded as malevolent, and a few (such as the Barghest) are said to be directly harmful. Some, however, like the Gurt Dog in Somerset and the Black Dog of the Hanging Hills in Connecticut, are said to behave benevolently. Black Dogs have been reported from almost all the counties of England, the exceptions being Middlesex and Rutland. They’ve also been seen in Scotland, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, and several North and South American Countries.
In appearance the phantoms vary from region to region, but it is not uncommon for them to be described as calf sized, with saucer eyes and a shaggy coat. Phantom dogs are not always black however, the one that is supposed to haunt the area around Cawthorpe and Haugham in Lincolnshire, is described as white, but still has saucer eyes and is as big as calf. The Cu Sith, the traditional fairy dog of Scotland is dark green in colour, with a shaggy tail up its back. Black dogs are more often than not associated with a specific location such as an old trackway or lane, this is sometimes reflected in the name of the routeway, although not every ‘Black Dog Lane’ has a tradition of the haunting.
Black dogs are also seen as guardians of treasure, especially in Scotland. A black dog was said to guard treasure buried under a standing stone near Murthley in Perthshire, here we have an account of a black dog at an ancient site and as a guardian of treasure. Another belief is that there are ghostly black dogs, the size of large retrievers, about the fields at night, that these dogs are generally near gates and stiles, and are of such a forbidding aspect that no one dare venture to pass them, and that it means death to shout at them.
Different Names for the Dog
Bogey Beast (Lancashire)
Bargheust (Yorkshire and the North)
Black Shuck (East Anglia)
Capelthwaite (Westmorland, Cumbria)
Cu Sith (Highlands, Dark Green)
Guytrash Gurt Dog (Somerset)
Hairy Jack (Lincolnshire)
Mauthe Doog (Scotland)
Old Shock, Black Shuck (Suffolk)
Skriker (Lancashire, Yorkshire)
Huay Chivo and Huay Pek (Mexico)
Uay/Way/Waay Chivo/Pek, Cadejo (Central America)
Lobizon (Paraguay and Argentina)
- In Thornton, near Bradford, Jim Craven Well was the haunt of the ghost of ‘Peggy wi’t Lantern’ and ‘Bloody Tongue’, a great dog with red eyes and a huge tail. The well is now gone. Meon Hill has both a phantom black dog and a ghostly pack of white hounds. The death of George Walton in very curious circumstances on 14th February 1945 was accompanied by a black dog being hung in a nearby tree. Walton had seen a black dog on nine occasions – the last time it changed into a headless black woman. His sister died shortly after. Although strongly contested, Walton’s death has many overtones of the ritual sacrifice of a ‘cunning man’. During the Second World War at Brook House, Snitterfield (which used to be the Bell Brook Inn) a big black dog was seen. It ran over the tilled earth of the garden without leaving footprints.
- Very old people of Warwick used to say that the castle was haunted by a black dog. The tale has the hallmarks of a time-encrusted tall story. The local version claims it all started when an old retainer there, a woman called Moll Bloxham, sold milk and butter from the castle stores for her personal gain. One Christmas she overdid this, and the then Earl of Warwick, getting wind of it, stopped her source of supply. Furiously angry, she vowed she would ‘get them haunted’. She apparently succeeded and returned in the form of a big black dog. In due course the clergy were called in to exorcise the ghost with bell, book and candle, but for a time they were entirely unsuccessful. Then one day, so it was said, a huge black dog sprang from Caesar’s Tower into the river below, and so ended the ghost story. At Alveston, Charles Walton, a ploughboy, met a phantom black dog on his way home on nine successive evenings. On the final occasion a headless lady in a silk gown rushed past him, and the following day he heard of his sister’s death.
- 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 the prison for witchcraft, but was killed and eaten by starving prisoners before he was given a trial. 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. A black dog is said to haunt Ivelet Bridge near Ivelet in Swaledale, Yorkshire. The dog is allegedly headless, and leaps over the side of the bridge and into the water, although it can be heard barking at night. It is considered a death omen, and reports claim that anybody who has seen it died within a year. The last sighting was around a hundred years ago.
- 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.
- The Cù Sìth (Scottish Gaelic pronunciation: kuː ʃiː) is an enormous, otherworldly hound, said to haunt the Scottish Highlands. Roughly the size of a cow or large calf, the Cù Sìth was feared as a harbinger of death and would appear to bear away the soul of a person to the afterlife (similar to the manner of the Grim Reaper). Supernatural dogs in the legends are usually completely black, or white with red ears. The Cù Sìth’s coloration is therefore highly unusual because of its light green color, although it may be derived from the green color often worn by Celtic fairies.
What to Do
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 including 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.