Mythical Monday: Black Dogs

Black cats have always gotten a bad rap, but I’d rather have a black cat cross my path than encounter one of the infamous nocturnal black dogs of folklore (and for the record, I love black cats!). Larger than an average canine, the black dog of legend is usually a portent of doom or death and will often appear to a lone traveler. For this reason, those walking the roads at night would frequently buddy-up with a companion, hoping to stave off its appearance. Even then, the dog might be visible to only one of the two, ascertaining those meant to see the hound could not escape it.

Many cultures believe in a creature or object that is said to be an omen of death. I remember finding a black feather as a child then running home terrified, sobbing to my mother, when someone told me it was a sign of death. She did what mothers do – – calmed my fears, hugged me, and told me I would be fine. Moms don’t lie, but I remember lying awake that night, listening to every creak and groan of the house waiting for something to happen. When dawn arrived, I decided I was safe. Superstitions are always more frightening when examined in the dark, especially through the eyes of a child.

But the legend of the Black Dog was passed from county to county and continent to continent by adults. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle even had his master detective, Sherlock Holmes tangle with “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (my favorite Holmes story).

And then there is Black Dog Tor, a large standing stone said to conceal the spirit of a spectral hound. In all cases, these dogs are utterly silent which makes their eerie appearance all the more spine-tingling. Imagine crossing a grassy knoll silvered by moonlight and watching a bulky apparition with glowing eyes crest the rise.

Black Dogs were also seen at crossroads, footpaths, gallows, gravesites and bridges. Sometimes associated with storms, they were given differing names depending on location and who was telling the tale – – grims, hellhounds, Padfoot, Hairy Jack, the yeth hound, Gurt, and Black Shuck to name a few.

So the next time you venture out when eventide has flowed into moon-drenched night, remember the myths and legends that prompted travelers to seek out a companion in the hopes of avoiding a Black Dog. 

At the very least, I suggest taking a deliriously happy canine friend with you. There’s  nothing like a floppy-eared black lab to make a Grim realize he got a raw deal and ditch the moody stuff. 😀

20 thoughts on “Mythical Monday: Black Dogs

  1. Gives me chills just thinking about it! Your post reminds me of The Mothman Prophesies. I watched that movie years ago and still can’t get it out of my head. That’s what I think about every time I see a moth on the window this time of year. Silly, but true. Love your new Mythical Monday posts, by the way. 🙂

    • OMG, I was just talking about The Mothman to some family members hubby and I hooked up with for our beach weekend. How weird is that?

      Glad you’re enjoying the Mythical Monday posts. I really like doing them!

  2. I grew up next to a cemetery and all the old folklore kept me awake many nights. I whistled in the dark.

    • *shiver* I love visiting old cemeteries – – but never in the dark. I can imagine the folklore that must have circulated around that, Barbara. And to have one so close…WOW! I bet your have a lot of great stories to spin.

    • Thanks, Eric. I’m the same way. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved reading stories about things that go bump-in-the-night. I’m glad you’re enjoying my Mythical Monday posts. I’ve really liked adding that feature.

    • Now THAT got me curious, Stanalie. I never knew what my Chinese Zodiac animal was, so I decided to look it up. Turns out I was born in the Year of the Tiger. And, although I love dogs (and had several growing up), I am a dyed-in-the-wool cat person. WOW. I wonder if there’s something to that, LOL!

      So glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  3. Great post. Mae Clair. Love the research. I’m a big fan of Laurell K. Hamilton, and this post reminds me of the Great Hunt in her Merry Gentry series. Spooky, powerful, and something you definitely don’t want to find chasing you down in the middle of the night.

  4. I love dogs, so this post intrigued me. Interestingly enough, at the shelter where I adopt my dogs, I was told that a lot of people don’t like to adopt black dogs because “you can’t see their expression”. Hmmmm. Wonderful post, I love folklore!!

    • Thanks so much for dropping by and commenting, Dahlia! How wonderful that you adopt your dogs from a shelter (I did the same with my cats). I’ve heard that black dogs (and black cats) are often passed over when people look to adopt a pet. My last cat (Onyx) was black. When I looked to adopt from a shelter, I specifically went looking for a black short hair.

      So glad you enjoy folklore. I love it! 🙂

  5. Scary stuff Mae! I’m going to have to keep an eye on my black Great Dane now. He often creeps up at me at night 🙂

  6. Great post Mae Clair!

    Reminded me of the stories my Irish great grandmother used to tell to frighten us from going outdoors after dark. Even though it was the early 80s, she was old fashioned, over 80 herself, and refused to allow a toilet installed in the old house. We refused to go out to the outhouse after dark and dealt with the humiliation of the chamber pot, LOL.

    • Wow, what a great story, Kenra! I bet it was rough dealing with the chamber pot but, like you, I’d take that over going outside in the dark when someone just told me spooky Irish folktales, LOL! Thanks for commenting!

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