Mythical Monday: The Church Grim by Mae Clair

I’ve long been familiar with Grims and the Black Hounds rumored to haunt the countryside and moors of England. One of my earliest Mythical Monday posts was about Black Dogs. Recently, however, while researching an unrelated subject, I stumbled over a reference to Church Grims and was immediately enthralled.

A large black hound, the Church Grim has a specific charge. It is the folk memory of a sacrifice.

I don’t know about you, but I had chills the first time I read that sentence. Sacrifice? Folk memory?

Let me explain.

It was once believed the first burial in a cemetery was tasked with the duty of protecting the dead. Under obligation, the guardian was responsible for keeping departed souls safe from the Devil and his night-spawned demons. For this purpose, a dog was often sacrificed or buried alive within the foundation of a new church, thus allowing human souls (who followed) to move on to the afterlife.  The folk memory of that sacrifice became a spirit bound to the church and its cemetery.

bigstock-Spooky-Old-Cemetery-On-A-Foggy-40839520The dog (or grim) was often seen on stormy nights, prowling among the headstones. If someone within the parish was about to die, the grim would cause the church bells to ring, signaling death was near. During funerals the creature rang the bells to signal a soul’s departure.

Despite the ruthless manner of its death, the Church Grim was a loyal guardian, protecting all within its domain.

What intrigues me about this legend more than anything is the idea that a “folk memory” can give birth to a spirit. Think of the story potential! Whether benevolent or malignant, I fell in love with the concept. It’s definitely going on my “to write” list.

What do you think?

20 thoughts on “Mythical Monday: The Church Grim by Mae Clair

  1. I think an excellent idea for a book! And the poor doggy, sheesh, buried alive? We look back at what cultures did in the past and we think “How gruesome” or “How archaic” – many of them to me don’t even make logical sense. But then, it made sense to them, and I suppose the more you understand their culture, the more you can believe in why they performed such rituals. Hmmm…maybe I should have been an anthropologist.

    • Hi, Cd. Some of the stuff is mind-boggling, isn’t it? It makes you wonder how we will appear to our descendants centuries in the future. Can you imagine being an anthropologist centuries from now and digging around in early 21st century pop culture? Scary indeed, LOL!

  2. A large black hound sounds terrifying to me (I’m thinking of the vicious hellhounds from Supernatural), but this Church Grim is quite the opposite. Still, there is something haunting and eerie about a guardian dog ringing a bell for the departed.

    • Exactly the feeling I took away from this bit of myth, Emma. Sometimes these legends doesn’t resonate with me, other times they can be frightening. I found this one haunting and sad. Much better that way then the vicious hellhouds of Supernatural!

    • I glad you enjoy the posts, Daisy. 🙂 And I am definitely going to weave that bit of superstition into a story at some point. It resonates with me for some reason. Thanks for stopping! 🙂

    • Thanks, Jessi. I love visiting old cemeteries. There is so much history to be found and there’s usually a profound restfulness that hangs in the air. I fell in love with the picture I used in today’s post. That twisted tree just adds to the solemnity and sense of history!

    • Sacrifice usually freaks me out too, L.J.

      I thought this legend really says a lot about a dog being “man’s best friend” considering how the poor thing met its demise, yet became a willing protector of its church and those who departed. I don’t think a cat would be as forgiving, LOL.

  3. Fascinating… since it doesn’t seem that at any other time were dogs seen as having souls… but they would have to, wouldn’t they, if they were a sacrifice to protect humans. But with dogs in the church foundation and cats in the walls…. I think our ancestors were very disturbed individuals.

    • LOL! I’ve got to agree with you on that, Lorraine. Our ancestors definitely had a unique way of looking at things, strange to say the least. I hadn’t thought about the concept of dogs with souls.. Interesting point!

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