Wednesday Weirdness: Black Dogs of Folklore

pathway between large, gnarled trees with words "on the path of Wednesday Weirdness" superimposed over image

For today’s Wednesday Weirdness, I’m referencing a creature that appears in End of Day, book two of my Hode’s Hill series. Long before writing that tale, I was intrigued by legends of the nocturnal black dogs of folklore. Larger than an average canine, such creatures are a portent of doom or death and will usually appear to a lone traveler. In times past, those who walked the roads at night would buddy-up with a companion, hoping to stave off the dog’s appearance. Even then, the animal might only be visible to one of the two, assuring the person meant to see the hound could not escape their destiny.

dark, foggy forest with path through centerMany 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 country to country 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).

Large standing stone in a field of browned grassAnd 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.

It makes you realize black cats weren’t the only critters to get a bad rap!

61 thoughts on “Wednesday Weirdness: Black Dogs of Folklore

  1. I love a good black dog story. I’m surprised I’ve never attempted one. They have so much potential, more in the increasing tension and slow burn of a bad omen in my mind. Once we get to rending of flesh, we have to ramp it up from there. I like the ominous and tense.

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  2. I used hellhounds in my old urban fantasy novels as the Goddess Diana’s hunting hounds. Fun. I loved the story of you finding a black feather when you were young. I’d have been so excited! I have a fondness for grackles and crows. But it had to be awful waiting for Death when you were only a child. Glad the fear passed the next morning:) Really enjoyed this post.

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    • I can so see black hounds in an urban fantasy, especially as you described.
      I do love crows and grackles now, but back when I was a kid that black feather traumatized me. I can still remember being terrified through the night, waiting for something dreadful to happen!

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  3. I am not superstitious Mae, I’ve told this to my skeptical mind many times to reassure myself but “superstitions are always more frightening when examined in the dark” is so true! Also, if they are associated with some potential risk with a loved one, they grow larger than life. Isn’t our mind weird? 🙂

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    • I totally agree, Balroop. When darkness is wrapped around us, it’s so easy to give wing to our imaginations, I am superstitious about some things, but spectral dogs and church grims I can leave in the land of folklore and fiction!

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  4. Sorry I’m late to the party, Mae, but you KNOW how much I love the legend(s) of the Black Dog. After all, Ol’ Shuck, as they call him in Appalachia, is the focal point of my 3rd Wake-Robin Ridge book, Harbinger. Folks in our eastern mountains brought the tales with them from across the pond, and like the settlers that carried them, those legends took root in that fertile soil and developed quite well. I know for sure I wouldn’t want to run into a huge black dog with glowing red eyes anywhere, much less on a lonely road or in the dark woods! Very scary! BTW, I wasn’t familiar with the Black Dog Tor. Another standing stone I’d love to see one day.

    I’m glad it’s bright and sunny outside. Maybe I can work up my nerve to go get a haircut today. But if I see ANY black dogs in the vicinity of the salon, I’m driving straight back home! 😀 Thanks for another great post! Sharing! 🙂 ❤

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    • Marcia, I thought of you, Harbinger, and Ol’ Shuck when I wrote this post. You know how fascinated I am by folklore and legends. I love that you weave elements of those into many of your novels. I’m also intrigued by how legends of the “old country” were brought over and ingrained with new twists in America.

      Enjoy your day. With the sun out, I think Ol’ Shuck will keep his distance 🙂

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  5. I love the black dog legend! I’ve twisted the legend somewhat in my own WIP and have a black wolf, but his first entrance into the story is pretty much a homage to the black dog of traditional folklore. Helps that I’m a dog fan anyway!

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    • Ahh, what a great description–a marshmallow. I love it! My sister and her husband had a black lab and she fit that description, too. Our first dog, when I was a kid, was a beautiful black mix of collie and German Shepard. She was a doll! 🙂

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