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?

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. 😀