Harbinger of Doom or Benevolent Protector?
The nefarious Black Dogs are considered spectral or demonic entities which, in most cases, are portents of death. They are most likely to be found on the British Isles, although I was able to find bits and pieces of information about them for Mainland Europe, Latin America and the United States.
Some believe them to be associated with the devil and they are sometimes described as a ghost or a hellhound, larger than a dog and often with large glowing eyes.
A black dog is said to haunt Ivelet Bridge near Swaledale, Yorkshire. The dog is allegedly headless, and leaps over the side of the bridge and into the water and 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.
Then there are the Gabriel Hounds, dogs with human heads that fly high through the air and are often heard but seldom seen. They sometimes hover over a house, and this is taken as a sign that death or misfortune will befall those who dwell within. Popular conceptions of the Gabriel Hounds may have been partially based on migrating flocks of wild geese when they fly at night with loud honking. In other traditions their leader, Gabriel, is condemned to follow his hounds at night for the sin of having hunted on Sunday and their yelping cry is regarded as a death omen. They are also sometimes said to be the souls of unbaptized children wandering through the air until the day of judgment.
The Black dog is said to haunt the Hanging Hills of Connecticut and is described as a death omen. It is said that, “If you meet the Black Dog once, it shall be for joy; if twice, it shall be for sorrow; and the third time shall bring death.”
“Black Shuck” seemed to be the most widely known Black Dog. “Shuck the Dog-fiend” was first mentioned in print by Reverend E.S. Taylor in 1850, “This phantom I have heard many persons in East Norfolk, and even Cambridgeshire, describe as having seen as a black shaggy dog, with fiery eyes and of immense size, and who visits churchyards at midnight.”
One of the most notable reports of Black Shuck is of his appearance at the church in Blythburgh in Suffolk on 4 August 1577. Black Shuck is said to have burst in through the doors of Holy Trinity Church to a clap of thunder. He ran up the nave, past a large congregation, killing a man and boy and causing the church steeple to collapse through the roof. As the dog left, he left scorch marks on the north door which can be seen at the church to this day.
In 2014 archeologists discovered the skeleton of a 7 foot long dog in the remains of Leiston Abbey in Suffolk and some are claiming that they are the remains of Black Shuck. There have been movies made about him and, in fact, another Black Shuck horror movie is being released in October 2018.
Although the Black Dog is generally considered a death omen, there are stories where they are simply protectors of the weak and innocent.
The Gurt Dog of Somerset is an example of a benevolent dog. It is said that mothers would allow their children to play unsupervised on the Quantock Hills because they believed the Gurt Dog would protect them. It would also accompany lone travelers in the area, acting as a protector and guide.
Guardian Black Dogs refer to those relatively rare black dogs that are neither omens of death nor causes of it. Instead they guide lost travelers and protect them from danger. Stories of this type became more widespread starting around the early 1900s.
In different versions of one popular tale a man was journeying along a lonely forest road at night when a large black dog appeared at his side and remained there until the man left the forest. On his return journey through the wood the dog reappeared and did the same as before. Years later two convicted prisoners told the chaplain that they would have robbed and murdered the wayfarer in the forest that night but were intimidated by the presence of the black dog
And last, but not least, Hairy Jack, said to haunt the fields and village lanes around Hemswell. Ethel Rudkin, who claimed to have seen Hairy Jack herself circa 1938, formed the impression that black dogs in Lincolnshire were mainly of a gentle nature, and looked upon as a spiritual protector. Hairy Jack was also said to haunt lonely plantations, byways, and waste places where it attacked anyone passing by (which doesn’t sound all that gentle to me).
I am currently in the process of putting together the third novel of my series. I hadn’t planned on using the Black Dog as the supernatural foe in that book, but there are so many intriguing stories about them that I may do a little more research and see if I can’t fit one into my storyline. After all, if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could make it work in The Hounds of the Baskervilles, then so can I.
In the meantime, I’ll leave it to you to make up your own mind. Is the Black Dog a shape-shifting sorcerer, a death omen, the devil incarnate or a just gentle creature, looking only to protect and guide us?
Thanks for joining me.