Post by Graveyardbride on Oct 27, 2013 18:18:03 GMT -5
Phantom Black Dogs
A phantom black dog is a supernatural creature found primarily, though not exclusively, in British folklore. The black dog is generally reported at night and usually said to be larger than a normal dog, often having shaggy fur and large glowing eyes. Most counties of Britain have their own variant of the black dog. There is “Black Shuck” of East Anglia, “Trash” or “Shriker” in Lancashire, the “Gurt Dog” of Somerset, “Yeth” (Heath) or “Wisht Hounds” of Devon, “Manuthe Doog of the Isles of Man, and “Padfoot,” “Bogey Beast” and “Barghest” of Yorkshire. Some of these black dogs, Shuck for example, can assume forms other than that of a black dog and are thus more akin to shape-shifting demons than traditional black dogs.
The black dog may act as a portent of death or represent the spirit of a dead person. A gallows site in Tring, Hertfordshire, was said to be haunted by a huge black dog, believed locally to be the apparition of an executed criminal called Thomas Colley. This frightening creature was apparently seen by the village schoolmaster, who said it was as big as a Newfoundland, with long ears and flaming eyes. Colley, a chimney sweep, was arrested for his part in the killing of an old woman, who was drowned for witchcraft at Tring in April 1751. He was later hanged and gibbeted near the place of the crime. Black dogs also guarded treasure, such as the one at Dobb Park Lodge in Lancashire. However, it was not until the late 19th century that the black dog began to be interpreted primarily as a ghost. Previously, it was the diabolic characteristics of these spectral creatures that were emphasized. Indeed, in several accounts of English witch trials from the 16th to 18th centuries, the Devil is described as appearing in the form of a black dog. One notable characteristic of the black dog is its association with specific locations, for example, ancient trackways, as the abundance of roads called “Black Dog Lane” testify. These phantom creatures are also associated with churchyards, streams, pools, wells, bridges, parish boundaries and ancient barrows (burial mounds).
Perhaps the best known of Britain’s ghostly black dogs is Black Shuck of the eastern counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. Also known as “Old Shuck,” this creature’s name perhaps originates from the Old English scucca, a demon. Shuck can appear as a black shaggy dog the size of a horse with glowing red eyes like saucers, though he can also be headless, or, on occasion, invisible. Black Shuck’s star appearance came between 9 and 10 on the morning of August 4, 1577, when he is said to have entered St. Mary’s Church in Bungay, Suffolk, during a violent storm. Shuck was illuminated by flashes of fire as he ran through the church causing mayhem among the worshipers, two of whom, were killed instantly and a third was severely injured. Shortly after this appearance, Black Shuck entered Holy Trinity Church in Blythburgh seven miles away. The fearful creature struck three people dead, burned the hand of another and left long black scratch or scorch marks on the north church door as it departed. These marks are still visible today.
These bizarre incidents were first reported in a tract published in 1577 by Abraham Fleming entitled, “A straunge and terrible Wunder wrought very late in the Parish Church of Bongay ....” The fame of Bungay and Black Shuck began with this pamphlet, which described the “appearance of an horrible shaped thing” in the church during “a great tempest of violent raine, lighting, and thunder, the like whereof hath been seldome scene.” However, the Church warden's Books for 1577 make no mention of an appearance of any supernatural creature, merely noting in the margin (as quoted by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson in The Lore of the Land (2005) “a great terrible and ferfull tempest at the tyme of procession vupon the Sondaye, such darknes, Rayne, hayle, thunder and lightnying as was never seen the lyke.”
Similarly, an account of the great storm in the area published in Ralph Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1577) makes no reference to a black dog. What seems to have happened is that Abraham Fleming, the author of the pamphlet, being a Puritan minister, was using the incident of the black dog to graphically illustrate a divine punishment for the sins of the congregation. In an age when particularly violent storms were interpreted by some as the Devil's divine punishment for sin, the influence of this pamphlet was considerable.
The story of Black Shuck’s appearance at Bungay and Blythburgh is not unique during this time. A pamphlet written by Lord Hutton published in 1612, was entitled The Discovery of a London Monster Called, the Black Dog of Newgate. This work related the horrific tale of staving prisoners at Newgate Gaol in London, who were so desperate they killed other prisoners for food. One of the men they murdered was a sorcerer and following his death, a huge black dog appeared and haunted the area of Newgate Prison. Another pamphlet, The Wonders of this Windie Winter, published in 1613, tells how one Sunday during a tempest at Great Chart in Kent, a creature resembling a bull rampaged through the church leaving dead and injured in its wake before it vanished, demolishing part of the church wall as it went. Although some researchers have theorized such appearances of strange creatures during storms may have been caused by the little-understood phenomenon known as ball lighting, it is more likely, as Jennifer Westwood notes in Albion: A Guide to Legendary Britain (1986), that “we [are] dealing with a good tale going the rounds,” rather than any actual events.
The United States also has its fair share of phantom black dogs. US Route 97, a north-south highway in the western United States, is supposed to be haunted by two black dogs on the stretch of road between Madras and Sunriver, Oregon. An apparition of a black dog with glowing eyes is rumored to haunt Sweet Hollow Road in Huntington, Long Island, New York, and is said to be a harbinger of death for anyone who sees it. This large canine walks on its hind legs and is sometimes known as The Black Dog of Misery, perhaps because of a link with nearby Mount Misery. Another black dog that acted as a death portent is described by Grace Partridge Smith in her article “Folklore from Egypt,” published in The Journal of American Folklore (January-June 1941). The informant in this case was Dorothy Pemberton of the city of Eldorado, Illinois. Pemberton reported a certain family had a tradition that a black dog would come and scratch at their door when someone was about to die. On one occasion, the family heard scratching and whining coming from the kitchen door and opened the window to take a look. Outside the back door, they saw an enormous black dog and sure enough, a short time later, their grandmother died.
A rather unusual black dog haunts the West Peak of Hanging Hills, a range of mountainous ridges overlooking the city of Meriden, Connecticut. Rather than a large ferocious beast, the black dog of Hanging Hills is a small, silent black creature, which makes no sound even when it appears to bark or howl and leaves no footprints in snow or soil. Despite its innocent appearance, this is another black beast that acts as a death omen, for according to local tradition, to see the supernatural dog once is good luck, twice results in misfortune, but a third time signifies death. The best known report of the black dog of Hanging Hills was published by New York geologist W. H. C. Pynchon in the Connecticut Quarterly (April-June 1898). In this account, Pynchon says he and fellow geologist Herbert Marshall of the U.S. Geological Survey were conducting research in the Hanging Hills in February of 1891 when they encountered the dog. Both had seen the dog before, Pynchon once and Marshall twice, and as they climbed, Marshall slipped on the ice on atop the cliffs and plunged to his death. He had seen the dog for a third time and his death was assured. Reports of the Hanging Hills black dog continue to circulate and the deaths of climbers in the area are often attributed to their having seen the fateful dog for a third time.
Latin American folklore also has its phantom black dogs. The Perro Negro (Spanish for “black dog”) of Latin America, like its British counterpart, is known by a wide variety of names in different parts of the region. Examples include the Perro Negro of Mexico, Huay Chivo (Mexico), Cadejo (Central America) and Familiar and Lobison in Argentina. In Latin America, black dogs with fiery eyes are usually demonic in nature and regarded as either an incarnation of the Devil or a shape-shifting sorcerer.
One of the most frequently cited parallels for phantom black dogs are the pack of spectral hounds that accompany the Wild Hunt. However, the black dogs discussed herein are almost always solitary, unlike those of the Wild Hunt. Undoubtedly a number of the reported sightings of phantom black dogs can be explained as flesh and blood animals wandering about at night, but not all fit this description. The black dog motif certainly fits in well with other supernatural creatures in terms of the places where it is encountered, that is, liminal spots such as roads, hedges, fences, streams and bridges. It was at such places that the veil between this world and the next was believed to be at its thinnest and consequently, where one would expect to encounter otherworldly creatures such as the phantom black dog.
In its role as a portent of death, the black dog also has parallels with other supernatural creatures such as the “fetch,” or “double,” and the headless horseman. The dog’s association with death in European mythology should also be kept in mind. Examples include the Cwn Annwn (“hounds of Annwn”) – the spectral hounds of Annwn, the otherworld of Welsh myth; Garm, the Hound of Hel, a watchdog chained to the gates of Under-Earth, the Norse realm of the dead; and Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hades in Greek mythology. Perhaps the dog’s role in myth as guardian of the Underworld has left a faint trace in more modern folklore, wherein the creature patrols certain roads and lanes acting as a sort of guardian spirit. Black dog lore also has parallels with the fairy dogs of British and Irish folklore. The Cu Sith, the enormous fairy dog of Scotland, was reportedly the size of a cow or large calf, though as befits a fairy hound, it was dark green in color with shaggy fur.
The black dog is a powerful archetype and its true origins and meaning are difficult to discern, though its appearance in ghost lore is undoubtedly a result of a complex mixture of folklore, myth, outright fiction and perhaps even genuine sightings of unknown animals.
Source: Lore of the Ghost: The Origins of the Most Famous Ghost Stories Throughout the World by Brian Haughton.