7 December 2020 – Black Dogs in Folklore

By | December 7, 2020

The session:

Started the topic of the black dog in Folklore, these occur all over Britain and Continental Europe.   Some just have sightings and some have stories added.

1/.  Black Dogs as Portents of Death and Disaster

We looked at many examples including Formby Merseyside, Bunbury Cheshire, Portland Dorset, Norfolk, Ely and more.

The common themes for these were sightings at bridges, crossroads, graveyards etc. which were places associated with being the boundaries between the world and the afterworld, places of transition which feature heavily in Celtic Myths.  In Greek Myths Cerberus is a hound which guards the gates of hell to stop the dead from getting out.    Mythology bleeding into folklore.

The black dogs all have a similar appearance, they are large, shaggy, black and have big eyes.  They are portents of death or disaster.  Many people believed ordinary dogs could predict death.

2/. Black Dogs with Mischievous/ Scary/ Malign Intentions

Examples were from Beetham in the old Westmorland, Manchester Old Church, Peel Castle, IOM and more. Not all the examples were from quiet places, some were in the centre of cities.

These dogs are not portents of misfortune but are scary, may make physical attacks and there is a need to keep a distance from them.  They have more in common with the supernatural bogey which appears in many forms.  They may let the horses out, are mischievous, cause you to go off the path.  They may have no links to the first group of black dogs.

3/.   Black Dogs linked to the Devil

We looked at a case from Bungay, Suffolk of an attack by the Devil in the form of a black dog in 1577.   A this can be found on the internet by looking for ‘A Straunge and Terrible Wunder’ by Abraham Fleming.  It manifested itself inside the church during a terrific thunderstorm, killing two people, injuring others and causing strange damage.  On the same day there was also an incident in Blythburgh and the claw marks remain on the church door there.  Here is a link to online article with photograph of the Blythburgh church door:- https://www.eadt.co.uk/news/weird-suffolk-black-shuck-folklore-1-6503598

This could be an explanation/interpretation of ball lightning from the severe storm.

Next time we shall look at Black Dogs being examples of supernatural creatures such as bogles and as harmless or guardians.

References:-   Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson ‘The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England’s Legends, from Spring-heeled Jack to the Witches of Warboys’.