Black dog (ghost)

Sidney Paget's illustration of The Hound of the Baskervilles. The story was inspired by a legend of ghostly black dogs in Dartmoor.

A black dog is the name given to an entity found primarily in the folklore of the British Isles. The black dog is essentially a nocturnal apparition, often said to be associated with the Devil or a hellhound. Its appearance was regarded as a portent of death. It is generally supposed to be larger than a normal dog, and often has large, glowing eyes.[1] It is often associated with electrical storms (such as Black Shuck's appearance at Bungay, Suffolk),[2] and also with crossroads, places of execution and ancient pathways.[1][3][4]

The origins of the black dog are difficult to discern. It is impossible to ascertain whether the creature originated in the Celtic or Germanic elements in British culture. Throughout European mythology, dogs have been associated with death. Examples of this are the Cŵn Annwn,[5] Garmr[6] and Cerberus,[7] all of whom were in some way guardians of the underworld. This association seems to be due to the scavenging habits of dogs.[8] It is possible that the black dog is a survival of these beliefs. Black dogs are almost universally regarded as malevolent, and a few (such as the Barghest) are said to be directly harmful. Some, however, like the Gurt Dog in Somerset and the Black Dog of the Hanging Hills in Connecticut, are said to behave benevolently.

By locale

Some of the better-known black dogs are the Barghest of Yorkshire and Black Shuck of East Anglia. Various other forms are recorded in folklore in Britain and elsewhere. Other names are Hairy Jack,[9] Skriker, Padfoot,[9] Churchyard Beast, Shug Monkey, Cu Sith, Galleytrot, Capelthwaite, Mauthe Doog, Hateful Thing, Swooning Shadow, Bogey Beast (Lancashire), Gytrash, Gurt Dog, Oude Rode Ogen, Tibicena (Canary Islands) and Dip (Catalonia). Although a Grim is not a barghest, a Church or Fairy Grim can also take the form of a big black dog.[10]


Title page of the account of Rev. Abraham Fleming's account of the appearance of the ghostly black dog "Black Shuck" at the church of Bungay, Suffolk in 1577

Black dogs have been reported from almost all the counties of England, the exceptions being Middlesex and Rutland.[11]

Devon's Yeth Hound

The yeth hound, also called the yell hound, is a black dog found in Devon folklore. According to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the yeth hound is a headless dog, said to be the spirit of an unbaptised child, which rambles through the woods at night making wailing noises. The yeth hound is also mentioned in The Denham Tracts. It may have been one inspiration for the ghost dog in The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, described as "an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen" - with fire in his eyes and breath (Hausman 1997:47).[24]


The Cù Sìth (Scottish Gaelic pronunciation: kuː ʃiː) is an enormous, otherworldly hound, said to haunt the Scottish Highlands. Roughly the size of a cow or large calf, the Cù Sìth was feared as a harbinger of death and would appear to bear away the soul of a person to the afterlife (similar to the manner of the Grim Reaper). Supernatural dogs in the legends are usually completely black, or white with red ears. The Cù Sìth's coloration is therefore highly unusual because of its light green colour, although it may be derived from the green colour often worn by Celtic fairies.

Channel Islands and Isle of Man

"For he was speechless, ghastly, wan
Like him of whom the Story ran
Who spoke the spectre hound in Man."



Mainland Europe

Oude Rode Ogen ("Old Red Eyes") or the "Beast of Flanders" was a spirit reported in Flanders, Belgium in the 18th century who would take the form of a large black dog with fiery red eyes. In Wallonia, the southern region of Belgium, folktales mentioned the Tchén al tchinne ("Chained Hound" in Walloon language), a hellish dog bound with a long chain, that was thought to roam in the fields at night.[33] In Germany and the Czech lands it was said that the devil would appear in the form of a large black dog.[34][35]

The earliest known report of a black dog was in France in AD 856, when one materialised in a church even though the doors were shut. The church grew dark as it padded up and down the aisle, as if looking for someone. The dog then vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.[36]

Latin America

Black dogs with fiery eyes are reported throughout Latin America from Mexico to Argentina under a variety of names including the Perro Negro (Spanish for black dog), Nahual (Mexico), Huay Chivo and Huay Pek (Mexico) - alternatively spelled Uay/Way/Waay Chivo/Pek, Cadejo (Central America), the dog Familiar (Argentina) and the Lobizon (Paraguay and Argentina). They are usually said to be either incarnations of the Devil or a shape-changing sorcerer.[37]

United States

The legend of a small black dog has persisted in Meriden, Connecticut since the 19th century. The dog is said to haunt the Hanging Hills: a series of rock ridges and gorges that serve as a popular recreation area. The first non-local account came from W. H. C. Pychon in The Connecticut Quarterly, in which it 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.”[38]

In popular culture

The legend has been referenced many times in popular culture. One of the most famous ghostly black dogs in fiction appears in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, where a large dog-like creature haunts a family estate. Sherlock Holmes is brought in to determine if the dog is in fact real or supernatural. This story makes use of folktales where black dogs symbolize death.

See also


  1. 1 2 Simpson & Roud 2000, 2003, p.25.
  2. Westwood & Simpson 2005, pp.687-688.
  3. Stone, Alby Infernal Watchdogs, Soul Hunters and Corpse Eaters in Trubshaw 2005, pp.36-37.
  4. McEwan 1986, p.147.
  5. 1 2 Stone, Alby Infernal Watchdogs, Soul Hunters and Corpse Eaters in Trubshaw 2005, p.53.
  6. Stone, Alby Infernal Watchdogs, Soul Hunters and Corpse Eaters in Trubshaw 2005, pp.44-45.
  7. Stone, Alby Infernal Watchdogs, Soul Hunters and Corpse Eaters in Trubshaw 2005, p.38.
  8. Stone, Alby Infernal Watchdogs, Soul Hunters and Corpse Eaters in Trubshaw 2005, pp.54-55.
  9. 1 2 3 Bord & Bord 1980, 1981, p.78.
  10. Briggs, 1976.
  11. Trubshaw 2005, p. 2.
  12. Barber & Barber 1988, 1990, p.3.
  13. "The Dark Huntsman". 2007-10-28. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  14. Fields 1998, p. 37.
  15. Simpson & Roud 2000, 2003, p. 366.
  16. Crosby 2000, pp. 14, 19, 26, 165.
  17. Feldwick 2006, 2007, pp89-90
  18. Codd, Daniel. Haunted Lincolnshire. Tempus Publishing Ltd (2006) pp. 75-78. ISBN 0-7524-3817-4
  19. Clark 2007, pp. 86–87.
  20. Matthews 2004, p. 35–36.
  21. Janaway 2005, p.10.
  22. Stewart 1990, pp. 49–50.
  23. The Tollesbury Midwife
  24. Brewer. Hausemen & Hausemen 1997.
  25. Evans-Wentz 1966, 1990, p. 129.
  26. de Garis, Marie (1986) Folklore of Guernsey, The Guernsey Press, ASIN B0000EE6P8
  27. Bord & Bord 1980, 1981, p. 95.
  28. Jersey Maritime Museum for references to the folklore of the Black Dog
  29. Gantz 1976, pp. 46–47.
  30. Pugh 1990, pp. 19, 67
  31. Deane & Shaw 2003, p. 82.
  32. Deane & Shaw 2003, p. 44; also Semmens, Jason. ‘“Whyler Pystry”: A Breviate of the Life and Folklore-Collecting Practices of William Henry Paynter (1901–1976) of Callington, Cornwall.” Folklore 116, No. 1 (2005) pp. 75–94.
  33. Warsage, Rodolphe de Sorcellerie et Cultes Populaires en Wallonie, Noir Dessein, 1998.
  34. Varner, Gary R. Creatures in the mist: little people, wild men and spirit beings around the world : a study in comparative mythology in Algora Publishing 2007, pp. 114–115.
  35. Stejskal, Martin (1991). Labyrintem tajemna, aneb Průvodce po magických místech Československa (1st ed.). Prague: Paseka. p. 36. ISBN 80-85192-08-X.
  36. McNab, Chris "Mythical Monsters: The scariest creatures from legends, books, and movies" in Scholastic Publishing 2006, pp. 8-9.
  37. Burchell 2007, pp. 1, 24.
  38. The Connecticut Quarterly


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