Phantom black dogs are sometimes considered to be benevolent, however the most common belief is that they hold a more sinister aspect. The black dog omen, be it benevolent or malevolent, depends upon where and when the dog appears. These esoteric creatures are known to frequent crossroads and places where an execution/murder has taken place. It is said that you are most likely to encounter one of these dogs if you are out in the night during an electric storm.
Black Dogs In Association With The Devil: In Germany as in Scandinavian lands, the witches in the Highlands, believed the black dog to be Satan, Himself. In most parts of the British Isles, the black dog is seen as the Devil’s familiar. Since witches were believed to be in league with the Devil, it is possible that in distant past, people believed that witches shapeshifted into the Devil’s form, a black dog or rode upon black dogs to travel to the Witches’ Sabbat.
Omens of Death: In Welsh mythology, Annwn are the spectra hounds of the Otherworld. Hearing the hounds on the mountain of Cadair Idris (a mountain near the town of Dolgellau) foretold your death. According to Welsh folklore, these hounds sound loudest at a distance, becoming quieter as they draw nearer. In East Anglia, the black dog’s name is Black Shuck. He has only one eye, placed in the middle of his head. He haunts dark lanes and deserted field footpaths. Black Shuck’s paws are silent as they walk the ground, you know he’s around by the sound of his howl. Legend states that if you encounter him, you will die within the year, but if you shut your eyes before he appears, you will cheat death’s grip, avoiding your demise. According to the legends of the Maldon and Dengie area in Essex, your death will occur immeditatly if you encounter this creature, there is no saving yourself by closing your eyes.
As Psychopomps: Spectral black dogs can also be guides to the realm of the dead. Their role isn’t to cause death but rather to escort souls of the newly dead, to the afterlife. A well known example of this, would be the Egyptian god Anubis. Anubis attends the weighing of the heart which determines weather or not a soul is allowed to enter the realm of the dead.
The Guardians of the Underworld: Black dogs are known to be the guardians at the entrances of the Underworld or land of the dead. An example taken from Greek mythology, would be the three headed watchdog of Hades, Cerberus. His job is to prevent the dead from leaving Hades. Hellhounds, are another form of black dog. They are not only the guardians of the realm of the dead , they also hunt down lost souls and guide them to their destination.
Protectors: Some myths and legends put black dogs as protectors, supernatural guardians. There are several stories of lost travelers or those walking through the country side who find that they have a mysterious black dog following them, watching over. In some cases protecting the person from those who would mean them harm.
Ghostly black dogs and black dog symbolism, myth and folklore go back centuries. Like most other black animals, the black dog is linked with Satan and in my opinion such an association should be seen as honorable. To know more on the black dog in folklore, I highly recommend reading “Black Dog Folklore” by Mark Norman”
Copyright Kindra Ravenmoon.