The previous article dealt with the fairy dogs of the West Highlands and the stories of the fear that they seem
to have engendered. However
there are some stories of fairy dogs being befriended by humans and returning
the favour. These dogs would have been held in such awe because they were part
of the organized realm of the fairy, which unwary humans got involved in at
their peril. However, in the stories the stress placed on the fact that they
barked three times suggest that they were associated with omens and
prognostications. In the West Highlands
second sight was and is
particularly strong and often is concerned with foreseeing death, so there may
well be a connection here.
is one particular type of dog that had a very close connection with death and
this is the spectral Black Dog, best known through Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Black dogs
were almost always seen as a dangerous omen and sometimes as instruments of
divine justice stalking a guilty person until justice was done. Black dogs were particularly
connected with England as reflected in the large number of ‘Black Dog Lanes’ in
villages and towns up and down the country, but there are many variations and
different names for these dogs in different parts of the British Isles.
appearance, Black Dogs are described as usually shaggy and as big as a calf,
with huge fiery eyes, but they make no sound. In the north the black dog is
also known as Capelthwaite, Padfoot or Shag, and there is a black dog called
The Black Angus, who is said to haunt the moors of Scotland and northern
England, appearing to those destined to die in a short time.
Anglia also has a black dog called Shuck,
which may derive from the Saxon for devil (succa). Black Shuck or Old Chuck has either a single eye
set in the centre of his head or has glowing red eyes, but he has even been
described as headless, yet having glowing eyes set in front of him.
One of the most famous of these dogs was The Black Dog of
Peel Castle on the Isle of Man, the ‘Mauthe
Doog’. Though Black Dogs were dangerous and ominous as they could ‘blast’
anyone who spoke to or struck them, nevertheless the Black Dog of Peel Castle
apparently gave a friendly warning of disasters at sea.
The Black Dog
is particularly associated with two Scottish families one for the good, the
other for ill. Ean Mac Endroe of Loch Ewe and his and descendants were granted
protection from the power of the Black Dog by a fairy whom he saved about the
time of Culloden (1746). On the other hand, any member of the Clan MacLartin
was doomed to death on a dunghill if he were to see a Black Dog. The story goes
that Jamie MacLartin was the last of the MacLartins to encounter a Black Dog
and was subsequently killed by English Dragoons and throw on a dunghill in the
earlier Jacobite rebellion of 1715.
Grim is another kind of dog found in England - also considered a death
warning. There was a widespread tradition that church yards were guarded from the
devil and from witches by a spirit in the form of a Black Dog. One story tells
that the Yorkshire Church Grim can be seen about the church in dark stormy weather
by day and night. It sometimes tolls the bells at midnight before a death and at
a funeral that the clergyman would see it looking out from the tower and would be
able to judge from the dog’s appearance whether the corpse was bound for heaven
or hell. There was certainly a belief that the first man buried in a churchyard
had to guard it against the devil, but to save a human from this task a Black
Dog was buried in the north part of the churchyard as a substitute. This is similar to the belief held in Scotland,
that is was the duty of the last buried corpse to guard the graveyard till the
By Claire Cartmell
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