Black Dogs

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Area(s) Reported: Europe: Ireland, Scotland, England, & France, North America: United States
Date(s) Reported: Timeless

The creature known as a “Black Dog” is a semi-spectral canine that has appeared ― and continues to appear ― in England, Ireland, Scotland and, occasionally, the United States. Such a beast is usually described as a large dog with glowing red eyes, and fur that can be seen at night because it’s blacker than the darkness itself. Black Dogs look solid, but may be as insubstantial as smoke; and they appear from nowhere and vanish just as suddenly.

Tales of Black Dogs go far back into the folklore of the British Isles. The odd animals are often associated with lonely stretches of road, crossroads, churches, and places people have been executed. In older folklore, Black Dogs were variously explained as the ghosts of murdered or executed people, harbingers of death, or an earthly manifestation of the Devil... but these are the opinions and guesses of the distant past.

An example of this is a tale that claims in the year 1552, Cardinal Crescentius of London was busy writing a letter one night when a huge Black Dog with flaming eyes appeared in his room and ran under the table he was sitting at. The Cardinal called servents to remove the strange dog, but they could find no trace of the animal in the room; and that’s when the Cardinal became sick. Confined to bed, the Cardinal continued to feverishly insist the phantom dog was climbing onto him, right up to his death a short time later.

However, there are reasons to believe that the author of the story above of Crescentius’ death, who printed it in 1670, invented the Black Dog story. In the 1670 book, the author was clearly trying to make a number of former priests look bad. So, by claiming Crescentius was hounded by a Black Dog, the story implied to readers that something evil came to take the Cardinal, and that therefore he was also evil... when in fact, he probably just got sick and died.

Old Legends of the Black Dog

Arguably the most famous Black Dog encounter was reported in a pamphlet written by many of those who witnessed the strange event.

Bungay Church

On Sunday, August 4, 1577, a church in Bungay (in Suffolk county, England) was suddenly surrounded by a thunderstorm partway through a service. In the flashes of lightning, a Black Dog appeared and ran through the church among the congregation. It passed between two people who were kneeling down to pray, and they both died instantly. It gripped a man with its jaws, which shriveled up part of his body... but he survived. The dog then vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.

This reported aggressiveness of the Bungay Black Dog is actually very unusual; in most stories, the Black Dogs don’t attack unless provoked... and it is never a good idea to provoke them.

An old story is told of a milkman living near Aylesbury, England, who was accustomed to taking a shortcut through a gap in a hedge to go feed his cows each morn and night; but one night he found it blocked by a large Black Dog. No fool, he took a different route. Over time, though, as he continued to encounter the same beast at the same place night after night, he plucked up his courage. So one night when he had a companion with him, the milkman challenged the snarling Black Dog and then struck at the creature as hard as he could with a staff he had with him... and the Black Dog vanished. But that was not all: for the milkman fell senseless to the ground, much to the horror of his companion. Carried home, the milkman remained speechless and paralytic for the remainder of his life.

Modern Encounters with the Black Dog

Renewed interest in Black Dogs since 1938 has led to many reports of first hand encounters with these beasts being recorded. Luckily, modern accounts of Black Dogs include no stories of people being harmed by these spectral hounds.

In the village of Willoughton, England, there was a road near a fishpond that had a reputation of being haunted by a Black Dog. A woman who lived in this village told a researcher that one night while she was walking alone on the fishpond road, she became aware of a large Black Dog following her. She was more annoyed than worried, and purposely walked slow to let the animal catch up to her. When it got close, she struck at it with her umbrella... only to have the umbrella pass straight through the Black Dog’s body, without bothering it. The phantom dog continued on next to her until the end of the lane, where it vanished near a tree.

Schoolmistress' Black Dog

In 1936, a schoolmistress from Manton, England, told how nearly every day on her way to and from school on her bike she was accompanied by a Black Dog. She never saw the creature come or go; she just somehow became aware of it running on the grass next to her bicycle during a certain stretch of road. Inquiries confirmed that no one nearby owned a dog matching the animal... so it was indeed the Black Dog of the area.

Another Englishwoman told of how her mother, one day, became aware that she was being followed by a strange dark dog while walking home from shopping in Scunthorpe, England. As she passed some laborers, she overheard them talking about bad things they wanted to do to her, except that they were afraid of her big dog escort. When she got home, she called her husband to see the wonderful animal... but it had vanished completely, much to her surprise.

So, as you can see, modern reports of Black Dogs shows a spectral animal that is not interested in harming people. Keep that in mind if you’re visiting the British Isles; if you find an unknown black canine walking with you, just keep your hands off, be respectful, and let the Black Dog go its own way.

See also: The Devil & his Demons
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  • "Spectre-Dogs," chapter in English Fairy and Other Folk Tales, by Edwin Sidney Hartland, 1890. Online: Click here!
  • “The Black Dog,” by Ethel Rudkin, in Folklore v.49, #2, 1938, London, England. Pgs. 111-131.
  • “The Black Dog of Bungay Legend - A brief history,” by Christopher Reeve, article under the Bungay: Historic Suffolk Market Town website, 2010. Online: Click here!
  • A Straunge and Terrible Wunder: wrought very late in the parish church of Bongay, by Abraham Fleming, 1577, reprinted in 1820 by J. Compton, London, England. Online: Click here!
  • Unexplained!, by Jerome Clark, 1993 Visible Ink Press, Detroit, MI, USA. ISBN: 0-8103-9436-7. Pgs. 38-41.
  • Unexplained Phenomena: A Rough Guide Special, by Bob Rickard and John Michell, 2000 Rough Guides, Ltd., 62-70 Shorts Gardens, London, England. ISBN: 1-85828-589-5. Pgs. 286-288.

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