I happened across this delightful little tidbit on Beachcombing’s Bizarre History blog, a wonderful site for anyone with an eye toward the odd in history. In this article, Beachcombing seems genuinely puzzled by the lack of “fairies” in English counties with a surfeit of phantom black dog sightings and vice versa. While I acknowledge that Beachcombing is quite the master of folklore, he seems to approach his studies from an academic viewpoint and so fails to regard the beings he is studying as real, with their own personalities, despite having read Trubshaw’s excellent book on Phantom Black Dog’s (PBD’s).
So, some discussion . . . first of all, Beachcombing has lumped PBD’s in with Alien Big Cats (ABC’s) which I view as a critical error. The PBD has a long and colorful history throughout the British Isles and extending into the Americas. The PBD is definitely a creature of the Otherside and many of the stories about it indicate that it is a spectral entity often associated with death.
ABC’s, on the other hand, appear to be flesh and blood creatures to most witnesses and, when mis-identification has been ruled out, many of the creatures, in the British Isles at least, may be explained by the English ban on keeping wild cats which resulted in the release of a number of big cats into wilderness areas. While ABC’s have certainly been associated with Otherside phenomenon such as UFO’s and it is absolutely possible that a small percentage may be creatures of that realm, ABC’s share almost no features in common with the PBD and certainly do not qualify as “cousins”.
On to the idea that PBD’s and faery do not inhabit the same areas. Honestly, this is simply bunk, folklore or not, since the Fae go where they please and inhabit whatever places take their fancy. They are an ancient and powerful people and, while it is true that faery beings tend to like less populated areas, if you look hard enough with the right sort of eye you can find them even in the heart of enormous cities. They are very low key there and harder to locate but they are there. So, if the horrible humans with their factory stench and steel do not scare them off, I doubt that the presence of a PBD in the area would effect their choice of accommodations in the least.
By the same token, I doubt seriously that the PBD has anything at all against the Faery. In fact, I suspect that the PBD might be a variety of Cu Sidhe, faery dog, since it is well known that the King of Anwwn (hope I spelled that right – the faery king of the underworld/land of the dead) was often accompanied by enormous hounds. Now, in the Mabinogian, those hounds are described as white with red ears but we know that Faerie is nothing if not a realm of shape changers. We also know, from the folklore, that certain types of faery, such as the Beansidhe (banshee) are intimately connected with death, and there is a strong strain of folklore that associates the Faery with the dead and, in fact, even confuses the two. The ancestors were often viewed as living under the hills with the Faery once they had passed over.
Again, from the tradition, the Faery seem to group themselves into realms and have a more or less feudal society. This means, of course, that certain Faery will “hold” certain areas. It may simply be that there is a dearth of faery lore in certain areas seemingly inhabited by PBD’s because that is the PBD’s demesne. PBD’s seem to be solitary creatures so they may not suffer a lot of other faery in their “turf” or, because the PBD seems to enjoy the more barren stretches of land, it may simply be that there is a lower population of faery folk in those areas. Exceptions, of course, would be places like Cornwall and Devon which seem to be real bastions for the Faery (who are suffering from habitat erosion like many other wild things). PBD’s would naturally be a part of such supernatural fauna and while they seem scary, with their association with death, they most often seem to simply be harbingers. In my mind, that simply seems to say that the PBD witness needs to look hard at his or her lifestyle choices and see what changes might be made (as well as getting a quick and very thorough physical to rule out any immediate threats to life).
The peoples of the Celtic lands, up until the beginning of the 20th century, had a very good idea how to associate with their “neighbors” and, while there were tales of the Unseelie who hated and sought to injure or kill humans, there were also stories of humans and Faery who worked together for the benefit of both. For those interested in such work, I strongly encourage the reading of the work of RJ Stewart and Orion Foxwood on working with Faery. If you find yourself really interested, there are opportunities to work with these two mages directly as well.
Once you have spent some time in Faerie, you realize that, while it can be a dangerous place, and some of its denizens can appear with fierce and frightening visages, the Faery are not out to get us. On the contrary, many of these beings would be happy to work in harmony with humans if we would only allow it. I am not encouraging anyone to go out and seek a PBD (some Faery are best left alone) but, despite the focus of this blog on the Intruders, I do like to point out at times that much of what we find frightening about the Otherside is simply due to our perception and not necessarily the bad intentions of the denizens of those realms.