The Bones of a Hellhound?

I ran across this wonderful story in a web search the other day and just had to share. I am almost as fascinated by the Black Dog phenomenon as I am by shape shifters.

Now, first of all, let me say that I imagine that had the discovery of this dog’s bones occurred anywhere else in the British Isles, the archeologists would have shrugged, cataloged the find and gone on. Since the find occurred in proximity to the churches at Blythburgh and Bungay, however, the legend of Black Shuck almost had to raise its head. This is the sort of find that sends debunkers and so-called skeptics into paroxysms of delight since now they can point to a “real” cause for the “overwrought” stories of that day in 1577.

For those of you unfamiliar with giant breeds, yes, a dog that stands seven feet tall on its hind legs and weighs somewhere in the vicinity of 196 pounds is quite large. However, I have been the proud keeper of an Irish Wolfhound that was almost that big so I do not find anything at all unusual about this reported find. It is well known that the peoples of Europe were known for breeding large hounds for hunting and we see this in their modern ancestors – the Irish Wolfhound, the Scottish Deerhound, the Great Dane and the Russian Wolfhound, to name a few. This does not even take into account large breeds, like the Newfoundland, bred for other purposes.

So, the discovery of a large dog skeleton anywhere in Europe is not an exceptional find except that it happened to occur within a few miles of one of the most famous Black Dog incidents of all time. I will leave it to the reader to check out the text box summary of the story in the highlighted article. Briefly, a large ‘hellhound’ is supposed to have burst into two separate churches during a raging storm and to have killed some of the parishioners in each of the churches before disappearing back into the storm. Of course, the discovery of a large dog skeleton in a monastery not too far from where this occurred would go a long way toward ‘explaining’ this tragic occurrence.

I think not. If a hunter, a person who has been hunting since they were small and has an intimate familiarity with the local flora and fauna, is walking in the woods and reports seeing a bear then everyone assumes that there must have been a bear in the woods. If, however, that same individual claims that they saw a Sasquatch, they are mistaken, deluded, lying or all of the above. In the same manner, historians are perfectly willing to accept stories from medieval peasants about their daily lives, agriculture, local flora and fauna, etc. but, as soon as the topic strays to something which is ‘impossible’ in the modern paradigm, then the tellers of the story suddenly become superstitious people who can not tell the difference between a tale they heard next to the winter’s fires and real life.

For myself, I am inclined to believe the peasant, the individual who has lived off the land for his or her entire life and knows that land and the creatures on it. It is doubtful that the local nobility were praying in the church during that storm. Rather, it would have been the people of the village, most or all of whom derived their living from the land. Something terrible happened in those churches back in 1577 and, while the writers of the time may have exaggerated, if it had simply been a large dog that ran through those churches, perhaps driven frantic by the storm, then that is the basic story that we would have gotten.

You will note, too, that the clergyman who describes the ‘hellhound’ states explicitly that the creature killed two parishioners by wringing their necks. When have you ever seen a dog do that? Dogs and wolves kill by immobilizing their prey, often by hamstringing it, and then either opening the intestinal cavity or grabbing by the throat and shaking to either break the neck or cause exsanguination. Wringing a neck is what a farmer might do to a chicken that was going to serve as dinner. We also have the interesting detail that, when the dog exited one of the churches, it left behind scorched claw marks on the door which are supposed to be evident to this day.

I think that the people of Blythburgh and Bungay might have had the misfortune of encountering a real and dangerous paranormal phenomenon. I don’t know what, exactly, it was but there are any number of legendary creatures that might fit the bill ranging from the hounds that accompanied the Wild Hunt to the Cu Sith of Faery lore which were known to travel with the lord of Annwn. Note that both these creatures are associated with death – the Wild Hunt was said to collect the souls of the dead who had passed during that year and Annwn is the Celtic Underworld, the place to which the dead repair once they leave this mortal coil. Churchmen and monastics of the time were also known to study magic when no one was looking; it is quite possible that someone in the area summoned something that they should not have and it got loose.

Whatever the case, people died and the Phantom Black Dog got a significant blot on its reputation. I am not convinced that this was actually a PBD though since very few Black Dog stories cast the creature as a direct threat to the person. Rather, it is the PBD’s association with death that causes the fear of the witness, and, in fact, the PBD sighting does seem to be an omen of impending death for some. This is a far cry from the savagery indicated in the 1577 stories though so while I am not at all convinced that this was simply a large hound wreaking havoc in the neighborhood, neither am I convinced that this was a Phantom Black Dog episode.

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About stormeye60

A place for discussing the interface between magic and things that go bump in the night. View all posts by stormeye60

3 responses to “The Bones of a Hellhound?

  • Bob

    Actually you’re missing out on a rather rich vein of folklore that extends right into the modern period here. Apparently ghostly black dogs are very commonly-seen British phenomena, and are rather curious in many ways. First and foremost, they often don’t seem to be material in any way; there are reports of them pacing people driving in motor vehicles, and keeping pace when the scared driver tried flooring the gas to get away.

    Secondly, they’re very stereotypical; they always seem to appear at the same point on a road and always vanish at the same point. The descriptions are very similar: a huge black dog the size of a calf, which paces along beside the witness, just out of arm’s reach, staring fixedly at them. Often, these beasts have glowing red eyes.

    The Yorkshire variant screams, whilst the Lancastrian one makes a noise like a huge dog running down a wet or muddy road. One reported near Kettlewell also rattled heavy chains, but this was a billy-goat the sons of the local publican were in the habit of leaving out on the road to scare travellers; it boosted business, you see. A traveller frightened out of his wits would normally call in the pub for a swift pint or three to settle his nerves.

    Black dogs scare people, but over time they seem to be getting more benign, and there are equal numbers of cases where they act in a friendly or even helpful manner. One lady traveller was accosted by men on a road, who looked likely to attack her but for the enormous, ferocious dog that walked free besides her. A friend of mine reports that when he went looking for one such ferocious beast, he found nothing but an animal very like a Labrador puppy, which appeared out of nowhere and gambolled and played around him as dusk slowly turned into night, whereupon it left and he walked home alone, bemused.

    In Yorkshire, a little west of the Menwith Hill base, a very minor road heads south along the banks of Fewston reservoir. Even this lane is reportedly haunted by a black dog (though I’ve never seen it); a ley line runs along the lane also, plus there are a few antiquarian reports of “a Druidical temple” in the vicinity, perhaps drowned by the reservoir there.

    This sort of thing is actually a problem in Britain; people have lived here a very, very long time. There are ancient sites everywhere, indeed most villages have been there over a thousand years, and the road map hasn’t changed much since then, either, so sorting out a ghost on an ancient path from anything else is difficult to say the least (the Fewston ghost is on a road off a 2000 year old Roman route).

    • stormeye60

      Bob:

      I am approving your comment but I am not quite sure why you are making it? I am very conversant with PBD lore but that is not what this post was about. Instead, I was commenting on the excitement generated by this “find” and how the debunkers are so eager to jump at the chance to “explain” the lore. In my view, the finding of a large dog skeleton is interesting but, given the lore, does very little to explain these wonderful stories.

      Thanks for your wonderful summation of the lore; I share your obvious fascination with the PBD.

      Storm

  • mickevery

    Reblogged this on A Ramblers Quest to Somewhere and commented:
    Do you guys believe in monsters? Why is it that we have legends of such creatures, and why do we speak of them to this day? Hmmm…

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