|Ghostly Black Dogs|
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Imagine the scene, you are walking back to your home village across the downs, the moon is hidden from view by clouds as you trudge on wearily to your destination. You climb over a stile into a field and as you turn around to continue on your way, you scream as a huge black dog with glowing red eyes comes bounding towards you out of the gloom.
Stories such as this are suprisingly common and some of them notably ancient, enough to merit sitings of such creatures being in a class of their own in the ghost world. Ghostly Black Dogs have been seen throughout Britain with few counties being left unaffected, though the form and identity of the beast may differ. Apparitions of this sort may be distinguished from normal flesh and blood black dogs by features such as large or glowing eyes, sometimes only one, their ability to disappear or appear out of thin air or into and out of the ground, no head, two heads or the ability to change their size or appearance.
The Beasts Many Names In Britain
The black dogs go under many names depending on which county you are in, here are some of the more common ones. In the north of England in counties such as Yorkshire and Lancashire you will hear names such as Guytrash, Shriker or Barguest, in East Anglia and Norfolk you will hear Black Shuck, Skeff or Moddey Dhoo and in the south of England you will hear names like Yeth or Wish Hounds. The origin of the word Guytrash is unknown but Shuck can be traced back to the Old English Scucca, meaning Demon while Barguest may come from the German 'Bargeist' meaning 'spirit of the (funeral) bier'. The Demon association is sometimes emphasised by the title 'Devil Dog'. In the south, Yeth means Heath while Wish in a similar vein is an old Sussex word for marsh. This name for the hounds is widely used in Sussex but the origin also seems linked to the term Witch Hounds which is also common. Whether there is any connection between the two, one coming from the other is unknown. The names may just be referring to the fact that these dogs are often seen in wild country places.
A very common place to see black dogs is on roads or other places where people move from one locality to another, such as footpaths, old trackways, bridges, crossroads, gates, doors, stairs and corridors. As far as roads are concerned, the location of most sightings, this may be because most of the time we spend in the countryside is travelling through it on roadways, but nevertheless, a lot of recorded cases have been on roadways. Another common haunt for the Black Dogs, especially in Wiltshire, are graveyards and barrows, leading some people to suspect from some of the locations that these dogs tend to haunt Leylines and features variously known as Corpse Ways or Spirit Paths. These ancient paths folklore tells us used to run to churches and the spirits used to travel along them from graveyard to graveyard. They were usually dead straight and coffins used to be taken along these paths to be buried, sometimes the folklore going so far as to state that if this wasn't done, bad things would happen. Another location, particularly popular in Sussex, is along the Downs. Apart from being covered with old burial mounds, the Downs were once the principal means of travel before the weald was cleared of it's inpenetrable forest.
Black Dog Folklore
In many places the dogs are seen as omens of death, to see one means either a portent of your own death or the death of a family member. In a case in 16th century Peterborough, a Black Dog entered two churches a few miles apart and killed several members of the congregation by burning and wringing of necks! Near Peterborough in the Neolithic/Bronze-Age site of Flag-Fen were found the bodies of dogs that had been ritually killed and dogs were found in a well attached to a Romano-Celtic temple site at Muntham Court near Findon, West Sussex, buried at the bottom of an 80 foot deep well. One of the supernatural associations the Dog had in Roman-Celtic mythology was with the underworld, in the case of Muntham Court this was made more pronounced by their burial in a ritual pit, which had underworld associations in itself. In ancient European folklore, the dog is seen as both the guardian and consumer of dead spirits, especially with the Wild Hunt where a pack of dogs with a master of the hunt flies through the sky looking for lost souls. Such a hunt has been witnessed at Ditchling Beacon. Various ancient gods associated with the underworld, hunting, birth and death are also associated with Dogs, such as Anubis, Hekate, Diana (and Cerberus), Nehalennia and Artemis. Despite a generally bad press, many dogs are seen as helpful, leading lost travellers or protecting them from harm. The protection motif is sometimes also present when Black Dogs are beleived to guard treasure.
Black Dogs In Sussex
Sussex itself has its fair share of Black Dog ghosts, the common name for which are 'Wish Hounds' or 'Witch Hounds'. Despite sightings of Black Dogs, it was once a superstition in Sussex that when the ghosts of dogs walk abroad, they are only seen by other dogs. The Sussex historian M.A. Lower once said : "Nearly every unfrequented corner has its Demon in the form of a Black Dog". From East to West, here are the stories :
There are also places in Sussex with Black Dog place names but no legend known by the author, who would like to hear any information on these, or any other Black Dog tales in Sussex, from anyone who knows any.
At The Edge - Black Dog Folklore|
At The Edge - Black Dogs
At The Edge - Hellhounds
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