Dogs in Mythology
Pets, Pals and Psychopomps
Psychopomps are Guides of Souls, Ushers of the Dead, particular spirits, angels, animals or deities whose responsibility is is to escort the newly-deceased souls to the afterlife.
Psychopomps appear in many and diverse forms, but no form has more impressed us than that of the Dog.
He is buried deep in our unconscious and, when we speak of personal depression, we call it the Black Dog
The Hounds of Hekate await you at the Crossroads
The Dogs of Hekate
You will meet them at the crossroads
You may meet a ghostly hound at the crossroads, for this is his natural place
The crossroads serves as a liminal space, as a threshold, where the veil between the worlds is thinner.
The Dog is beloved of Hekate, and the pathways of Hekate are the pathways of the night.
Accompanied by barking dogs, she leads a ghostly retinue, and awaits you at the crossroads.
The Hounds of Annwn
The eerie Cwn Annwn
In Welsh mythology, Arawn rides with his white, red-eared hounds (the Cwn Annwn or Hounds of Annwn) through the skies in autumn, winter, and early spring.
The baying of the hounds is identified with the crying of wild geese as they migrate, and the quarry of the hounds are the souls of the damned, being chased back to Annwn.
Although visible to earthly dogs that howl with fright when encountering the Cwn Annwn, the Hounds of Annwn can't be seen by ordinary human beings.
But we can certainly hear them (I pray that you do not!)
The Ancient East
Association with the Threshold
Early Sumerian people paid homage to the dog-headed goddess Bau and she has a close parallel in Anubis of Egypt.
Bau, principal goddess of the Lagash area, was associated with healing, and her alter ego was a dog. (Her name is onomatopoeic, it sounds like a barking dog - try it!).
Anubis is portrayed as a man with the head of a jackal-like animal.
Unlike a real jackal, his head is black, representing his position as a god of the dead. There is a beautiful statue of him as a full jackal in the tomb of Tutankhamun.
Anubis was a psychopomp, said to guide the souls of the dead for their judgement.
Both gods are associated with death and the liminal zone.
Dogs as Guardians
Dogs are natural guardians.
The guard dog of Hades was Cerberus. He was carried up from the Underworld by Hercules in one his Labours.
The similarly-named Cerbura is the three-headed infernal dog of the Krishna legend.
Another guard dog is found in Finland. Surma is a terrible beast from Finnish mythology. This huge dog with the tail of a snake, guards the gates of Tuonela, the realm of the dead.
Dogs in folklore and legend
These canine guardians can be frightening too.
There are many instances of black dog ghosts haunting lanes, bridges, crossroads, footpaths and gates, particularly in England and the Isle of Man. Packs of ghostly hounds have been recorded all over Britain, often heard howling as they pass by on stormy nights rather than actually seen.
These hounds generally foretell death if they are seen and to be safe, you must drop face-down onto the ground to avoid the sight of them
The Phantom Black Dogs of Britain
The Spectre Hound
And a dreadful thing from the cliff did spring,
and its wild bark thrill'd around,
His eyes had the glow of the fires below,
'twas the form of the spectre hound ..
Whatever the origin of the Black Dog, beware of him, for it is said he is still to be found in the wild lonely places of North England today.
The Black Dog of Bouley Bay - Jersey
Monstrous Black Dog of Bouley
The Black Dog pub in Bouley Bay, Jersey, (Man vyi), where a monstrous black dog is reputed to haunt the locality
Many years ago, the people of Trinity talked of a huge, black dog, with eyes the size of saucers, that roamed the cliff paths round Bouley Bay dragging its chain behind it.
The sound of the chain would frighten people so much that they would stop in their tracks only to be caught by the dog. The dog would then circle its victim at great speed in order to terrify them further.
Demon Dog of Central America
El Cadejo is a large black dog smelling of sulphur, which lurks in the dark corners of cities and villages of Central America. The beast rattles through graveyards, attacking and eviscerating anyone who dares go out after dark. No one is safe at night on lone dark trails.
There are three types of black cadejo, ranging from the devil incarnate to its scouts and minions. There is, however, a white cadejos said to protect night travellers.
Not all Mythical Dogs are Monstrous
Some black dogs are said to be unquiet ghosts of wicked souls, but others are friendly guides and protectors to travelers. There was a faithful dog named Katmir who remained alert to guard seven Muslim boys while they slept for 309 years.
Canine ghost and poltergeist narratives,
Do you believe dogs have supernatural abilities?
Even in a small way?
While we may no longer believe that dogs can see the death-bringing hounds of Annwn or are aware of Hecate at the crossroads foretelling death, our faithful companions are credited with the ability to detect ghosts, and their barking, whimpering or howling is the first warning of supernatural occurrences.
When a dog howls in an otherwise silent night, it is said to be an omen of death, or at least of misfortune.
My grandmother used to say that a howling dog at night meant somebody close would be very sick.
What do you think?
Do dogs have supernatural abilities?
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© 2008 Susanna Duffy