Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Daily Ghost Post – B is for Black Dogs

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My mother says that my black cat is really a black dog. She insists on this because my kitty wags her tail and greets people at the door.

“That’s what dogs do,” Mom says triumphantly, “so she must really be a dog.”

But in the folkloric sense, that would make her a pretty scary critter. Halloween hype and folklore abounds about the dangers of black cats. And there are many folk legends about dangerous black dogs. So if my cat is both, then I guess I’m doomed.

So what does the black dog signify? Well, it depends.

According to Carol Rose, the black dog is often found at crossroads, bridges, and entrances “marking the transitions in people’s lives.” They can be guarding treasure or doorways to mythic or sacred locations. It is good to leave them be because black dogs can be vicious and nasty. One swipe of the creature’s paw can wield paralysis. Or death.

They also have an unearthly way of disappearing quite suddenly.

In some Latin American countries, the black dog is the embodiment of the devil. Careful if you take a stroll on a lonely road, for you just might encounter one. One variant of the black dog is El Cadejo, a shaggy hound who can appear in two colors. The black one portends evil and the white one offers protection from evil.

So, if you walk a lonely Latin American road and come across a white, shaggy dog with red eyes, it’s all good, right? Well, um, no. You see, in some locations, the color scheme is reversed and the white dog is the naughty one. Tricky, tricky! And to make matters worse, it is said that if you hear a strange howling in the night, listen closely. If the sound is right near you, you are safe because the phantom is at a great distance. But if it is a distant howling, then phantom red eyes are upon you, along with phantom teeth and big trouble.

In the state of Connecticut, the black dog can signify other things, as my retelling of a Connecticut tale suggests.

Connecticut Black Dog Legend

One day, the geologist W.H.C. Pynchon was hiking in the Hanging Hills of Connecticut when he saw a small, black dog. It seemed friendly and wagged its tail. But Pynchon noticed something strange. The pup didn’t leave any footprints.

Pynchon ignored that little detail, and hiked in the company of the friendly little fellow. Then he noticed something else. When the dog barked, it made no sound.

Pynchon ignored that too because the little dog brought him so much joy.

As they climbed back down toward town, the dog bounced out in front of Pynchon. And then, seemingly in mid-bounce, it wasn’t on or off the trail. That scruffy little dog had completely disappeared.

When he got to town, Pynchon went to the inn and told them that there was a lost little dog in the hills.

After hearing Pynchon’s description of the creature, the innkeeper shuddered and said, “That is no dog. It is a phantom.”

And then he told Pynchon what the locals knew about that black dog: “See it once, it brings joy. See it twice, it brings woe. See it three times, it brings death.”

Sometime later, Pynchon went back to the Hanging Hills to work with a colleague, a gentleman by the name of Herbert Marshall. As they hiked up a particularly rocky stretch, Pynchon saw the black dog leaping among the rocks.

So did his friend.

See it once, it brings joy. See it twice it brings woe. See it three times, it brings death.

Pynchon grew worried as this was his second sighting. His colleague said it was his third.

“But who believes in this childishness!” cried Mr. Marshall.

As they continued up the hill, the rocks beneath Marshall shuddered. He lost his footing and fell to his death far below.

Ever since then, people are pretty careful when they hike in the Hanging Hills. Herbert Marshall was not the last to die after seeing the pup. If Wikipedia is accurate, at least 6 other deaths have been associated with the Black Dog of the Hanging Hills.

So, if you see a black dog that makes no tracks or sounds, beware.

See it once, it brings joy. See it twice it brings woe. See it three times, it brings death.

Have you heard black dog lore? Share it below! Have you safely walked the Hanging Hills? Crow about it below!

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COPYRIGHT 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES:
Appleborne, Peter, Our Towns – And You Thought Black Cats Were Bad Luck. New York Times, Feb 19, 2006. Burchell, Simon (2007) Phantom Black Dogs in Latin America, Heart of Albion Press.
Philips, David E. (1995). Legendary Connecticut: Traditional Tales from the Nutmeg State.
Rose, Carol. (2000). Giants, Monsters, and Dragons:An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth. ABC-CLIO, Inc. p. 51.
Wikipedia entries: Black dog (ghost); Cadejo.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeri Burns, subject StellaLuna Marshall (no relation to the deceased geologist).

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19 thoughts on “Daily Ghost Post – B is for Black Dogs

  1. Loved your tale of the Black Dog Legend! I grimace when a black cat crosses my path and try hard to get through the day – even saying prayers often but I’ve never heard of black dog phantoms – three times is NOT the charm! Thank you for this post!

  2. I had not heard warnings about black dogs – very interesting. And, I love that tale about the Hanging Hills phantom.

  3. I have a notion that I red stories of black dogs over the years, but I can’t put my finger on them.

    Loved the tale 🙂

  4. What about dogs that are both black and white?

    • Good question. I guess they get us coming and going. But you know, it is funny, to the best of my knowledge, they are one color. You get dogs that are hybrid with other creatures, but they are an entirely different beast.

  5. Tarkabarka on said:

    Uh. I actually shuddered… I love the story! I imagine one of those creepy little poodle-like things.
    (I have heard so many cat people say that their cat is really a dog, I am starting to think it’s a trope 😀 Like, there are cat behaviors and dog behaviors in both animals and people.)

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

    • Yes, and I think you are right about the trope being true. And as for the story – a fan commented on The Storycrafters page about this post. She lives near the place where the TALE (avoided pun) originates. She knows people who claim to have seen the pup.

  6. Wow, this is completely new information for me–I have never heard of black dog lore! Even more fascinating is the white dog, negative thing. I’m a Bichon Frisée lover and the thought of them being evil in any way is hilarious. Love it.

  7. I have a little black dog and he’s adorable ; ) But I’ve heard the legends too! It’s called the Black Shuck round here.

    • Yup! Are you in England? (I’ve seen that name in a few places, but England notably). There’s also the Barghest and the names go on. But there definitely are adorable black dogs – I mean, the adorable ones don’t have the awful red eyes.

  8. I usually hear black-cats-related superstitions and folklore, but never head about black dogs! Loved the tale!

  9. Not heard that one before, only Black Shuck as Louise mentioned above. I believe we have quite a few black dog legend in the UK, but that’s the only name I can ever remember 🙂
    Tasha
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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