Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Gone to the Dogs: Superstitions, Folklore, Stories and More

My dogs howl. Long, loud and mournful. Usually it is the howling of coyotes that set them off, but sometimes they just sit and howl at the moon, literally. They're not hounds, either.

Photo from last winter. Remember when
we had real snow??
We have two black labs and a yellow lab--maybe there is a little hound dog in one of them, but the other two are pretty close to being pure bred. Their singing last night made me wonder if people attached any meaning to this wailing. So this morning i've been reading up on the topic, and have found that yes indeed, people were spooked by the mournful sound all right.

The most common belief seems to be that dogs howling at night means death is on the way. Some clarify this with the stipulation that they must be howling at a rising moon, so there is a little leeway for those of us who hear the hound-song in the morning or after moon rise.There is no indication of which listener will see the Grim Reaper although the Irish attach the misfortune to anyone who is in their sickbed when the dogs howl.

The ancient Romans thought the sound indicated the coming of evil, and noted that dogs do not howl at ghosts--they growl. The Canidae website's blog says that "In Ireland, folklore claims that dogs howl when they hear the universal phantom pack of hounds. These mystical hounds are said to lead their riders on a wild, barren hunt through the sky gathering the souls of the dead." And in his blog Appalachian Lifestyles, Matthew Burns reported that "if a dog howls while looking at the ground, he senses death is very near." Poor dog--or maybe it's not his own death?

Then there are the hellhounds, those mythical beasts of bad omen found in cultures around the world and hailed by a wide variety of names. Wikipedia says that in the British Isles "many names are given to the apparitionsModdey Dhoo of the Isle of Man, Gwyllgi of Wales, and so on (see Black dog (ghost))."

Title page of the Rev. Fleming's
book, from Wikimedia
My mother grew up in the region of England called East Anglia, and there, Black Shuck is a fabled demon dog to be avoided at all costs. One account of the terror the dog evoked: "This black dog, or the divel in such a linenesse (God hee knoweth al who worketh all,) running all along down the body of the church with great swiftnesse, and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible fourm and shape, passed between two persons, as they were kneeling uppon their knees, and occupied in prayer as it seemed, wrung the necks of them bothe at one instant clene backward, in somuch that even at a mome[n]t where they kneeled, they stra[n]gely dyed." (from Wikipedia, excerpt from  A Straunge and Terrible Wunder by Rev. Abraham Fleming in 1577). You can hear some of the stories about Black Shuck on YouTube.

Across the ocean, in my own county in West Virginia, there is a ghostly story about a headless dog. Ruth Ann Musick included it in her book, The Telltale Lilac Bush. Listen to the tale, read by Jason McKinney for the WV Network on Youtube:


But there are some good things about dogs in folklore too. The Scots believed that a strange dog coming to your door means a new friend is on the horizon. Of course, in our case, the new friend is often the dog! Native Americans believed that seeing a white dog was good luck, although there was that movie To Dance with the White Dog that had a different interpretation. In England, it was the black and white dog that meant good fortune was on the way, and a gold-colored dog meant prosperity. Well, I have a gold dog, but I can't see any wealth on the way for me, sadly. 

Another golden dog story is the eerie Golden Dog of Quebec. The mystery of this cut stone, which can be seen over a door in the old city, is as yet unsolved. The dog is chewing on a bone, over a verse in French which reads: 


"I am a dog that gnaws a bone,
I crouch[sic] and gnaw it all alone,
The time will come which is not yet,
When I'll bite him by whom I'm bit."

What does it mean? To what person or event does it refer? No one knows.

We use the word "dog" to describe a lot of less-than-pleasant experiences, expressions, and people. For example:

A dirty dog= cheater, thief, someone underhanded in their dealings.
A man might refer to a woman he thinks is ugly as a "dog." When a man is called a dog by a woman, however, she usually means a "dirty dog" as defined above.
Dog-faced=shame-faced.
Dog-eared=torn, tattered, worn.
Dog-tired=worn out, exhausted.
Dog someone=follow them relentlessly.
Call off the dogs=quit following, bothering, nagging, etc. Quit "hounding" someone.
Going to the dogs=not doing well financially, socially, or personally.

...and many, many more! Check out the Idioms Dictionary for a long list of the ways we malign our favorite animal with the phrases we use. We should be dog-faced about it. 

For more "black dog" superstitions and lore, check out the Villians Wikia.

Sacred Texts has a good article on Irish dog myths and lore as well as English dog lore.

Dog ghost stories? Try Ghost Dogs of the South.

A slobbery dog? Yes indeed, in Margaret Read MacDonald's book about a British legend.

Well, doggone it, I think that's enough for today ,although I've only touched the tip of the dogpile of stories, legends, myths and superstitions from all over the world about our canine friends.

Oh, and keep an eye on your dog. He or she might be trying to tell you something.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

2 comments:

Susan Anderson said...

You could not have covered this subject more thoroughly…and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

=)

Jenny said...

Love this! I am a huge dog fan.

I've heard many of the sayings about dogs howling & death. None of the dogs I have now howl, they just bark. I'm sure there are some about barking dogs as well.

I have not heard the one about a yellow dog bringing prosperity. I've had two yellow dogs, they were both strays. One my husband found by the side of the road & the other my son found - they brought them home & I think the dogs gained all the prosperity .... we just gained some vet bills! ;)

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