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.
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?
You may also like
Legend of the Werewolf
One of the most ancient and wide spread legends is that of the Werewolf. Right up until the 20th century, wolf attacks on humans were a common feature of life...
© 2008 Susanna Duffy
Want to leave a comment? - Here's where you do it!
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on December 17, 2014:
Strange how so often black is associated with demonic, darkness, and death, even in animals.
Virginia Allain from Central Florida on December 15, 2014:
I'll blame you for my nightmares tonight. These are enough to scare a grown-up.
Sandy Mertens from Frozen Tundra on November 02, 2014:
This is quite interesting about dogs mythology. Some evil looking photos too. But they are sweet.
anonymous on June 19, 2012:
I've always had a fascination with Hades in Mythology. I remember fondly listening to stories about Cerberus.
Glendame on June 11, 2012:
I hope I never hear the Hounds of Annwn!
FallenAngel 483 on June 11, 2012:
Very interesting information. Myth fascinates me. My favourite dog in mythology is the War Dog of Odin but you have selected some very interesting ones here too.
anonymous on May 16, 2012:
What about Orthrus, the two-headed dog? He made an appearance in the movie "Clash of the Titans" (the first movie).
WriterJanis2 on February 26, 2012:
You write some very interesting lenses.
GaelicForge on January 06, 2012:
Dogs were very important animals in the ancient Celtic societies. Dogs were bred and cared for as members of the family.
anonymous on December 28, 2011:
looking for legends on dogs that walk on their back legs like a person, have long snout and are sinister in appearance that disappear quickly and make eye contact before doing so.
jimmyworldstar on December 26, 2011:
Interesting facts! I heard of the Cerberus from reading about Greek mythology. It makes sense they would be the guardians of the underworld because dogs have been used as guards for such a long time.
Lucy2004 on December 10, 2011:
very interesting and entertaining
skefflingecho from Tobermory Ontario on November 15, 2011:
Excellent and fascinating! Lens blessed.
Jeanette from Australia on September 24, 2011:
What a fascinating read.
penguinavations on June 30, 2011:
Vintervarg LM on April 04, 2011:
This one is really good! It should inspire me to write another folk song about the dark ancient past :-)
anonymous on December 08, 2010:
Nice job on this lens of dogs and their mythology.
Addy Bell on September 21, 2010:
Some of Edward Gorey's work featured a large black dog that was always in the image with the "narrator". After I read (looked at?) one of his works several years ago, I kept thinking I saw a large black dog out of the corner of my eye. I was relieved when I realized it was just the temple piece of my sunglasses :)
Ellen Brundige from California on June 05, 2010:
Hah. I was just making the rounds to find a good lens to feature in the Squidoo Museum, but I can't keep featuring yours! I knew this must be one of yours as soon as I saw the title, and as usual, I'm not disappointed.
Want a photo of Anubis for this lens? I'm a little Anubis-obsessed, so I have a Dumuatef canopic jar and a couple of Anubis replicas (alas, my King Tut Anubis is packed away somewhere...wonder where that boy went?)
I had my ghost black dog! But it was just the ghost of our old black doggie, whose nails still clicked on the kitchen floor for years after he died.
Johann The Dog from Northeast Georgia on September 10, 2009:
Oh my, I had no idea about the myths of dogs, kinda scary!!
AshleyBretting-MS on April 22, 2009:
This is interesting - thanks for having done the work here! Come visit for cute stories, pics and say hello. Would love to see you there :) my Houndsville lens.
Mihaela Vrban from Croatia on March 18, 2009:
For some reason I find black dogs more scary... I know it doesn't matter, but I can't help myself!
ChristiannaGarrett-Martin on October 08, 2008:
A very interesting article. I know all about black cats, but I did not know all this folk law about black dogs and hounds. I enjoyed the read. :)
MargoPArrowsmith on September 13, 2008:
I remember reading about the creation stories of American Indians. When grandfather came to create the world, He came with a dog. He did not create the dog, he came with the dog. This is because the Indians could not imagine anyone, even the Grandfather (God) not having a dog.