Hell Hounds and Black Dogs

“I got to keep moving, I got to keep moving
Blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail
Mmm, blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail
And the day keeps on remindin’ me, there’s a hellhound on my trail

Hellhound on my trail, hellhound on my trail”

-Robert Johnson- Hellhound on my Trail

In many cultures Dogs and Hounds are associated with death and the Devil, or the black man at the crossroads, invoking fear at their very sight. In Egypt, The jackal was associated with death and the underworld-Anubis is either shown as a black jackal lying prone on a sarcophagus or with the head of a jackal. In Greece, Hekate and Hermes are associated with hounds and Hekate especially has a close relationship to these deathly beings. When Hekate is summoned it is said that she will often appear in the form of a large black dog, or with black dogs at her side. Canines in the ancient world would often be found prowling grave-sites and sometimes feasting on human flesh, and so the association between dogs and death was born. 

[Interesting/possibly coincidental/possibly not tidbit- Last night of course I was honouring Hekate, and all of the dogs in the neighborhood started howling like mad!- Hekate walks among us with her spirit hounds by her side…]

The Black Dog

Black dogs are often heard of in the British Isles. This ghostly black dog, much larger than a normal dog, would prowl crossroads, gallows, lonely roads, railways and churches and are often seen during electrical storms.

In much folklore, they are said to malevolent, but have been considered benevolent guardians of churches as in the case of the Church Grim.

They are often nocturnal apparitions, appearing in various sizes. Some like The Shuck are as big as a horse or donkey. They are reported to have shaggy (often black) fur and red or fiery eyes, some can appear like Shuck (according to Zell) with one large eye in the middle of its head. Some are headless like the Yeth hound.

Many black dogs are considered death omens, but some act as guardians of sacred sites. Some Black hounds have been reported to actually bring on death and monstrously claw and attack humans.

At a lonely crossroads, filled with the power of fate and change, one might meet the devil, he may come in the form of a man in black, a horned piper, or even the black dog.

Some other names/variants include Barghest, Hairy Jack and Skriker.

Hell hounds

Hellhounds are demonic, infernal entities, associated with the underworld and Chthonic beings like Hekate, Hades, Pluto and the Devil himself.

Hellhounds are sometimes seen in packs as part of the wild hunt and are sometimes called Gabriel hounds. Some of these hellish hounds, drive spirits to the underworld, others like the god Anubis, guide them as psychopomps.

Most sightings of hellhounds have them with black fur, although this can vary, with red and/or fiery eyes and breath. They are often found at burial grounds and gateways to the underworld.

Cerberus is well-known hellhound, guarding the underworld from the living  and not allowing the dead to leave. To subdue Cerberus, sweet lyre music, honey cakes and Lethe have been used in mythology. From Cerberus’ saliva, Aconite or wolfsbane is said to sprouted.

Hellhounds are also considered Omens and sometimes the cause of death and looking into their eyes on more than one occasion can spell your death.

In Witchcraft, the black dog serves as a psychopomp guide, an apotropaic guardian or emissaries of baneful magic, like death and wasting curses. Black dog hair is often included in spells of protection and malice.

Cerberus- William Blake

Public domain image

Sources

DJ Conway- Magical, Mystical creatures 

The Mythical Creatures Bible- Brenda Rosen

Oberon Zell Ravenheart- A Wizards Bestiary

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