Phantom Black Dogs: Responses to Strange 19

British Hell Hounds and the Wild Hunt

I am much impressed with Strange Issue #19. However, there are a few points about the origin of the "Hell Hound" legends in Britain that need to be clarified. Bruce Wright indicates that these legends originate with the Celts and, later, with the Vikings. Although the Celts did appear to have Hellhound/Wild Hunt legends, as far as I have been able to determine Celtic hellhounds were always white, with red ears and tongue. Black Dog legends do not date to Celtic times, although an original Celtic phantom may have been modified by the culture of later settlers. Although Bruce Wright is correct in stating that the Vikings brought their own version of the Wild Hunt (led by Odin and with black hounds), an earlier variant of the legend had arrived in Britain centuries before the Vikings, when the pagan Anglo-Saxons invaded and settled in the 5th and 6th centuries.

The Anglo-Saxon Wild Hunt was led by Woden (alluded to in Bruce Wright's article) and had black hounds; this explains the wealth of Black Dog legends south of, and predating, the Danelaw. An early account of the Wild Hunt may be found in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (trans. G. N. Garmonsway, Everyman, ISBN 0-460-87038-6) in 1127 A.D.:
Let no-one be surprised at the truth of what we are about to relate...many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge, and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats, and their hounds were jet black, with eyes like saucers, and horrible. This was seen in the very deer park of the town of Peterborough, and in all the woods that stretch from that same town to Stamford, and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns as near as they could tell. This was seen and heard from the time of his [Henry of Poitou's] arrival all through Lent and right up to Easter.

I think that the wealth of British folklore deriving from the Saxon "Dark Ages" is consistently undervalued, especially with the current New Age trend towards all things Celtic. A good overview of pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon beliefs, including Woden and the Wild Hunt, may be found in Brian Branston's The Lost Gods of England (Constable, 1993, ISBN 0-09-473340-6).

Simon Burchell

Phantom Dogs in Brazil

It was with great interest that I read the "Phantom Dogs" coverage in Strange #19. Your coverage displayed a wide array of those phenomena, so I would like to see more cases from around the world featured in upcoming issues. What caught my attention was Richard J. Ravalli, Jr.'s article on the African-American folklore/ghost dogs connection, and I have had an experience about which to tell you guys.

Spooky dogs have been seen here in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) as well, and I personally saw one. On one cold night in July 1996, I was driving my car back home after attending my university classes (I was a law student). It was around 11:30 P.M. and it was a cold night with a full moon. The sky was quite clear, which made everything along the road pretty visible. The university campus is about 15 miles away from my home, and to get there, it's necessary to drive out a secondary road on which my family lives, for some 5 miles -- it's a narrow and sinuous road, surrounded by many hills and mountains covered by tropical jungle. It's a suburb of Rio de Janeiro and is a quiet place with lots of bushes.

Close encounters with ordinary forms of wildlife are typical occurrences, especially after dark, but on that special night I met something really eerie on that road. Because it's a quiet place to live and difficult to reach, the area is often visited by Afro-Brazilian followers of a religious cult, to place their offerings to the entities they worship. (In Brazil, their religion is called "Umbanda," a mix of ancient African magic and some Catholicism.) So, it's usual to meet people in groups disposing of their offerings at crossroads or blind curves, late at night. These sacrifices consist of meals, religious icons and images (statues of devils and other entities), black chickens, presents, money, etc. -- all surrounded by white, black and red candles in a circle. Anyway, it all looks like it came out of a Black Magic/Voodoo horror movie.

On the road there's this blind curve on which offerings are placed almost nightly, so when I was on my way back home, I wasn't even bothered to see a whole bunch of offerings and candles burning. But, when I got closer, I realized something weird: right in the middle of the ceremonial circle was a big black dog sitting steadily and looking towards my car. I was driving really slow (20 MPH) because of that tight curve, and the site in question was just beside the road, some 15 feet to the left. As I said before, it's a narrow road, and driving slowly, that close to it, allowed me get a pretty good look at it. The strange thing about it was that when I noticed the dog's presence I realized it was looking straight at me, eye to eye, and it scared the s*** out of me. I didn't feel like braking and coming back, so I continued on my way. When I had been closest to it, I had seen this all-black dog (which looked like a black Belgian shepherd, but bigger) with reddish eyes and wide ears which pointed upwards. It had been wearing a diamond (or some kind of brilliant stone) collar around its neck, and had been sitting exactly in the middle of the ceremonial circle, among the statues and all the offerings. What was strange was that this big dog had gotten in there without messing up the stuff and had not even bothered to eat from the many meal dishes or devour the sacrificed black chicken -- as a matter of fact, it had only been sitting, just like it was made of stone.

I had kept on driving and as I had driven around the curve, it continued this attitude. When I finally got past it I looked at my rear mirror and, to my astonishment, the dog was looking straight at me, eye to eye, this time through the mirror! It stayed like that until I lost it from view, and two miles later I was home. I entered my home and encountered my brother Rafael, who had driven the same way half an hour earlier, and asked him right away if he had also seen it (the dog) at the same spot, and he had. He said that it was really weird, and it behaved with him just like it did with me. His dog's description matched mine, and while we had dinner we talked about it, especially about its stance and that bright brilliant collar.

Early the following morning we returned to check out the place again, and found the black magic ritual circle still intact, with the meals, gifts and stuff all untouched (people here respect and fear these rites), except for the candles, which had melted away. My brother and I entered the circle (we just don't believe this black magic crap...) and took a good close look at it. To our surprise, there were no dog's footprints or any marks of its presence there. We wondered how such a big dog could enter the circle without dislodging anything or even knocking down some candles (big dogs are always kind of stupid and careless). And we wondered why it just sat down, didn't eat the food, and stayed there like a sentinel beast from beyond. That was very strange! And later that day, we found out that two other people who live in the area encountered the black dog that same night around the same time -- and all our descriptions of it matched!

After reading Mr. Ravalli's article in Strange #19, it all started to make sense to me about what the dog was doing there. It could have been the devil itself, a dark spirit in animal form, whatever -- even a big black dog! In casual research, I found out that sightings of black dogs around black magic rites are a usual thing in Afro-Brazilian folklore; the dog is always one of the cult's entities who comes down to Earth to check out if rituals are well done and to look after believers. That's what we saw, when we encountered the "spooky dog," and I think it's right to share it with you guys and the readers of the magazine. Sorry the explanation was long, but I wanted to give you a good idea of how it happened and what it was about. All in all, I loved the ghost dog coverage, and I hope to read more of it in upcoming issues.

Humberto Teles
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Maryland Black Dogs

My mother-in-law repeated to me two tales I heard from my late father-in-law concerning phantom dogs. She was with him in 1938 when he saw a black dog as they walked up to their home on Bethel Road in Carroll County. He was yelling at it to get out of the yard for fear it would go after their dog. She could not see this black dog and had to ask him what he was yelling at. He said it disappeared into a pine tree. Literally. The other tale he had told me concerned a dog on Carrollton Road. He saw it go up a path into the woods. This dog was what he called liver-colored, and had the head of a man. I recall laughing at this when he told me and how he took the pipe out of his mouth and looked me dead in the eye. "You wouldn't laugh if you had seen it." He was serious.

Shelley Sykes
Gettysburg, PA