Definition of hellhound -
a mythical watchdog of hell.
a fiendish person.
Hellhounds. Just hellhounds. Just the word makes various images pop into ones head depending on where in the world you are from. You may think of Cerberus the hound of Hades. Perhaps it is Barghest, Black Shuck, Grim, or Garm. European’s have numerous stories of hellhounds. Interestingly the most numerous come from the British Isles. Where do the stories originate? Lets take a look.
Early testimonies go back to the Wild Hunt. This mythology is associated with people who have Germanic heritage. The Wild Hunt has been called a number of things including Odin’s (Wotan) Hunt, Terrifying Ride, Odin’s Army, and Wild Hunt. These names are predominantly from Scandinavia and Germany (https://fellowshipandfairydust.com/2019/07/01/the-wild-hunt/, https://www.professional-mothering.com/2020/12/the-history-of-the-wild-hunt.html, https://norse-mythology.org/the-wild-hunt/, https://diypagan.com/2017/12/08/the-history-of-yule-and-the-wild-hunt/, https://www.historytoday.com/archive/foundations/wild-hunt-odin, https://paulchristianauthor.wordpress.com/2021/12/01/the-wild-hunt-an-anglo-saxon-ghost-story/). There is a Welsh version which is lead by Gwynn ap Nudd or Arawn and is called Cŵn Annwn (https://sites.psu.edu/tetirclblog/2015/03/02/gwyn-ap-nudd-and-the-wild-hunt/). In Northern France, Mesnée d’Hellequin, the Goddess of Death, was said to lead the ghostly procession (https://mythology.net/norse/norse-concepts/the-wild-hunt/). There are also Wild Hunts associated with the Sidhe and fey.
So essentially hellhounds originally were either literal hounds who guarded the gates of hell or hounds who was part of the wild hunt, basically a hunt of the dead. In time the name of hellhound became associated with the black shadowy ghost dogs that are found by cemeteries, the Cu Sith of Scotland (they are green), black hounds with red ears, and conversely white hounds with red ears.
The first written record of hellhounds and the Wild Hunt was in 1127 by an English abbot. Since then it has been widely recorded in tales including a story by the Grimms (rather ironic since one hellhound is called Grim). The Wild Hunt is generally composed of the dead being lead by a god. There is the exception of areas where the Wild Hunt is composed of Sidhe or fey but these are more localized to Ireland. Legends tell that the dead are basically bored and so a god will start a wild hunt. These hunts are normally in the winter (time of the dead and death for most pagan societies). However sightings of hellhounds are not limited to winter.
Despite what Hollywood would have you believe through shows like Supernatural hellhounds historically are visible. Many people in the British Isles refuse to walk by church yards, cemeteries, grave yards, or murder sites at night out of fear of seeing a hellhound. These areas are where most hellhounds are found. Perhaps this is why it is believed that seeing a hellhound leads to one’s death. Grim for example guard grave yards and cemeteries. Black Shuck, a very well known hellhound, was said to kill four people in two different churches in 1577. He actually did this during a lightning storm and supposedly left his claw marks on the door of Holy Trinity Church in Bungay, England. He/they are known to wander lonely roads and back trails. I say he/they because Black Shuck went from describing one hellhound to a group of hellhounds. Barghest of Yorkshire is said to be a omen of death and hangs out predominantly at Trollers Gill. There are a number of other noteworthy hellhounds in England but we could spend hours talking about them so let’s move on.
When it comes to stories of hellhound in the United States the predominance of such stories are actually in areas that were predominantly settled by people from the British Isles. Areas with larger Irish, Scottish, and German mix tend to have the majority of stories relating to hellhound sightings. The Appalachian Mountains are rife with stories of the ghostly hounds. My husband is from Virginia and talks about being warned about the hellhounds. Tennesee, Kentucky, and West Virginia have numerous stories about people seeing hellhounds on roads. In the majority of the stories people believe if you see the hellhound three times you will die. Ominous right? Course everyone dies so what makes this so frightening is that it is supposed to happen within the next year. Say good bye to the long happy life.
There are a few stories of hellhounds actually being helpful. It isn’t all doom and gloom. There are stories of hellhounds helping people who are lost to find their way, protecting children and young women, as well as stopping someone from getting into a car accident.
In South America there are also legends of hellhounds but they are a bit different. The hellhounds of South America actually tend to come in duos, black and white. The black dog means harm to the person and the white dog is the protector. If you are walking home after dark and see the dogs they will fight. You want the white dog to win as if it doesn’t you will not be going home ever again.
Some scientist believe that the stories of hellhounds actually are related to prehistorical memory of creatures such as dire wolves. These creatures would be the correct size but the bodies we have found are the wrong color, the eyes are wrong, and they don’t quite fit the archetype.
So with the background on hellhound and some mythology how does one know they have seen a hellhound? Generally they are described as being enormous at least the size of a pony. Frequently people describe them as being at least four feet tall and jet black. Red or green glowing eyes that are commonly the “size of saucers.” Red eyes are the most common. Growling and general aggression are listed as well as a feeling of terror. Not just fear but terror. Some theorize that hellhounds feed off your fear. This is especially true if you see one in a building. They are known to guard cemeteries and have stories of people seeing them or hearing them during ghost hunting. If you are in Scotland and see a Cu Sith it will be green with the red eyes. This is because unlike their English cousins the Scottish believe the Cu Sith are dogs of the Sidhe. All things associated with the fey tend to be green including the Cat Sith (although they are sometimes black or brown).
And if a pony sized snarling nasty dog wasn’t scary enough those who associate these dogs with Christian hell state that they can breathe fire, have fiery foot prints, and may be covered in fire. Since this is a mythological as well as crytozoological creature there is one more fun thing, Black Shuck are known/thought to be shape shifters. So just when you think you have an idea what to look for these dogs can actually look different and even be invisible. There are reports of Black Shuck actually looking like a rabbit, a normal dog, or other animal.
What makes this animal so interesting to me? Well I am pretty certain I have seen one. My husband is pretty certain he saw one. Two of my neighbors saw it as well. So here is my story:
My story -
While leaving the house one day I was at my truck putting my then 2 year old grandson in his car seat. I was thinking of some things that were not going well and worried about him and his mental and physical health. At the time he was living with my husband and I and spending time at his paternal grandparents as well. I had concerns about behaviors I was seeing each time he came home as well as worried that his mom was never going to get her poop in a group and be able to take care of him. After turning to shut his door I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Something large and black was running from behind our house towards me. When I faced it head on it looked like a pure black doberman. It was snarling and running straight at me. I thought it was a stray or escapee from the neighborhood. I looked at it and thought “this is going to hurt” as I squared up to it ready to defend myself and my grandson. It did the dog thing of attempting to stop suddenly. You know when they are running and see there is a wall in front of them but they aren’t certain they can stop before hitting it? Yeah that was the look. It just disappeared. My husband never saw it. In thinking back he would have been at the wrong angle to see it as there was the truck and some bushes in the way. I thought it was just my imagination in over drive due to stress. The thing is I wasn’t the only one to see this dog. Oddly enough a week later I was talking to a kid that lives next door and he asked me about a black dog in the area. Both he and his mom had seen the creature (as a side note his father died suddenly 6 months later). I have not seen the dog since I squared up to it. If it is true that they feed on fear I will most likely never see one again as I do not have a fear of death. This lack of fear and the explanation is for another day.
My husband’s story -
As a child while living in Virginia my husband was visiting his grandmother’s home. He was playing outside while the adults were conversing and cooking in the house. He was very aware of the dangers of playing in the dirt of Virginia as there are venomous snakes and poisonous spiders. He was playing with his trucks and heard a noise. He looked up and swears he saw a large black dog. Someone called his name and when he looked back it was gone. He wasn’t scared of the creature and is certain it wasn’t anything physical as it made no noise except for the one that caught his attention. It didn’t leave tracks and it didn’t move any plants to leave. He swears up and down that it just disappeared. Having grown up with the stories of hellhounds he is quite positive he saw one and yet still will question his memory.
Unlike many cryptids I do believe in hellhounds. I have seen them and so have other people I know well. Do you believe they exist or are they just a figment of our imaginations?