At the Edge logo

Exploring new interpretations
of past and place
in archaeology, folklore
and mythology

Articles on archaeology, folklore and mythology


WWW At the Edge only


Full index to At the Edge issues 1 to 10.

Contents of back issues of At the Edge

Why At the Edge merged with 3rd Stone.

What was At the Edge?

What was Mercian Mysteries?

This site is sponsored by
Heart of Albion logo
Heart of Albion Press
publishers of books and booklets
on folklore, mythology, local history and much more.

NEW from Heart of Albion
May 2005:


Sacred Places: Prehistory and popular imagination
by Bob Trubshaw

This book looks back at the days of At the Edge and other 'Earth Mysteries' 'zines and provides detailed discussions of many of the topics outlined here.

More about Sacred Places

NEW June 2005:

Explore Phantom Black Dogs.


More details on Heart of Albion Web site

If you like the content of
At the Edge then you will
also want to visit:

Foamy Custard
folklore, mythology, cultural studies and related disciplines


Beyond Reality

At the Edge / Bob Trubshaw /

This website does not gather or store any visitor information.

Black Dogs
Guardians of the corpse ways

Bob Trubshaw

If the folklore of phantom black dogs is exceptionally rich then the mythology of dogs shows they have been not only man's close companions for many millennia, but also providing a very specific spiritual guardianship.

Guardian hounds occur widely in shamanic Otherworldly lore. The Altaic shaman encounters a dog that guards the underworld realm of Erlik Khan. When the Yukaghir shaman follows the road to the kingdom of shadows, he finds an old woman's house guarded by a barking dog. In Koryak shamanism the entrance to the land of the dead is guarded by dogs. A dog with bared teeth guards the entrance to the undersea land of Takakapsaluk, Mother of the Sea Beasts, in Eskimo shamanism [1]. The custom of burying a dog and the skin of a favourite reindeer with a dead man was still current among Ugrian people of Siberia earlier this century [2].

The notion of dogs as spiritual guardians fits the separate folklore of 'Church Grims'. These perhaps derive from the belief that the first person to be buried in a churchyard would have to guard any subsequent inhumed souls. Baring-Gould put forward the belief that it was the custom to sacrifice a dog, specifically one without a single white hair, in the foundations of the church - although direct evidence is lacking. In Scandinavia a similar practice more commonly use a lamb, but the creature was still known as the Kirkogrim [3].

The dog is the oldest domestic animal, traceable to the paleolithic, since when dogs have enjoyed a peculiarly close relationship with humans, sharing their hearths at night and guarding the home, working during the day as sheepdogs or hunters. This close symbiotic relationship with people is reflected in the early literature where dogs seem to have clear connections with the Otherworld. But this is not unique to hounds as many species from bulls, boars, to owls and cuckoos have clear associations with deities which lead to ritual veneration. However, archaeological evidence and mythology brings recurring examples of a very specific role for dogs. They are the 'psycopomps', the guides on the paths to the Otherworld, the guardians of the 'liminal' zone at the boundaries of the worlds.

A clear example from British archaeology is two dogs found with an impressive alignment of wooden posts at the Flag Fen neolithic/bronze age complex near Peterborough. These animals seem to have been ritually killed to serve as spirit-guardians, at a site which was undoubtedly a major focus for funereal rituals over many centuries. At Caldicot in Gwent another bronze age site provides evidence for a dog buried in a manner which strongly suggests a role as ritual guardian.

During the bronze age few of the population were buried. We can only speculate on the funerary rituals - did they involve funeral fires by the side of major rivers, as with hindus today in India? Or did they involve excarnation, such as the infamous 'Towers of Silence' of the Parsis in India, that slowly-dying race who hark back to before all the major religions of that continent? If excarnation was part of the bronze age death rites, then it may have been part of everyday life to see dogs and other scavengers gnawing on human corpses, reducing most of the bones to small fragments in the process. Such a grisly sight would reinforce the dog as the species most suited to act as psychopomp.

Bear in mind also that most pre-technological cultures believe that the 'essence' of the food is absorbed by the person eating it. So a dog eating a corpse would be considered to be takingin not only the flesh but also the 'soul'. As a slight digression, pigs and boars are also notable consumers of carrion - could this be why the boar is the sacred animal of Freya, who also has strong associations with the battle-slain dead? It might also explain the 'Tombs of the eagles' in Orkney, so-called because the human remains were accompanied by the bones of large raptors - especially those species most given to scavenging. If burial in a chamber tomb was reserved for the lite, and the common funereal customs involved excarnation, then it would be normal belief to see the body and soul of the dead being consumed and carried skyward by sea eagles.

In north African countries the dog is less prevalent as scavenger than the jackal. In ancient Egypt the dog- or jackal-headed Anubis is both psychopomp and divine embalmer. His cult is older than that of Osiris, and can be traced to the Sumerian goddess Bau who was also dog-headed. Her name may well be onomatopoeic, little removed from 'bow-wow'. Anubis himself, written in early heiroglyphs as 'An-pu', may be a direct continuation of Bau's father, the Sumerian god An.

In the early stages of Egyptian religion, at least, Anubis was linked with the star Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, known in most mythologies throughout the world as the 'Dog Star' and the central consideration of the Egyptian calendar - although Sirius was later most closely linked with Isis, of course. Incidentally, this is where our expression 'dog days' originated: the hot, parched season that followed the heliacal rising of Sirius coinciding with the Nile's annual inundation of the valley. [4]

When Anubis mythology travelled to pre-Classical Greece, where there are no jackals, the wolf fitted the role just as well. A wolf-headed man, the prototype of the werewolves of subsequent folk belief, was begot. I can do no more here than draw attention to Nigel Jackson's treatment of this theme in a recent issue of The ley hunter [5] and to Angela Carter's treatment of this perennial Gothik horror in her short story which was transformed into the film Company of wolves [6]. Temples to Lycian Apollo, that is 'wolfish Apollo', were not rare in Classical Greece. Indeed, Aristotle's famous school was in the grounds of the Lycian Apollo's temple in Athens. Our word 'Lyceum' has its origins, therefore, with this lupine god. More academically, Apollo bore the epithet 'Lykegenes', meaning 'born from the she-wolf' and it was said that his mother Leto had been escorted from the Hyperboreans (that is, a distinctly Otherworldy race) by wolves at the time of her labour. It was as a wolf that Apollo abducted the maiden Cyrene, although a further epithet was 'Lykoktones', meaning 'one who slew the wolf'. Undoubtedly, the wolf was Apollo's special animal and a fitting sacrificial victim in his worship [7].

Dogs were closely linked with the Greek goddess Hecate (along with lions and horses). Indeed, at times she was depicted as dog-headed and was certainly linked to the Dog Star, Sirius. Her pet was the dog Cerberus (or Kerberos) who is the watchdog at the entrance to Hades. Usually depicted as triple-headed (a common trait to denote especial importance) he was originally fifty-headed, a topic which I shall return to. The Dorian Greeks explicitly associated Cerebos with Anubis in his role as psychopomp and Robert Graves (The Greek myths) writes that Cerebos '. . . seems to have been originally the Death-goddess Hecate . . .'

A dog as companion on the road to the Otherworld occurs explicitly in one of the tales in that vast hindu epic the Mahabharata. Yudhishthira, the King of Pandavas, with his five brothers, their joint wife and a dog set off on a rambling journey which took them to the sacred 'omphalos' of the hindus, Mount Meru. The companions die one-by-one of exhaustion but Yudhishthira survives and 'enters heaven in his mortal body, not having tasted death' [8]. The dog too comes with him, and is revealed to be Dharma (the Law) in disguise.

A very similar tale survives from Iran, although the only significant difference is that the dog is replaced by the angel Surush. It seems clear that both these tales hark back to a common ancestor which must be very ancient indeed. Further parallels can be detected in the Book of Enoch and in the New World legends of Quetzalcoutl, which suggest an exceptionally early origin (although it has to be said that the dog companion does not feature in these two versions). A very degraded version of the legend survives in an Albanian fairy tale (it would be too long-winded to specify the just-detectable links). In it we can recognise the Dharma Dog. A king's daughter offers to go to war in her father's place and asks his blessing. 'The king procured three male suits and gave her his blessing, and this blessing changed into a little dog and went with the princess.' [9] Going to war may not be the same as going directly to the Otherworld, but the gender-bending surrogate has curiously shamanic overtones.

Celtic canines

Coming closer to home, both geographically and temporally: 'Faunal remains, iconography (mainly of the Romano-Celtic period) and vernacular Celtic literature all indicate that there were many different types of Celtic dog, from the deer-hound so splendidly represented at the Lydney sanctuary to small terriers and lapdogs. . . . Greyhounds are specifically mentioned in the early Welsh literature: they formed some of the many gifts presented to Pwyll by Arawn, lord of the Otherworld, in the First Branch of the Mabinogi. Two greyhounds accompany Culhwch, when he sets out in all his splendour to visit his cousin Arthur, in 'Culhwch and Olwen.' [10]

The guardianship aspect of dogs in Celtic life is amply illustrated by one of the stories of the early life of C Chulainn. In early Ireland the prefix 'Cu' (Hound of) was frequently used in Celtic names of heroes, to denote warrior status. But the most famous so named - Cu Chulainn, the Hound of Culann - had a very special and close relationship with dogs. As a young boy, he is called Stanta, but he kills the huge guard dog of Culann the smith and, as a penance, he takes the dog's place and also his name. This affinity with dogs recurs in the adult life of Cu Chulainn: he has a geis (a bond or taboo) on him that he must never eat hound-flesh. But he is offered dogmeat at a feast, and there is another geis on him never to refuse hospitality. He breaks the first rule and eats the meat; this act weakens the hero's supernatural strength and leads ultimately to his death. The episode is interesting, since it implies that dog meat was a traditional food for the early Celts; this is borne out by the archaeology of Iron Age Europe, where dog remains are part of food refuse on settlement sites. But at the same time, dog ritual was very prominent in Britain and Gaul, and there is evidence that dogs fulfilled a special role in Celtic religion.

There is evidence that dogs were eaten, both on habitation sites and as part of ritual feasting, as at the sanctuary of Gournay (Oise, northern France). Dog pelts were also frequently utilised as the Roman writer Diodorus Siculus remarks of the Celts: 'When dining, they sit not on chairs but on the earth, strewing beneath them the skins of wolves or dogs'. More macabrely still, the ninth century commentator Cormac comments on a divination rite known as Imbas Forosnai, which involved foretelling the future by chewing on the flesh of pigs, dogs or cats - a custom which, presumably, dates back to well before the Anglo-Saxon era.

In the Roman period the remains of dogs seem to be found frequently in association with wells. At the Romano-British town of Caerwent, the tribal capital of the Silures, five dog skulls were placed in a well. Numerous dogs were cast into a deep well associated with the shrine of the first century CE at Muntham Court (Sussex). The remains of sixteen dogs, together with a complete Samian bowl, were placed in a second-century well at Staines near London. 'It is very probable that dogs were linked with some chthonic or underworld ritual.' [11]

Detail from Gundestrop cauldron

As scavengers and carrion-eaters, dogs came to be associated with death, in both the classical and Celtic religious traditions. Some of the ritual treatment of dogs in Gaul and Britain may point to this aspect of their symbolism. The rich iconography of the Gundestrop cauldron also shows a a dog underneath the cauldron in which a man or child is being immersed head-first - usually considered to be a sacrificial act.

Hunting hounds

There is a strong hint in the Irish and Welsh vernacular literature of a close correlation between hunter/hunted and the divine world. Dogs were used in the hunt and this may have been the origin of their symbolic link with death. Hunted animals were sometimes perceived as messengers of the Otherworld powers, the means of bringing living humans, either directly or indirectly, to the underworld. The hunted creature itself may be enchanted or possess magical qualities: it may be a transformed human or a god in zoomorphic form.

In 'Pwyll', Arawn, king of the underworld, has a pack of shining white, red-eared dogs, their colouring proclaiming their Otherworld origins. The Cwn Annwn or Hounds of Annwn were death omens, described in an early Welsh poem as small, speckled and greyish-red, chained and led by a black-horned figure. These were ghost dogs which appeared only at night to foretell death, sent from Annwn to seek out corpses and human souls.

In the Welsh 'Tale of Culhwch and Olwen', Culhwych's quest for the hand of Olwen is associated with a number of tasks connected with supernatural dogs: one of his 'labours' is to seek the two whelps of a great bitch called Rhymni, who is in the shape of a she-wolf and extraordinarily swift. (Perhaps it is worth noting that Pliny refers to cross-breeding wolves with dogs to obtain exceptionally fierce war dogs. Could such hybrids be occurring in the wild and giving rise to reports of menacing, oversize hounds?)

Near one of the forts at Cashlie in the Highlands is a large standing stone which resembles the head of a dog. It is known as Bhacain (Gaelic for 'dog stake') and locals say it is the stake where Fionn MacCummail's warriors tethered their hunting dogs when they returned from the chase. Fionn was a hero god-king of the Dark Ages who occurs in both Scottish and Irish lore. [12]

Finnish canines

The Finnish epics known as the Kalevala contain their own dog-lore. Bear in mind that the Finno-Ugaric cultures are, originally, quite separate from Indo-European ones (although no doubt by the medieval period at least some intermingling of ideas had taken place in the border areas, such as Scandinavia.

Runo XLVI (lines 81-94) of the Kalevala tells how Louhi, the Crone of the northern wasteland that has more than a passing resemblance to the realm of the dead, awakens the bear (known by such nicknames as Small-eye, Broad-nose, Otso) from hibernation to ravage V inminen's herds. In response, Vinminen gets his brother, the smith Ilmarinen, to forge him a spear. He asks the goddess Mielikki, the mistress of the forests, to bind her dogs securely and keep her whelps in order. In the context, this is understood to be a request for protection from the wolves. Then Vinminen:

Heard his dog barking loudly,
And the hound was fiercely baying
Just beside the Small-eye's dwelling,
In the pathway of the Broad-nose;
And he spoke the words which follow:
'First I thought it was a cuckoo,
Thought I heard a love-bird singing;
But no cuckoo there is calling,
nd no love-bird there is singing,
But it is my dog that's baying,
Here my faithful hound awaits me,
At the door of Otso's dwelling,
At the handsome hero's homestead! [13]

One assumes it reads much less like doggerel in the original Finnish. Vinminen then kills the bear and sings its praises in a manner typical of Finno-Ugarian bear rites. While this may, superficially, seem a digression, it should be emphasised that the Great Bear of these legends is inextricably woven into the World Tree mythos and should be seen, among other things, as the stellar constellation of the Bear (the Plough) circling about the Pole Star (stellar pivot of the axis mundi). I suspect the confusion with the cuckoo, another supremely 'Otherworldly' creature in folklore, is intended to emphasise the mythical importance of the events.

Furthermore, the same bear hunting rituals link in closely with 'ritual' pathways. A Finnish bear-hunting song goes:

Go pointing the path
and blazing the trail
marking the sides of the path
straightening planks over swamps;
carve notches along the lands
slash a trail upon the slopes
that this fool may feel the way
this utter stranger may know! [14]

The significance of this will be brought into focus later.

Although the Kalevala derives from traditions quite separate to Celtic Scandinavia and Europe, it is interesting that one of the mischievous protagonists, Kullervo, is sent to the house of Ilmarinen, the divine smith. In one variant of the tale is is said that he was 'sent to Estonia to bark under the fence . . . three years he barked at the smith'. This, of course, has curious parallels with the life of C Chulainn, described above. [15]

In another episode, Kullervo returns home after a long absence and unknowingly seduces his sister. She drowns herself but Kullervo is persuaded to go off to war. After much derring-do he comes back home again but finds all his family have died. He weeps over the grave of his mother. Her voice is heard:

And beneath the mound made answer:
'Still there lives the black dog, Musti,
Go with him into the forest,
At thy side let him attend thee.'

Kullervo takes the dog into the forest but, when he comes to the place where he dishonoured his sister, despair overcomes him and he throws himself on his own sword. The presence of the dog in this episode seems quite incidental - unless we look upon him as a guardian of the road to the dead.

Friar Tuck's fifty hounds

As Alby Stone has discussed in his article on hellhounds in this issue, in the Old English Passion of St Christopher the saint is described thus: 'He was of the race of mankind who are half hound'. The OE Martyrology says he was of 'The nation where men have the head of a dog and from the country where men devour each other'. In this work St Christopher himself is portrayed in this way: 'He had the head of a hound, and his locks were extremely long, and his eyes shone as bright as the morning star, and his teeth were as sharp as a boar's tusks.' This version of the story is peculiarly English, needless to say.

If this sounds decidedly odd then moving on a few centuries to the Robin Hood legend associated with Fountain Dale, Nottinghamshire and Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire provides an intriguing parallel. At one point Friar Tuck agrees to carry Robin Hood across a moat to an island (i.e. act as psychopomp to the Otherworld) on the understanding that Robin will return the favour on the return journey. However, Robin dumps Friar Tuck in the water half-way back. A fight ensues, and Robin Hood starts to get the better of his adversary who blows his horn which summons fifty hounds. Robin Hood blows his horn, in response to which fifty bowmen appear and shoot the dogs. In the introduction to the tale, Friar Tuck is introduced as Master of the Hounds.

St Christopher, of course, lived by a ford and made a name for himself by carrying an incognito JC across a river. The overlaps are clear, especially the Old English variants where St Christopher is also linked to dogs. The emphasis on crossing a watery boundary with the Otherworld confirms the 'liminality' of the symbolism and make the - apparently unexpected - connections with canines seem quite predictable [16].

But why fifty hounds? Consider that the earliest written story in the world, the Saga of Gilgamesh, makes frequent references to the king-priest Gilgamesh wearing armour that weights fifty minas and having fifty companions. Slightly later Sumerian legends talk of 'fifty great gods' (and give Marduk, the greatest of their gods, fifty different names, to emphasise his importance), a symbolic mace with fifty heads and fifty heroes in a boat. The early Greek legends of the Argonauts sailing off also feature a crew of fifty [17].

In later Greek myths, the goddess Artemis sets the hounds of hell upon Actaeon. After this little digression on numerology, perhaps it will not surprise you that there were fifty of these beasts. As mentioned briefly above, Cerebos, the hellhound with guardianship of Hades itself, started his mythical life with fifty heads. Clearly, fifty was a 'magical' number in early middle eastern myth, gradually losing its importance in the Classical Greek legends. But why should this carry through to medieval Sherwood Forest? Well, it is possible that the tales of Artemis and Acteon were known to a medieval storyteller and were 'borrowed'. Interesting, nevertheless, that the psychopompic symbolism remains intact.

The hounds of northern mythology

Back to our 'local' Anglo-Saxons . In Beowulf the monster Grendel and his mother are variously described as werhdo, heorowearh, brimwulf and grundwyrgenne, all of which imply a lupine nature. Grendel is also called a scucca ('demon') which is the source of the second part of the folklore name for phantom black dogs, Black Shuck. The general idea is that the Grendel family represent canine or lupine demons who haunt fenland and marshes; but they also have a human aspect, which connects them to the old Germanic idea of outlawry, and to the werewolf.

Behind the northern myths of Otherworldly dogs there are numerous mythological reference 'hellhounds' in Greek, Indic, Celtic, Germanic, Latin, Armenian and Iranian sources. These all suggest that there was a pair of Otherworldly dogs, 'one being the dog of life and the other the dog of death, serving to carry off one about to die, while the former can restore him or her to life' [18]. In the Armenian this is most clear as one hound is named Spitak, 'the White', and the other the hound of death, Siaw, 'the Black'.

Hellhounds almost abound in the northern myths - such dogs are mentioned in Baldrs Draumar, Voluspa, Gylfaginning, Grimnismal, Skirnismal and Fjolsvinnsmal. The last-named poem tells of Odin's two hounds who keep ceaseless watch - one sleeps by day and the other by night - outside the Otherworldly fortress-hall Lyfjaberg ('mount of healing') of Mengloth, thought by some to be another name for Freyja (although she could be Hel herself, in a beneficent aspect, or a minor goddess of the dead).

In Fjolsvinnsmal these hounds are named:

Tell me Fjolsvithr
this I want to ask
and I wish to know:
how the dogs are named,
who greedily roam
before the grounds [i.e. of Mengloth's hall]

One is called Gifr,
and the other Geri,
if you want to know that;
very ancient guards
and they keep guard
until the gods are torn apart. [19]

The names of these hounds, Gifr and Geri, are closely linked to words meaning 'greedy', understood to mean hungry for the flesh of the dead. In various Indo-European texts (Iliad; Vedevdat) there are references to dogs devouring corpses (no doubt harking to a period when excarnation was a preliminary funerary process). There is a formulaic curse in the Old Norse sagas which translates: 'Dogs shall gnaw you in Hel.'

In the poem Baldrs Draumar the god Baldr has bad dreams, so Odin rides down to Hiflhel on old Sleipnir [20], to find out what they mean.

Up rose Odin, the ancient gautr,
and on Sleipnir laid the saddle.
Downward he rode to Nifhel;
he met a hound that came from Hel.

It was bloody about the breast,
and at the Father of Spells
he howled long. Forward rode Odin,
the earth-way thundered,
at last he came to the house of Hel. [21]

Alskog Stone (15k)

In the tenth century Scandinavian poems Eirksml and Hakonarmal a dead king is described as entering the hall of Odin after his last battle. When he arrives at Valhalla he is welcomed by valkyries, one of whom greets the newcomer with a horn of ale. Such scenes are depicted on several stone sculptures, one of which from Alskog (Gotland) appears to show a stylised hall, which bears some resemblance to a burial mound and a dog which 'could be the dog mentioned in mythological poems as guarding the road to the land of the dead.' [22]

Is this the hound which is the precursor of the phantom guardians of gates and stiles which abound in our country's folklore?

The idea of entering into the earth on an Otherworldly journey also occurs in British folklore and the various tales of Piper's Holes. Here a man, usually a piper but sometimes a fiddler, enters an underground passage way. Those above ground follow his progress by listening for his music but suddenly all goes quite. Intriguingly, in the tales the man seems to invariably be accompanied by a dog. The dog emerges from the entrance, desperately frightened (or badly burned, in some versions) but the man is never seen again. Although never explicitly tied to a 'hollow hill' legend, this folk tale motif seems to have much in common with the even-more common notions of barrows being hollow and of underground tunnels of improbable length.

Going walkies in the liminal lands

From the Poetic Edda we get the impression of the Otherworld divided into separate realms, but with plenty of opportunity to pass from one to the other, and the world of humankind only one among nine. We are led to think of roads, tracks and waterways occupied by many travellers, moving in ships, on horseback, by wagons and sledges, or on foot. Such a picture, incidentally, is borne out by many travelling figures on foot or in vehicles shown on a ninth century tapestry recovered from the Oseberg ship burial in southern Norway, which appears to show supernatural characters in the restored section [23].

This insistence on the roads and rivers of the Otherworld might imply that it was important for men as well as the gods to possess knowledge of entry, and of routes to take when travelling to the land of the dead or down into the underworld in search of wisdom.

Quite why the Norse literature considers journeying to the underworld to be important is never explicitly stated. It is a theme which recurs in various sagas, as Davidson had revealed in an early work, The road to Hel [24]. Clearly, the origins of these supernatural tracks are linked with the interior journeys of shaman in earlier times. '. . . in certain accounts the emphasis on supernatural wisdom, through which the journey may be made, and on the immaterial gifts to be gained through it, is marked.' Furthermore, 'we are faced with a way which is not trod by the dead alone, but which the living also may follow. The land of the dead according to Norse heathen thought is not a wholly undiscovered country, and from it the traveller who has learned the old wisdom aright may return to the world of men.' [25]

Elsewhere in The road to Hel we are told that dog guardians are one of several characteristic features of the journey. Analogously, 'The watchman on the mound, too, is a familiar figure; can it be because the figure sitting on the howe symbolises communication between the living and the dead . . . ?' As we have seen, it might be better to see the dog as the better guardian and symbol of the liminal status of the barrow.

The essence of the hellhound is his intermediary position - at the border of this world and next, between life and death, hope and fear, and also (given its pairing with the dog of life) between good and evil. For this role, the dog is perfectly suited, being the domestic species par excellence, the tamed carnivore who stands midway between animal and human, savagery and civilization, nature and culture [26].

'The growl of the hellhound is yet another expression of this liminal position, for the growl is a halfway station between articulate speech and silence. It is a speech filled with emotion and power, but utterly lacking in reason. Like death itself, the hellhound speaks, but does not listen; acts, but never reflects or reconsiders. Driven by hunger and greed, he is insatiable and his growl is eternal in duration. In the last analysis, the hellhound is the moment of death, the great crossing over, the ultimate turning point.' [27]

Which takes us straight back to the folklore of sable curs and - as detailed in my 'Black dogs in folklore' article elsewhere in this issue - confirms their close association with stiles and gateways such as the Rev Worthington-Smith's perceptive remarks of 1910 state and Theo Brown's assertions about their natural tendency to be seen on roads, plus Janet and Colin Bord's research into phantom dogs on leys.

Few myths have such world-wide parallels. We are left with the distinct impression that dogs have been protecting the ways to the Otherworld back into the origins of human beliefs.


The research for this article was inspired by Hilda Ellis Davidson's remarks on the Alskog stone in The lost beliefs of northern Europe. The information on Celtic dogs is based almost entirely on Miranda Green's Animals in celtic life and myth. Both authors provided helpful guidance to further information, for which I am most grateful. Special thanks to Alby Stone for drawing my attention to Lincoln's work on the hellhounds, Eliade's work on dogs in shamanism, some of the Kalevala canine connections, and also for reading a draft version of this article. Jeremy Harte provided especially useful assistance, and Frank Earp perceptively suggested the Tomb of the Eagles parallels and imparted the Friar Tuck legend.


1: Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: archaic techniques of ecstasy, Pantheon, 1951.
2: V N Chernetsove, 'On Ugrian concepts of the soul' in Studies in Siberian shamanism ed. H.N. Michael, University of Toronto Press 1963.
3: Coamhin O'Dubhfaigh, 'Another shaggy dog story', Talking stick No.11, 1993.
4: Robert K.G. Temple, The Sirius mystery, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1976. While many of the suggestions made in this book can be ridiculed, his wide-ranging research provides some sound insights into related topics.
5: Nigel Jackson, 'Christmas as you never knew it', The ley hunter No.120 1994. This is closely related to a chapter in the same author's Call of the horned piper, Capall Bann 1994 (see review elsewhere in this issue).
6: A. Carter, 'Company of wolves' in The bloody chamber (Victor Gollanz 1979)
7: R.G.Wasson, S. Kramrisch, J. Ott, C.A.P. Ruck, Persephone's quest, Yale University Press, 1986.
8: Firdausi The Shahnama of Firdausi, trans. A.G. and E. Warner, London 1905-9 cited in Hamlet's mill G. de Santillana and H. von Dechend, Macmillan 1970
9: J.C. von Hahn Griechische und Albanische Mrchen (1918) cited in G. de Scintillas and H. von Decked, op. cit.
10: Miranda Green, Animals in Celtic life and myth, Routledge, 1992. Much of the information in this article on the Celtic mythology of dogs is drawn from this book, together with the same author's Symbol and image in Celtic religious art, Routledge, 1989.
11: Green, ibid.
12: 'The hag's house', David Clarke, The ley hunter No.120, 1994
13: Translation by Kirby.
14: Translation by Keith Bosley, The Kanteletar Oxford 1992
15: G. de Santillana and H. von Dechend, op. cit.
16: I am particularly grateful to Frank Earp for drawing attention to this tale, which brings the enigmatic notions of the preceding paragraph more clearly into focus.
17: Temple, op. cit.
18: Bruce Lincoln, Death, war and sacrifice, University of Chicago Press, 1991; citing Bernfried Schlerath, 'Der Hund bei den Indogermanen', Paideuma, 6 (1954), p39.
19: Translation by Alby Stone especially for this article.
20: Sleipnir is Odin's eight-legged steed. But given Odin's own role as a psycopomp, Hilda Ellis Davidson has speculated that such a 'steed' may be a metaphorical reference to a coffin carried by four men.
21: Translation by Alby Stone especially for this article. Gautr is an obscure term which may mean that Odin's ancestors are the Goths, but it is likely to have also meant a human sacrificial victim.
22: Hilda Ellis Davidson, The lost beliefs of northern Europe, Routledge, 1993.
23: Hilda Ellis Davidson, 'Mythical geography in the Edda Poems', Mapping invisible worlds (Cosmos 9), ed. G.D. Flood, Edinburgh University Press, 1993.
24: Hilda Ellis Davidson, The road to Hel, Cambridge, 1943.
25: ibid.
26: Lincoln, op. cit.
27: Lincoln, op. cit.

Originally published in Mercian Mysteries No.20 August 1994.

At the Edge home page

Index of articles uploaded

Copyright 1994, 1996, 2001. No unauthorised copying or reproduction except if all following conditions apply:
a: Copy is complete (including this copyright statement).
b: No changes are made.
c: No charge is made.

At the Edge / Bob Trubshaw /

This website does not gather or store any visitor information.
Created April 1996; updated November 2008