Dog Folklore

Dogs and humans have walked side by side since the beginnings of civilisation. With wagging tails and adoring eyes, these furry guardians have been loyal defenders of hearth and home for thousands of years.

Looking at the legends behind man's best friend


Dogs and humans have walked side by side since the beginnings of civilisation. With wagging tails and adoring eyes, these furry guardians have been loyal defenders of hearth and home for thousands of years. So it's no surprise that legends of our canine friends have been woven into the fabric of world folklore. Mythology is rich with tales of canines as companions to the gods and as guardians of the underworld. But there's also a darker side to these canine creatures. From tales of hell hounds stalking lonely roads to faithful friends, dogs are depicted in a wide range of roles in world mythology. Here are some of them.


Ireland: Celtic hounds

Depicted in Celtic art and jewellery as Greyhounds or Irish Wolfhounds, these big doggies symbolise protection, hunting enemies and a link to the Spirit world. Hounds were a symbol of good fortune to the Celts, who believed they walked the roads to guide weary travellers away from danger and safely homewards.

Legendary Irish Celtic warrior, Fionn mac Cumhaill, had two huge hunting dogs called Bran and Sceolan. The dogs, who were brother and sister, were the offspring of Fionn's human aunt who had been turned into a canine by a jealous sorceress! Bran is described in the stories as a gigantic black hound with a white patch on his chest and huge black eyes. His sister Sceolan is described as smaller but with glowing eyes and as quick and deadly as a striking snake. The hounds Bran and Sceolan were intelligent creatures who were extremely loyal to their master. According to the legend, they helped him find his true love and later helped him find his lost son.


Wales: White hounds of the Wild Hunt

The spectral white hounds of the spirit world, called Cŵn Annwn, race across the Welsh landscape, according to the legend. Spurred on by the dark king of the underworld, King Gwyn ap Nudd, they hound down wandering souls and chase them into the underworld in a ghostly Wild Hunt. But you don't want to witness this spectacle or even hear the baying of the white hounds as to do so spells immanent death for the unfortunate observer.


England: Black dogs

Padding silently along quiet country lanes, their huge paws not making a mark in the soft earth, the dogs of English myth are rather less friendly than their Irish cousins. Described as hell hounds of massive size with shaggy coats as black as night, glowing red eyes and snarling through killer fangs, they are more akin to demons than mortal creatures. Haunting the roads to ambush travellers, these spirit dogs are creatures of fear. None more so than Black Shuck of East Anglia. Written accounts survive of how this terrifying demon dog burst into a church in Bungay, Suffolk killing two members of the congregation before moving on to Holy Trinity Church at Blythburgh, where it killed two more and caused the church steeple to collapse.



Ancient Greece: Cerberus

As if a the huge black hounds of Celtic myth were not terrifying enough, along trots Cerberus with his three snarling heads and snake for a tail! This Greek guardian of the underworld is mythology's most famous watchdog. No getting past his six eyes - or eight if you count the snake tail... The ever-alert hound of Hades ensured that no soul could ever escape from the underworld.


Ancient Egypt: Anubis

Despite his fearsome appearance the jackal-headed god, Anubis, is a protector not a persecutor. He is depicted as a jackal with smooth black fur and long, pointed ears in the famous statue from the tomb of Tutankhamen. But the god is more often shown as a man with a jackal's head. An ancient deity, Anubis protects the souls of the recently departed and helps with embalming and funeral rites.


Native American: dog spirit

The dog is a totemic animal in Native American culture. Protecting the tribe from danger, there were even a band of elite military warriors in the Cheyenne tribe who called themselves Dog Soldiers in honour of a canine's ferocity in defending its family. As a spirit animal, dogs symbolise protection, help, courage, friendship and loyalty. If you treated dog well, then great blessings would come to you. But if you were cruel to dogs you would reap the opposite.


China: Fu Dog

Keeping negativity and ill intent away, Fu Dogs are traditionally placed on either side of the front door. These lion-like dogs guard homes and businesses from harm throughout Asia. Also known as Buddha dogs, they act as a barrier to negative energy, according to the belief. From jealous individuals to bad decisions to negative people, the Fu dogs will act as your personal guard dogs, bouncing away anything that could harm you. Good doggies!


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