|Posted by Jim Bevan on October 4, 2012 at 4:50 AM|
For centuries, tales of ghostly black hounds with supernatural powers have been told across the British Isles. Hounds have always held a sinister position in British myth and folklore, often associated with death (such as the spectral hounds that pursued the spirits of the dead in the Wild Hunt) or as servants of the devil. Numerous historical records exist telling of large hounds that killed innocent people, often accompanied by hellfire or crashes of thunder. Presumably, these were feral or rabid hounds responsible for the attacks, while the accounts of otherworldly elements were added either out of embellishment or superstitious fervor. The most well known hounds are the Black Shuck that tormented Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, as well as the Demon of Dartmoor, alleged to be the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles. Lesser known but just as malevolent as the rest of its hellish canine brethren is the beast known as the barghest.
Alternatively known by names like “Padfoot” and “Striker”, the barghest was said to roam about Yorkshire, Durham, and Northumberland. Like the rest of its unholy brethren, it took the form of a huge black hound, about the size of a mastiff, with fiery eyes. Some alleged that it could take on other forms as well, including a horned dog, a bear, or a headless man draped in chains. Whatever the guise, the beast was said to appear and vanish in a burst of hellfire.
The barghest was a malevolent spirit which did not hesitate to attack unwary victims. Any poor soul that attempted to approach it or pass in front of it would be savagely attacked. Should the victim survive, the injuries inflicted would never heal, a testament to the hound’s satanic power. In an interesting take on the old adage, the barghest was a hound whose bark was as deadly as its bite. Much like the banshee of Ireland, the howl of the barghest was said to be an omen of death. Only those fated to die could hear its dismal roaring, a quick demise coming shortly after. If a prominent individual in the county died, the barghest was said to appear, leading all the dogs of town as they mournfully howled; a perverse type of funeral procession.
As with all black hounds, the barghest is a cultural reinterpretation of the cu sith, a great spectral hound from Scottish mythology. The cu sith was reported to be larger than average dogs, had greenish-black fur, any bites or scratches it inflicted would never heal, and its howling was said to be a harbinger of impending death or disaster. As with all other old Celtic myths, this concept spread across the United Kingdom, with different variations of the beast cropping up in different regions. British colonists brought the legend to the United States as well; even today, ghostly black hounds are rumored to haunt graveyards, forests, and other remote areas of New England, the sight of their ferocious visage or sound of their howling said to mean death for any unfortunate soul that comes across them. The legend has persisted for centuries thanks to cultural memories of old superstitions, and with the continued use of hounds like the barghest in fantasy works such as Dungeons & Dragons and The Witcher, it will most likely persist for many years to come.
Categories: Manic Expression's Monster Extravaganza