As readers of Mysterious Universe will know, I have a particular fascination with the legendary tales of blazing-eyed, supernatural black hounds roaming the British countryside in times both past and present. And, as I have noted, some of the reports suggest the beasts are kind of like animal-like Grim Reapers, coming to call and collect on the soon-to-die. But, there's another angle I have not yet touched on here, but will do so now. It's the idea that the phantom black dogs are not coming for those that death has in its icy grips. But that they are the dead: deceased humans whose souls have shape-shifted into animal form. To be sure, it sounds strange. But it's a theory that had widespread support in the past...
Elliott O’Donnell was the author of numerous classic titles on all manner of mysteries, but it is his 1912 book, Werewolves, that has a bearing upon the very matters under the microscope – namely, the ghostly black dogs of Britain. O’Donnell presented a fascinating body of data in his near-legendary book, which is essential reading for anyone wishing to acquaint themselves with hard to find data on all manner of strange beast, including black dogs, and not solely the werewolves of the book’s title. Nevertheless, O’Donnell’s words are deeply applicable to this particular debate concerning the real nature of the British black dog.
He wrote: "It is an old belief that the souls of cataleptic and epileptic people, during the body’s unconsciousness, adjourned temporarily to animals, and it is therefore only in keeping with such a view to suggest that on the deaths of such people their spirits take permanently the form of animals. This would account for the fact that places where cataleptics and idiots have died are often haunted by semi and by wholly animal types of phantasms."
O’Donnell’s words relative to “idiots” and “such people” might not be perceived by the tedious politically-correct brigade of today as being particularly heart-warming, but they do, without doubt, offer a theory that is fascinating to muse upon. And, there are other parallels, too, that can be found in folklore. They also deal with the matter of man becoming terrible animal when physical life ends, and at which point a new life - and a highly strange life, I might add - duly begins.
Bob Trubshaw, author of Explore Phantom Black Dogs, notes: “Newgate Gaol was the scene of a haunting by ‘a walking spirit in the likeness of a black dog.’” So the story went, says Bob, “Luke Hutton, a criminal executed at York in the late 1590s, left behind an account of the phantom hound. Published as a pamphlet in 1612, The Discovery of a London Monster, called the black dog of Newgate suggested the dog was the ghost of a scholar imprisoned in Newgate who had been killed and eaten by starving inmates.”
Then there is the very weird tale of William and David Sutor. The dark saga all began late one night in December 1728, when William, a Scottish farmer, was hard at work in his fields and heard an unearthly shriek that was accompanied by the briefest of glimpses of a large, horrific-looking, dark-coloured dog. And on several more occasions in both 1729 and 1730, the dog returned, always seemingly intent on plaguing the Sutor family.
It was in late November of 1730, however, that the affair ultimately reached its apex. Once again the mysterious hound manifested before the farmer, but this time, incredibly, it was supposedly heard to speak in English, and uttered the following, concise words: “Come to the spot of ground within half an hour.”
The shocked William did so; and there waiting for him was the spectral animal. “In the name of God and Jesus Christ, what are you that troubles me?” pleaded the terrified William. The hound answered that he was none other than David Sutor – William’s brother - and that he had killed a man at that very spot some thirty-five years earlier. William cried: “David Sutor was a man and you appear as a dog.”
To which the hound replied: “I killed him with a dog; therefore I am made to appear as a dog, and I tell you to go bury these bones.” Finally on December 3, and after much frantic searching and digging, the bones of the murdered man were finally found at the spot in question, and were duly given a respectful, Christian burial within the confines of the old Blair Churchyard. The dog – David Sutor in animal, spectral form, legend maintains – vanished, and was reportedly never seen again.
The last missive on this admittedly highly controversial aspect of the British black dog controversy goes to Elliott O’Donnell:
“According to Paracelsus, Man has in him two spirits – an animal spirit and a human spirit – and that in after life he appears in the shape of whichever of these two spirits he has allowed to dominate him. If, for example, he has obeyed the spirit that prompts him to be sober and temperate, then his phantasm resembles a man; but on the other hand, if he has given way to his carnal and bestial cravings, then his phantasm is earthbound, in the guise of some terrifying and repellent animal."
While O’Donnell’s words were meant as a collective warning to his many and faithful readers, frankly, the latter sounds far more appealing and adventurous than does coming back as some chain-rattling spectre of human proportions. Give me terrifying and repellent, rather than sober and temperate, any day of the week!