Hellhounds Guardians of the Underworld
Often employed by witches and dark magicians are the entities most often called, in this context, black dogs. They are often associated with practitioners of magic as familiars. Whether the Black Shuk of Norfolk, the Pooka of Ireland or the Booger Dogs here in the Ozarks, they are a mainstay, a staple of occult literature.
One such tale comes from Somerset where they have the Curt Dog. This account comes from “The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena” by Bob Rickard and John Michell: “Twas awful. It has four legs, and it was black, and had great fiery eyes as big as saucers. It ran on until it came to where the water crosses under the road, and they things, of course, can never abide running water. So it just couldn’t get across, and it went up in the air like a flash of fire.” Those things which cannot abide crossing running water include some werewolves and vampires, which was always peculiar to me. I mean, how did they cross the oceans to arrive in the New World, or for that matter, beyond any water-locked region?
But I digress. In Patricia-Dale Green’s book titled simply “Dog,” published in 1966, comes this account. A farmer from Dartmoor heard footsteps approach him. He turned and saw a black dog. He went to pet it, but his hand passed through it. A “stream of vapor issued from his throat” and the creature departed. The farmer chased it to a crossroad, where it exploded in a blinding flash.
Black dogs have a habit of frequenting certain old roads or old tracks. Bob Trubshaw’s “Phantom Black Dogs” of 2005 has folkloric scholar Jeremy Harte listing no less than 24 such routes.
Black dogs are also attached to sacred places and said to be guardians of the dead or escorts to and from the underworld. In this capacity, they are most often referred to as Hellhounds. Sightings of these dogs often have left scorched ground and the lingering scent of sulphur or brimstone in their wake. At Hatfield Peverel, a waggoner nearly hit a black dog obstructing his path in a country lane. According to witnesses, he caught fire and was burnt to ashes along with his horse and wagon.
A sighting of this creature in many cultures is interpreted as a death omen. A black dog was haunting a road from St. Audries to Perry Farm in England in 1960. Two of the witnesses to the Beast’s appearance died shortly after their sightings. In “The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena” a relevant entry is explored: In “the Suffolk volume of the Folklore Society’s county series, the local black dog is described in the words of an old writer and historian, ‘old Shock is a mischievous goblin in the shape of a great dog, or of a calf, haunting highways and footpaths in the dark. Those who are so foolhardy as to encounter him are sure to be at least thrown down and severely bruised, and it’s well if they do not get up.’ ” So, of course, I feel the foolish compulsion to seek out such encounters.
The most prolific outbreak probably was the dual event occurring on a Sunday in 1577. Reverend Abraham Fleming supplies us with an account. Between 9 and 10 a.m., while attending church, an extremely violent thunderstorm beset the people of Bungay, Suffolk. The sky became dark and the church shook. A parishioner cleaning the gutters was struck by lightning and fell to the ground.
By the flashes of lightning, the whole congregation saw a gigantic black dog running down the church aisles. It passed between two people praying on their knees and both were “instantly struck dead.” Another victim survived but was injured as his body seemed to fold in on itself. The machinery of the church clock was examined after the event and was found to be “torn up – severely twisted and broken”.
Many others were “blasted” by the creature as it made its way through the church. They are more rarely reported today. “A survey of all our black dog material suggests that these apparitions belong to a side of nature which was better recognized in the past than it is today. There is a pattern in the peculiar association of black dogs with water, bridges, underground streams, buried treasures, old churchyards and certain lengths of road.” This could be the most compelling example of environmental archetypes manifesting, the sightings of Hellhounds are tied to locations, not individuals
While researching this subject for the book I recently re-read John Keel’s “The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings” and was rewarded with this gem: In the 8th century, a “great black beast” was prowling the dark and mystical forests of Germany. It was particularly active near the region of Darmstadt, it “outsmarted” and killed “many men” as well as the prime target of women and children. A brave local Baron battled the beast successfully and vanquished it. However, he was mortally wounded and died a short time later. We’ll let Keel spill the beans: “A statue was erected to him in the tomb of this castle, both of which are still standing. He was the Baron of FRANKENSTEIN” (my emphasis –B-). In a possible connection, we know that the literary and movie versions of Frankenstein charge Dr. Frankenstein with being a body snatcher, which would again fall under the jurisdiction of our canine guardian/escort. ‘Round in circles, in a nod to the mover of that befuddling synchronicity, three days after completing this chapter, my wife told me about “Paul the Hellhound” sightings reported on a local radio station, Power 96.5 FM
Paul the Nixa Hellhound
Paul the Nixa Hellhound is labeled as such mostly by association; in my mind Paul entered the classification of “flap activity” around April Fool’s Day. There were sightings before this, but none in which I could contact a witness and follow up.
The date shouldn’t automatically scare off investigators, but obviously we should be extra vigilant in examining these reports. We would do well to remember why April Fool’s Day is a “holiday” to begin with. In the Old World, especially in Earth religions, it was observed that this period of time brought a disproportionate amount of anomalous activity, or simply strange happenings. Fortean falls (frogs, worms, fish, etc) occur more frequently, the spring months have the most “ghost/apparition” activity, and are typically among the top three periods for UFO reports and monster/cryptid sightings.
That said, around this time, the Fotsch & McClain morning show on Power 96.5 FM were discussing sightings of a “strange” canine creature. My lovely wifey was listening to their program (I’m strictly a talk/news AM type and rather boring as my wife points out) and they received enough calls to fuel days of speculation. When Chini brought it to my attention, I dropped them a line and they graciously invited me into their studio to discuss the creature.
Since then we have had a consistent flow of reports. Over a three-month period we collected 12 reports (this is an ongoing investigation) that we deemed very credible. These 12 reports came from Nixa (2), Republic, Ozark, Bois D’Arc, Marshfield, Camdenton, Rogersville (3), Branson (2) and Mincy. This covers an area of approximately 125 miles in a straight-line. It follows US-65 nearly the whole way (which is consistent with the literature on the “beast” this is historically, as well as currently been the case in these sightings. However the sightings DO NOT follow a migratory pattern. The animal will be sighted at one locale along this stretch then seemingly double back to be sighted in the opposite direction, where it appeared to have come from. We will further examine this zigzagging pattern later.
Of the 12 reports, we have eight that would be considered descriptions of what is likely a “flesh and blood” creature. The composite of these eight sightings would be a dog a little shorter than a Great Dane, with a slim body but large shoulders, and short to medium hair that is tan/brown/black color. It is very skittish, taking off when approached by people.
Now the other four cases really seem to represent something entirely different; something more exotic but something that has an established presence in local folklore. Starting from its physical description, it is said to have the “face of a fox, the ears of a bat (proportionate to its body) and the tail of a monkey.” This was the initial description put out. The composite of this creature is a very large dog with short black hair (thought this was never reported as tangled or mangy as you would expect with a wild or feral dog), extremely stocky with larger than normal eyes. The most cited descriptions claim the creature is the “size of a deer.” I heard this on separate occasions, and I also heard it described as “big as a buck.” These statements were made by witnesses that experienced daytime sightings and were within 15 to 50 feet of the animal. It is hard to misjudge the size of an animal at this distance in good light. The behavior of the animal was also marked: It is confrontational almost to the point of aggression.
Now let’s take a moment and address some of the arguments posed by the skeptics. The area the sightings cover and the sporadic locales of sightings would be problematic in blaming a single flesh-and-blood animal; it would require the creature to double back and cover long distances (along a major highway no less) in a short time without producing any sightings on its journey. We fielded one call from a person who believed they had solved at least the flesh-and-blood version of our canine cryptid, labeling it as either a “Scottish Deerhound” or an “Irish Wolfhound,” and those breeds do share some features with the reports of the flesh-and-blood animal. But there were no reports in the area’s largest newspaper that any dogs of these breeds were missing at the time. Because they are most often bred as show dogs, I also checked AKC registration and found only one of the 12 sighting locales had a registered member of that breed within a 25-mile radius.
Finally, if this was a flesh-and-blood animal sighted over and over, then one of two options seems logical: Either the dog is a lost pet and/or feral, or it is a naturally wild animal. If the first is true, a lost pet let’s say, how does it get sighted regularly along a state highway and never get picked up or even approached by agents of animal control? Why would it keep popping up in the same places, not only recently, but in folklore accounts overlapping successive generations? In other words why do these creatures get sighted in the same places sometimes decades apart?
The generic answer is that Hellhounds aka Devil Dogs, Black Dogs, Old Shuck, Demon Dogs or Booger Dogs (our charming regional title) have been said to be the guardians of highways, roads, portals to the spirit world, ley lines, and buried treasure from antiquity on. Sometimes seen as harbingers of disaster, they are also very often associated with the underworld as guardians (such as Cerberus) or as psychopomps (guides for souls) to the “other side.” This is true in MANY cultures, and the stories are very consistent. In many cultures a dog is buried near the entrance of cemeteries to guard the graveyard, otherwise the most recently deceased (newest resident) has to stand guard until the next resident moves in.
Now we move onto the origin story attached to our not-so-friendly neighborhood Hellhound, the Booger Dog. As the story goes – and we received the same basic story from three different sources of local folklore in Stone, Taney and Greene counties – back when the area was first settled, there was an old man who was something of a hermit (in two accounts the man’s name was Wolf/Wolfe). The community was, by necessity, much closer to one another and fairly religious (we are home to the Holy-Rollers). If one family was having a bad year with their crops, their neighbors made sure the family didn’t starve. If a family needed to raise a barn, the community would come together, usually as a church function, and have a barn raisin’ party. There was one man whom did not follow this “Good Samaritan” code. The man did not attend Sunday services and never helped his neighbors, he was something of a hermit and regarded as a blasphemer. He had the suspiciously apt last name of Wolf(e).
As the story goes Wolf, grew old and sick, as all MEN do and finally was on his deathbed. His kindly neighbors surrounded him trying to give the dying man comfort one brave soul even attempted a deathbed conversion. Just as the man attempted to save Wolf’s soul a great fire broke out. This is the one point of contention in the 3 stories, 2 claimed it started when lightning struck the roof, the dissenting opinion cited an errant spark from the fireplace. Whatever the cause, the end result was the same. The house was burning down around the neighbors ears.
While most of the crowd ran outside to safety 4 men remained to try and save Wolf. We are talking about big strong hay-chucking farm boys. First they tried to raise old-man Wolf from his bed and couldn’t, then tried to push his bed outside and couldn’t budge it. Finally they had to retreat outside to safety. Just as they cleared the threshold, an extremely large dog pushed past them and ran off into the woods. The fire burned out and the neighbors searched the ashes to give Wolf a decent, if not a Christian, burial, but there were no bones or remains to be found, the implication being that he had transformed himself into the great beast.
Ozarks historian/folklorist extraordinaire Vance Randolph has documented a number of eye-witness encounters. In “Ozark Magic and Folklore” he wrote, “One of my best friends told me seriously that as a little boy in McDonald County, Missouri, he once met a spotted hound that was bigger than a cow, and made tracks in the snow nearly two feet across.…. When I first heard this tale, I suspected the man had invented it for my especial benefit, but on checking with his relatives I learned that he had told the same story more than 20 years previously, and that it was known to everybody in the neighborhood.”
Another tale from the small town of Bunker, MO, evokes another Hellhound, this one with a water connection. A “Dr. J. Gordon….Crossing a little stream on horseback, near the Bay Cemetery … saw a figure like a dog, but very much larger. This thing apparently walked on the water without a sound or a ripple. Dr. Gordon saw it many times, once in bright moonlight.”
One last Randolph story, related by Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Mahnkey, details how “a fiddler named Jake Lakey was killed at a dance in Taney County, Missouri, about 1900. (Mahnkey’s) neighbor young Lewis Blair and another boy were sent on horseback to break the news to Jake’s wife, who lived several miles away. Blair told Mrs. Mahnkey that a great black dog ran beside their horses all the way, and when one of the riders struck at the creature with a quirt, the quirt slashed right through it. And when they got to their destination, Mrs. Lakey said calmly; ‘You’ens have come to tell me that Jake is dead.’ In this case, the dog is clearly not a flesh-and-blood creature, but a psychopomp, escorting the boys to tell the widow of her husband’s death.
Now these stories, new and old, were all very similar in events, but the tales themselves are distinct. These events were either perceived as a real by the people relating them, or had a common source, with the language of the story adapted by each story-teller. Either way it represents a rationalization, a story that, if devised, was told to explain a creature that was indeed encountered and blamed for horses being “spooked” and running off and for causing several wagons to catch fire (once even supposedly killing the driver although I’ve yet to verify this in any way). And there are strong elements of fire and electricity we must keep that in mind. One last digression, 3 of the 4 times I was contacted by these witnesses were not familiar with the stories. When I was on the radio it was at a time when they were at work or school.
Finally onto our case, the first report I classified as a “case of interest” was reported to us four days after our sit-down with Fotsch and McClain, this would be around April 11, 2009. Two boys were walking to be picked up by the school bus in Rogersville, MO as they did everyday. This required them to walk a relatively short (though I doubt the boys would agree with this assessment) distance to get to the bus stop.
As they walked past their neighbor’s yard, they observed that there was a new dog in the neighborhood. They walked over, stopping about 5 feet from the chain-link fence surrounding the yard. The dog was around 10 feet away. The boys described it as having short black hair and being the “size of a deer, and not any yearling.” After two or three minutes, one of the boys decided to walk up to the fence to get a better look.
Something in the dog’s demeanor must have changed, because as quickly as the boy announced his plans to put a scare into it, he felt intimidated and stopped. About a half minute later, the dog turned nonchalantly and walked THROUGH the fence. Understandably this upset the boys, and they ran and told the owner of the house what they had witnessed.
At first the woman thought they were “funnin’ her” but she quickly changed her mind as they seemed genuinely “shook up.” She later told me she had known one of the boys (the one who hadn’t approached the fence) all his life and that he “couldn’t lie to save his life.” Upon examination of her backyard she found nothing. The area inside the fence was grass-covered so no prints were visible. However, just outside the fence was a patch of dirt/mud. In this patch was a single, very big paw print. It was the size of a hand curled up into a loose fist, which is slightly suspicious to me, but it would be hard to place by leaning over the fence and there were no footprints in the area.
Our second sighting occurred about a week and a half later. The first occurred in Bois ‘D’ Arc a small community just outside Springfield, MO, which is our base of operations. A local farmer was repairing a piece of his cattle fence that was damaged by the wind in a storm the night before.
The man was going about his repairs when about 15 minutes into his project he felt the sensation of being watched. The man looked up and saw a black dog that was stocky and “big as a buck” staring him down. The witness estimated he was 15 feet away from the animal. It was then he experienced a tingling sensation “like when you get shocked with static electricity. ” This lasted maybe five seconds, and when he pulled his hands off the fence he smelled something burning, but his hands had no visible marks. He looked up again and the dog was entering a patch of woods nearby.
Upon interviewing the man, we discovered that his digital wristwatch stopped working; the thing was as dead as a doornail. This happened right after his encounter, as he discovered when he checked his watch to note the time. Could the mild shock he received have been responsible for shorting out his watch?
The third event we relate here is not directly connected, but if you’re around this field long enough, you look for other anomalies that are not always visibly linked to the central phenomenon. Also because the proximity of this encounter with water.
It occurred on the same day as our previous story at a local Ozark, MO, teen hotspot, although we didn’t receive the report until a week later. At a certain reputedly haunted bridge, three teens were drinking beer and carousing. (Right here I must say I do not condone this activity; underage drinking is horribly dangerous.) This group consisted of two girls and one boy, one of the girls was the sober designated driver. As they lounged around the base of the bridge they kept seeking some “very dark form” moving, they couldn’t make out the shape or size but they all saw it, the sober girl first, and when they saw a pair of “red eyes” floating in the dark they wisely decided it was time to beat feet.
Over the next week, two of those in attendance, as well as other family members, experienced paranormal activity. The sober girl had an outbreak of Poltergeist activity. The family heard numerous loud “poundings” that awoke them in the middle of the night, salt and pepper were spilled when everyone was in bed (the family has no household pets or children under the age of 17) and a toaster caught fire twice.
The boy of the group also seemed to have brought something home with him that night.
The night after they visited the bridge, the boy woke up and went to the bathroom around 3 a.m. After he finished, as he was washing his hands, in the bathroom mirror he observed a black form hovering behind him. The boy turned and it was gone. The next night around 8 p.m. the boy’s 9-year-old sister was about to climb the stairs to her bedroom when, on the landing at the top of the stairs, she saw a “blob-looking thingy” that “hung” there for around a minute and then “walked through the wall.”
The last sighting was witnessed by both the 9-year-old and her older brother. The two were in the dining room clearing the table when they saw the black mass standing at the sliding glass door, either just inside or just outside. It was there for around 15 seconds, and then it seemed to “melt into the darkness.” That was the last encounter we documented related to the bridge incident.
Our last documented encounter of this creature was about three weeks after these events; right back where it began near Logan/Rogersville (the name Logan has an association with hidden and lost structures). An older couple – the woman in her 50s and the man in his early 60s – contacted me with this amazing tale.
The couple was out gardening when their dogs, which were kept in a dog run, went wild. The couple looked up and saw a “black dog, much bigger than a St. Bernard,” pacing along the fence of their dog-run, obviously distressing the dogs. The black dog was around 50 feet from where the couple was gardening. The two approached the dog, the woman brandishing her rake and the man his walking-stick. There was a well established path to the run, and the dog was visible to them at all times … until it vanished. The man put it this way: “It just kind of blinked out, you know. There one minute, then just gone.” After a couple of perplexing seconds, they relocated the animal next to a tree near the edge of their property. Their curiosity piqued, the couple approached the dog cautiously. The animal seemed unconcerned, and the couple walked to within 10 feet of the dog before it let out a “loud and low growl, almost like thunder rumbling,” then it slowly walked around the tree out of sight.
This tree stands in the middle of a field with no cover of any kind for 100 feet – nowhere to run to baby, no where to hide. But it would seem that the creature had neither of these options on its mind. After waiting almost 15 minutes, curiosity again got the better of the couple. Slowly, weapons raised, they each circled the tree, meeting up on the opposite side. The dog was gone. It had left behind a sizable area that looked similar to a large, quadruped (four legged) creature’s bed down area. Near this we found a piece of wood that was slightly burnt and an oval-shaped patch of scorched earth about 18 inches by 12 inches.
Further investigation on the couple’s property revealed a burnt picture and a dead bird next to one another in a nearby wooded area. This suggests an attempt at some kind of a dark magic ritual. Could this be connected to this encounter? Perhaps, since summoning the beast is a fairly common occurrence in the folklore.
Finally, we have one last common denominator in these cases, one that has ties to the history: all four of the more bizarre sightings occurred within 24 hours of a thunderstorm. We had a particularly ripe storm season; could that have been behind the sightings flap?
Elements of fire and electricity play a role in the stories of the past and the sightings of today, which recur along the same routes over extended periods of time. The sightings follow a major highway system as well, which tends to be the case in most cultures.
There are some schools of thought (in paranormal studies) that say that between 36 degrees and 38 degrees longitude, high strangeness and monster-sightings are much more frequent. Missouri in general, and specifically the areas of these sightings, are located in this sector. There is also a strong oral tradition that holds that the area of the Ozarks holds many “doorways and entrances” to other dimensions. Just the sort of thing a Hellhound would guard. We will keep you informed.