Black Dogs of Norfolk

The Iceni were a tribe who lived in the area of England now called Norfolk.

According to Black Dog Folklore, there are eighty-two accounts of black dog sightings of various kinds (or of some kind, as there are no details in many cases) in the region. Also according to Black Dog Folklore, East Anglia broadly is home to the Shuck type of black dog ghost, an ominous creature sometimes said to kill those who witness it.

Going off the data provided in the book:

  • at least seven sightings position the dog as an omen of death
  • there are two headless dogs
  • there are five dogs with chains
  • there are three one-eyed dogs (possibly Shucks), one is a local legend
  • there are two reports of hell hounds, including one local legend
  • one dog is called Skutch
  • there are four overt references to Shucks
  • there are four dogs with physical effects, sometimes violent

There are several for which no data has been recorded, so it’s hard to say how things really look without living over there yourself.

There is also the concept of the cu sì, or fairy dog, which I learned about from Morgan Daimler’s works Fairies: A Guide to the Celtic Fair Folk and Fairy Witchcraft. Fairy hounds are recognized as unusual in some way and are sometimes conflated with (or possibly otherwise connected to) other forms of black dogs (many fairy hounds are black, but they can come in white and green, as well as other colors, missing limbs, eyes, etc.), such as the aforementioned Shuck.

I had a sighting of my own, which could fall into either category. All I know is I got a vibe off the encounter and I remember it well.

On page 173 of East Anglian Witches and Wizards, an individual is described as having had a sighting of a Black Dog or Shuck while he was a child, an encounter which inspired him to become a “traditional magical practitioner”. The chapter goes on to describe further encounters with the Shuck, some of which I recognize from Black Dog Folklore but others of which are new to me.

In both sources the Shuck or Barguest (depending, I suppose, on where you are) seems to be connected to the dead. Ancient burial mounds and old tracks used to take the dead to the graveyard. Crossroads. (Barguest may be a corruption of the phrase “Barrow Ghost”, but who knows?) The lines in the Isles between the Gods, the dead, land spirits and the Fae are notoriously blurred, hence the aforementioned conflation, and Christianity has changed a great many things in order to comport with its worldview. (The earliest written account of a Shuck, involving two nearly simultaneous attacks on churches during a thunderstorm, attributed the apparition to the work of the Devil, but if the motif existed then (and there’s a whole discussion to be had about using handy metaphors to describe inexplicable things, it happens to this day in the UFO world) then it is surely based on something.)

It’s possible the Iceni and their tribal neighbors knew of entities similar to the Shuck and other Black Dogs found throughout England. But it’s too difficult to tell and no one’s bothered to write anything down about it. The spirit (which I believe is there) has surely been around for quite some time and is still around, causing the odd spook here and there. Perhaps more sightings will come in given the increasing awareness of the magical world. Who can say?

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