The Black Dog

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Orange County, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 5 March 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece:

My grandma would tell me these stories about black dogs, or the black dog I guess. Basically, she said that when you see the black dog, it’s a sign of bad luck or death. It’s not just any black dogs, but you would know if you see one because this dog has red eyes and would just randomly appear and disappear without you noticing. The Black Dog apparently is a ghost who works for the Devil himself, and seeing the Dog basically means that the Devil will eventually get to you. She told me this story of when she was little, she visited her dead grandparents at a graveyard. She supposedly saw the Black Dog there, and apparently she lost her aunt from a cancer a few months after. I haven’t bothered to check up on how true the story was, but it did scare me when I was little. My family even avoided getting a black colored dog when we first got our puppy. My dog is beige.

Background:

My informant is of Irish and Scottish descent, his parents being immigrants from those respective countries. He grew up heavily influenced by both cultures, and he’s told me that he relates more with Irish and Scottish cultures more so than Irish American or Scottish American identities. The Black Dog is a popular motif and a mythical creature in European countries, especially in Britain, Scotland, and Wales. While the details of the story varies per region, but in general the Black Dog is believed to bring terrible news. It’s also the motif behind the famous Sherlock Holmes story “the Hound of the Baskervilles”.

Context:

The informant relayed this piece of information during our lunch at my apartment, near USC campus. There no other people present during our talk, and we were dining as we talked. It was a comfortable setting.

My thoughts:

Because there’s so much cultural positive rep for dogs in western viewpoint, I found it fascinating that there’s a very old and famous European belief that a dog could ever be this sinister and evil. The color black being associated with Satan and the Devil seemed appropriate for Europeans to do so. From my understanding, to say “I have a black dog” nowadays means that someone suffers from depression, and it was helpful to understand where the phrase originated from.

For more information on the Black Dog, please see:

Quaile, Sheilagh. “The black dog that worries you at home: The Black Dog Motif in Modern English Folklore and Literary Culture.” The Great Lakes Journal of Undergraduate History, vol.1 article 3, 2013.