An introduction to Mapping the grim and black dog tales.
I grew up and live in Norfolk and have a family roots in the area going back nearly as far as the eye of history can see on paper and parchment, We have tilled these fields for centuries, certainly as far as the visible genesis of this cycle of stories. By stories I am referring to those that at least locally surround the appearances of the Black Dog ‘Shuck’ or ‘Shock’. A black shaggy thing which is alleged to roam the highways and byways of our East Anglia and in other mantles can be found across the country dipping in and out of our collective memory, twisting through tales of sailors and witches, troll bridges and gibbets, haunting alleys, lanes, crossroads, bridges, trackways, lanes and cemeteries, either lost and forlorn, or fierce and an equerry of the devil himself. There are at least four cycles of the story in Norfolk alone and many derivatives and subtypes of those exist too.
He can be a silent companion, a helper, a sign of loss, impending doom, murders, illness. He is mostly huge and shaggy, although is a dachshund in one tale (yes really), has two heads, one head, no head, is human. Has red eyes, yellow eyes, one eye, is black, very occasionally white. He can vanish into thin air, knock someone off a bike but you can drive through him. He can walk through walls, appear in houses, appear from nowhere. Can’t be touched. He is silent, drags a chain, howls like a demon. Instill calm, brings terror, is the size of a Labrador or the size of a horse. Sometimes he exhibits Cynocephaly and drifts into the territory of the Werewolf. Occasionally there’s mor ethan one of him and he drifts into another folklore cycle of the wild hunt. Generally the one who concerns us is shaggy, usually black, is a dog.
In Norfolk and Suffolk he is referred to as Black Shuck or Old Shook, the same is true of North Essex. In some areas of the county he’s Scarfe, Skeff and in Norwich where the dialect softens he’s Skutch on his very rare appearances. Across the country he is the church Grim. In Lincolnshire he is Hairy Jack. Further North in Yorkshire and Lancashire he becomes Guytrash, Gebble Ratchets, but is most commonly a Barghest. His cousins appear at witch Trials. Towards Manchester and Blackburn he is the Pongay. In Scotland he is the Cu Sith. In Eire the folklore streams cross and he becomes part of a pack, the Coinn Iotair. Similarly in the West Country he is part the songline that is the Yesh Hounds. And in Wales hunts with Cwn Annwn and appaers in solitary form as the Gwyllgi where our tales drift into the Mabinogion. He is the Tchen Boddhu of Jersey and Guernsey, Die Roden Ogen of Flanders and Tchen al Tchinne in Wallonia dragging that familiar chain again, into the mountains and forest of Germany he becoems the Roggenwolf. And in Catalonia he is Dip. The folklore has emigrated as far as Nicaragua and South America as El Cadejo. Arguably his ancestral home could be anywhere, from Greece and Cerberus to the Celtic heartlands of Western Europe, he is twined like the strands in string into a rope that holds our mythic heritage together.
What we’re doing
What I hope to do here is pull together a series of stories from guest writers, I Have opened up the map, one that you can add a tale to (see article to the right). The map already exists (Note this was written inJuly 2015), so far we have about 130 incidences, spanning from the fourteenth century right up to present day, So these stretch from the coastline and roads near where I sit now to the Northern heartlands to Yorkshire and Lancashire thanks to Tim Hardy who has already added a few thus ameliorating my pain slightly.
This is a public project, and after a lot of deliberation, I used my usual technique when it comes to decision making, of thinking ‘Ah fuck it, why not’. I’ve opted to launch it via the platform that is Public Archaeology 2015, if you use twitter, you can follow them here. I will be adding a few short blogs about progress throughout August on their website here.
What is Public Archaeology and why haven’t you got a trowel and a cagoule? Well, it’s still about digging, just not holes in the ground, lets dig into the collective psyche and chase some myths, legends and folktales about, we are all ‘The Public’. The time frame is curious as the stories not only date back over a thousand years, they are still being created. History starts now.
I will also be adding more stuff here as will other people. I will also be opening up the Map during the next week. If you want to get in touch have an idea for something, would like to transcribe to the map, want to add a story or blog or just write about the feelz late at night on what might be an Anglo-Saxon trackway, you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org I’ve also left the comments open on the page, so feel free to drop me a message there too. All-comers perpetually welcome wherever and whenever you are from.
The project will continue after the end of August. Currently we will only be dealing with data submissions for The British Isles and depending on reponses will then roll it out wider and further and bigger and brighter and so on, perhaps.
And my Shuck; there’s two, the tale of the dog who wanders the North Norfolk coast roads between to masters that I heard as a child, and the one I know now, the twisting eddying story in my head that is my own personal re-mythology of it. But more on that eventually.
Header: detail from Ritter, Tod und Teufel by Albrecht Dürer. Typeface: The most obvious one I could find.
If you have an article, some research or a response to the Folklore, history, incidence or landscape of the Black Dog that you would like to include in the project please get in touch with us by emailing here.