The Black Shuck
Happy Weird Wednesday! Today we’re going to talk about a very good boy (maybe) called the Black Shuck.
The Black Shuck is a type of folklore beast called a Hell Hound, which doesn’t really bode well as a name, actually. These doggos are denizens of Down Below, and they like to hang out in suitably goth environments like deserted roads and graveyards.
Hell Hounds are found all over the world, and their legends inspired the Sherlock Holmes story The Hound of the Baskervilles. The Black Shuck (shuck possibly meaning either “devil” or “shaggy”) roams eastern England. And he’s big. Like as big as a horse. In fact, he’s sometimes linked to the Wild Hunt. He also doesn’t always have a head, which does cut down on ear-skritching opportunities.
The Black Shuck is famous for a visit to Holy Trinity Church at Blythburgh and St Mary’s Church, Bungay, on the same day— August 4, 1577. It seems to have been a demonic visitation. At Holy Trinity, the Shuck appeared at the church in a burst of thunder and lightning. He left scorch marks on the door, then ran up the center aisle, killed two people, and left when the steeple of the church collapsed in on itself. Then he visited St. Mary’s and upped the body count. Officially, this is recorded as a massive storm hitting the churches, but what story is not made better by the addition of a dog?
The image above is from Abraham Fleming’s tale of the Black Shuck at St. Mary’s: “A straunge, and terrible wunder wrought very late in the parish church of Bongay: a town of no great distance from the citie of Norwich, namely the fourth of this August, in ye yeere of our Lord 1577.” From Wikipedia
And now for some pupper prompts!
* Time is running out. Hell Hounds are well known for being death omens, and some Black Shuck stories cast him in that role. The sight of the Shuck might mean death for the viewer, or one of their family members. So would you tell your family if you saw one? I suppose it depends on whether you’re feeling grateful for the advance notice. Sometimes rather than foretelling death, Hell Hounds are a sign of impending thunderstorms, which would definitely be in the Black Shuck’s wheelhouse.
* Old Scratch. Considering what the Black Shuck did to a couple of churches, it makes sense that he could be a form of the Devil himself. It does seem astounding that the Devil would make an appearance on holy ground and dispatch worshippers in a place they surely thought was safe. What would draw him to a church? An evil person masquerading as good? Or might someone have summoned him? And why take the form of a monstrous dog? Perhaps it’s symbolic: a warning that evil and death are strong and vicious.
* Eternal unrest. Rather than the Devil, sometimes Hell Hounds are thought to be his victims: doomed souls cursed to wander the earth. These doggos might be dangerous or docile: perhaps a sinner trying to scare people back to a righteous path in order to spare them the same fate (there’s the Wild Hunt again), or someone trying to right the wrongs they did in life by protecting those in danger. And speaking of doggie heroism:
* Man’s Best Friend. Because most dogs are Very Good Puppers. And there is a tradition of Hell Hounds saving lives by guiding (or scaring, let’s be real) people away from dangerous areas, or chasing away predators of whatever type. The Black Shuck could possibly herd people to safety before a violent storm arrives.
* True love never dies. So what if the Black Shuck was an actual dog? That is, the ghost of a good boy who remains faithful beyond the grave? Maybe the owner was unjustly killed and their childhood companion rises to seek revenge. Or maybe the owner is still alive and has a phantom pet protecting them.
* What lies beneath. Hell Hounds are sometimes thought to guard buried treasure, which seems useful in that it shows where treasure is located, but also extremely unhelpful, in that nobody especially wants to fight the horse-sized dog with the glowing red eyes to get a treasure. There is also a type of Hell Hound called a Church Grim, which is the spirit of a dog that guards a graveyard. Often the doggo is buried there himself. It begs the question: what does he guard against? (You can read my free horror story Kirkegrim to find out more.)
Thank you for spending your Weird Wednesday here — no terrible ending joke this week, just support your local animal shelters, y’all. And a picture of my Very Good Boy, Link, being his usual dignified self.