Regardless of which country you hale from, there is bound to be ancient folklore surrounding animals and humans that were otherworldly in the eyes of the people that inhabited those times. Always searching for something to explain that which they feared or didn’t understand, a lot of it focused on cats and dogs. This didn’t bode well for animals if their coats happened to be black. As scientists now know today, the gene for black coats is the most common. Back then, however, anything and everything could arouse suspicions of malevolent spirits wreaking havoc in their lives.
One such creature was known as the black Shuck or Moddey Dhoo in Great Britain’s ancient folklore. Described as a shaggy black dog said to roam the coastlines and countrysides of places like East Anglia, they were one of many large canines recorded in myths across the British Isles. In fact, accounts of the fearsome creatures formed a segment of folklore ranging from England to Scotland, and many a tale of haunted castles still include them to this day. Not uncommonly, the descriptions of the ghostly beasts vary considerably. Frequently claimed to be omens of death, other depictions of large black dogs during this period, like the Gurt, were described as companionable.
Harbingers of Doom
The name “Shuck” derives from the Old English word scucca, which refers to a devil, demon, Satan, Beelzebub — you get the point. The first appearance of one in print is attributed to Reverend E. S. Taylor in 1850 in an edition of Notes and Queries, where they’re described as a fiend. Taylor went on to write, “This phantom I have heard many persons in East Norfolk, and even Cambridgeshire, describe as having seen as a black shaggy dog with fiery eyes, and of immense size, and who visits churchyards at midnight.” But people feared them as far back as the 1500s or even earlier. Abraham Fleming gave a famous account of them as being “a strange and terrible wunder” in 1577 at Bungay, Suffolk.
Things that Go Bump in the Night
The best ghost story in connection to a black Shuck comes from a legend associated with Peel Castle on the Isle of Man. Built by Vikings in the 11th century, the story goes that in the 1660s a demonic black dog with long, shaggy, unkempt fur haunted the castle’s guardroom. Appearing late at night to sleep by the fire, it always materialized after the gates of the castle were secured for the evening, leaving the guards to wonder where it came from.
One night, a drunken guard allegedly goaded the large creature to follow him alone down a dark passage, boasting that he feared no man nor beast. He returned soon afterward, staggering, his face white and twisted with fear, eyes blazing in terror, his mind reportedly destroyed. He never uttered another sound and could not, or would not, tell others what had happened. Three days later, he was dead, taking the secret of his ordeal with him to the grave. After that night, the black dog was never again seen in the guardroom, passage, or anywhere else in Peel Castle. Intriguingly, an excavation of the castle grounds in 1871 uncovered the remains of Simon, Bishop of Sodor and Man, who died in 1247. At his feet was found the skeleton of a very large dog…