Black Shuck is one of the most well-known encounters with a hellhound or a black dog. Much like the White Things of American folklore, black dogs are European symbols of death and ill omen. Black Shuck itself has become iconic on the British Isles.
Legend has it that Black Shuck has been sighted for generations. Its form varies at times, some say it had flaming eyes but was only the size of a cat, while others might say that it was the size of a horse and floated on a trail of mist. Always on roads, often on crossroads, which have always had a mystical connection. Crossroads allegedly act as a pathway between the spirit world and the living, which might explain Black Shuck’s ghostly appearance.
There is speculation that Black Shuck is actually just a reimagined retelling of Viking folklore surrounding the hunting hounds of the gods. Could also be a remodeled version of Cerberus, the three headed hellhound that guarded the kingdom of the dead. Still, there are curious connections to old pagan myths from the pre-Christian faiths that peppered ancient Europe.
One famous account of a Black Shuck sighting comes out of Suffolk England in 1577. A church there claimed that the beast tore its way through the congregation like a whirlwind, killing two and leaving scorch marks on the stone floor. Called the devil’s footprints, these marks can still be seen at the church.
Most recently in 2014 news paper outlets in England claimed that the body of Black Shuck might have been discovered. Archaeologists digging in an ancient abbey near Suffolk are said to have found a 7foot long skeleton of a dog buried in a shallow grave. Preliminary tests on the bones and soil indicate that the skeleton may date back to that fateful encounter in 1577.
My own take on Black Shuck is that people have always held on to the idea of death omens. They need some reason to make sense of a sudden tragedy, so their grief and fear take on a form. Something to blame and curse. Black Shuck and other heralds of death, such as the European Banshee, or the White Things of America, served as a way for people to cope with mortality.