Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Ghosts of Dogs in Welsh Folklore by Wirt Sikes 1880



The Ghosts of Dogs and Animals in Wales by Wirt Sikes 1880

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Of spectral animals there is no great diversity in Cambria, unless one should class under this head sundry poetic creatures which more properly belong to the domain of magic, or to fairyland. The spirits of favourite animals which have died return occasionally to visit their masters. Sometimes it is a horse, which is seen on a dark night looking in at the window, its eyes preternaturally large. More often it is the ghost of a dog which revisits the glimpses of the moon. Men sometimes become as fondly attached to a dog as they could to any human being, and, where the creed of piety is not too severe, the possibility of a dog’s surviving after death in a better world is admitted. ‘It is hard to look in that dog’s eyes and believe,’ said a Welshman to me, ‘that he has not a bit of a soul to be saved.’ The almost human companionship of the dog for man is a familiar fact. It is not strange, therefore, that the dog should be the animal whose spirit, in popular belief, shares the nature of man’s after death.

Sometimes the spirit in animal form is the spirit of a mortal, doomed to wear this shape for some offence. This again trenches on the ground of magic; but the ascription to the spirit-world is distinct in modern instances. There was a Rev. Mr. Hughes, a clergyman of the Church of England, in the isle and county of Anglesea, who was esteemed the most popular preacher thereabout in the last century, and upon this account was envied by the rest of the clergy, ‘which occasioned his becoming a field preacher for a time, though he was received into the Church again.’ As he was going one night to preach, he came upon an artificial circle in the ground, between Amlwch village and St. Elian Church, where a spirit in the shape of a large greyhound jumped against him and threw him from his horse. This experience was repeated on a second night. The third night he went on foot, and warily; and now he saw that the spirit was chained. He drew near, but keeping beyond the reach of the chain, and questioned the spirit: ‘Why troublest thou those that pass by?’ The spirit replied that its unrest was due to a silver coin it had hidden under a stone when in the flesh, and which belonged to the church of St. Elian. The clergyman being told where the coin was, found it and paid it over to the church, and the chained spirit was released.

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In the Gwyllgi, or Dog of Darkness, is seen a spirit of terrible form, well known to students of folk-lore. This is a frightful apparition of a mastiff, with a baleful breath and blazing red eyes which shine like fire in the night. It is huge in size, and reminds us of the ‘shaggy mastiff larger than a steed nine winters old,’ which guarded the sheep before the castle of Yspaddaden Pencawr. ‘All the dead trees and bushes in the plain he burnt with his breath down to the very ground.’ The lane leading from Mousiad to Lisworney-Crossways, is reported to have been haunted by a Gwyllgi of the most terrible aspect. Mr. Jenkin, a worthy farmer living near there, was one night returning home from market on a young mare, when suddenly the animal shied, reared, tumbled the farmer off, and bolted for home. Old Anthony the farm-servant, found her standing trembling by the barn-door, and well knowing the lane she had come through suspected she had seen the Gwyllgi. He and the other servants of the farm all went down the road, and there in the haunted lane they found the farmer, on his back in the mud. Being questioned, the farmer protested it was the Gwyllgi and nothing less, that had made all this trouble, and his nerves were so shaken by the shock that he had to be supported on either side to get him home, slipping and staggering in the mud in truly dreadful fashion all the way. It is the usual experience of people who meet the Gwyllgi that they are so overcome with terror by its unearthly howl, or by the glare of its fiery eyes, that they fall senseless. Old Anthony, however, used to say that he had met the Gwyllgi without this result. As he was coming home from courting a young woman of his acquaintance (name delicately withheld, as he did not marry her) late one Sunday night—or it may have been Monday morning—he encountered in the haunted lane two large shining eyes, which drew nearer and nearer to him. He was dimly able to discern, in connection with the gleaming eyes, what seemed a form of human shape above, but with the body and limbs of a large spotted dog. He threw his hat at the terrible eyes, and the hat went whisking right through them, falling in the road beyond. However, the spectre disappeared, and the brave Anthony hurried home as fast as his shaking legs would carry him.

As Mr. David Walter, of Pembrokeshire, ‘a religious man, and far from fear and superstition,’ was travelling by himself through a field called the Cot Moor, where there are two stones set up called the Devil’s Nags, which are said to be haunted, he was suddenly seized and thrown over a hedge. He went there another day, taking with him for protection a strong fighting mastiff dog. When he had come near the Devil’s Nags there appeared in his path the apparition of a dog more terrible than any he had ever seen. In vain he tried to set his mastiff on; the huge beast crouched frightened by his master’s feet and refused to attack the spectre. Whereupon his master boldly stooped to pick up a stone, thinking that would frighten the evil dog; but suddenly a circle of fire surrounded it, which lighting up the gloom, showed the white snip down the dog’s nose, and his grinning teeth, and white tail. ‘He then knew it was one of the infernal dogs of hell.’

Rebecca Adams was ‘a woman who appeared to be a true living experimental Christian, beyond many,’ and she lived near Laugharne Castle, in Carmarthenshire. One evening when she was going to Laugharne town on some business, her mother dissuaded her from going, telling her she would be benighted, and might be terrified by some apparition at Pant y Madog. This was a pit by the side of the lane leading to Laugharne, which was never known to be dry, and which was haunted, as many had both seen and heard apparitions there. But the bold Rebecca was not to be frighted at such nonsense, and went her way. It was rather dark when she was returning, and she had passed by the haunted pit of Pant y Madog, and was congratulating herself on having seen no ghost. Suddenly she saw a great dog coming towards her. When within about four or five yards of her it stopped, squatted on its haunches, ‘and set up such a scream, so loud, so horrible, and so strong, that she thought the earth moved under her.’ Then she fell down in a swoon. When she revived it was gone; and it was past midnight when she got home, weak and exhausted.


Much stress is usually laid, in accounts of the Gwyllgi, on the terror with which it inspires domestic animals. This confidence in the ability of the brute creation to detect the presence of a spirit, is a common superstition everywhere. An American journal lately gave an account of an apparition seen in Indiana, whose ghostly character was considered by the witnesses to be proven by the terror of horses which saw it. They were drawing the carriage in which drove the persons to whom the ghost appeared, and they shied from the road at sight of it, becoming unmanageable. The spectre soon dissolved in thin air and vanished, when the horses instantly became tractable. In Wales it is thought that horses have peculiarly this ‘gift’ of seeing spectres. Carriage horses have been known to display every sign of the utmost terror, when the occupants of the carriage could see no cause for fright; and in such cases a funeral is expected to pass there before long, bearing to his grave some person not dead at the time of the horses’ fright. These phenomena are certainly extremely interesting, and well calculated to ‘bid us pause,’ though not, perhaps, for the purpose of considering whether a horse’s eye can receive an image which the human retina fails to accept. Much weight will not be given to the fright of the lower animals, I fear, by any thoughtful person who has witnessed the terror of a horse at sight of a flapping shirt on a clothes-line, or that hideous monster a railway engine. Andrew Jackson Davis has a theory that we all bear about us an atmosphere, pleasing or repulsive, which can be detected by horses, dogs, and spiritual ‘mediums;’ this aura, being spiritual, surrounds us without our will or wish, goes where we go, but does not die when we die, and is the means by which a bloodhound tracks, or a fond dog finds its master. Without denying the possibility of this theory, I must record that in my observation a dog has been found to smell his master most successfully when that master was most in need of a bath and a change of linen. Also, that when the master leaves off his coat he clearly leaves—if a dog’s conduct be evidence—a part of his aura with it. More worthy of serious attention is August Comte’s suggestion that dogs and some other animals are perhaps capable of forming fetichistic notions. That dogs accredit inanimate objects with volition, to a certain extent, I am quite convinced. The thing which constitutes knowledge, in dogs as in human beings—that is to say, thought, organised by experience—corrects this tendency in animals as they grow older, precisely as it corrects the false conclusions of children, though never to the same extent. That a dog can think, I suppose no well-informed person doubts in these days.

The Gwyllgi finds its counterpart in the Mauthe Doog of the Isle of Man and the Shock of the Norfolk coast. It there comes up out of the sea and travels about in the lanes at night. To meet it is a sign of trouble and death. The Gwyllgi also is confined to sea-coast parishes mainly, and although not classed among death-omens, to look on it is deemed dangerous. The hunting dogs, Cwn Annwn, or dogs of hell, whose habitat is the sky overhead, have also other attributes which distinguish them clearly from the Gwyllgi. They are death-omens, ancient of lineage and still encountered. The Gwyllgi, while suggesting some interesting comparisons with the old mythology, appears to have lost vogue since smuggling ceased to be profitable.

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