Stories and legends of beastly hounds exhibiting supernatural powers go back to ancient Greece and Rome. The Greeks tell of the dreaded three-headed hound, Cerberus: the watchdog of Hell. Chained to the Gates of Acheron, the fearsome, hellish beast was said to guard the gates of Hades, hounding those who enter and preventing condemned souls from fleeing the underworld back across the river Styx. In ancient Greek depictions each of Cerberus three heads was thought to represent all events in the past, present and future. Somewhat less foreboding was Cerberus brother, Orthrus. Greek mythology depicts this creepy canine as having only two heads. Orthrus role was more bucolic. We see him guarding the herd of red cattle owned by the three-bodied giant, Geryon. Geryon and Orthrus are finally slain by the heroic Hercules in the western Mediterranean.
Moving forward in time, we see the fearsome hell-hound represented in the form of the mysterious black dog often seen by country-folk on lonely lanes in rural Great Britain. Using Devon as a backdrop for his setting, the brilliant writer and physician, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, depicts the uncanny canine and the dreaded Baskervilles curse as the likely antagonist for his brilliant crime novel: Hound of the Baskervilles. Conan Doyle based his yarn on the 17th century legend of Richard Cabell, an eccentric local squire. Described as an evil tyrant, the squire’s ghost was thought to lead a pack of phantom hounds across the moor on the anniversary of his death. The pondering Sherlock Holmes, aided by tobacco, his Stradivarius, a moderated dose of the seven-percent solution, and his trusty and able sidekick, Dr. Watson, is on the case to solve the canine mystery.
While Sherlock Holmes is the most widely known character in modern fiction, phantom canines are not so easily relegated to mere folklore. Known as Old Shuck, Skriker, and Hairy Jack, the black dog is as enigmatic as it is creepy. Sightings are often omens of death, misfortune, and disaster. In 1577 a black dog with glowing red eyes appeared inside St. Mary’s Church in Bungay. Records show the congregation witnessed the beast attack five people. When the hound passed two parishioners, they fell to the floor in abject fear. With a crack of thunder and lightning, the beast left the church and headed for Holy Trinity Church in Blythburgh, where it mauled and killed two people. Then, as Hell would have it, the devilish beast left the church in a flash of smoke and fire, leaving several black marks on the wooden door.These scorch marks are still visible today.
So, what are ordinary, clear-thinking people seeing when they encounter the black dog? To the chagrin of sceptics, sightings may be more than mere hallucination. Researchers have suggested that encounters follow a geometric pattern and may be linked to esoteric, geophysical forces. These ley lines, or magnetic Earth energy, appear to correspond with ancient crossroads and burial and building sites. Could the Black Dog be the manifestation of Cerberus, the hideous hound from Hades? We hope not, but one never knows, does he? But if some evening you find yourself at a fork in the road on a dark, lonely lane in the English countryside, you may want to tune your own guitar, keep moving, and remember the words of the late, great Delta bluesman, Robert Leroy Johnson, who is thought to have met the Devil himself at the Crossroads in Clarksdale...Because there may be a Hell Hound On Your Trail, a bloody Hell Hound On Your Trail.
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