This first story appears in my upcoming book, The Book of Ancestors which is now available for pre-order wherever books are sold!
Dogs are wonderful aren’t they?
Over the thousands of years that dogs and humans have been companions, we have developed an unshakeable bond. Dogs provide us with companionship, protection, loyalty and even help with various tasks and jobs. In return we provide them with love, food, and shelter.
Dogs and humans have the ability to communicate with one another using body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. Since we are both social and community oriented species, we benefit greatly from our mutual relationship.
The relationship between dogs and humans is so special, that sometimes even through death, the bond cannot be broken.
Greyfriars Bobby - The Guardian of Greyfriars Kirkyard
On the corner of Candlemakers Row in Edinburgh Scotland, overlooking the infamous Greyfriars Kirkyard stands the most photographed statue in the entire city.
This bronze figure with accompanying water fountain, memorializes a little sky terrier named Greyfriars Bobby, who is considered by most to be the guardian of the graveyard.
So how did this little dog find himself with this sacred duty? Well, that story begins with his owner.
In 1850 a landscaper named John Gray moved his family to Edinburgh in search of new financial opportunities. Unfortunately, John struggled to obtain work as a gardener, as he had hoped he would.
In a last-ditch effort to avoid the workhouses — sweatshops that were filled with abuse and disease — John became a police constable. Policing the city during the night shift was a difficult and an undesirable job, but John saw it as the lesser of two evils.
Though he had avoided the workhouse, the long cold nights and poor health conditions of Edinburgh took their toll, and not long after starting his job, John was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Over the next few months his condition deteriorated, and he unfortunately passed away.
From the moment he was interred in Greyfriars Kirkyard, his dog, Bobby was there to watch over him.
Rain or shine, Bobby lay on top of John’s grave, much to the dismay of the sexton, James Brown. But as the months and years passed, James warmed to the little dog and built him a small shelter near the grave to live in.
On occasion Bobby, would follow another man named John Traill to the coffee house he owned for a midday meal. But even though the little dog trusted him, he would never leave the kirkyard for long.
It was as though he belonged to the kirkyard, as much as it belonged to him.
As time moved on, Bobby became a bit of a local celebrity. The residents of Edinburgh were very protective of him, so when a local bylaw threatened his life, people were understandably distraught.
You see, all dogs in Edinburgh were required to be licensed, and with his owner deceased, Bobby had nobody to cover his fee.
Thankfully, the Lord Provost Sir William Chambers heard his tale, and it touched his heart. He paid the licensing fee for Bobby and even bought him a collar engraved with his information.
It is currently on display at the Edinburgh Museum.
Its inscription reads “Greyfriars Bobby from the Lord Provost - 1867 - licensed.”
For fourteen years Bobby faithfully watched over John’s grave, until Wednesday January 17th 1872, when an article appeared in The Scotsman announcing the dog’s death.
“Many will be sorry to hear that the poor but interesting dog ‘Greyfriars Bobby’ died on Sunday evening. Every kind attention was paid to him in his last days by his guardian Mr. Traill who has had him buried in a flower pot near Greyfriars Church. His collar, a gift from the Lord Provost Chambers has been deposited in the office at the church gate. Mr. Brodie has successfully modelled the figure of Greyfriars Bobby which is to be erected by the munificence of the Baroness Burdett Coutts.”
It is that very statue commissioned by the baroness that rests on the corner, visited day after day by locals and tourist alike.
But the statue isn’t the only monument erected in Bobby’s honour.
In Greyfriars Kirkyard itself, a gravestone greets you as you enter.
Died 14th January 1872
Aged 16 Years
Let his loyalty and devotion
Be a lesson to us all’
Every few years, an article surfaces question the validity of Bobby, but that hasn’t stopped his legend from growing.
Death hasn’t seemed to put an end to Bobby’s activities either. Many people have claimed to catch a glimpse of the ghostly terrier making the after-lunch run back to Greyfriars, where offerings of sticks lay loyally at his grave.
The Newfie of St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Another dog who couldn’t bear to leave his master’s side even through death, was a Newfie that belonged to Captain John McNeill Boyd.
John McNeill Boyd was born in 1812 in Derry, Norther Ireland. In 1825 at just 13 years old, he joined the Royal Navy. He had a natural affinity to the sea, and for sailing, and in 1856 had climbed the ranks all the way to Captain.
In 1858, he became the Captain of the HMS Ajax, the last ship to be under his command.
You see in February 1861, Ireland was hit by some of the worst storms ever recorded. Ships of all kinds were being decimated along the coast, and there was no relief in sight.
On February 8th, at a harbour on the coast of Dun Laoghaire, three important vessels called the Neptune, the Industry and the Mary, were attempting to dock with no luck.
When Captain Boyd got word of their difficulties, he ordered his crew to board the Ajax, so they could help bring in the Neptune which was closest.
Unfortunately, the Neptune crashed right into the East pier and its inhabitants were all thrown into the frigid waters.
Captain Boyd and his men immediately sprung into action. Some got into smaller boats, while others jumped directly into the sea to try and rescue whomever they could, and they did indeed save a few lives.
However, the storms ultimately proved to be too powerful.
Captain Boyd was adamant about their duty to their fellow sailors and began making alternate plans for rescue.
While standing on a breakwater, which is a permanent structure designed to protect a port against storms and strong currents, a massive wave came over and swept Captain Boyd, five of his crew and twenty-one townspeople out to sea.
Over the next few days, after the storms had passed, bodies began to surface. One by one they were identified, but none of them as Captain Boyd, until finally, weeks later, the sea decided to return him home.
Captain Boyd was buried on March 5th, 1861 in St. Patrick’s cathedral with full naval honours and for his bravery was posthumously awarded RNLI Silver Medal, the Tayleur Fund Gold Medal and the Sea Gallantry Medal.
The community at large showed up to pay their respects at his funeral, and this included a large black Newfoundland dog. According to legend, this dog had been on the boat that brought Captain Boyd’s body in to shore. Some speculate that the dog had belonged to Captain Boyd and that’s why he had been brought along.
At the end of the service, after the last shovel of dirt was placed on his grave, the dog lay on top, refusing to move. Despite countless people trying to coax him away, he remained steadfast in his conviction, eventually dying of starvation right on that very spot.
Since his death, many people claim to have seen the ghostly image of the Newfie roaming the grounds of St. Patrick’s cathedral graveyard, and inside the building itself.
One eye witness was the well respect Reverend David Wilson, who was the dean of St. Patrick’s cathedral until 1914.
No one besides the dog, and possibly Captain Boyd, know why the animal did what he did, or why he seemed to wander around long after his death. The last reported sighting was in 1950. Perhaps, after all those years, the Newfie of St. Patrick’s Cathedral has finally been reunited with his human companion.
The Legend of the Blue Dog
The legend of the blue dog is one of America’s oldest ghost stories.
For two hundred years versions of the tale have been told and there is no evidence of its popularity waning.
One version goes something like this…
On February 8th, a short time after the American revolution, a soldier named Charles Thomas Sims and his Blue-tick hound made their way to the colonial era town of Port Tobacco in Charles County, Maryland.
Tired from travelling, he decided to stop into one of the taverns of the area.
The townsfolk, curious about the soldier and his reason forr being in the area, asked him his plans.
The combination of alcohol, exhaustion and the desire to brag, overtook Sims good sense, and he began sharing that during his time in the war, he had come into the possession of a large quantity of gold, and a deed to an estate.
One group of tavern listeners was a man named Henry Hanos. Hanos decided that Sims good fortune was soon going to be his own good fortune, so he slipped out of the pub, gathered a group of friends and hatched a plan.
When rested and sufficiently drunk, Sims and his hound began their journey again. Alone on the road, they made it as far as an estate called Rose Hill Manor before being ambushed by the group of opportunistic thieves.
The men demanded he hand over the gold and property deed.
Sims refused, and that’s when things got violent.
Both he and his dog were killed, their bodies left on a large piece of stone atop Rose Hill.
Hanos, not wanting to be caught for the murder, decided to bury the loot under a holly tree near the property. He figured once the dust had settled that he could return for it.
When enough time had passed, he attempted to retrieve it.
Just as he began to dig, the ghostly spectre of a large blue tick hound appeared seemingly from nowhere and drove him away.
Terrified, Hanos retreated home. Not long after the encounter he took ill and died.
Some many years later, probably during the American Civil War, another army man called Jospeh Hooker was leading his troops through Charles County. During this time, a few of the men heard the story of Sims, his dog and his treasure.
They decided it couldn’t hurt to check it out, worst case they wasted an evening, best case they ended up rich.
Much like when Hanos had gone to retrieve the gold, the group of soldiers were also attacked by the ghost of the Blue dog and driven from its vicinity.
Throughout the years there have been numerous reports of the dog roaming around the Rose Hill property.
The last incident was in 1971 when a ghostly howl was heard. Perhaps the dog felt he had finally fulfilled his duty and was saying goodbye….
The Two Hounds
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last century, chances are you’ve heard of a little tv show called The Brady Bunch.
Christopher Knight, who played Peter Brady on the 70s sitcom, shared a story about his encounter with two ghostly dogs on the TV show Celebrity Ghost Stories.
During a break from filming when he was a teenager, Knight went with a friend to visit the friends grandparents.
In the middle of the night, he awoke to see two large dogs at the side of his bed staring at him.
Knight describes them as regal looking hunting hounds, and claims they were not frightening at all. He felt as though they were just checking him out.
Suddenly he saw a little girl in the frame of the doorway, and she called the dogs who turned to follow her.
The next morning, he recounted what he experienced to the owner of the house.
They inquired which type of dogs they were and he told them.
That’s when they produced a photograph of the dogs he had seen. They had lived on the property some years before.
The only thing that couldn’t be explained was the little girl. Nobody knew who she was or what she was doing there, but it sounds like she’s very well protected by her ghostly companions.
"He takes the form of a huge black dog, and prowls along dark lanes and lonesome field footpaths, where, although his howling makes the hearer's blood run cold, his footfalls make no sound. You may know him at once, should you see him, by his fiery eye; he has but one, and that, like the Cyclops', is in the middle of his head. But such an encounter might bring you the worst of luck: it is even said that to meet him is to be warned that your death will occur before the end of the year."
The most accepted origin story of the modern iteration of Black Shuck took place in a church in Bungay in the year 1577.
It is said that a local congregation was riding out a particularly bad storm one august afternoon inside the church, when a clap of thunder and a bolt of lighting hit the doors and in flew a giant black dog who ran up the aisle. He then killed a man and a young boy, and caused the steeple to fall through the roof.
Later that same day, the fearsome black beast was seen down the road at another church in Blythburgh where it killed more people.
The Blythburgh Church doors still have scorch marks on them from this day, explained as scratches from Shuck’s demonic claws.
Realistically, we can assume these tragic deaths were the result of lightning in a freak weather event, but during this time things like this *were* attributed to demonic forces… in this case a devil dog.
You see, the same way humans are often divided into opposite factions, good vs evil, positive vs negative, right vs wrong, etc, so are dogs.
Dogs have long been associated with witchcraft, the devil and the underworld. In medieval Europe, dogs were said to be used as familiars, which are spirits that assist witches in their magical practices. It was believed that the witch could summon a familiar by calling its name, and the familiar would then do the witch's bidding. Dogs were a popular choice for familiars because of their loyalty as well as their tenacity.
Not only were dogs companions for the suspected witches, but their persecutors utilized them as well. Dogs have incredible tracking abilities and are still used today to find people, animals and even objects.
In most European folklore, dogs that are associated with the underworld, are almost always black or dark grey, with glowing red eyes and fierce dispositions.
Black Shuck is easily the most famous of these dogs, and is undoubtedly one of the things East Anglia is known for in the paranormal world.
Since the 16th century this he has been seen all over, particularly in Suffolk and sometimes in neighbouring Norfolk.
It is believed that seeing Shuck foretells your death, or illnesses and other misfortunes.
According to the Eastern Daily Press there have been 74 collected stories about Shuck and only 17 deaths where witnesses attributed the encounter to the person’s demise…why they were spared remains unknown.
Every few years, a news article or blog post is published with headlines like “Bones of Black Shuck finally found!”
The corresponding articles often talk about an archeological dig taking place at the site of a church, graveyard or other sacred location and them discovering large canine bones.
It is my belief that these graves belong to what is known as a “church grim.”
A church grim, or Kirk grim, is a type of cemetery guardian spirit. Their role is to protect the cemetery grounds and the other spirits who reside there.
The church grim belief was likely brought to the British Isles from Scandinavia, where they are known as the kyrkogrim (cheer-ko-greem) (Swedish).
We will be discussing cemetery guardians more in depth in a later episode, but in most cases, the cemetery guardian is the spirit of a once-living person buried on the grounds. Generally this was the first internment of the cemetery and therefore left solely to chance.
In order to circumvent this rule, many communities would bury a dog or other animal on the grounds in the hopes that it would then become the guardian.
Despite the fact that I believe the two church incidents involving Shuck in the 1500s were freak, weather related accidents, I do believe in him. Aside from Bigfoot, he is probably the most seen cryptid and has a weirdly comforting legacy for those of us whose ancestors were from (or still reside in) East Anglia.
HIs tale makes me think a lot about the paranormal theory of conscious creation. In the simplest of terms, this is the idea that if enough people believe in something, we can create it into existence.
So, perhaps Black Shuck exists because we want him too…
This has been the Memento Mori Oracle Podcast. I’d love to hear which of these stories were your favourite.
For more information on my upcoming book The Book of Ancestors: A Guide to Magic, Rituals, and Your Family History, please head to blackandthemoon.com