Goddess Hel and the hellhound Garmr by Johannes Gehrts, 1889

A hellhound is a supernatural dog in folklore. A wide variety of ominous or hellish supernatural dogs occur in mythologies around the world, similar to the often seen dragon. Features that have been attributed to hellhounds include mangled black fur, glowing red eyes, super strength or speed, ghostly or phantom characteristics, and a foul odor. Certain European legends state that if someone stares into a hellhound's eyes twice or more, that person will surely die. In cultures that associate the afterlife with fire, hellhounds may have fire-based abilities and appearance. They are often assigned to guard the entrances to the world of the dead, such as graveyards and burial grounds, or undertake other duties related to the afterlife or the supernatural, such as hunting lost souls or guarding a supernatural treasure. In European legends, seeing a hellhound or hearing it howl may be an omen or even a cause of death.

Some supernatural dogs, such as the Welsh Cŵn Annwn, were actually believed to be benign. However, encountering them was still considered a sign of imminent death. But there seems to be signs of a K-9 like animal that appears to be 500 pounds

Examples from folklore

The most famous hellhound is probably Cerberus from Greek mythology. Hellhounds are also famous for appearing in Northern European mythology and folklore as a part of the Wild Hunt. These hounds are given several different names in local folklore, but they display typical hellhound characteristics. The myth is common across Great Britain, and many names are given to the apparitions: Moddey Dhoo of the Isle of Man, Gwyllgi of Wales, and so on (see Black dog (ghost)). The earliest mention of these myths are in both Walter Map's De Nugis Curianium (1190) and the Welsh myth cycle of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi (ca. tenth to thirteenth century).

In southern Mexico and Central America folklore, the Cadejo is a big black dog that haunts travellers who walk late at night on rural roads. The term is also common in American blues music, such as in Robert Johnson's "Hellhound on my Trail"

In Greek mythology the hellhound belonged to Hades, the Greek god of death and the underworld, its name in Greek mythology is Cerberus, it has three heads but is still black with razor sharp teeth and super strength, it is used to guard the gates of hell.

See Also

Canis Major


Barghest, Bargtjest, Bo-guest, Bargest or Barguest is the name often given in the north of England, especially in Yorkshire, to a legendary monstrous black dog with huge teeth and claws, though in other cases the name can refer to a ghost or Household elf, especially in Northumberland and Durham (see Cauld Lad of Hylton). One is said to frequent a remote gorge named Troller's Gill. There is also a story of a Barghest entering the city of York occasionally, where, according to legend, it preys on lone travellers in the city's narrow Snickelways. Whitby is also associated with the spectre.[1] A famous Barghest was said to live near Darlington who was said to take the form of a headless man (who would vanish in flames), a headless lady, a white cat, a dog, rabbit and black dog. Another was said to live in an "uncannie-looking" dale between Darlington and Houghton, near Throstlenest.[2]

The derivation of the word barghest is disputed. Ghost in the north of England was once pronounced guest, and the name is thought to be burh-ghest: town-ghost. Others explain it as German Berg-geist (mountain spirit), or Bär-geist (bear-spirit), in allusion to its alleged appearance at times as a bear. Another mooted derivation is 'Bier-Geist', the 'spirit of the funeral bier'.

Bearer of Death

The Bearer of Death is a term used in describing the Hellhound. Hellhounds have been said to be as black as coal and smell of burning brimstone. They tend to leave behind a burned area wherever they go. Their eyes are a deep, bright, and almost glowing red. They have razor sharp teeth, super strength and speed, and are commonly associated with graveyards and the underworld. Hellhounds are called The Bearers of Death because they were supposedly created by ancient demons to serve as heralds of death. According to legend, seeing one leads to a person's death. Sometimes it is said to be once; other times it requires three sightings for the curse to take effect and kill the victim. These factors make the Hellhound a feared symbol and worthy of the name “Bearer of Death”. The Hellhound has been seen several times throughout history, and it is not specific to any one place. The most recent sightings occurred in Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, and Vilseck, Germany, in or near cemeteries.[3]

Black Shuck

Black Shuck or Old Shuck is the name given to a ghostly black dog said to roam the Norfolk, Essex, and Suffolk coastline. Black Shuck is sometimes referred to as the Doom Dog.

For centuries, inhabitants of England have told tales of a large black dog with malevolent flaming eyes (or in some variants of the legend a single eye) that are red or alternatively green. They are described as being 'like saucers'. According to reports, the beast varies in size and stature from that of simply a large dog to being the size of a horse.

There are legends of Black Shuck roaming the Anglian countryside since before Vikings. His name may derive from the Old English word scucca meaning "demon", or possibly from the local dialect word shucky meaning "shaggy" or "hairy". The legend may have been part of the inspiration for the Sherlock Holmes novel The Hound of the Baskervilles.

It is said that his appearance bodes ill to the beholder, although not always. More often than not, stories tell of Black Shuck terrifying his victims, but leaving them alone to continue living normal lives; in some cases it has supposedly happened before close relatives to the observer die or become ill. In other tales he's considered relatively benign, and said to accompany women on their way home in the role of protector rather than a portent of ill omen.[4]

Sometimes Black Shuck has appeared headless, and at other times he appears to float on a carpet of mist. According to folklore, the spectre often haunts graveyards, sideroads, crossroads and dark forests. Black Shuck is also said to haunt the coast road between West Runton and Overstrand.

Appearance in Bungay and Blythburgh

One of the most notable reports of Black Shuck is of his appearance at the churches of Bungay and Blythburgh in Suffolk. On 4 August 1577, at Blythburgh, Black Shuck is said to have burst in through the church doors. He ran up the nave, past a large congregation, killing a man and boy and causing the church tower to collapse through the roof. As the dog departed, he left scorch marks on the north door that remain to this day. Two men were touched by the beast and fell down dead

The encounter on the same day at Bungay was described in "A Strange and Terrible Wonder" by the Reverend Abraham Fleming in 1577:

This black dog, or the devil in such a linenesse (God hee knoweth al who worketh all,) running all along down the body of the church with great swiftness, and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible forum and shape, passed between two persons, as they were kneeling uppon their knees, and occupied in prayer as it seemed, wrung the necks of them both at one instant clene backward, in so much that even at a moment where they knelled, they strangely died.

Other accounts attribute the event to lightning or the Devil. The scorch marks on the door are referred to by the locals as "the devil’s fingerprints", and the event is remembered in this verse:

All down the church in midst of fire, the hellish monster flew, and, passing onward to the quire, he many people slew.

The appearance in Chignal St James/Chignal Smealy, small villages near Chelmsford, Essex are said to have occurred many years ago. All those said to have seen the red-eyed devil dog are rumored to have met an untimely end within a year, matching the legend that all that see Black Shuck perish within a year of looking into his eyes. These are, of course, all rumors and superstition—however, many websites provide directories of Black Shuck sightings. In recent times, Black Shuck sightings in the Chignal area have been put down to sightings of roaming black dogs that belong to residents, such as The Three Elms pub's large black labradoodle and the Gardening Express nursery terrier cross.


In Catalan myth, Dip is an evil, black, hairy dog, an emissary of the Devil, who sucks people's blood. Like other figures associated with demons in Catalan myth, he is lame in one leg. Dip is pictured on the escutcheon of Pratdip.

Cŵn Annwn

In Welsh mythology and folklore, Cŵn Annwn (/ˌkn ˈænʊn/; "hounds of Annwn") were the spectral hounds of Annwn, the otherworld of Welsh myth. They were associated with a form of the Wild Hunt, presided over by Gwynn ap Nudd (rather than Arawn, king of Annwn in the First Branch of the Mabinogi). Christians came to dub these mythical creatures as "The Hounds of Hell" or "Dogs of Hell" and theorised they were therefore owned by Satan.[5][6] However, the Annwn of medieval Welsh tradition is an otherworldly paradise and not a hell or abode of dead souls.

In Wales, they were associated with migrating geese, supposedly because their honking in the night is reminiscent of barking dogs. They are supposed to hunt on specific nights (the eves of St. John, St. Martin, Saint Michael the Archangel, All Saints, Christmas, New Year, Saint Agnes, Saint David, and Good Friday), or just in the autumn and winter. Some say Arawn only hunts from Christmas to Twelfth Night. The Cŵn Annwn also came to be regarded as the escorts of souls on their journey to the Otherworld. The hounds are sometimes accompanied by a fearsome hag called Mallt-y-Nos, "Matilda of the Night". An alternative name in Welsh folklore is Cŵn Mamau ("Hounds of the Mothers").

In other traditions similar spectral hounds are found, e.g., Gabriel Hounds (England), Ratchets (England), Yell Hounds (Isle of Man), related to Herne the Hunter's hounds, which form part of the Wild Hunt.

Hunting grounds for the Cŵn Annwn are said to include the mountain of Cadair Idris, where it is believed "the howling of these huge dogs foretold death to anyone who heard them".

According to Welsh folklore, their growling is loudest when they are at a distance, and as they draw nearer, it grows softer and softer. Their coming is generally seen as a death portent.

Moddey Dhoo

The Moddey Dhoo, also referred to as Mauthe Dhoog, is known to inhabit only one locale; Peel Castle on the Isle of Man. The most famous interaction occurred between the dog and a guard. The guard, emboldened by alcohol, determined that he would find and deal with this haunter. So off he went alone down the corridors of the castle. Shortly thereafter, his screams were heard. When he was found, he mentioned only the dog. Several days later he died.[7]


The gwyllgi (Welsh pronunciation: [ˈɡwɪɬɡi]; compound noun of either gwyllt "wild" or gwyll "twilight" + ci "dog"[1]) is a mythical dog from Wales that appears as a frightful apparition of a mastiff with baleful breath and blazing red eyes.

It is referred to as "The Dog of Darkness" or "The Black Hound of Destiny", the apparition's favourite haunt being lonely roads at night. It is said to resemble a mastiff.

Yeth Hound

The yeth hound, also called the yell hound is a Black dog found in Devon folklore. According to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the yeth hound is a headless dog, said to be the spirit of an unbaptised child, which rambles through the woods at night making wailing noises. The yeth hound is also mentioned in The Denham Tracts.

Church Grim

The Church Grim, Kirk Grim, Kyrkogrim (Swedish) or Kirkonväki (Finnish) is a figure from English and Scandinavian folklore. They are said to be the attendant spirits of churches, overseeing the welfare of their particular church. English Church Grims are said to enjoy loudly ringing the bells. They may appear as black dogs or as small, misshapen, dark-skinned people.[8]

The Swedish Kyrkogrim are said to be the spirits of animals sacrificed by early Christians at the building of a new church.[9] In parts of Europe, including Britain and Scandinavia, a completely black dog would be buried alive on the north side of the grounds of a newly built church, creating a guardian spirit, the church grim, to protect the church from the devil.[8]

Church Grim in Fiction

The Church-grim by Eden Philpotts is a short story published in the September 1914 edition of The Century Magazine, New York.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Sybill Trelawney, the divination teacher, associates Harry's tea leaves with the Grim, which she calls "...a black dog who haunts churchyards." The Church Grim inspired the creation of the Grim, which the book depicts as an omen of death.


The title character in Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel Jane Eyre is reminded of a Gytrash when she first sees Mr Rochester's black horse Mesrour and his black and white dog Pilot. Illustration by F. H. Townsend for the second edition of the book.

The Gytrash /ɡˈtræʃ/, a legendary black dog known in northern England, was said to haunt lonely roads awaiting travellers.[10] Appearing in the shape of horses, mules, or dogs, the Gytrash haunt solitary ways and lead people astray. They are usually feared, but they can also be benevolent, guiding lost travelers to the right road.

In some parts of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire the gytrash was known as the 'Shagfoal' and took the form of a spectral mule or donkey with eyes that glowed like burning coals. In this form the beast was believed to be purely malevolent.

As this horse approached, and as I watched for it to appear through the dusk, I remembered certain of Bessie's tales, wherein figured a North-of-England spirit called a "Gytrash," which, in the form of horse, mule, or large dog, haunted solitary ways, and sometimes came upon belated travellers, as this horse was now coming upon me.

It was very near, but not yet in sight; when, in addition to the tramp, tramp, I heard a rush under the hedge, and close down by the hazel stems glided a great dog, whose black and white colour made him a distinct object against the trees. It was exactly one form of Bessie's Gytrash – a lion-like creature with long hair and a huge head [...], with strange pretercanine eyes [...]. The horse followed – a tall steed [...]. Nothing ever rode the Gytrash: it was always alone [...].

— Excerpt from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, chapter xii[11]

The Gytrash's emergence as Rochester's innocuous dog Pilot has been interpreted as a subtle mockery of the mysteriousness and romanticism that surrounds his character and clouds Jane's perception.[12] Brontë's reference in 1847 is probably the earliest reference to the beast and forms the basis for subsequent citations.[13]


Hellhounds are a common monstrous creature in fantasy fiction and horror fiction, though they sometimes appear in other genres such as detective novels, or other uses.

In film

In games

  • In "Call of Duty: World at War," "Call Of Duty: Black Ops," and "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" in Zombies mode.
  • In Lands of Lore III, rifthounds, a creature similar to the description of hellhounds, kill Copper's father and step-brothers in the introductory scene and seize Copper's soul.
  • In Heroes of Might and Magic III, the hell hound is a recruit-able 3rd-level unit from the Inferno town that can be upgraded into a Cerberus.
  • Hellhound is also a creature of chaos in the game Master of Magic.
  • In Neverwinter Nights, the hellhound is available as a familiar for wizards and sorcerers.
  • In the video game NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams, one of the bosses for Will's dream is called Cerberus and is, as stated by Reala, a hellhound
  • Houndour and Houndoom/MegaHoundoom, two of the Pokémon creatures, are based on the concept of a hellhound.
  • In the MMORPG RuneScape, there are many Hellhounds.
  • In the video game The Witcher the Hellhound is a boss monster.
  • Hellhounds are creatures that appear in The Elder Scrolls: Arena
  • Hellhounds are minions of the Burning Legion in Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos
  • Hellhounds called Skinned Hound appear in The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles, a DLC for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
  • Hellhounds called Death Hound appear in Dawnguard, the first DLC for Skyrim.
  • In War Commander (Real-Time-Strategy-Game) on Facebook, Hellhounds refers to a rogue faction (computer AI).
  • In Dungeon Keeper, Hellhounds are a species of creature that can be attracted to your dungeon by means of the Scavenger Room. They are said to be useful guards and good at locating enemies. They are interpreted as having two heads and the ability to breathe fire.
  • In Dragon's Dogma, Fire-breathing Hellhounds start to appear on land after you defeat the dragon.
  • In Ultima Online, Hellhounds are a type of hostile creature spawn that appear in a few dungeon areas.
  • In Don't Starve,Hounds a wolf like enemy are based on Hellhounds
  • In Age of Mythology Hellhounds come out of Hekate's god power Tartarian, which creates a gate to tartarus, in addition the Greek titan is a three-headed Hellhound resembling Cerberus, the Hellhound that guards the Greek underworld.[14]
  • Hellhound's Appear in the MMORPG, Anarchy Online. As white strong dogs that are hard to defeat
  • Hellhound's in Wizard101 is a fire spell used in the game

In literature

  • In Rick Riordan's book Percy Jackson, the inventor Daedalus has a pet hellhound called Mrs.O'Leary,who later becomes Percy's pet.
  • In Piers Anthony's fantasy novel On A Pale Horse, Satan sends hellhounds to attack Zane (Death) and bring him back to hell. The hounds are immortal but are dispatched by Death's magical scythe.
  • Hellhounds are the pets of Harpies in Anne Bishop's The Black Jewels Series, and hellhounds (called Shadow Hounds) appear in Anne Bishop's Tir Alainn trilogy.
  • The Witches has barghests being demonic creatures along with the Witches. Barghests, however, are always male and Witches are always female. Barghests are never described, but could be seen as dogs.
  • Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles
  • Hellhounds feature in Laurell K. Hamilton's Merry Gentry series.
  • In Anthony Horowitz's book Raven's Gate, the protagonist, Matt, is pursued through a forest by demonic canines, after being discovered eavesdropping on a witchcraft ritual. The dogs are described as having rotten flesh, and emerge from the witch's bonfire.
  • Hellhounds (called darkhounds) appear several times in Robert Jordan's fantasy book series The Wheel of Time. Darkhounds are a particularly nasty form of Shadowspawn. They look like very large dogs or wolves. Their saliva is deadly poison – a single drop on the skin can kill. They are extremely difficult to kill and once they sense their prey they never give up. The only thing that stops them is rain or running water. They leave footprints in stone but none in soft ground.
  • Frank Belknap Long's Cthulhu Mythos-related short story "Hounds of Tindalos".
  • Hellhounds appear in Roger Zelazny's 1970 new wave fantasy novel Nine Princes in Amber.
  • Hellhounds appear in Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job.
  • In Neil Gaiman's and Terry Pratchet's novel Good Omens, Adam (The Antichrist) receives a hellhound companion that he simply names "Dog."
  • In Hades... Death Lives On, Amber, the main character mentions a near death incident when she was attacked by Cerberus, the hellhound owned by Hades.

In television

  • In the animated television series League of Super Evil, the League has a pet hellhound (usually referred to as a Doom Hound) named Doomageddon who is usually chaotically evil and disobedient, sometimes becoming a cause of, though at times a solution to, their problems.
  • Hellhounds appear in the television show Supernatural (e.g., in episode 5.10 "Abandon All Hope"). They are used and controlled by demons to drag souls to hell (usually after a deal for the victim's soul has accrued). Only the person being attacked can see or hear the hellhound. They are usually never shown, until the eighth season as dark shadows with red eyes.
  • In Lost Tapes season 1 episode 13, the episode is about Hellhounds, including the aspect that if one sees them three times they will die. In this episode, a group of Goth wannabes hang out in the local cemetery at midnight to induct a new member into their group, Nora. The new girl seems curiously obsessed with the macabre and Hellhounds and talks with Sev, one member, about the legend. A Hellhound does attack three times, Nora pleads with Sev not to look at it, but later they have a crash. Nora is revealed to be controlling the Hellhound because she is a ghost.
  • In "Haunted Highway" two investigators search for cryptids/spirits that locals call "Hellhounds".
  • Hellhounds appeared in the twentieth episode of season three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer - "The Prom". They have a more human-like appearance and feed on the brains of their victims.
  • Hellhounds also appeared in the show " Monsters and Mysteries in America" during season 2 on Destination TV. Where they were seen terrorizing a Florida community.


  1. ^ Jeffrey Shaw, Whitby Lore and Legend, (1923)
  2. ^ Henderson, William (1879). "Ch. 7". Notes on the folk-lore of the northern counties of England and the borders (2nd ed.). Folk-Lore Society. p. 275. 
  3. ^ Hellhound. animal.discovery.com
  4. ^ The Tollesbury Midwife
  5. ^ Pugh, Jane (1990). Welsh Ghostly Encounters. Gwasg Carreg Gwalch. ISBN 0-86381-791-2. 
  6. ^ Celtic Mythology. Geddes and Grosset. 1999. ISBN 1-85534-299-5. 
  7. ^ Rose, Carol. Giants, Monsters & Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth. New York: Norton, 2000. Print
  8. ^ a b Arrowsmith, Nancy A Field Guide to the Little People, London:Pan 1978 ISBN 0-330-25425-1
  9. ^ Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend, Reimund Kvideland, Henning K. Sehmsdorf, p247, 1991, ISBN 0-8166-1967-0 accessed 2008-10-20
  10. ^ Brewer, E. Cobham (1894) [First Published in 1870]. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 
  11. ^ Brontë, Charlotte (1847) [First Published in 1847]. "Chapter XII". Jane Eyre. London, England: Smith, Elder & Co. Retrieved 15 November 2008. 
  12. ^ Dr. Sally Minogue (1999). "Introduction". Jane Eyre. p. xv. ISBN 978-1-85326-020-9. 
  13. ^ Wood, Dr. Juliette. "Gytrash" (PDF). p. 2. Retrieved 13 January 2009. 
  14. ^ http://aom.heavengames.com/gameinfo/atlanteans/powers/godpowers/