Friday, 18 November 2016

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Species of Spectres Part V

from Mysteries of the Unknown (Usborne 1977)

Welcome once again dear friends to another little exercise in classifying all things ghostly. In this little blog series, we have been attempting to devise possible categories for different hauntings based upon how they are documented in folklore and local legends. Now we often think of ghosts as being the shades of folks who have passed over, dead people returning to bother the living. However in the realm of folklore, a ghost is not necessarily something that takes an anthropomorphic shape. Indeed the spectral kingdom is apparently home to an entire phantom menagerie! 

There seems to be a wide variety of Animal Apparitions out a-haunting on a regular basis, so much so that several sub-categories can be constructed very rapidly. Perhaps most famous of all spectral beasts is the dreaded Black Dogs that appear all over the British Isles. Most regions have their own version of this famous phantom canine, and often have a local name too such as Barguest, Trash, Padfoot, Grim, Shuck, Skeff, Galleytrot. Commonly they are described as being hounds of a gigantic size, jet black, often with shaggy fur and burning red eyes. However there are some local physiological (or should that be ectoplasmic) variants, for example Norfolk's Black Shuck is sometimes described as appearing with a single burning eye, while the Yeth hounds of Dartmoor are sometimes said to headless (and further tales of the phantom hounds of Dartmoor can be heard here). 

Generally speaking, these spectral dogs are considered something of an ill omen, with a common belief that to see one is a harbinger of a death. However despite their fearsome reputation, the British Black Dog has had a remarkable impact on culture, inspiring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create The Hound of the Baskervilles, turning up as the Grim in the Harry Potter series, and inspiring musicians such as Led Zeppelin, Nick Drake and The Darkness. So possibly these spectral hounds are not quite as unlucky as folklore would have you believe...

Another popular ghostly creature is of course the Ectoplasmic Equines, however I suspect their numbers are often greatly underestimated as the ghostly humans accompanying them tend to hog the limelight. For there are legions of tales of spectral coaches, ghostly hunts and headless horsemen in the annals of folklore and legend, but as I said all too often it is their riders that receive all the attention. However typically phantom horses usally appear as coal black steed, and like their canine brethren often with the usual accessories of burning red eyes. However flaming hoofs are not uncommon for phantom equines, nor it is unknown for them to follow suit with their spectral masters and appear sans heads too. Phantom coaches, usually bearing a local historical dead celebrity, are frequently Calendar Observers and Anniversary Apparitions, however Ectoplasmic Equines may be further divided in to sub-sub categories too. 

Often very similar to your usual phantom coach set up - i.e. black horses, possibly headless, with headless or skellington driver, a tendency to drive dangerously - are the Dead Coaches. These sinister vehicles are largely considered a major inconvenience as they come to pick up the souls of the soon to be dear departed, and frequently that means you if you've spotted one. However as troubling as the Dead Coaches are, our next sub-category is often even more sinister, if not in many cases downright evil. There are many legends of the Wild Hunt and usually it is considered extremely bad luck to witness this band of spectral riders pass by. In the oldest legends the hunt was led but Odin or Woden or Wotan, but in later tales we find some local villain of black repute or the Devil himself leading the spectral hunters. Some legends hold that these spectral riders are hunting down the souls of the wicked, however there are many stories of them hunting far less charming quarry such as the souls of unbaptised babes. And in some tales, often  anyone who they encounter is considered fair game, see for an example of this the company of witches and devils that hound Tam O'Shanter. Finally it should also be noted that there is a certain overlap with the Black Dogs here, for spectral hounds are sometimes said to be part of these fearsome ghostly hunting parties. 

So then, having rounded up some of the more common Animal Appairitions, next time we shall hunt down some of the more unusal non-human phantoms haunting the realm of folklore and legend. 


Anonymous said...

I have just bought the Usborne Mysteries book to add to my growing collection of late 70s/ early 80s Hamlyn/ Usbornes. Another recent purchase was a book from Daniel Farson and Angus Hall called Vampires, Zombies and Monster Men/ Monsters and Mythic Beasts (Aldus/Jupiter 1975) I was not aware of its existence until recently. The content is very familiar to anyone who has read Farsons Hamlyn books, though.

Jim Moon said...

I'm not familiar with these two volumes, however being a devotee of Mr Farson's macabre works I shall have to track them down!

Anonymous said...

It's a two books in one affair and can be picked up for pennies. Old Demytrious is in there but as the book is aimed at a more mature readership than the Hamlyns, it's a stronger version of events.
What a fine period the 70s were for such books.