Cryptozoology is definitely a fascinating field. Unlike the purely scientific realm of traditional zoology, which mainly studies and catalogs animals from all eras based on empirical evidence, the study of “cryptids” focuses almost entirely on creatures whose existence has not yet been proven scientifically. While many scientists dismiss cryptozoology as nothing more than amateur monster-chasing dating back to early sailors' tales of mermaids and sea monsters, the field has nevertheless captivated both casual and serious observers for decades... and you may remember that the elusive giant squid was once considered one of those big fish fantasies until researchers finally got up-close and personal with one.
For this new feature series, we'll pick a different cryptid with each installment, take a brief look at the legends and lore behind it, report any recent attempts to prove its existence scientifically, and its influence on popular culture and media. You've heard more than enough about Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and the Yeti, so we won't really get into those... unless a dramatic new story surfaces that shines new light on these elusive beasties. Today, however, let's look at a creature who gets much less publicity, outside of regional legends and horror stories: The Barghest Hound, also known simply as “The Black Dog.”
The only famous Black Dog I'd heard of (besides the Led Zeppelin song) was from the chilling Sherlock Holmes tale The Hound of the Baskervilles. But it turns out that beastie was based on a long-standing legend, which depicts a huge nocturnal canine with glowing red eyes whose presence foreshadows death. The lore of the Barghest may actually date back to pre-Christian times, but it became most prominent in Yorkshire and other northern regions of England. After I battled packs of Barghest Hounds in the horror board game A Touch of Evil (which is truly awesome, you need to play it), I looked further into the lore and discovered that the Black Dog legend extends well beyond the British Isles, and may also have variations in Germany, France, Belgium and other parts of Europe... even Latin America, where it is often tied to occult and werewolf legends. But in almost all the tales, it is said to be a ghost or demon, definitely not of this earth, and a serious badass.
There's not much in the way of true modern-day Barghest sightings, but he's a hugely popular figure in tons of genre media – including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, most versions of the Dungeons & Dragons canon (games and books), video games including Lord of the Rings and Final Fantasy XI & XII, and most notably in the creepy EP The Barghest O'Whitby by UK doom metallers My Dying Bride, which refers specifically to the Yorkshire legend... drop the lights and listen to the EP in its entirety!