Everyone knows truckers work long hours driving their big rigs in volatile weather conditions, traveling constantly, just trying to get to their next drop off. It’s a tough job. We hear stories of the poor truckers who were so tired they fell asleep and caused the death of themselves or someone else. But what happens at that moment when they begin to fall asleep? Although we will never know for sure, legend says that a large, black, vicious, dog greets them.
The legend is as old as trucking itself. There was even a movie made about it starring Patrick Swayze. The basics of the legend are that a trucker who is exhausted begins to fall asleep at the wheel, when he sees a black dog with red eyes charging towards his rig. He swerves to miss it, causing a fatal crash. Sometimes it’s the trucker who dies and sometimes it’s some other innocent person. For many, the black dog represents an omen of an impending fatal crash. For others, it’s a warning to get off the road so that a fatal crash is prevented. It really just depends on who you ask. Although the legend is popular, not too many truckers report actually seeing one. But then, who knows how many do see one and keep it to themselves?
Black dog legends actually go back much further than truckers, and expands across many cultures. They are usually seen as evil, dark omens, or a representation of a crossroads of some sort. Some legends, however, uphold them as helpful spirits who come to the aid of humans. Most do seem to agree though, that they are indeed spirits and not flesh and blood creatures. They are often reported as being as large as cattle, although some have seen them as large as a house. Usually, they are black, although some are white, and even dark green. Sometimes they are seen as walking on their hind legs, although usually they are seen walking on all fours. They have been reported as headless or with the head of a human. They often seem to haunt places by water, cemeteries, or dark paths. One thing is for sure. There is no shortage of legends about these mysterious creatures.
Ancient Greece, like so many other cultures, had a black dog legend. Although we don’t usually think of Cerberus as a “black dog,” he most certainly fits the bill. Just like other black dogs, he was said to be massive, black, and vicious. He had multiple heads, a dragon’s tail, lions’ claws, and a mane of snake heads. Some reports say he had at least 50 heads, although some say he had only three. Cerberus guarded the underworld and kept the dead from leaving Hades. He was said to be a vicious devourer of flesh. His bite was poisonous, and the poison that dripped from his fangs sprouted wolf’s bane. Just like many black dogs, he was said to have stayed near water. In his case, he haunted the river Styx.
Great Britain easily has more legends of black dogs than any other culture. Black dogs in great Britain are also known as hellhounds. They generally appear near water, late at night, in dark lonely areas. Just like the other black dogs, they are large, black, snarling dogs with red eyes. They’re often associated with death, or a crossroads, although again, some legends give them more benevolent attributes. One story even says that black dogs guide travelers who are lost at night. One of the most popular legends is Black Shuck, a massive black dog with bared fangs, one red eye in the center of his forehead, and shaggy black fur. Black Shuck is often seen as an omen of death. He tends to appear along coast lines, in dark forests, and in cemeteries late at night. Many say that if you see him, your death will occur within a year. Although he lets out a blood curdling howl, his footfalls make no sound. Interestingly, Shuck comes from an old English word, “scucca,” which means devil.
The Scottish version of the black dog is called the cu-sithe (plural coin-sithe). The cu-sith is said to be a massively large dog with shaggy dark green or white fur, a curled tail, and fiery red eyes. It is said to haunt the moors and highlands, especially in particularly rocky areas. It is considered to be a spiritual being that is a harbinger of death. Although it is generally silent, it does sometimes let out three blood curdling howls. It is said that if you hear the howls and do not reach a place of safety by the third howl, you will die of terror. The coin-sith were thought to be strongly associated with fairies.
Central America has a black dog legend in the form of the cadejo, a fiery eyed, hoofed, large black or white dog that appears to travelers and late night drinkers. Usually the black dog is thought of as evil and the white dog is thought of as good, but this differs from place to place. It’s said that the cadejo finds lone travelers or people stumbling home from a late night of drinking and either follows you home to safety or kills you, depending on whether it is a good cadejo or a bad cadejo. Like other black dogs, it is thought to be a spirit. It is said to smell strongly of a goat-like odor, sometimes even being described as a sulfuric odor. It is often said to be dragging a chain behind it, which is how it got its name. Cadena means chain, and cadejo is thought to have derived from that. It haunts grave yards and dark paths.
So no matter where you are, if you’re traveling late at night and a huge black, white, or green snarling dog with fiery red eyes appears out of nowhere, you’d better get off the road and to safety fast. It’s generally not going to end well if you don’t.