Black Dogs

Bob Trubshaw (editor). Explore Phantom Black Dogs. Heart of Albion Press, 2005.

This collection of articles by Bob Trubshaw, Jeremy Harte, Simon Sherwood, Abby Stone and Jennifer Westwood looks at the phenomenology and folklore of phantom black dogs in England. While these essays remove some of the more obvious legends, such as the Black Dog of Bungay - the product of the musings of a pious pamphleteer on a lightening strike on a church, they make it clear that black dog stories are often based on actual experiences and are not just recycled free-floating tales.

Even though these tales are at least to some extent founded on actual experience, they are not completely constant, the black dogs in many cases have become standardised from what were once much more protean apparitions, appearing as anything from a dog to a calf, to a bag floating down the road.

Simon Sherwood address the possible psychological or parapsychological causes of black dog experiences, giving several examples; Jeremy Harte looks at the development of the black dog experience, noting that the actual category of black dog is the product of 19th century folklorists who unified several quite separate traditions. Harte provides a catalogue of brief summaries of black dog experiences and stories from 1800 onwards, which allow the student to see how motifs have changed. Abby Stone traces their folkloric roots, while Jennifer Westwood concentrates on Norfolk traditions. By contrast Bob Trubshaw, who also provides the introduction, examines black dog stories from contemporary America.

In a sense these experiences provide a clearer choice than many, there is no 'rational' extraordinary explanation similar to extraterrestrial spaceships for UFOs, real paws and pelts cryptids, or even a coherent paranormal explanation as might fit human apparitions. The only alternatives seem to be some form of psychosocial explanation involving perhaps various kinds of dissociation and absorption, hallucinations or something about the human perceptual process, or frankly supernatural ones involving things like shape shifting boggarts or tulpas, but even these wouldn't explain why these things appear as great dogs and not say huge bears, or motor cars. - Peter Rogerson

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