For thousands of years, man has found a companion in the dog. As time has passed, and both species have evolved, the dog has found his role in the myth and folklore of many cultures the world over. While the modern Pagan community tends to, as a whole, be drawn towards the aloof and noble cat, it’s important that we do not overlook the magical nature of dogs. Although they are typically associated with death in European legends, they are also symbolic of loyalty and the bonds of friendship.
Dogs of the Underworld
In ancient Egypt, Anubis was the jackal-headed guardian of the underworld. He is typically portrayed as half human, and half dog or jackal. The jackal has connections to funerals in Egypt - bodies which were not buried properly might be dug up and eaten by hungry, scavenging jackals. Anubis' skin is almost always black in images, because of its association with the colors of rot and decay. Embalmed bodies tend to turn black as well, so the colors is very appropriate for a funeral god.
For the Greeks, Cerberus, the three-headed dog, guarded the gates to the underworld. Once a soul had crossed the River Styx, it was up to Cerberus to prevent anyone from escaping. Cerberus served as an influence in the Harry Potter books, when Rubeus Hagrid finds himself in possession of a large three-headed dog named Fluffy - and Fluffy too stands guard over something important.
In the mythology of the British Isles, there is a nocturnal creature known as the Grim. A black dog with glowing red eyes, he appears in the night to foretell death. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made use of the Grim as a plot device in The Hound of the Baskervilles, and J.K Rowling’s character Sirius Black, the guardian of Harry Potter, often appears in the form of a large black dog. An interesting aspect of the stories of the Grim is that each area seems to have its own distinct black dog - and many of them have been given names throughout the centuries. If a black dog is seen, he is assumed to be there in preparation for bearing a soul off to the afterlife.
In many cultures, a howling dog represents something foreboding. If a dog howls as a baby is being born, the child will grow up to face all sorts of hardship and struggles.
Loyal Companion Dogs
In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus goes off on his adventures and leaves behind his faithful dog, Argos. When he returns, after twenty years traveling around, Argos is old and frail, but recognizes his master. Disguised, Odysseus cannot greet Argos, but sheds a tear for his old companion. Once he has seen Odysseus a final time, “Argos passed into the darkness of death, now that he had seen his master once more after twenty years.
In Arthurian legend, Cabal is the loyal hound of King Arthur, who took him along on boar hunts. Lady Charlotte Guest says that during the hunt for a monstrous boar named Troynt, Cabal impressed his pawprint into a stone, and “afterwards Arthur assembled a stone mound… and it is called the Carn Cabal. And men come and remove the stone in their hands for the length of a day and a night, and on the next day it is found on top of its mound.”
Some Native American tribes believe that seeing a trio of white dogs means good fortune is on the way. This is a sharp contrast from the European superstition that dogs are bad omens.
While a howling dog during childbirth may mean a life of discontent, a dog licking the face of a newly born infant guarantees that the child will be quick to heal from injury or illness.
In some parts of the southeastern United States, it is believed that a dog eating grass indicates that it will soon rain on your crops - it also indicates that you will soon be cleaning your carpets.
Certain breeds of dog are associated with good fortune in different parts of the world. Poodles and Dalmatians are both considered lucky dogs, particularly if you pet or scratch them before you leave the house. In some countries, the magical properties of a dog are determined by its colors - a golden colored dog is associated with prosperity, while a white pooch is associated with romance, and black dogs are symbols of protection of your hearth and home.