The Black Shuck is a cryptid from English folklore.
English lore describes the Black Shuck as a large, shaggy, fierce-looking black dog with glowing eyes. Some accounts portray it as a flesh-and-blood hound. Others suggest it is a ghostly apparition skulking in the dark at graveyards, churchyards, and other lonely or deserted places.
The mythical beast is considered native to East Anglia (East of England). Folktales, legends, and alleged sightings of the cryptid are historically associated with the East Anglian counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, and Essex.
Written accounts about devil dogs go back to the 1100s. However, the earliest recorded incident of a Shuck allegedly terrorizing communities in East Anglia dates back to the 1500s.
Black hellhounds feature in folklore across Northern, Western, and Central Europe. The Black Shuck is only one of several mystery canids in European and English legends.
Folkloric accounts of the Black Shuck share many features. But they may differ in details regarding the nature of the beast, modes of manifestation, and significance.
The most common portrayal of the Black Shuck is a black dog-like beast or a ghostly apparition that may reach the size of a horse.
The cyclopean Shuck
Most accounts portrayed it as a shaggy, cyclopean (one-eyed) hellhound, prowling lonely coastlines, graveyards, deserted footpaths, moors, and fens.
It was usually a malign entity, an ill omen, or a portent of evil. However some accounts offered a favorable portrayal as a protective spirit familiar associated with a person, family, clan, or tribe.
The name “Shuck” (“Shucke”) came from an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “devil,” “demon, “evil spirit,” or “ghastly apparition” (Middle English Compendium).
According to etymologists, the word may have been formed from a Proto-Germanic root (“Skuh”) meaning “to frighten,” “shock,” or “petrify” (Wordsense Dictionary).
Thus, regardless of occasional favorable characterization, the dominant feelings associated with the entity were negative rather than positive.
Shuck the Dog-fiend
Scholars ascribe the earliest written reference to the Black Shuck to Reverend E.S. Taylor.
In an 1850 entry in the journal Notes and Queries, Taylor referred to a mythical canid known as “Shuck the Dog-fiend.”
Taylor explained that he had often heard East Anglians describe Shuck as a big, black, red-eyed, shaggy black dog that visited churchyards at night.
The Black Shuck as a portent of evil
In his Highways & Byways in East Anglia (1901), William Alfred Dutt described the Black Shuck as a huge one-eyed black dog with a blood-curdling howl.
[Note: Other accounts portrayed it as having a pair of fiery red eyes].
The beast prowled silently in the night and lurked in dark, lonely places.
A visual encounter with the Black Shuck was a harbinger of evil. Seeing it was a warning of doom. It presaged death before the end of the year, according to Dutt.
Dutt suggested a better-safe-than-sorry strategy regarding accidental encounters with the Black Shuck. Given the risk of bewitchment consequent to sighting the beast, travelers would do well to shut their eyes if they ever heard howls that might not be the wind.
But Dutt also acknowledged that “learned” folk might reasonably dismiss stories about the creature as old pagan myths comparable to Allfather Woden’s black hounds.
Sightings and Tales
The Black Shuck in the Peterborough Chronicle
One of the earliest written accounts of black devil dog sightings comes from the 12th-century Peterborough Chronicle.
The Peterborough Chronicle, also known as the Laud manuscript, is one of four extant versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The documents are among the earliest sources of Anglo-Saxon history.
A passage from the Peterborough Chronicle recounts a mass sighting of spectral huntsmen on black horses or he-goats. The strange incident allegedly occurred sometime around 1127, soon after a Norman, Henry of Poitou, became Abbot at Peterborough.
According to the Chronicle, jet-black hellhounds with eyes like saucers howling amid the din of horns blowing accompanied the demonic huntsmen.
Locals reported sighting the huntsmen from hell in the city of Peterborough in Cambridgeshire. People also reported sightings in the surrounding woods and as far as the neighboring town of Stamford in Lincolnshire.
[Note: The Anglo-Saxons hated the Norman invaders and said nasty things about them. Associating the installation of a Norman as Abbott of Peterborough Abbey with a visitation of demonic huntsmen was likely the writer’s way of expressing disapproval.]
The Wild Hunt
Scholars have noted the repeated references in European folklore to devil huntsmen accompanied by a pack of howling hellhounds. According to Professor Geller, the accounts, known collectively as the “Wild Hunt,” were widespread across Europe.
The common feature was a group of phantom hunters and their hounds howling as they charged through the wildlands on a cold winter night.
Geller explained that people identified the hunters in the Wild Hunt as spirits of the dead, fairies, elves, or demons. The black hounds were known by various names, depending on the locality.
They were called Shuck, Gurt Dog, Moddey Dhoo, Yeth Hound, Grim, Padfoot, or Barguest.
The Bungay/Blythburgh incidents
References to the Black Shuck in accounts of alleged sightings of devil dogs are more recent than accounts of the Wild Hunt. The earliest known instance was in the 1500s.
The English clergyman and prolific writer Abraham Fleming (c. 1552–1607) gave a bizarre account of an alleged sighting of the Black Shuck in East Anglia.
The chilling incident allegedly occurred on August 4, 1577, at churches in the market town of Bungay and the village of Blythburgh in Suffolk.
‘A Strange and Terrible Wunder’
In his pamphlet, A Strange and Terrible Wunder (1577), Fleming recounted how a Black Shuck, believed to be a manifestation of the “devil,” burst into St. Mary’s Church in Bungay. It bounded up the aisle to two people kneeling before the altar for prayer and attacked them.
It killed both persons by snapping their necks in an instant.
On the same day, a Black Shuck also forced its way into the Holy Trinity Church at Blythburg. It rampaged through the building, causing the death of two people.
Such was the intensity of the furious assault on holy precincts that the church roof collapsed and the steeple fell through, landing among the congregation.
The fiend eventually withdrew from the church, leaving paw prints on the doors.
However, scholars believe–based on historical records–that the violent incident was due to a tempest that blew through the towns.
Was a Black Shuck skeleton discovered in Leiston?
In May 2014, British tabloids reported the discovery of skeletal remains of a giant dog in the ruins of the 14th-century Leiston Abbey in Suffolk.
The reports claimed that the remains belonged to a seven-foot, 200-pound dog.
Significantly, the sight of the discovery was only a few miles from the two churches where Fleming reported that a Black Shuck killed worshippers in 1577.
Some people quickly linked the discovery with the mythical Black Shuck. They suggested it could be the first physical evidence of the creature’s existence.
However, skeptics attempted to debunk the claims, saying the dog might have been a Great Dane or some other heavy British breed.
According to The Guinness Book of World Records, Zeus, an American Great Dane from Bedford, Texas, was the world’s tallest living dog as of May 4, 2022.
The dog, weighing about 200 pounds, stood at 3 ft 5.18 on all fours and exceeded 7ft on its hind legs.
St. Bernards and Old English Mastiffs are the heaviest dog breeds. An English Mastiff from London called Zorba weighed in at 155.5kg in 1989.
|Black Shuck, Shuck, Old Shuck, Old Shock, Norfolk Snarleyow, Old Snarleyow
|Countryside, Forest, Graveyards
Highways and Byways in East Anglia, William Alfred Dutt (1901).
East Anglian Folklore and Other Tales, W. H. Barrett (1976).
The Kettle Chronicles: The Black Dog of Bungay, Stephen Morgan (2006).
Cambridgeshire Customs & Folklore, Enid Porter (1969).
Shock! The Black Dog of Bungay: A Case Study in Local Folklore, David Waldron, Christopher Reeve, 2010.
https://allthatsinteresting.com/black-shuck, “Inside The Bone-Chilling Legend Of Black Shuck, The Hellhound Of The English Countryside,” accessed on February 10, 2023.
“Is this the skeleton of legendary devil dog Black Shuck,” accessed on February 10, 2023.
https://modernfarmer.com/2014/06/black-shuck/, “Devil Dogs: The Mysterious Black Dogs of England,” accessed on February 10, 2023.