Throughout history mankind has been attracted to the wild spirit and nature of many animals. Although bears, wolves, lions and other larger predator species are most commonly found in myths and legends, there are also stories and tales about wild dogs, some semi-wild and some truly feral that exist in most cultures. Most of these legends or tales tend to focus on the human interpretation of the feral dog's behavior, however some are very insightful into the temperament and nature of these wild dogs.
Australian Aboriginal Legends
There are many different aspects and interesting oddities in the relationship between the aboriginal peoples of Australia and the wild dingoes. In many cases semi-feral or almost domesticated dingoes were kept by different tribes in order to ward off demons and spirits from the campsites and tribal areas. The dingo was seen as a guardian of the people, sent to keep supernatural spirits at bay, but is also seen as a gluttonous trickster that is not to be trusted.
There are several legends of how dingoes were trusted by other beings or gods to help in their endeavors. Almost unilaterally in these legends the dingoes, which are almost always represented by a pair, take the prize for themselves, resulting in a punishment. One legend tells of how the dingoes lost their bark. In this legend two dingoes paired up with a hawk that had found two large yams. The dingoes indicated they would guard the yams while the hawk went to find fire from a human village to cook the food. The hawk returned only to find the dingoes had eaten the yams, and cursed them by taking away their bark.
A more modern urban legend or at least controversy started on August 17, 1980. The Chamberlain family, with their three young children, were camping at the famous Ayers Rock in Australia. During the night the mother, Lindy, awoke to start screaming that a dingo had entered their camp and taken off a nine week old baby girl named Azaria. There had been prior attacks by dingoes in the area, but nothing as significant as this. A trial was held and the mother was convicted of the murder of the child, even though there were tracks and some evidence that a dingo had been present. The body of the child has not been found to this day.
Several years later in 1987 another inquest was held and the original verdict overthrown. The mother was released from jail with a settlement of $1.3 million dollars. Although dingoes do attack humans occasionally, there has not been another child attack of this nature and the mystery around the infamous phrase " A dingo ate my baby" still exists.
Latin American Dog Myths
In South and Central American wild dogs have played a large role in various myths and legends. In many ancient cultures dogs, both wild and semi-domestic, were seen a guides to the afterlife. Dogs, typically black or very dark in color, were often believed to carry or guide the newly dead souls across a large body of water or a river to the afterlife. People that had been abusive or cruel to dogs would be given a poor guide or a dog that was so dark it would become lost to the human souls in the water, ensuring they would remain forever outside of the afterlife.
Wild dogs or semi-feral dogs are also believed, at least in Maya culture, to have brought fire to humans. The Aztecs believed that one of their most powerful and important Xolotl was a huge dog like human, often seen in legend as a fire and lightening god. It is a direct reference to Xolotl that the Mexican Hairless Dog is currently known in its native land as Xoloitzcuintli. Although they were also believed to escort the dead to the afterlife, they were also used as sacrifices and even as meat in specific religious ceremonies.
There are many local legends and myths about sorcerers and witches that can transform themselves into large, black colored dogs. These dogs may hunt livestock in the area at night, returning to their human form in the morning hours. These witch-dogs are known as a nahual, and may also steal valuables and riches in dog form since they have the intelligence and understanding of a human.
Modern Legends In Great Britain and Europe
One of the more recent additions to the legends, stories and tales of wild dogs include variations on the "Hounds of Hell" theme. This may be referred to as "The Hunter" or "The Hunt" and legend has it that a pack of massive, all black or pure white hounds runs ahead of a mounted horseman, the Hunter. These dogs often have loud baying voices that sound like thunder, coupled with glowing red eyes or bright orange eyes. The hounds, as well as the hunter, may be seen together or apart, and their aim is to find and consume lone travelers found on the road.
Black dogs may also haunt graveyards, roadsides and particular areas where crimes and horrors have been committed. Often these dogs are seen a harbingers of a greater evil such as a demon or evil spirit. In some cases such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles the image of the legend of the massive dog was woven into a much more modern story.
Ancient Legends And Dogs
Dogs have been associated in legends and myths of almost all cultures with death. While not all have a positive role, in some legends dogs are the keepers of the underworld or the guardians of the afterlife. In early Greek mythology a large three headed dog known as Cerberus keeps a watchful eye over Hades, preventing those people that have entered from escaping. Although in modern depictions Cerberus has three heads, earlier legends often have this dog having as many as fifty heads. In Hindu religions the god of death, Yama, is usually always found with two dogs, each having four eyes. These dogs are responsible for searching out and finding people that are about to die, then directing Yama to them to be brought to hell if he or she is judged to be unworthy of heaven.
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