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Goddess Hel and the hellhound Garmr by Johannes Gehrts, 1889

A hellhound is a mythological hound that embodies a guardian or a servant of hell, the devil, or the underworld. Hellhounds occur in mythologies around the world, with the best known examples being Cerberus from Greek mythology, Garmr from Norse mythology, the black dogs of English folklore, and the fairy hounds of Celtic mythology. Physical characteristics vary, but they are commonly black, anomalously overgrown, supernaturally strong, and often have red eyes or accompanied by flames.

By locale[edit]



Oude Rode Ogen ("Old Red Eyes") or the "Beast of Flanders" was a demon reported in Flanders, Belgium in the 18th century who would take the form of a large black hound with fiery red eyes. In Wallonia, the southern region of Belgium, folktales mentioned the Tchén al tchinne ("Chained Hound" in Walloon), a hellhound with a long chain, that was thought to roam in the fields at night.[1]

Czech lands[edit]

Numerous sightings of hellhounds persist throughout the Czech lands.[2]


In France in AD 856 a black hound was said to materialize in a church even though the doors were shut. The church grew dark as it padded up and down the aisle as if looking for someone. The dog then vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.[3] On mainland Normandy the Rongeur d'Os wanders the streets of Bayeux on winter nights as a phantom dog, gnawing on bones and dragging chains along with it.[4] In Lower Brittany there are stories of a ghost ship crewed by the souls of criminals with hellhounds set to guard them and inflict on them a thousand tortures.[5]


In Germany, it was believed that the devil would appear as a black hellhound, especially on Walpurgisnacht.[6]


In Greek mythology, Cerberus, often referred to as the hound of Hades, is a multi-headed dog that guards the gates of the Underworld to prevent the dead from leaving. He was the offspring of the monsters Echidna and Typhon and was usually described as having three heads, a serpent for a tail, and snakes protruding from multiple parts of his body.


In Norse mythology, Garmr or Garm (Old Norse for "rag") is a wolf or dog associated with both the Goddess Hel and Ragnarök and described as a blood-stained guardian of Hel's gate.



In Catalan myth, Dip is an evil, black, hairy hound, an emissary of the Devil, who sucks people's blood. Like other figures associated with demons in Catalan myth, he is lame in one leg.[7] Dip is pictured on the escutcheon of Pratdip.


In Galicia, the Urco was a giant black hound that led the Santa Compaña, a version of the Wild Hunt.

United Kingdom[edit]


The myth is common across Great Britain in the form of the "black dogs" of English folklore. The earliest written record of the "hellhound" is in the 11th and 12th Century Peterborough version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which speaks of a "wild hunt" through the forest between Peterborough and Stamford.[8]


The gwyllgi (compound noun of either gwyllt "wild" or gwyll "twilight" + ci "dog") is a mythical black dog from Wales that appears as an English mastiff with baleful breath and blazing red eyes.[9]

Cŵn Annwn[edit]

In Welsh mythology and folklore, Cŵn Annwn (/ˌkn ˈænʊn/; "hounds of Annwn") were the spectral hounds of Annwn, the otherworld of Welsh myth. They were associated with a form of the Wild Hunt, presided over by Gwynn ap Nudd (rather than Arawn, king of Annwn in the First Branch of the Mabinogi). Christians came to dub these mythical creatures as "The Hounds of Hell" or "Dogs of Hell" and theorized they were therefore owned by Satan.[10][11] However, the Annwn of medieval Welsh tradition is an otherworldly paradise and not a hell or abode of dead souls.

In Wales, they were associated with migrating geese, supposedly because their honking in the night is reminiscent of barking dogs. They are supposed to hunt on specific nights (the eves of St. John, St. Martin, Saint Michael the Archangel, All Saints, Christmas, New Year, Saint Agnes, Saint David, and Good Friday), or just in the autumn and winter. Some say Arawn only hunts from Christmas to Twelfth Night.[citation needed] The Cŵn Annwn also came to be regarded as the escorts of souls on their journey to the Otherworld. The hounds are sometimes accompanied by a fearsome hag called Mallt-y-Nos, "Matilda of the Night". An alternative name in Welsh folklore is Cŵn Mamau ("Hounds of the Mothers").

The Americas[edit]

Latin America[edit]

Black hellhounds with fiery eyes are reported throughout Latin America from Mexico to Argentina under a variety of names including the Perro Negro (Spanish for black dog), Nahual (Mexico), Huay Chivo, and Huay Pek (Mexico) – alternatively spelled Uay/Way/Waay Chivo/Pek, Cadejo (Central America), the dog Familiar (Argentina) and the Lobizon (Paraguay and Argentina). They are usually said to be either incarnations of the Devil or a shape-changing sorcerer.[12]

United States[edit]

The legend of a hellhound has persisted in Meriden, Connecticut since the 19th century. The dog is said to haunt the Hanging Hills: a series of rock ridges and gorges that serve as a popular recreation area and can also be known as a protector of the supernatural. The first non-local account came from W. H. C. Pychon in The Connecticut Quarterly, in which it is described as a death omen. It is said that, "If you meet the Black Dog once, it shall be for joy; if twice, it shall be for sorrow; and the third time shall bring death."[13]

The term is also common in American blues music, such as with Robert Johnson's 1937 song, "Hellhound on My Trail"



Jinn, although not necessarily evil, but often thought of as malevolent entities, are thought to use black dogs as their mounts. The negative depiction of dogs probably derives from their close association with "eating the dead" (relishing bones) and digging out graves. The jinn likewise is often said to roam around graveyards and eating corpses. These characteristics relates them to each other.[14]


The Mahākanha Jātaka of the Buddhist Pali Canon includes a story about a black hound named Mahākanha (Pali; lit. "Great black"). Led by the god Śakra in the guise of a forester, Mahākanha scares unrighteous people toward righteousness so that fewer people will be reborn in hell.

His appearance portends the moral degeneration of the human world, when monks and nuns do not behave as they should and humanity has gone astray from ethical livelihood.[15]


In Japanese folklore, the Okuri-inu (送り犬) (lit. "escorting dog") is a yōkai that resembles a dog. The okuri-inu closely stalks and follows people who are walking along mountain paths in nighttime. If by chance the person falls over they will be immediately eaten up, but if they pretend to be having a short rest they will not be attacked.

In popular culture[edit]

In literature[edit]

In film[edit]

In television[edit]

  • Hellhounds appear in the television show Supernatural (e.g., in episode 5.10 "Abandon All Hope").
  • In Lost Tapes season 1 episode 13, the episode is about Hellhounds, including the aspect that if one sees them three times they will die.
  • Hellhounds appeared in the twentieth episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (season 3) "The Prom".
  • Hellhounds also appeared in the show Monsters and Mysteries in America during season 2 on Destination TV. Where they were seen terrorizing a California community.
  • The MTV series Teen Wolf features a character who is a hellhound.[21]
  • In the television series The X-Files a Hellhound is prominently featured in the 2018 episode "Familiar" where it guards the gates of the underworld in a secret Connecticut Puritan graveyard, and attacks several victims.
  • Hellhounds have made a few small appearances as anthropomorphic in the pilot episode for "Hazbin Hotel", during Charlie’s song "INSIDE OF EVERY DEMON IS A RAINBOW".
  • In the YouTube animated spin-off series "Helluva Boss" an anthropomorphic receptionist named "Loona". She can be seen working at a company called "I.M.P." another Hellhound named "Vortex" also makes an appearance in Season 1, episode 3, guarding Verosika. Like incubi and succubi, Hellhounds apparently have the ability to transform into humans.
  • In Episode 9 of Inuyasha: The Final Act, "Sesshōmaru in the Underworld", Sesshomaru's mother uses her necklace the Meido Stone to a portal from the underworld to summon the Hellhound, but it's unaffected to the Meido Zangetsuha and the beast swallowed Rin and Kohaku as it returned to the underworld, and Sesshomaru after it to save the children and killed it with the Tenseiga.

In games[edit]

Dungeons & Dragons[edit]

Hell hound
D&DHell hound.JPG
First appearanceGreyhawk (1975)
Based onHellhound
In-universe information
AlignmentLawful Evil

In the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy roleplaying game, the hell hound is a hyena-like creature which can breathe fire and hunts in packs. It is classified as an outsider from the Nine Hells.

The hell hound was introduced to the game in its first supplement, Greyhawk (1975).[24] The hell hound appeared in the D&D Basic Set (1977), the D&D Expert Set (1981, 1983). and the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (1991). The hell hound appears in the first edition Monster Manual.[25] The Monster Manual was reviewed by Don Turnbull in the British magazine White Dwarf #8 (August/September 1978). As part of his review, Turnbull comments on several monsters appearing in the book, noting that the breath weapon of the "much-feared" hell hound has been altered from its previous appearance.[26] The hell hound appeared in second edition in the Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (1989), and reprinted in the Monstrous Manual (1993). The hell hound appeared in the third edition Monster Manual (2000),[27] and in the 3.5 revised Monster Manual (2003) with the Nessian warhound. The hell hound appears in the fourth edition Monster Manual for this edition, under the Hound entry.[28]

A hellhound resembles a mangy, skinny, somewhat demonic hyena-like creature with red eyes and draconic ears. It has the ability to breathe fire. However, the Fourth Edition depicts them as nearly skeletal canines wreathed in flame. The hell hound enjoys causing pain and suffering and it hunts accordingly. A favorite pack tactic is to silently surround prey, and then cause two hell hounds to close in and make the victim back into another hell hound's fiery breath. They will attack with their claws and teeth if they have to. If the prey manages to escape, the hell hounds will pursue it relentlessly. Hell hounds are also quick and agile. Another type of hell hound is the Nessian warhound. Nessian warhounds are coal black mastiffs the size of draft horses, and are often fitted with shirts of infernal chainmail. Hell hounds cannot speak, but understand Infernal.

The hell hound was ranked ninth among the ten best low-level monsters by the authors of Dungeons & Dragons For Dummies. The authors described them as the "first serious representative of a class of monsters your players will be fighting against for their whole careers: evil outsiders," and that they are interesting because they "introduce players to monsters with an area-effect attack (their fiery breath)."[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Warsage, Rodolphe de Sorcellerie et Cultes Populaires en Wallonie, Noir Dessein, 1998.
  2. ^ Stejskal, Martin (1991). Labyrintem tajemna, aneb Průvodce po magických místech Československa (1st ed.). Prague: Paseka. p. 36. ISBN 80-85192-08-X.
  3. ^ McNab, Chris "Mythical Monsters: The scariest creatures from legends, books, and movies" in Scholastic Publishing 2006, pp. 8–9.
  4. ^ Wright 1846, p. 128.
  5. ^ Thiselton-Dyer 1893, p. 289.
  6. ^ Varner, Gary R. Creatures in the mist: little people, wild men and spirit beings around the world : a study in comparative mythology in Algora Publishing 2007, pp. 114–15.
  7. ^ Bane, Theresa. Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology, McFarland, 2013ISBN 9781476612423
  8. ^ Prickett, Katy. "The terrifying story of the 'hell hound'", BBC News, 31 October 2015
  9. ^ Eberhart, George M. Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. Volume 1: A-M. ABC-Clio/Greenwood. 2002. p. 222. ISBN 1-57607-283-5
  10. ^ Pugh, Jane (1990). Welsh Ghostly Encounters. Gwasg Carreg Gwalch. ISBN 0-86381-791-2.
  11. ^ Celtic Mythology. Geddes and Grosset. 1999. ISBN 1-85534-299-5.
  12. ^ Burchell 2007, pp. 1, 24.
  13. ^ "The Connecticut Quarterly". 19 May 2008. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  14. ^ Amira El Zein: The Evolution of the Concept of Jinn from Pre-Islam to Islam'. p. 264
  15. ^ Rouse, W. H. D. (1901). "The Jataka Volume IV". Internet Sacred Text Archive. Pali Text Society. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  16. ^ Portor,Laura Spencer. The Greatest Books in the World: Interpretative Studies, 1917, Chautauqua Press, Chautauqua, New York, 89Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  17. ^ Rendell, Ruth (12 September 2008). "A most serious and extraordinary problem". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  18. ^ "The dog at the farm in Pfeiffering could grin as well, even though it was not called Suso, but bore the name Kaschperl". Mann, Thomas. (1947).Doctor Faustus: The life of the composer Adrian Leverkuhn. Translated by J. E. Woods, pp. 29
  19. ^ McCabe, Joseph. "Making Magic", The Complete SFX Guide to Ghostbusters, 2016, p.77
  20. ^ Hartlaub, Peter (28 March 2010). "Hellhounds". San Francisco Chronicle.
  21. ^ Peckham, Tina Smithers. "Does 'Teen Wolfs Hellhound Mean Good Or Bad News For Beacon Hills?", MTV, September 2, 2015
  22. ^ "Age of Mythology Heaven: Atlantean God Powers". Aom.heavengames.com. Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  23. ^ /https://www.starehry.eu/download/action3d/docs/Blood-Manual.pdf
  24. ^ Gygax, Gary and Robert Kuntz. Supplement I: Greyhawk (TSR, 1975)
  25. ^ Gygax, Gary. Monster Manual (TSR, 1977)
  26. ^ Turnbull, Don (August–September 1978). "Open Box". White Dwarf (8): 16–17.
  27. ^ Williams, Skip, Jonathan Tweet, and Monte Cook. Monster Manual. Wizards of the Coast, 2000
  28. ^ Mearls, Mike, Stephen Schubert, and James Wyatt. Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast, 2008).
  29. ^ Slavicsek, Bill; Baker, Rich; Grubb, Jeff (2006). Dungeons & Dragons For Dummies. For Dummies. p. 373. ISBN 978-0-7645-8459-6. Retrieved 12 February 2009.

External links[edit]