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Black Dogs have an awful reputation in folklore.
Today’s black dog is the Grim.
“In Jabez Allies’ On the Ignus Fatuus or Will-O’-the-Wisp and the Fairies (1846), an account of hauntings in the villages of Worcestershire, England, Grim appears as one of four fairies in the guise of black horses pulling a ‘mysterious black wagon… in the night’s dread gloom.’
Grim is also described as taking on the form of a black dog, similar to the Church Grim, the guardian spirit of a church and its graveyard.’
– More can be read in The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper.
Church Grim or Kirk Grim – The guardian of old churchyards in the form of a black dog, it protected the dead from the Devil, demons and other nefarious supernatural creatures. The dog was often seen on stormy nights and was regarded as a portent of death.
It has been surmised that the Church Grim is a folk memory of a sacrifice. It was believed in the past that the first burial in a churchyard would have to watch over the rest of the dead. A dog may have been buried first in place of a human.
Phantom black dogs are numerous in Britain, and almost every area has its own variant. Although not all of these are thought to be derived from a folk memory of a sacrifice, the practice was once widespread.
The church grim is a spirit which haunts the grounds of a church, protecting the property at night. Some of them occasionally perform mischief, like ringing the church bells. But their overall disposition is protective, guarding “their” church through the darkness.
The church grim is distinct from the “black dog,” although their appearance is similar. The black dog is a legend of the United Kingdom, where the apparition of a large black dog with glowing eyes is often seen at night, particularly at crossroads, and often associated with electrical storms. The black dog may have any of a number of agendas, most of them unpleasant, but they are not associated with a church the way that the church grim may be.
As fantastic as a church grim may sound, this legend has a practical basis. Churchyards and churches themselves are often a target of thieves and vandals. Grave robbers planning to dig up the dead and steal the jewellery they were buried with, and thieves wanting to break into the church to steal the gold artefacts, might be given pause by the legend of a menacing black spirit roaming the grounds.
To add to the legend of the church grim, it was thought to be a harbinger of death. If you spot a church grim, it means you will die soon. Even more incentive to stay away from the church property after dark!
The Church, or Kirk, Grim
The Vikings brought many of their customs and traditions to England from Scandinavia and may well have influenced the legends of the Black Dog. The Church Grim was also known as Kirk Grim and in Finnish, ‘Kirkonväki’ and in Swedish, ‘Kyrkogrim.’ Both appear in English and Scandinavian folklore as sentinel spirits whose task was to protect a church and its grounds. They could appear as small, dark, grotesquely formed people, or as a Black Dog.
In many parts of Europe, including Britain, early Christians are believed to have sacrificed animals when a new church was built. A black dog would be buried alive on the north side of the land which would then become the guardian spirit keeping the church and grounds safe from the devil. It was often regarded as a herald of doom bringing death to anyone who encountered it.
Church Grims, Kirkegrim, Kirk-Grim, or possibly Kirkonavaki, are supernatural black dogs that guard Churches and graveyards in European folklore.
The origins of the Church Grim may stem from the early Christian practice of performing sacrifices upon the construction of a new Church. The spirit of the sacrifice was said to stand guard and protect the land from evil.
Appearance: Large black dog with supernatural abilities, though in some countries the Church Grim can take the form of other animals or even people.
Lore: The Church Grim, like the standard Ghost, is attached to a certain location, in this case a Church or graveyard.
Powers: The Church Grim possesses supernatural abilities that it uses to guard it’s domain, usually by frightening off evil or those whom do not belong on the premise, such as trespassers. In some legends, the Church Grim will ring the Church bells if someone connected to the area is about to die or as an omen of soon-to-be ill fortune.
In the Harry Potter books, a Grim is as terrifying as the folklore above.
The Grim is an omen of death, which is reputed to bring about the demise of the person who encounters it. The Grim takes the shape of a large, black, spectral dog. Perhaps the most well-known of omens, the Grim has earned infamy throughout the Wizarding world and is considered to be one of the worst, if not the worst, omens around.
It is based on a Hellhound, known as a Bearer of Death. Folklore says if you see one, you will die.
I used the Grim in my own stories.
Grim [Origin of Fae page]
All The Grim is a black dog that looks a lot like a wolf. It has brown markings on its legs, a lot like that of a Cù Sìth. They can become shadows to stay invisible to mortal eyes.
They live in the Otherworld, guarding the Misterss of the Veil between worlds. Their job is making sure that all festivities that have to do with the mortal world and theirs go smoothly (Samhain, Solstice, etc.). Sometimes they have to hunt Faery-Hybrids, magical lakes and other things that threaten their Mistress or the festivities they safeguard.
Like all black dogs, they are fierce protectors and loyal.
Here are three stories featuring Grims for you to enjoy.
Anja grinned when she heard the howls of her Grims. They would be eating well that night.
– The Torn Veil, Stories on Scrolls, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
The Grims surrounded her as she walked away, Rag’s curse lifting as dark bluish light announced that it was midday on the Winter Solstice. Moments later, Night reclaimed the land and Anja returned to her realm.
– The Darkest Day, Stories on Scrolls, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
She woke up to the soft growls of her Grims. They’d taken their true form, no longer hiding as shadows, and paced around her. She looked up at the moonless sky, trying to figure out how long she’d been unconscious.
– Moonless Night, Stories on Scrolls, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
I hope you enjoy reading the tales of Anja and her Grims in the series. Comments can be left here or on Wattpad – I always appreciate feedback. What do you think of the Grim? Where did you hear of it for the first time? Any stories about the Grim you’d like to share?