The Origins Of Popular Superstitions And Customs  ~ Magick7





The author of Arcana Microcosmi (1652) affirms with a curiously quaint confidence that "dogs by their howling portend death and calamities is plaine by historie and experience." Shakespeare in his Henry vi. dares to use the custom as an accompaniment of birth.

"The owl shriek'd at thy birth, an evil sign!
The night-crow cry'd aboding luckless time,
Dogs howl'd, and hideous tempests shook down trees."

The British Apollo (1708) answering the question "Whether the dogs howling may be a fatal prognostic, or no," says: "We cannot determine, but 'tis probable that out of a sense of sorrow for the sickness or absence of his master, or the like, that creature may be so disturbed." Another writer concludes:--"I have some little faith in the howling of a dog, when it does not proceed from hunger, blows, or confinement. As odd and unaccountable as it may seem, those animals scent death, even before it seizes a person.

This is superstition in excelsis. Animals--horses for instance--have been seen to tremble when they came near a dead human body, even though the body was invisible to them; but scenting death is quite a different thing. And yet there is reason to believe that this alleged power is the basis of the popular belief in the howling of dogs. Even in the Odyssey the dogs of Eumacus are described as terrified at the sight of Minerva, though she was then invisible to Telemachus. If so far back in the ages the canine tribe were endowed, in human thought at least, with such vision, it can be understood how their supposed distressful howling should presage death, especially in houses where somebody is lying ill. But the real truth probably lies in this: that there are influences in the atmosphere which act upon dogs in a way which causes them to howl, but which we do not understand. Willsford, in his Nature's Secrets, says that when "dogs tremble and wallow upon the earth . . are signs of rain and wind for certain." This may be as much a superstition as the other, but there is no doubt that cattle have a physical sensitiveness to coming storms which men are destitute of, and drovers in the Far West watch their stock during dangerous weather seasons for this very reason. That somebody should die after the continued howling of a dog is not a remarkable phenomenon; the remarkable phenomenon is the number of people who live after listening to many howlings.