Cwn Annwn Or Dogs Of The Abyss
: FAIRY, OR MYTHIC ANIMALS.
: Welsh Folk-lore
The words Cwn Annwn are variously translated as Dogs of Hell, Dogs of
Elfinland. In some parts of Wales they are called Cwn Wybir, Dogs of
the Sky, and in other places Cwn Bendith Y Mamau. We have seen that
Bendith y Mamau is a name given to the Fairies, and in this way these
dogs become Fairy Dogs.
A description of these Fairy dogs is given in Y Brython, vol. iii p.
22. Briefly stated it is as follows
--Cwn Bendith y Mamau were a pack
of small hounds, headed by a large dog. Their howl was something
terrible to listen to, and it foretold death. At their approach all
other dogs ceased barking, and fled before them in terror, taking refuge
in their kennels. The birds of the air stopped singing in the groves
when they heard their cry, and even the owl was silent when they were
near. The laugh of the young, and the talk at the fireside were hushed
when the dreadful howl of these Hell hounds was heard, and pale and
trembling with fear the inmates crowded together for mutual protection.
And what was worse than all, these dogs often foretold a death in some
particular family in the neighbourhood where they appeared, and should a
member of this family be in a public-house, or other place of amusement,
his fright would be so great that he could not move, believing that
already had death seized upon some one in his house.
The Fairy dogs howled more at Cross-roads, and such like public places,
than elsewhere. And woe betide any one who stood in their way, for they
bit them, and were likely even to drag a man away with them, and their
bite was often fatal. They collected together in huge numbers in the
churchyard where the person whose death they announced was to be buried,
and, howling around the place that was to be his grave, disappeared on
that very spot, sinking there into the earth, and afterwards they were
not to be seen.
A somewhat different description of Cwn Annwn is given in the
Cambro-Briton, vol. i., p. 350. Here we are told that these terrific
animals are supposed to be devils under the semblance of hunting dogs . .
. and they are usually accompanied by fire in some form or other. Their
appearance is supposed to indicate the death of some friend or relative
of the person to whom they shew themselves. They have never been known
to commit any mischief on the persons of either man or woman, goat,
sheep, or cow, etc.
In Motley's Tales of the Cymry, p. 58, that author says:--I have met
with but a few old people who still cherished a belief in these infernal
hounds which were supposed after death to hunt the souls of the wretched
to their allotted place of torment.
It was, however, once firmly and generally believed, that these awful
creatures could be heard of a wild stormy night in full cry pursuing the
souls of the unbaptized and unshriven. Mr. Chapman, Dolfor, near
Newtown, Montgomeryshire, writes to me thus:--These mysterious animals
are never seen, only heard. A whole pack were recently heard on the
borders of Radnorshire and Montgomeryshire. They went from the Kerry
hills towards the Llanbadarn road, and a funeral quickly followed the
same route. The sound was similar to that made by a pack of hounds in
full cry, but softer in tone.
The Rev. Edmund Jones, in his work entitled An Account of Apparitions of
Spirits in the county of Monmouth, says that, The nearer these dogs are
to a man, the less their voice is, and the farther the louder, and
sometimes, like the voice of a great hound, or like that of a blood
hound, a deep hollow voice. It is needless to say that this gentleman
believed implicitly in the existence of Cwn Annwn, and adduces
instances of their appearance.
The following is one of his tales:--
As Thomas Andrews was coming towards home one night with some
persons with him, he heard, as he thought, the sound of hunting. He
was afraid it was some person hunting the sheep, so he hastened on to
meet, and hinder them; he heard them coming towards him, though he
saw them not. When they came near him, their voices were but small,
but increasing as they went from him; they went down the steep
towards the river Ebwy, dividing between this parish and
Mynyddislwyn, whereby he knew they were what are called Cwn wybir
(Sky dogs), but in the inward part of Wales Cwn Annwn (Dogs of
Hell). I have heard say that these spiritual hunting-dogs have been
heard to pass by the eaves of several houses before the death of
someone in the family. Thomas Andrews was an honest, religious man,
and would not have told an untruth either for fear or for favour.
The colour of these dogs is variously given, as white, with red ears, and
an old man informed Mr. Motley that their colour was blood-red, and that
they always were dripping with gore, and that their eyes and teeth were
of fire. This person confessed that he had never seen these dogs, but
that he described them from what he had heard.--Tales of the Cymry, p.
60. There is in The Cambro-Briton, vol. ii., p. 271, another and more
natural description of Cwn Annwn. It is there stated that Pwyll,
prince of Dyved, went out to hunt, and:--
He sounded his horn and began to enter upon the chase, following his
dogs and separating from his companions. And, as he was listening to
the cry of his pack, he could distinctly hear the cry of another
pack, different from that of his own, and which was coming in an
opposite direction. He could also discern an opening in the wood
towards a level plain; and as his pack was entering the skirt of the
opening, he perceived a stag before the other pack, and about the
middle of the glade the pack in the rear coming up and throwing the
stag on the ground; upon this be fixed his attention on the colour of
the pack without recollecting to look at the stag; and, of all the
hounds in the world he had ever seen, he never saw any like them in
colour. Their colour was a shining clear white, with red ears; and
the whiteness of the dogs, and the redness of their ears, were
We are informed that these dogs belonged to Arawn, or the silver-tongued
King of Annwn, of the lower or southern regions. In this way these dogs
are identified with the creatures treated of in this chapter. But their
work was less weird than soul-hunting.
A superstition akin to that attached to Cwn Annwn prevails in many
countries, as in Normandy and Bretagne. In Devonshire, the Wish, or
Wisked Hounds, were once believed in, and certain places on Dartmoor were
thought to be their peculiar resort, and it was supposed that they hunted
on certain nights, one of which was always St. John's Eve. These
terrible creations of a cruel mind indicate a phase of faith antagonistic
to, and therefore more ancient than, Christianity.
With another quotation from Tales of the Cymry (p. 61-62), I will
conclude my remarks:--
In the north of Devon the spectral pack are called Yesh hounds and
Yell hounds. There is another legend, evidently of Christian origin,
which represents them in incessant pursuit of a lost spirit. In the
northern quarter of the moor the Wish hounds, in pursuit of the
spirit of a man who had been well known in the country, entered a
cottage, the door of which had been incautiously left open, and ran
round the kitchen, but quietly, without their usual cry. The Sunday
after the same man appeared in church, and the person whose house the
dogs had entered, made bold by the consecrated place in which they
were, ventured to ask why he had been with the Wish hounds. 'Why
should not my spirit wander,' he replied, 'as well as another man's?'
Another version represents the hounds as following the spirit of a
beautiful woman, changed into the form of a hare; and the reader will
find a similar legend, with some remarkable additions, in the
Disquisitiones Magicae of the Jesuit Delrio, lib. vi., c.2.
The preceding paragraph is from the pen of R.J.K., and appears in the
Athenaeum, March 27, 1847, Art. Folk-lore.