Sunday, September 27, 2009
Black Dog Syndrome
Throughout ancient mythology and folklore dogs are commonly associated with death, as guides of the spirit or guardians of the underworld, but the black dog holds a special status as a universal symbol of malevolence and death. Black Dogs are phantoms, ghostly apparitions who appear at night on dark lanes and foothpaths, in thunder storms, at crossroads and gateways and at places of execution. They are said to simply vanish or fade from sight and to disappear into the earth or in a flash of light. They sometimes walk on their hind legs and through solid objects and no one dares to venture past them; they are associated with the Devil and if they cross your path at night, they may set you ablaze.
In some places the spectral Black Dog is known as "Shuck" and is said to be headless. Shuck or "Shock" is derived from the Old English scucca, meaning 'demon.' They were also called Black Shag, Trash, Skriker, Padfoot, Hooter and Barguest – from the German bargeist or 'spirit of the funeral bier.' In 1127 big and loathsome Black Dogs were seen with black hunters who were riding black horses and goats. Such packs of spectral hounds—with or without hunters—are reported to have been seen all over Europe, and are generally known as the Gabriel Hounds or Gabble Retchets – from an old word for 'corpse.' Thought to be the restless dead or the souls of unbaptized children, these phantom black hounds were huge, with big eyes that glowed in the dark.
Some people deny the existence of what is referred to as "black dog syndrome" – a term that has become common in animal shelters. It predicts that dogs with black fur will languish without attention while dogs with lighter fur not only get attention, they get adopted. And black dogs get the lethal injection and an end to their lives. This does happen and it happens in shelters everywhere and people who are partnered with large, black dogs will tell you that others don't receive them with the same eager affection they do smaller dogs with lighter fur coats. What is it that operates on adopters as they go down a row of cages, passing by those that contain black dogs? Are myth and folklore a part of our genetic make-up, perhaps somehow encoded in our DNA? I suppose that's possible but I think that something much more simple and basic influences us. I think it is a single, powerful word.
From Old English, the word 'black' was first associated with dark or malignant purposes in 1583. It is defined as a color lacking hue and also as gloomy, pessimistic, dismal, sullen, hostile, threatening, evil, wicked, deliberately harmful and boding ill. It indicates disaster, misfortune or potential danger and the illegal and misleading, treacherous, traitorous and villainous. It symbolizes ambiguity, secrecy, and the unknown. It is equated with the sinful, inhuman, fiendish, morbid, grotesque devilish, infernal, monstrous, atrocious, horrible and nefarious. Black has come to symbolize death, mourning and bereavement. Bad guys wear black hats while good guys wear white ones and villains are dressed in black. Black magic is destructive or evil and black days are sad or tragic, like the Black days in 1929 when the Stock Market fell and fell again. This word has a lot of baggage and a lot of power.
As our eyes fall upon a black dog, we don't consciously run through these associations – they act upon us behind the scenes, unconsciously, and this is exactly how we relate to most of our waking experiences in life. Our minds are full of illogical and superstitious beliefs and some, while seeming completely rational to us, can be truly insane. I encountered a man walking two Yorkshire terriers a few days ago. When they saw Jack, both strained on their leashes to get to him. The man began to shout "No Running!" as one little dog sounded the telltale honk of a collapsed trachea. The three dogs circled and sniffed. The man grabbed the honking dog, opened her mouth and forced his very large finger into it and down her throat. She squirmed in distress. It didn't help her but somehow, he thought it would.
Have you ever really examined the beliefs you hold about dogs? I admit that this is hard to do without bias and prejudice but if you could do it you'd probably be humbled and amazed. Have you ever become fully conscious as you interact with a dog to learn what you are thinking about in that instant and to see what those thoughts would have you do next? Some of us have, of course, but we don't do this routinely. We don't do it very often with family members, friends or co-workers either. That's just the way we roll!
In The Conceptual Dog, readers will practice a type of hyper-awareness – the kind that dogs still employ. We'll set our determination to make conscious living a habit. We'll start noticing and controlling what we think and be in control of how we react, and we'll stop leaving our minds to the influence and energy of the unexamined words, thoughts and beliefs that lead us into enmity and conflict. We'll make sure that every interaction we have with a canine is compatible with our truest natures and this will naturally honor theirs. Basically, we're going to begin to wake up. The dog has been waiting a long time for this and it can't happen soon enough!
(c) 2009 Madison Moore, The Conceptual Dog. All rights reserved.