A hellhound is a mythological hound which 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.
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.
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. Dip is pictured on the escutcheon of Pratdip.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
In Welsh mythology and folklore, Cŵn Annwn (/ /; "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. 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. 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").
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.
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. 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."
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.
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.
|First appearance||Greyhawk (1975)|
The hell hound was introduced to the game in its first supplement, Greyhawk (1975). 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. 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. 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), 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.
A hell hound 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)."