Hellhounds are great infernal dogs that hunt the damned, guard the underworld and defend their demonic masters. There are tales of hellhounds in ancient Greek and Viking writings, and legends and even stories of sightings can now be found throughout the world. Hellhounds are often described as oversized black dogs with sharp teeth and glowing red eyes. Hellhounds transcend supernatural categories, alternately considered apparitions (the Black Dogs of Britain), creatures of Faerie (the hellhounds of the Wild Hunt) or demons (the Cajedo Negro of South America).
While Cerberus may be the best-known hellhound, there are many others known by name.
Garmr (or Garm) of Norse mythology is, like Cerberus, a guardian of the underworld. She is also said to herald the advent of Ragnarök with her howls.
The red-eared hellhounds of Wales known as Cŵn Annwn are also guard dogs, protecting the entrance to the Celtic otherworld.
Now Garm howls wildly
Before Gnipa Cave.
Chains will snap
And the wolf will run.
—the Völuspá (ca. 13th c.)
A famous hellhound sighting occurred in Bungay, England in 1577, when a great demonic dog, the Black Shuck, appeared and went on a killing spree during a violent thunderstorm. Similar stories of the appearance of a hellhound during a thunderstorm are told of Dartmoor in 1638, among other places and times.
Common throughout much of the lore of hunting hellhounds is their role as canine reapers—they hunt down the damned and drag them to the underworld.
But hellhounds are not only guardians and hunters. They can also be death omens, particularly in the British Isles. From Sherlock Holmes’ case of The Hound of the Baskervilles to the Grim of Harry Potter, spectral black dogs foretelling doom appear throughout English literature and lore.
Other localized British Isle harbinger hellhounds include the Barghest of Yorkshire, the headless Yeth Hound of Devon and Cornwall, the Moddey Dhoo of the Isle of Man, the Bogey Beast of Lancashire, the Tchico of Guernsey, and the Cù Sìth of Scotland.
Notable Hellhounds in Popular Culture
Juliet & “Growley” (Supernatural): Hellhounds appear quite frequently on Supernatural. In fact, one was responsible for what was one of Dean’s earliest and most gruesome deaths—which is saying a lot, considering how many times Dean has died. Summoned by the demon Lilith, a hellhound ripped Dean apart and dragged his soul to Hell in its capacity as demonic reaper of the damned, collecting on Dean’s contract with a crossroads demon. Hellhounds are usually invisible to humans on Supernatural, although people who have sold their souls may hear their howls as the end of their contracts approach. Additionally, the Winchesters were once able to scorch a pair of eyeglasses in holy fire, making hellhounds visible to the wearer.
“Growley” is the fan nickname of one of Crowley’s own pet hellhounds, which Crowley brings from Hell to help the Winchesters escape from another (apparently smaller) hellhound in the Season 5 episode “The Devil You Know.” Juliet is the name of another of Crowley’s hellhounds, which he calls off of its hunt via speakerphone in the Season 9 episode “King of the Damned.” A hellhound also arrives to take the soul of a wrestler in “Beyond the Mat.”
In the Season 12 episode “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell” a hellhound named Ramsey is let loose from Hell. King of Hell Crowley describes why she is so dangerous:
“Right after God said ‘Let there be light’ he made a whole bunch of things – posies, koalas, hellhounds. He wanted the creators best friend but the hounds were too vicious so he planned on having them all put down until along came our favorite fallen angel. He recused one of the hounds, a pregnant bitch named Ramsey…She’s loyal only to Lucifer.”
Dog (Good Omens): In the novel Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Dog is the name given to his pet hellhound by the young antichrist, Adam Young. The hellhound was a gift from his demonic overseers for Adam’s eleventh birthday, but by choosing the name “Dog,” Adam disappoints the Infernal Powers by imbuing his hellhound with the qualities of his chosen name, turning him from a red-eyed hellbeast into a cute, tail-wagging best friend.
“Grimhounds” also appear in Pratchett’s Discworld/Tiffany Aching novel The Wee Free Men.
Deputy Parrish (Teen Wolf): At long last, the mystery of which legendary creature Deputy Parrish would turn out to be has been revealed. In the Teen Wolf Season 5 episode “Status Asthmaticus,” Parrish was found to be a hellhound. When his hellhound nature takes over, his eyes turn orange and his body can emanate flames. The Beacon Hills library Bestiary describes these black dogs that accompany the Wild Hunt as spectral beasts with eyes that glow with fire. Hellhounds are described as bearers of death and guardians of the supernatural. Parrish guards the supernatural by taking the dead bodies of chimeras—failed experiments that mimic supernatural creatures—and hiding them at a sacred place known as the nematon. In Season 6, the Ghost Riders of the Wild Hunt are able to control Parrish beacuse Hellhounds are part of the hunt.
“Holy shit,” I breathed. “Hellhounds.”
“Harry,” Michael said sternly, “you know I hate it when you swear.”
“You’re right, sorry. Holy shit,” I breathed, “heckhounds.”
—Jim Butcher’s Grave Peril (Book 3 of The Dresden Files)