A supernatural presence believed to foretell death and misfortune usually taking the form of an enormous dog.
Although most often described as dog-like –large as a calf, with long sharp fangs and claws, fiery eyes like glowing coals, and a shaggy black coat— the Barguest could also appear in the shape of a bear.
Particularly In older tales, the Barguest is often describe as a ferocious bear-like creature, and the name Barguest may derive from German meaning “bear ghost.” Many tales, however, also tell that this creature had shape-shifting abilities, hence choosing to appear in the shape that would be more intimidating for those around.
Regardless of the differences in appearance, all tales coincide in that the mere sight of the Barguest foretells disaster and death for those who see it, and that if anyone tries to approach it or to pass in front of it, it will bite, inflicting a terrible wound that never heals.
Particularly, in the Yorkshire county witness were quoted in Church records as to indicate that every time anyone of importance was about to die, the Barguest would appear running through the hills, howling and inciting all other dogs of the city to do as well. Older accounts from this region, also mention that the Barguest may foretell the death of an individual by lying across the threshold of his or her house.
In northern England and Scotland older tales mention that the Barguest could also become invisible and walk about with the sound of rattling chains. These mentions link the Barguest to the Church Grim (also called Kirk Grim), a specter in the shape of a dog that served as guardian of old churchyards. It’s presumed that the Church Grim is a folk recollection of the “churchyard sacrifice.”
In the past, it was a widespread belief that the first burial in a churchyard would have to watch over the rest of the dead. A dog may have been buried first. The ghost of this dog protected the dead from the Devil, demons, and other wicked supernatural creatures. This dog was often seen on stormy nights and was regarded as a portent of death, and because of the eternal servitude it owned to the churchyard, it was sometimes seeing as carrying chains.
-Henderson, W. 1879. Notes on the folk-lore of the northern counties of England and the borders, Folk-Lore Society. p. 275.
-Briggs, K. 1976. An Encyclopedia of Fairies. Pantheon Books.