Episode 60: Workers of Death: Barguest
The folklore of barguest in a nutshell, how I reimagined them for my writing.
Written and narrated by Ronel Janse van Vuuren.
Copyright 2023 Ronel Janse van Vuuren — All rights reserved.
Learn more about barguest in folklore here.
Get the transcript here.
As featured on the Top 50 Folklore Podcasts.
Support the podcast here.
Music: Secrets by David Fesliyan (FesliyanStudios.com) and Dramatic Heartbeat by FesliyanStudios.com
You’re listening to the Faeries and Folklore podcast by Ronel.
I’m dark fantasy author Ronel Janse van Vuuren. With nearly a decade of digging around in dusty folklore books, researching creatures of imagination that ignited my curiosity, I’m here to share the folklore in a nutshell and how I reimagined it for my writing in an origin of the fae.
This is the Faeries and Folklore podcast.
Hi, I’m your host Ronel Janse van Vuuren. You can just call me Ronel. In today’s episode, we’re continuing our exploration of the fae realm.
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We’re continuing our exploration of the workers of death.
Today’s Faery: Barguest
Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel
With as many variations in its name as in its looks, the Barguest is a black dog from British mythology. For some, it is only found in Yorkshire, for others, it also comes from Manchester, Northumberland and Durham. Some even believe that it is wrapped in chains, or drags chains behind it. Feels too much like Marley in some Dickensian nightmare, if you ask me.
In some tales, local dogs will bark to announce the appearance of the Barguest. In other tales, the Barguest leads the local dogs in a procession when someone important is about to die. I suppose the only people of note in these tales are those with titles, money and land. It is unclear whether the Barguest can be seen by anyone except the dogs. My own dogs regularly walk in procession for some mischief or another…
For the most part, the Barguest is a black mastiff with fiery eyes, horns, fangs, and claws. It is sometimes seen as a black bear, a white cat, a white rabbit – or even a headless human. The white rabbit sounds a bit too much like the one Alice followed, and the cat like a caìt sìth which is a different faery altogether.
According to Keightley in The Fairy Mythology, the Barguest appears in the shape of a mastiff dog and terrifies people with its shrieks. I can see the Barguest like this. A dog that shrieks instead of barks or yelps will be totally terrifying.
Some rare tales talk about the Barguest’s bite not healing; this faery not being able to cross water; and that only those doomed to die soon can hear its howl.
Whether a shrieking spectral hound or one that resembles my sweet Caitlin yelping in her sleep, it’s probably best to stay clear of this harbinger of death.
And now for my interpretation of the fae in an Origin of the Fae: Barguest
The Barguest is a black dog who usually looks like a German Shepherd with reddish eyes. But a mirror can reveal its true nature and looks: a spectral creature with fire for eyes.
They live in the Underworld, keeping souls from escaping back to the world of the living. And if souls were to escape, they go on the hunt in the human realm and forcibly take them back to where they belong.
Barguests ensure that all deals made with creatures from the Underworld are upheld. Usually it entails keeping the foolish mortal safe.
They are great companions and loyal. They have a strong sense of duty.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this episode of the faeries and folklore podcast and that you’ve learned something new about faeries.
Remember that you can get a transcript of this episode in the description. If you’re new to the podcast, why not go and grab your free copy of Unseen, the second book in the Faery Tales series, on my website ronelthemythmaker.com? Loads of folklore, magic and danger await! Take care!
You can now support my time in producing the podcast (researching, writing and everything else involved) by buying me a coffee. This can be a once-off thing, or you can buy me coffee again in the future at your discretion.
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No-one writes about the fae like Ronel Janse van Vuuren.