The Cù Sìth is a giant spectral dog of Scottish mythology. They were said to be about the size of a cow or large calf, and be bright green in color, with a curled and braided tail and a rough coat. (In Ireland, however, they were said to be coal black with flaming eyes).
The name literally means “fairy dog.” They were said to haunt the Scottish Highlands, and it was said that they were harbingers of death, capable of dragging a soul to the afterlife. They can hunt silently, but also on occasion let out three shrill and terrifying barks which can be heard for great distances—even far out to sea. This is said to be a warning for farmers to “lock up their women,” or the dogs would carry them off to fairy mounds, where they would be used to provide milk for the fairy children.
The Gytrash is a spectral creature of North England myth, appearing to lost or way-laid travelers on lonely roads as either a large lion-like dog, donkey, or horse.
The creature occasionally manifests itself to lead a lost traveler to the right path, but most encounters are of a more sinister nature, leading the travelers astray, never to be found again. When the creature appeared as entirely dark, with eyes burning like coals, it’s believed to be at its most malevolent. It is one of many forms of spectral dogs, in particular, and fairly rare.
The most common reference for a Gytrash is the scene in Jane Eyre, where Jane wonders momentarily if Pilot, Mr. Rochester’s dog who has found her on her way to Thornfield, might possibly be this mythic beast. She’s reassured when she sees Rochester riding his horse, as “Nothing ever rode the Gytrash: it was always alone.”
For such a small moment in the book, and such a rarely-heard-of creature, this scene has always stuck with me, as has the image of the Gytrash, appearing on dusky roads and luring wandering travelers astray. There’s something particularly sinister in the idea of what most people would expect to be a subservient creature leading tired and lonely travelers astray, in the guise of companionship. This is one myth that I wouldn’t be surprised to feel the tugs of if I were ever to find myself on an abandoned country road in Europe somewhere. Maybe even here in America, if the conditions were just right. If I go for a long walk and don’t end up coming home… well, it may well have been a Gytrash that I’ve let lead me astray. I think I’d keep away from that one with the burning-coal eyes, though… at least I’d hope I’d have enough sense as that.