Saturday, November 15, 2008
You'll Always Come Back; Black Dog:
Being a mythologist has consequences, as any path does. We tend to interpret what we experience in light of the stories we already know. One would think that comparitive mythology, that is noticing the elements of story that transcend the boundaries of particular cultures and show up all over the place, would lend a certain wordly-wise detachment to archetypal events ~ "oh yes, THAT again." ~ OR, (and this is common...) a gushing enthusiasm for how everything is connected, utterly misconstruing the real reason that spider webs are proof of God's existence, just to feel a part of it all. My personal experience has given me neither out, only a sense of being lucky and a litany of narrow escapes. Never at the same time.
For a mythologist, the words "black dog" are tethered to a pack of traditional stories about supernatural canines, portents of death (what else?) and guardians of the Otherworld. Anubis is the first one we have a name for - but there are plenty of recent sightings. I saw one myself.
Back in my early twenties I used to visit my friend Evelyn pretty often. She's one of the most interesting and charming people I've ever known. Anyway, she was living then in a little house out in the woods on the other side of the Fishing Creek holler. The road there and back was narrow, gravel, and hugging the winding side of a very steep bluff, a cliff practically, with no guard rails. Late one night when I was driving home I descended down into the holler from her house, crossed the creek and started up the road on the other side. About half-way up the cliff there was a slight space beside the road, on the bluff side. When I came around the curve and my headlights hit that spot, I saw what I thought at first was a black angus calf standing just at the edge of light. It would have been quite lost if it had been a calf. Before I had time to consider what it was doing by the road in the middle of the night, I had passed it and was headed on up the hill.
When I looked into my rearview mirror I saw it leap out into the road and come after my car, and that it was an enormous black dog. It was not a pleasant feeling to be followed and I shoved the gas pedal down as far as it would go, putting all my scant faith in internal combustion. Odd choice, eh? Not at all.
It was horrible, but of course I feel wonderously lucky to have seen it. Maybe it was just an oversized doberman-mastif cross that someone dumped. My tenderness has limits. And yes, the eyes glowed red in the taillights.
This image of a black dog is from The Old House. Phyllis had it in her trove. It doesn't appear to have any connection to my black dog story - but there it is; the words coincide, and when I made the photo into a jpeg, the story came to mind.
It is a pastel painting - and very skillfully done. The paper is of a special type made for pastelists, with a fine grit, like refined sandpaper, to catch the soft pastel and hold it. If I could afford to have the pigments anaylized, I might be able to date it. There is no signature, and nothing about its subject or provenance to connect it with anyone in my family. I think that my grandmother was skillful enough to have done it, and something about the way the red bow is handled makes me think it might be hers. As far as I know there are no other pastel paintings. For now it's like a tarot card ~ a more or less mysterious image which suggests things that are significant. If you're in a mind to think so.
As a mythologist I can only conclude that this little fellow attends the boundary between the known and unknown in the process of making You'll Always Come Back. I shudder to think what my life would be like now if it was the other one.