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Dog Headed Men

by Doug MacGowan
dog headed men

Traditional eastern depiction of a dog-headed St. Christopher: an icon from the Byzantine Museum, Athens.

The imagination of cultures across time has produced a wide range of mythical beasts such as monsters and minotaurs. Not a fact known to many, there are many tales of dog headed men from different cultures around the world. The proper name for this phenomenon is “Cynocephaly.” It should be noted that these are not werewolves, but animals or gods with the heads of dogs on fully human bodies. It should also be noted that these creatures are always male.

Probably the earliest example is the Egyptian god Anubis. This god is depicted with the body of a man but with the head of a jackal. Anubis was a god of death and the underworld, and paintings of Anubis can be found throughout Egypt’s ancient sites.

While the Greeks may not have had dog-headed gods, they knew of places where dog-headed creatures purportedly existed. As far back as the fifth century BCE, a Greek doctor wrote about dog-headed men that could be found in India. Later, a Greek explorer described dog-headed men, also in India, who spoke to each other by barking and were primitive savages by nature.

Centuries later, even the elders of the Catholic Church believed such beings existed. Saint Augustine pondered in his writings if dog-headed men were held to the same moral laws as humankind and if they could be saved.

But Augustine was not Christianity’s only delving into the subject. Very bizarrely, some ancient icons of Saint Christopher depict him as having a dog’s head. The story goes that he led a sinful life in this form, but when he reformed and was baptized he was transformed into a man having a human head.

Even King Arthur gets into the picture when he and his army allegedly defeated a band of dog-headed soldiers in the mountains surrounding Edinburgh.

The whole phenomenon later degenerated from belief into a form of name-calling when Charlemagne proclaimed that the Norse race, his enemies, all had dogs’ heads. Chances are Charlemagne didn’t believe this was literally true.

And although he never claimed to encounter them personally, Marco Polo reported that dog-headed men lived on an island off the coast of Myanmar.

There are also reports of dog-headed men in writings from 5th century China, and some legends place dog-headed men in regions of Africa.

The tales are not all ancient. Current sightings of what are claimed to be humans with dog heads have happened in Michigan, Wisconsin, and the Shetland Islands.

Obviously there have been no skeletons of dog-headed humans ever found to back up these tales, and current believers are very few. But the widespread myths do make one wonder where all these stories came from and if these tales are just remnants of an earlier long-lost global myth that later developed their own flavors within different cultures.

Cynocephaly”, Wikipedia, pulled 15-Feb-12
Lobojo’s Den website: pulled 15-Feb-12
Paper Pusher website “Alphabeasts” pulled 15-Feb-12

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