The Kirk Grim
“The Grim. The giant, spectral dog that haunts churchyards! My dear boy, it is an omen- the worst omen – of death.”
-Sybill Trelawney discussing the Grim with Harry Potter.
Popular in Scandinavian and English folklore, the “church grim” or “kirk grim” is a guardian spirit of the church and the surrounding churchyard. Most often appearing in the form of a big fierce black dog with razor sharp teeth, glowing eyes and shaggy unkempt fur; the grim protects the church from anyone or anything that wishes to harm it. According to Yorkshire tradition and other forms of lore, the grim may appear as a lamb, horse, rooster, or even a raven.
In olden times it was believed that the first person to be buried in the church graveyard would protect the region from the devil and would also be responsible for helping the other spirits move on and cross over to the realm of the dead for all eternity. Now people wanted to avoid this fate for themselves and for their loved ones; so when a church was founded, a dog was first buried there who would later show up as the grim and protect both the living and the dead from evil.
Although the story surrounding it is inherently thought to be a good one; coming across a church grim was still thought to be a bad omen, one bringing death and doom. In popular culture, one such example can be seen in ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’, where according to legend, someone who encounters the grim would inevitably meet with an early demise. Ron tried to back up this tale by stating that his uncle had seen the grim and had died within the next twenty-four hours, to which Hermione argued on the status of the grim as an omen of death, stating that people died of fright when they saw a big black dog at night, making it the cause of death rather than an omen.
Among other things, it is thought that the grim is also responsible for tolling the church bell at midnight, foreshadowing a nearby death, and the clergyman may see the grim in the church tower during a funeral and could tell by its aura whether the person was to go to Heaven or Hell. We would all prefer if the grim appeared in a more friendly appearance, as a golden retriever or even a poodle, but he does his level best as the guardian of the church and it would definitely do you well to give this good dog a pat on the head or even a little treat if you meet him in passing.