There are some days (and I hope you have these sort of days, too) when I can’t believe how much I love my job, and I feel like wheeling around on an Austrian mountaintop, arms outstretched, singing at the top of my lungs like an idiot, proclaiming the hills to be alive. But not hills with eyes, of course; that’s a very different movie reference.
Today is one of those days, because it’s Monday, and on Mondays, I research monsters, mysteries and murders. Today, I’ll be combining all three into one post, because today, I’m going to talk about grims.
In English and Scandinavian mythology, a grim is the guardian spirit of a sacred space, most often appearing in the form of a great black dog, or sometimes as a spectral sow or a horse. The grim is an portent of doom, and can predict a death, but it also protects the souls of those buried in the graveyard from the clutches of the Devil. Despite their scary exterior, grims aren’t all bad. The grim would wander the grounds at night, and in daylight, it would live in the church tower, out of sight of the living.
It was once believed that, when a new churchyard was created, the first creature to be buried there would be the guardian of the graves. Instead of giving a human the job, a dog would be sacrificed and interred in the cornerstone of the new church, thereby consigning the poor puppy to watch-duty for all eternity.
Of course, this takes us into the shadowy topic of foundation sacrifices, where a living creature is entombed in a building or bridge so that its spirit will protect the structure forever. Foundation sacrifices can range from dogs and horses to peasants and kings, depending on who’s doing the building and where they’re building it. The Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould put it very poetically, when he wrote in 1887 that “The old pagan laid the foundation of his house and fortress in blood.” Nicely worded, Sabs, but still icky.
Anyway, I’m veering off topic and careening towards a rabbit hole. I find church grims interesting because they’re more than just spectral black dogs; they have a job to do. They’re ghosts with a career. I can’t help but think that would be a terrible, terrible occupation, without any hope of a vacation; just an eternity of responsibility towards the souls which surround you. You’d have to be a special kind of grim to love that job.