Dogs are ubiquitous in Prague, even in the spirit world where ghost dogs hold a place of pride.
One of the first things you will notice in Prague is the number of dogs. People love their furry friends and take them everywhere, from public transportation to restaurants. It is no surprise that the Prague spirit realm also has its share of ghostly canines (as well as cats, but that is a story for another day).
Long ago, the area near the church called Emauzy was a grove dedicated to Morana, the Slavic goddess of winter and death. The adjacent land, including a street still called Na Moráni, had been a pagan cemetery. Three monks were digging in the area and kept finding human bones. But rather than rebury them, the monks criticized the old pagans and gave the bones to some stray dogs for them to munch on.
The abbot saw what the monks were doing and scolded them, saying they were no better than dogs themselves for disrespecting their ancestors.
As soon as he said those words, a bit of pagan magic took place. The monks turned into three black dogs and ran away. They can be seen sometimes around midnight at the tram stop called Morán and the adjacent streets.
While they growl and snarl, they are not dangerous. They can be freed if a non-Christian pets them behind the ears, but they seem so fierce that nobody has ever tried. Some versions of the tale say the ghost of the abbot can be seen chasing the cursed dogs as well.
These three monks are not the only people turned into dogs. A Turk wanted to marry a Czech woman, the daughter of a ferryman who lived at Vyšehrad. The Turk had promised to convert to Christianity, but when the priest came to teach him the basics, the Turk let out a stream of abuse instead, saying he would never become an infidel dog.
Thunder cracked out of the sky and the earth trembled. The Turk was turned into a confused black dog with a turban. He bolted around the fields of Vyšehrad, wondering what had happened. He now lives around the Chapel of the Virgin Mary and makes appearances at night sometimes. It is best not to approach, and nobody knows how to end the curse.
A rather obscure tale tells of yet another dog at Vyšehrad. A fiery headless dog appears in a coach drawn by headless horses and a headless driver. There is no explanation, but they come straight from Hell.
Two dogs protect different fabled treasures. A long-rumored pagan hoard is hidden in Vyšehrad. It consists of a silver horse, and golden figures of a frog, a hen and 12 golden eggs. A wraith takes the form of a black dog with a fiery chain. The dog can talk, and he promises to lead a person to the fabled and vast treasure. But the dog is a liar. He leads people on a wild goose apparently as a practical joke.
In 1762, a soldier at Vyšehrad encountered the dog and listened to his convincing story. The soldier told his commander, and the unit wasted many hours in a vain search for the lost gold and jewels of the early pagan rulers.
If you find the dog and hear his tale, it would be best to keep it to yourself. The police are not likely to believe that a talking dog told you to dig in the middle of what is now a protected national monument.
The second buried treasure takes us back to Emauzy, and on Good Fridays and some other occasions, a blue ghost flame appears above it. A fierce spectral dog guards the treasure. If you follow the dog to the blue light, you will find the treasure but you have to get past the dog to get it.
Some people say the treasure is in the fields, others that it is in under the basement of the church or monastery courtyard. So there are lots of places to look.
There is a truly fierce dog among the ranks of canine spirits. Be careful on a street called Horská, which runs alongside the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Charlemagne at Karlov. A hound from Hell, smelling of burning sulfur, has been known to drag people back with him to the underworld if they are not careful. At any event don’t try to pet the foul creature. He is not tame.
Near what is now the Theater on the Balustrade, or Divadlo Na zábradlí, a nobleman named Count Deym sometimes appears in a Baroque outfit. A few minutes later a dog comes chasing after him and fiercely attacks him. The count uses his sword cane to defend himself. The pair fights from midnight to 2 am, never coming to any conclusion.
The count had cursed a man, calling him a dog. And just like that, the man became a dog. But the count did not escape his own cursing and also returned as a ghost. Now the dog wants to be changed back, but the count is not able. So the two meet night after night, for centuries. They are oblivious to anyone around them.
The final dog is a sweetheart, compared to the others. A dog that wanders just below Emauzy on Pod Slovany Street is one of the more harmless ghosts. He is a bit lazy and likes to be carried about. He hides in the shadows and jumps on the backs of people passing by. It is best to carry him where he wants to go and drop him off.
Emauzy and Vyšehrad both have pagan connections, and for some reason this seems to have translated into ghostly dogs.
For Emauzy, the place is linked to Morana, the ancient goddess of death and rebirth, often associated with winter. She has the same name in Bulgarian, Slovene, Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian. She is called Marzanna in Polish and Morena in Slovak and Macedonian, as well as other names.
A residential house named for the goddess, house number 321, gave the street Na Moráni its name, and a statue of the goddess stood at a garden at that location in the 19th century. The house is no longer standing. The garden connected to a square by the river. Only a small bit of greenery is left on the side of the street.
Whether there was a pagan cemetery there cannot be confirmed, but the idea that Emauzy was built on a pagan site to take it over for Christianity is widely held to be fact.
There is a ritual still in some towns on March 21, when schoolchildren and others will take an effigy of Morana to a stream or pond and drown it, thus killing off winter. A male witch is sometimes drowned as well.
This Slavic ritual is in addition to the more Germanic Walpurgisnacht on April 30, when a winter witch is burned.
Vyšehrad is associated with the pagan Princess Libuše and her descendants. Tales of lost pagan treasures including a solid gold chariot are widespread, but they seem not to be based in fact. Archeological sites turn up the occasional stash of jewelry or coins, but nothing on the scale that legends claim.
Ghost flames are said to mark several buried treasures. The flames are supposed to appear on specific occasions such as Good Friday.
The number of dogs in Prague has been increasing, and in 2016 there were more than 100,000 registered at City Hall. The human population of Prague is 1.3 million, so there is about one dog for every 13 people. That is still far behind Czech villages, where there is a dog for every five people.
The most common type is a crossbreed, and the most common name is Ben, with 2,991 carrying that name. Other common names are Beta, Bára and Maxi.
The most famous mystical dog in Prague is no doubt the one on the bronze plaque on the left side of the statue of St John Nepomuk (Jan Nepomucký). People touch the dog for good luck, but it is a new tradition since the early 1990s.
The dog can be seen on the Ten of Pentacles in The Tarot of Prague deck. The man and dog have multiple interpretations, and could be taken to mean ignoring the more magical possibilities life offers and regretting it later.
Another dog can be seen on the bottom of the King of Pentacles. This one comes from a door leading into a passage near Wenceslas Square.