Mythological Dogs: Anubis, Gaueko, and Shisa
Anubis is the Greek name given to the ancient, Egyptian, jackal-headed god of the afterlife and mummification. It is said that he is the protector of the dead. His wife is the goddess Anput, and their daughter is the goddess called Kebechet. No funeral procession in ancient Egypt would have been complete without a marching Anubis leading the deceased to their final place of rest.
According to legend, Seth, brother of Osiris, lured Osiris into a coffin which he then threw into the River Nile, after sealing it shut. After the coffin washed up on the riverbed miles away, Isis retrieved her husband's (Osiris') body, and when this news reached Seth, he had his brother's remains cut into pieces and scattered to locations all over the Egyptian lands.
Both Isis and her sister Nephthys took on the form of kite birds and requested Anubis' help in finding her husband's scattered remains. Anubis agreed, and in his jackal form, was able to locate each body part except the phallus. Osiris' body was restored to its original state and Anubis carefully wrapped it in linen. For this reason, he is sometimes referred to as "He Who is in the Place of Embalming."
In Basque folklore, Gaueko is a huge, hulking wolfhound with fur as black as the night and is referred to as "the Lord of the Night." This dark beast sometimes walks upright. He is feared by shepherds as he is rumoured to eat them and their sheep. However, on particularly cold nights, these Shepherds may have an advance warning of Gaueko's approach, as his menacing howls can be heard echoing across the hills. In Basque, Gaueko is a literal translation of the phrase "of the night."
Despite his association with all things grim and sinister, Gaueko is a reasonable being. He considers the night to be his domain, and if he discovers a human out after sundown, he will advise them that they would be wise to return home via the shortest route possible. If the individual obeys, no harm will come to them, but if they do not heed Gaueko's warning and treat the night with contempt and disrespect, the mighty being will punish them severely.
Shisa are gargoyle-like decorations hailing from Okinawan mythology. They are best described as beasts resembling a cross between a dog and a lion. People position pairs of these creatures flanking the gates to their homes or on their rooftops, as it is believed that they protect the occupants from evil spirits or entities. The Shisa on the left will always have a closed mouth, while the one on the right will have its mouth open. The open mouth frightens away any near-by demons or malicious spirits, while the closed mouth keeps benevolent entities in the house and grounds.
In the Japanese mainland, similar pairs of monstrous critters can be spotted adorning front walks and gateways, now-a-days. They are now known simply as "guardian dogs," whereas they were once referred to as "shisa and guardian dogs." The right, open-mouthed canine is a guardian, and the left, close-mouthed creature is a shisa.
Sometimes people assign genders to shisa - various Okinawans believe that the male has a closed mouth to keep bad out of its owner's home, and the female's open mouth symbolises the idea that it is sharing the good within the dwelling it is guarding. Others disagree, and think that the female has a closed mouth as it is keeping the good entities from escaping, while the male's mouth is open in a threatening stance to scare off bad spirits.
These beasts make numerous appearances in Chinese folklore: In one legend, a young boy is presented with a Shisa as a gift from an Okinawan nobleman. The child senses a mystical power within the inanimate object, and so he takes excellent care of his gift. Then one day, a dragon storms into the small boy's village and begins to wreak havoc, but the Shisa repays the boy's care and kindness by coming to life and defeating the dragon before it can harm any of the villagers.
In another Okinawan tale, the canine-like creature was brought to Okinawa many, many years ago as a gift that was to be given to a Ryukyuan king. It gained a reputation as the protector of the people of Madanbashi, guarding them from a fearsome dragon that prowled Naha Bay. The king and his people became tired of living in fear of this terrible dragon, and he asked his Shisa to confront it. The mighty dragon scoffed at the Shisa, which was an impressive specimen, but was much too small to present any real threat. Angered, the Shisa roared so loudly that it caused a great rock to tumble from the sky and land on top of the dragon. It is said that this rock is an island that we know today as Ganna-Mui.