Creature Compendium

Creature Compendium: The Church Grim

The Church Grim
Kirk Grimm / Kyrkogrim (Swedish) / Kirkonväki (Finnish)

Black Dog by WarNick

The church grim is a spirit with roots in Scandinavian and British folklore. The grim are helpful spirits that lurk about a church or graveyard. They are said to ringing the church bells when a soul has passed, or someone will soon die. If anyone besides the priest sees the grim, it is considered a portent of great change, but it does not always signal tragedy. The grim are most commonly associated with black dogs, but are sometimes described as other animals or pale-skinned ghosts.

The grim are tied to the practice of burying a live animal beneath the foundation stone of a new church. The first creature to die in the church or graveyard is said to roam eternally in the place where it died, and so animals were chosen instead of humans. This was a pagan tradition that carried over to Christianity. The choice of sacrificed animal has significance. A black dog was said to protect the dead, but other animals were sometimes used. A lamb, for example, would ensure the church would never be torn down.

Further Reading:

Related Creatures: hell hound, black dog

Region of Origin: Europe, Britain, Sweden, Finland

I’m noticing a theme here, do you? It seems that many of these creature legends are tied to religion, change over time, and as they spread regionally.


  1. Hmm. Probably the most famous example of this one, today, is in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (though there are enough other “Black Dog” legends and myths that the HP “Grim” could’ve been based on one of the others… but the name “Grim” certainly suggests a connection with this “Church Grim”).

    I’m particularly fascinated by this idea that burying different animals in the graveyard would yield different supernatural effects.

  2. Harry Markov

    Can you imagine the awesome guardian a lamb would make, especially, if it could talk… Oh my brain is ready to explode. What a good post. I remember that the Harry Potter books had a sort of reference to this Grim. I think the black dog was referred to as a Grim, but it signified death, rather than just drastic change.

  3. I’ve read about this creature and superstition before, but this is a nice, concise little write-up about it. Interesting how over time the guardian spirit of a pagan cemetery morphs into the Hound of the Baskervilles, isn’t it?

  4. Well that is a wicked-neat monster. Had never heard of it before, though certainly have noticed the hell hound and black dog correlations here. Also unsurprised that monsters tie into religion. Religions that take root in a region usually entwine with folklore.

  5. I’ve read about various versions of a Grim spirit. I read somewhere that the Grim will actually ring the church bells as a warning before something horrible happens, or to commemorate the death of someone connected to that church/location.

    Now from a paranormal point of view, investigators seems to have incredible luck with getting evidence of “something” lurking around old churches in Ireland, England, and all throughout Scandinavia. Here in the States, old means going back to the 1600s. But out there, old goes back several more centuries – and probably why the concentration of spooky things tends to come out of that part of the world.

    1. Ahh, thank you for adding to the information!

      You’re right about the old places. The city I live in has only been around since the 1800’s, so everything is relatively new. I wonder if there’s something to old places, or if it’s just that there are more stories about them – the heaviness of history…

  6. My word, good digging! I think bringing pagan practices into Christendom has been quite a theme over the years. 🙂 I was quite appalled by the burying a live animal bit though, 😮 That’s just awful! I would be happier if they killed it first.

  7. Great addition to the compendium. Please let me digress on language tangents:

    Grim doesn’t standalone as a word in swedish, but it is similar to grym (which has a similar pronunciation to how we would pronounce grim, the Swedish pronunciation of grim would be closer to greem) Grym literally means cruel, which given the live burial seems appropriate. However, the interesting twist on this is that cool kids in sweden these days use grym in a similar way to bad (i.e. it means awesome in typical use). As a story idea this is awesome and would fit in my Merph & Whitey world well.

    In addition to the fun with swedish, the finnish caught my eye. Väki reminds me of vakt (okay, excuse the fact that I modified the vowel) which means guard in swedish. This mutation seems strangely appropriate. Weirder is that in my finnish dictionary, Väki appears to translate as people.

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