- Plural of ratchet
In Welsh mythology and folklore, Cŵn Annwn () ("hounds of Annwn") were the spectral hounds of Annwn, the otherworld of Welsh myth. They were associated with a form of the Wild Hunt, presided over by Gwynn ap Nudd (rather than Arawn, king of Annwn in the First Branch of the Mabinogi). Christians came to dub these mythical creatures as "The Hounds of Hell" or "Dogs of Hell" and theorised that they were therefore owned by Satan. It should be noted however that the Annwn of medieval Welsh tradition is an otherworldly paradise and not a hell or abode of dead souls.
In Wales, they were associated with migrating geese, supposedly because their honking in the night is reminiscent of barking dogs. They are supposed to hunt on specific nights (the eves of St. John, St. Martin, Saint Michael the Archangel, All Saints, Christmas, New Year, Saint Agnes, Saint David, and Good Friday), or just in the autumn and winter. Some say that Arawn only hunts from Christmas to Twelfth Night. The Cŵn Annwn also came to be regarded as the escorts of souls on their journey to the Otherworld.
The hounds are sometimes accompanied by a fearsome hag called Mallt-y-Nos, "Matilda of the Night". An alternative name in Welsh folklore is Cŵn Mamau ("Hounds of the Mothers").
In other traditions similar spectral hounds are found, e.g. Gabriel Hounds (England), Ratchets (England), Yell Hounds (Isle of Man), related to Herne the Hunter's hounds, which form part of the Wild Hunt.
Hunting grounds for the Cŵn Annwn are said to include the mountain of Cadair Idris, where it is believed "the howling of these huge dogs foretold death to anyone who heard them".
It is said that their growling is loudest when they are at a distance, and as they draw nearer, it grows softer and softer. Their coming is generally seen as a death portent.
In fictionDiana Wynne Jones' children's novel Dogsbody includes both Cŵn Annwn and hybrids of Cŵn Annwn and labrador retrievers.
Notes & references
ratchets in Welsh: Cŵn Annwn
ratchets in German: Cŵn Annwn
ratchets in Polish: Cwn Annwn