The year was 2012. In the Zona Rosa section of San Salvador, the capital city of the Central American nation of El Salvador, an urban revival of sorts was taking place. In a place known for its museums, cafes and “garden city” feel, new businesses were moving in and living spaces were being created out of old buildings to accommodate the artists, young urban hipsters and those Central American forward thinkers who wanted to experience something new. Amid the fusion sushi places and new cosmopolitan discotheques, a brew pub emerged, inspired by the relatively new craft beer movement in the United States. The logo of the new brewery featured a red-eyed, snarling, dog-like creature. Anyone who came to the new business knew why the brewery chose that image. The name of the brew pub and the name of the animal were the same: El Cadejo. This Central American business may be the first microbrewery in the world to have named itself after a cryptid, or legendary creature. The stories of the Cadejo range from the country of Nicaragua, through El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, all the way to the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico. The specifics of this creature and the stories about it are varied across the many countries and terrains of its supposed habitat. Most cryptozoologists, or those who seek to discover and describe previously unknown animals, dismiss this creature and believe that the Cadejo is merely the stuff of legend. Many Mexicans and Central Americans who have actually seen the Cadejo would argue this point.
The Cadejo has been described in several ways. It’s usually a big, doglike creature with hooves of a deer and abundant fur. It runs more like a deer than a dog. It has been spotted in both rural areas and highly urbanized settings. There is a black version and a white version. The black version can be broken down into three different types, which often cause the cryptozoologists to dismiss the Cadejo out of hand.
The first kind of black Cadejo is the most supernatural of the three darker ones. It is often described as a pure manifestation of evil and may even be the devil himself taking an earthly form to conduct his nefarious business on earth. It appears as a huge black dog with glowing red eyes and may be accompanied by the smell of sulfur. It is often described as having a thick, glowing metal chain around its neck which some language scholars believe gives the creature its name. In Spanish, the word “chain” is “cadena,” and from this we get the word “Cadejo.” This type of Cadejo never attacks a person but appears to terrorize the victim by its mere appearance or may present the person with visions of hell or other scenes of death and destruction. In one account of this type of creature, a teenage boy named Santiago encountered a Cadejo that showed him a beautiful tree being consumed by hellfire. Santiago believed that the vision was a sign to help him to stop drinking and to serve as a warning for him to stop disobeying his mom. This first type of creature, while not threatening physically, is usually a bad omen and may predict a horrible event in the person’s life. Usually the witness is left with feelings of post-traumatic stress and they are reluctant to speak of their experiences. Sometimes prayer or the showing of religious objects, such as a cross, may cause the creature to slowly back off and disappear. Another precaution to take when coming across this type of Cadejo is to stand with your feet together so that the creature doesn’t run under your legs to whisk you off.
The second version of the black type of the Cadejo is the most troublesome of all versions. It is more like a wild dog or wolf than anything else. When a person comes upon this manifestation, it may mean a fight to the death. The creature may appear first in the shadows making noises to alert the victim of its presence for reasons of pure terror and to generate a feeling of demoralization in the victim. When the Cadejo senses an intense level of fear, it will go in for the kill. Prayer and religious objects have no effect on this second type of creature and a human cannot kill it. The only thing that can save a victim from certain death is the intervention of the white type of Cadejo to be discussed later.
The third type of back Cadejo is the least powerful of all the manifestations. It is said to be a combination of the second lethal version and a real dog. Because it is a mortal hybrid, it can be killed, although it is difficult to do so. This type of creature, surprisingly, does not bite its victim; rather, it kicks and pecks at the person with its snout. While causing little physical harm, this harassing interaction with the Cadejo can make the human go mad. If this third version is killed, it is said that its body rots very quickly and disappears within minutes. On the ground where it dies, according to legend, nothing will ever grow as it has left a “stain of evil.” Religious objects or prayer can ward off this creature. One who encounters this third type can also try another trick: the potential victim can spit in his own hand and offer it up to the Cadejo. If the creature licks the palm of the potential victim, it is a sign that everything will be okay and the human does not need to fear the Cadejo.
In addition to the three kinds of black Cadejos, there exists a white one. The white one is benevolent and is described as having fluffy, downy-like fur and light blue eyes. This big canine is more of a protector and appears when needed, usually at night, often to guide a person out of trouble. It is also the only thing that can protect a person from the second and most dangerous type of black Cadejo. It is a human’s only real defense against the most malevolent black form of this type of creature. The white Cadejo, according to some legends, doesn’t even eat meat like a normal canine. Instead, it eats the small bell-like flowers that grow in the mountains of southern Mexico and throughout Central America. Some believe that the white Cadejo is not an animal in the strictest sense but more of a benevolent spirit that shows up to help in times of distress.
In a popular story about the white Cadejo, a man named Juan repeatedly returned home at midnight from a long day at work to see a huge white dog hanging around his house. Juan had a wife and small children and sometimes was concerned for the well-being of his family because he spent so much time away. Whenever Juan would see the dog and try to get close to it, it would shake, wander off a bit and then disappear. One day Juan tried following the dog, and when he got closer to it, he touched its paw and the big white dog opened its eyes and began talking. Juan was frightened. The dog said, “I am leaving. You don’t need my help anymore.” Juan asked, “What help?” and the dog replied, “I was sent from Heaven to protect you and your family, but you have showed me that you no longer need my protection.” The white dog then just closed his eyes and died, at which point Juan buried him.
To date, no bones or other physical evidence has come to light to prove the existence of the Cadejo as a real, living, breathing being. So, investigators of strange creatures usually dismiss the Cadejo as just a legend. Legends are based on something, as is often repeated, so what would explain this phenomenon? Critics often cite the many instances of the Cadejo being seen while a person is intoxicated and dismiss the whole idea of the creature as coming from an impaired mental state combined with stories previously heard by the witness or “experiencer.” Investigators are still left with the “stories previously heard.” Where did those stories come from? It appears as if the whole Cadejo legend is a blend of the pre-Columbian and the Hispanic/European belief systems. The indigenous of the area believed that people were connected to a spirit animal and that the animal was also a protector. In the white Cadejo we see this, along with the Catholic concept of the guardian angel. This creature is thus a blend and serves to bridge two cultures. The black Cadejo counterpart also may have its pre-Spanish origins in the Nagual, a snarling, upright dog-like creature present in nearly all of the ancient Mesoamerican cultures from the Maya to the Zapotecs to the Aztecs. For an explanation of the Nagual, please see Mexico Unexplained episode # 36. The combination of the Nagual with European Christian devil imagery is very apparent. The malevolent black Cadejo has hooves, it smells of sulfur and may threaten its victims with images of a very Catholic hell. Like most stories about the devil coming to earth, the stories surrounding the Cadejo are cautionary tales. Don’t go out and get drunk, don’t stay out too late, don’t wander away too far from home and don’t disobey your parents. From this perspective, the Cadejo is a very interesting study in social control and serves to keep certain members of the believing population in line.
Various online sources