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  The Hogboon - Orkney's Mound Dweller

Offerings to the mound-dweller

The Scandinavian haugbui insisted on regular offerings of the farm's produce, particularly during the annual Yule festivities.

The first milk from a cow that had calved or the first jug of ale brewed in the household, were common contributions and were poured over the sacred mound as offerings to the ancient guardian.

In some places sacrifices of poultry or even cattle were made to the mound dweller, a tradition that persisted in Norway until the early years of the twentieth century. One Norwegian account reveals that, in 1909, a Norwegian farmer slaughtered a cow for the mound-dweller on the occassion of the farmer's father's death.

Once relocated to Orkney, not only the name of the mound spirit, in the corrupted form "hogboon" or "hogboy", continued but the practice of making offerings at mounds remained well into the nineteenth century and beyond.

In 1866, on Westray, when calves were born, people used to go to Muilie, a large mound in Skelwick, where they would pour milk and meal through a hole on the top.

Somewhat earlier, in a letter on Orkney antiquities dated 1833, a Mr J. Paterson wrote concerning another Westray mound-dweller. "Wilkie" was a creature after whom two burial mounds of Westray - Wilkie's Knowes - were named.

Paterson explained that:

"there (was) a tradition prevalent that all the natives of Westray were in the habit of dedicating to him daily a certain proportion of milk. The milk was poured into a hole in the centre of one of the tumuli."

He goes on to say that if the offering was neglected, goods might disappear or be stolen, livestock would sicken or houses would be "haunted by him".

He adds:

"..the natives still seem much afraid of Wilkie's influence, although they no longer dedicate to him oblations of milk. It is customary for the natives to frighten their children to silence by telling them Wilkie's coming."

But it was not only milk that was offered to the hogboon.

In one of Orkney Folklorist Walter Traill Dennison's anecdotes, an Orcadian housekeeper complains:

"I meant tae pour the wine on the hoose-knowe, whaur da Hogboon bides, fir geud luck tae da waddeen."

(I meant to pour the wine on the house-mound where the Hogboon stays, for good luck to the wedding)

However, her attempt was thwarted when she discovered that the entire tub of wine used for washing the bride's feet had been drunk by the farm servants!