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  The Hogboon - Orkney's Mound Dweller

Tales of the hogboon

When it comes to the "physical" appearance of Orkney's hogboon, no surviving accounts really detail what the creature looked like. It was never recorded, perhaps because it was assumed that everyone would know its appearance.

One recorded case of an alleged meeting with a hogboon is remarkably similar to the description of the snuff bearing trow of another story and is almost identical, word for word, to a folktale found in Iceland relating to another undead spirit, the draugr.

The account, published in Old Lore Miscellany in July 1911, tells of a farmer who opened a large howe in one of his fields. Upon breaking open the mound, he was confronted by the angry mound-dweller, who appeared with threatening words.

In this case, it was said that the mound's guardian was:

"an old, grey-whiskered man dressed in an old, grey, tattered suit of clothes,patched in every conceivable manner, with an old bonnet in his hand, and old shoes of horse or cowhide tied on with strips of skin on his feet."

His angry words, as the farmer remembered them, were:

"thou are working thy own ruin, believe me, fellow, for if thou does any more work, thou will regret it when it is too late. Take me word, fellow, drop working in my house, for if thou doesn't, mark my word, fellow, if thou takes another shuleful {shovelful}, mark me word, thou will have six of the cattle deean in thy corn-yard at one time. And if thou goes on doing any more work, fellow - mark me word, fellow, thou will have then six funerals from the house, fellow; does thou mark me words; good-day, fellow...."

Having said his piece, the dweller vanished and was never seen again.

However, six cattle are alleged to have died in the corn-yard and a further six deaths in the household soon followed. The teller of the story was present when the fourth death occurred and was told about the mound-dweller and his warning.

Although this account was supposedly recounted by the farmer's son-in-law, who swore to the accuracy of every detail, it is too similar to an Icelandic version to be an original, Instead, it points to an obvious connection between the mound-dwelling Hogboon and the undead mound-dweller known as the draugr.

The hogboon's development

Although the hogboon's original role was a guardian spirit, in Orkney, over the centuries it developed into a more mobile, amusing, and even comical, character.

In the later tales he often left his mound to carry out chores around the farm and, more importantly, to collect the food the family set out for him each night.

An example of the hogboon's helpfulness was recorded in Rousay. There, whenever the spinning-wheel used by a certain woman refused run properly, she would leave it overnight on a nearby mound. This, she was sure, would remedy the problem and her wheel would be fine in the morning. No doubt a soaking of dew tightened the loose driving band - thus explaining why the wheel worked again - but the dependence placed on the farm's guardian spirit is clearly apparent.

But despite this apparent helpfulness around the farmstead, and harking back to his Norse origins, the typical hogboon was still generally regarded as a bad-tempered creature. Similar echoes of the creature's earliest role as an ancestor spirit can be found within the tales where the Hogboon becomes attached to a particular family.

The most famous of these tales concerns the most famous of all Orkney's hogboons - the renowned Hogboon of Hellihowe from Sanday.