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Judith

watervole in hogswatch

The Hog Tie

It was Blanche Posonby, daugher of Major Ponsonby, who first recorded some of the more obscure Hogswatch customs to be found in the Ramtops. Sparing no expense, and using an entire string of polo ponies to carry her wardrobe over the mountains, she spend almost a year visiting small communities that had never been visited by earlier researchers and was fortunate enough to be present in High Twittering on the night of Hogswatch itself to observe the custom of the sacrifice at first hand.



The association of the person of the Hogfather with his earlier incarnation as the winter god of death and renewal is, of course, well known to all serious scholars and it is this aspect of the Hogfather than is still worshipped in these remote mountain villages.

Winters are long and hard in the Ramtops. Snow lies heavy on the ground, and the shortest day of the year is the day when all the people ask themselves whether the sun will ever return.

In the most ancient of times a pig was sacrificed to the Hogfather and this custome is still observed over much of the Disc, albeit mainly in the form of serving a boar's head for the feast. However, it is said in one village on the peak of Tarniastistariel (the name is believed to translate as "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass piglet")that one winter, the cold was so severe that all of the livestock died. In fear of their lives, and desperately needing to give life to the god of renewal to aid him in his struggle, they sacrificed the son of the village leader: a young man of sixteen years, pure, innocent and a virgin (or so the legend says).

The next summer was one of the most fruitful on record: crops were abundant; game was found in every valley and young women gave birth to chubby, bouncing babies.

As the next winter solstice approached and the rushing mountain streams froze solid to the bottom, there was great debate in Tarniastistariel as to the nature of the next sacrifice. Should they sacrifice one of their newly purchased hogs, or should they attempt the human sacrifice once more?

There were several levels to the problem, the not the least of which being the lack of male virgins of a suitable age. Unaccountably, every single male in the village had either married in the last year, or was widely believed (even if the case were unproven) to be the father of one of the aforementioned bouncing babies.

The question was put to an old woman who passed through the villiage but two days before the solstice. Everyone knows that an old crone who protests bitterly about her bunions and expects everyone to wait on her hand and foot must be a witch, and it is also well known that not only do witches give good advice, but that they tend to get rather testy if you don't ask them.

The old crone demanded that they build her a warm fire and cook sausages on it to allow her to read the future in the smoke. The ritual also involved reading the entrails of the sausage. (Anyone who believes that sausages do not have entrails has never resided in the Ramtops, nor in Ankh Morepork either...)

After the sausage had been read, found acceptable, and eaten, the crone made her proclamation.

The sacrifice should be made, but with several stipulations:

1. The young man should be a volunteer.

2. A pig should be sacrificed at the same time.

3. The pig should be killed, but the young man should be hog-tied and annointed with strongest cider and his spirit dedicated to the Hogfather. If the Hogfather was so weak that he needed the young man's strength to see him through the winter, then he would take his life - otherwise, the pig would be sufficient and the young man would be released after the ceremony.

4. The requirement of virginity was waived, but if there was even the teeniest, tiniest shadow of a doubt that the man in question had not been a virgin before the ceremony, then it was upto the every women in the village to make absolutely sure that he wasn't afterwards, otherwise bad luck might result.

Amazingly, the witch's proclamation brought forth a sudden surge of volunteers who weren't quite as sure of their lack of virginity as they had been the day before. One young man is reported to have asked: "Does it count if she only comes once?"

And thus, the custom became established. Every Hogswatch night, a young man is hog-tied and annointed with cider (in some of the more southerly villages, an apple is placed in his mouth, but this is considered a barbaric innovation by many). A pig is sacrificed and at the hour of midnight, all wait to see if the young man's life will be forefit.

So far, none have died, but there is a belief among those villages that it is actually the willingness of these young men to sacrifice both their lives (and their virginity) that makes their sacrifice so acceptable to the Hogfather.

Blance Ponsonby wrote extensively about this custom, but sadly, the pages dealing with the key activities of the sacrifice and the festivities of the young women on the morning afterwards were lost in an accdient when polo pony slid down into one of the steep mountain valleys (or so Blanche wrote in her diary). This loss is felt keenly by scholars as Blanche was a true anthropologist and debate has existed ever since as whether she was able to participate in the rites herself.

History will never know, but there are apocryphal stories that her sons who went to sea learnt more about rope from her than they ever did from the navy...

Comments

There's a 16 year old boy coming to our Hogswatch party ...
Speaking as a witch (well, I appear to be coming dressed as one), I wouldn't care to tie up a stranger, but if you want a re-enactment of the ritual recorded by Lady Blanche, then I might be able to talk dougs into being sacrificed... (as long as you don't think anyone would run a mile/get upset)
Lady Blanche's writings imply that the young man's clothing is traditionally removed for the ceremony. Later critics, especially those who have spent a winter in the Ramtops, have pointed out that this is self-evident nonsense.

Needless to say, this has not prevented the publication of a limited edition of Lady Blanche's work with some rather fanciful illustrations.

One Esme Weatherwax, when interviewed by a later researcher about the custom, was reported to have 'accdientally' dropped the illustrated version into a bog. "He's nekkid in his head - any fool can see that. Don't need no clothing removed."

Oddly enough, this remark failed to find it's way into print, but the researcher's plans for an additional volume depicting the naked rituals of witches were inexplicably cancelled. When questioned on this by his publisher, he just muttered something about his life expectancy and retired to a nice safe job mucking out swamp dragons.
boar's head

December 2008

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