Online literary forum will be a kind of magic

An 1830 oil painting of James Hogg by John Watson Gordon.
An 1830 oil painting of James Hogg by John Watson Gordon.

Borderers are being invited to join an internet forum inspired by the writings of Selkirkshire poet and novelist James Hogg.

The website has been created by an English academic researching a new book on regional variations in magical beliefs and practices of in 19th and early 20th century fiction.

“I am re-examining the representation of witchcraft and magic during the Romantic period, particularly James Hogg’s semi-autobiographical short stories about magical belief and practice in the Scottish Borders,” said Simon White, a reader in Romantic and 19th century literature at Oxford Brookes University.

Dr White told the Southern: “My book will fill a significant gap in our knowledge and understanding of the mindset of ordinary people, but generating interest in this subject outside of academia is something I’m keen to do.

“The forum, which I’m running in tandem with preparing the book, allows anyone to go online and pin a snippet of text, a historical photo, video, audio recording or personal recollection to an interactive map covering the whole of Great Britain.

“Communities can share local history through the forum.

“They can enjoy it, learn from it, discuss it and contribute to the development of complete collection of stories about magical belief and practice from the Middle Ages to the present day.”

The impact of witchcraft and wizardry on the lives of God-fearing Borderers was a recurring theme in the writings of Hogg, known as the Ettrick Shepherd, after he heard a recitation of Tam of Shanter by Robert Burns in 1797.

The forum has already attracted several entries drawn from Hogg’s large body of work, including a description of a gathering of shepherds at the head of the Ettrick Water in January 1794 to talk about books.

On the same evening, a severe snowstorm hit the Borders, leaving, according to Hogg, 17 shepherds and countless livestock dead.

“It turned out that the epicentre of the storm was the remote shieling where the shepherds had met, and local people who could not countenance that shepherds would meet to discuss literature decided that they must have met to conjure up the devil and that their activities had caused the storm,” states the forum entry.

Like his contemporary Walter Scott, Hogg was fascinated by the alleged supernatural powers of 13th century wizard Michael Scott, of Aikwood near Selkirk.

In his 1822 novel The Three Perils of Man, Hogg writes: “Ever since Michael Scott came from the colleges abroad to the castle of Aikwood, the nature of demonology in the forest glades was altogether changed and a full torrent of necromancy and witchcraft deluged the country all over, an art of the most malignant and appalling kind, against which no defence yet discovered could prevail.”

Dr White will be one of the speakers at a seminar on Borders myths at the Heart of Hawick on Saturday, September 16, as part of this year’s Borders Heritage Festival. Also speaking will be David Welsh and Tom Routledge. Entry is £9, including lunch and refreshments.

To contribute to the forum, go to www.historypin.org/en/mapping-magic

For details of the seminar, go to scottishbordersheritage.com

Hogg, best known for his 1824 novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, was born at Ettrick in 1780 and died in 1835 at the age of 64.