James II of England and VII of Scotland. His short reign, which followed that of Charles II, lasted from 1685 to 1688 when he fled to France following the Glorious Revolution. See note for p. 51.
These place names are probably Hogg’s own invention.
Privy councillors advise the head of state – usually the monarch – on the exercise of executive authority.
Precognitions entail the examination of witnesses prior to a trial in order to establish a legal basis for the prosecution.
The experiences Robert describes are strongly reminiscent of what would now be called dissociative identity disorder. This term, which has replaced multiple personality disorder in medical diagnoses, describes a condition in which a person has more than one personality state. These different personalities, which take it in turns to assert control over the individual, are quite distinct from each other: they have different names, memories, self-images and sometimes ages, genders, races and sexual orientations. Switches between personalities are often triggered by stressful events. DID sufferers usually have a main personality referred to as the ‘host’; whilst other identities are in control, the host will not have any awareness of themselves and for this reason patients experience long periods of amnesia. Recognition between personalities varies from patient to patient.
Despite the relatively small risk they pose to humans, snakes have long been regarded as an object of fear. The majority of species are non-venomous. Those that don’t simply swallow their prey whole kill it by constriction, wrapping their bodies in tight coils until the animal is asphyxiated. The snake also has biblical connotations: the devil takes on the form of this beast in his temptation of Eve. On this level, he represents a spiritual as much as a physical threat.
Penpont is a small town in Nithsdale, Dumfries and Galloway. Why Robert deems the name so ludicrous is not quite clear.
Having been deprived of his previous post for publically identifying with the rigid codes of the Covenanters, Rev. John MacMillan became minister for the Cameronians from 1706 until 1743, when he founded the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Hogg wrote about Macmillan at greater length in 'The Cameronian Preacher’s Tale' (1828).
The reference is to Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”
The Song of Solomon, which appears in the Old Testament, is an exchange between a man and a woman charting their progression from courtship to the consummation of their love. Lines providing an inventory of the beloved’s praiseworthy features - “thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks” (4:3) - have much in common with later courtly poetry of the variety mocked by Shakespeare in Sonnet 130.
The fairies of folklore are capricious beings whose behaviour towards humans ranges from mildly mischievous to outright malicious. A popular belief in Scotland was that fairies, being fond of pretty babies, would steal them away from their homes if they had not been baptised. As in the case of Robin Ruthven, some of those kidnapped made their way back to the mortal world but retained a heightened supernatural awareness as a legacy of their experience.
Speculation concerning the origins of fairies suggests that they stem from pagan deities and as such they are often conceived of in opposition to the Christian beliefs which deposed them. As the parable of Auchtermuchty suggests, there was no such division in contemporary rural Scottish thought, in which strong religious sensibilities were steeped in the ideas promulgated by oral tradition. Fairies, talking crows and the devil of Christianity all emerge from the same wellspring of common belief. It was even thought that “The queen of fairyland was a kind of feudatory sovereign under Satan, to whom she was obliged to pay kave, or tithe in kind”.
Thieves’ holes were a feature of some prisons in Scotland. They lay on the ground floor or in the basement of the building and were more than usually dank and miserable. Only those guilty of the most grievous offences were incarcerated there.
The Sidlaws are a range of volcanic hills spreading 30 miles across Perthshire and Angus in Scotland. ‘Sid’ probably derives from the Gaelic term ‘sidhe’, meaning ‘fairy’, and folklore held that the prehistoric cairns which dot the hills were inhabited by supernatural beings. Dunsinane Hill is commonly supposed to be the site where Malcolm Canmore defeated Macbeth in 1054. Shakespeare’s version of events holds the greatest sway over the public conception of this battle and its supernatural overtones colour this already sinister episode.
This psalm, which you can read here, is a lengthy enumeration of acts of obedience to God. The 77th verse reads: “Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live: for thy law is my delight”. There doesn’t seem to be any particular significance attached to the fact that the “strange divine” enters during the reading of this line.
Book of Ezekiel describes the seven visions experienced by the prophet. It foretells the destruction of Jerusalem; how Israel will be purged of troublesome influences such as the Ammonites and Moabites (see notes for pages 31 and 39); and how a new Israel will be established. The lines which the divine quotes come from Ezekiel 21:27.
In the Book of Jonah, Jonah, the sole righteous man in Nineveh, is chosen by God to warn his fellow citizens that their iniquity will result in the city’s destruction. Reluctant to embrace this role, Jonah flees in a boat. God besets the vessel with storms, leaving the other sailors no choice but to throw him overboard. He is then swallowed by a large fish – or whale – which has been sent by God and in whose innards he dwells for three days before being vomited out. God once more entreats Jonah to prophecy destruction to the Ninevites, and this time he obeys. The Ninevites heed his word and proclaim a fast. As a result of their humility, God spares them his wrath.
The devil has not always possessed cloven feet. Until around the early modern period, he was generally represented as a winged man with claws or human feet, echoes of his fallen angel status. His development of cloven feet and horns suggests a hybridisation with the Greek goat-god Pan. Having acquired these feet, Satan seemingly becomes unable to change them into any other form. In A Provincial Glossary (1787), Francis Grose writes: “Although the devil can partly transform himself into a variety of shapes, he cannot change his cloven foot, which will always mark him under every appearance.” Gil-Martin appears to be an exception to this rule.
The church’s Golden Rule is that of Matthew 7:12: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”