Trow (folklore)
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Trow Folklore

A trow (also trowe or drow or dtrow), is a malignant or mischievous fairy or spirit in the folkloric traditions of the Orkney and Shetland islands.[1][2] Trows are generally inclined to be short of stature, ugly, and shy in nature.

Trows are nocturnal creatures, like the troll of Scandinavian legend with which the trow shares many similarities. They venture out of their 'trowie knowes' (earthen mound dwellings) solely in the evening, and often enter households as the inhabitants sleep. Trows traditionally have a fondness for music, and folktales tell of their habit of kidnapping musicians or luring them to their dens.

Sea trow

The sea trow (Trowis) of Stronsay, according to Jo Ben's Description of the Orkney Islands (1529),[a] was a maritime monster resembling a colt whose entire body was cloaked in seaweed, with a coiled or matted coat of hair, sexual organs like a horse's, and known to copulate[b] with the women of the island.[5][7]

Trows in general

According to Sir Walter Scott (1835): "Possession of supernatural wisdom is still imputed by the natives of Orkney and Zetland Islands, to the people called Drows, who may, in most other respects, be identified with the Caledonian fairies".[8]p

Origins and parallels

Ben's sea trow (trowis) bore resemblance to the anciently known incubus, as it "seems to have occupied the visions of the female sex", as noted by John Graham Dalyell (1835).[3]

Dey (1991) speculates that the tradition, and perhaps that of the selkie, may be based in part on the Norse invasions of the Northern Isles. She states that the conquest by the Vikings sent the indigenous, dark-haired Picts into hiding and that "many stories exist in Shetland of these strange people, smaller and darker than the tall, blond Vikings who, having been driven off their land into sea caves, emerged at night to steal from the new land owners".[9] However, most Roman sources describe the Picts as tall, long limbed and red or fair haired.

Trowie tunes

Some Shetland fiddle tunes are said to have come to human fiddlers when they heard the trows playing. One example is "Winyadepla", which may be found in the playing of Tom Anderson on his album with Aly Bain, The Silver Bow.

... a troop of peerie folk came in. A woman took off the nappie from her baby and hung it on Gibbie's leg, near the fire, to dry. Then one of the trows said, "What'll we do ta da sleeper?" "Lat him aleen," replied the woman, "he's no a ill body. Tell Shanko ti gie him a ton." Said Shanko, "A ton he sall hae, an we'll drink his blaand." After drinking, they trooped out of the mill, and danced on the green nearby ...[10]

See also


  1. ^ Ben's "trowis" is mentioned by Dalyell in 1835,[3] but read as "Troicis" and recognized as "trow" by Samuel Hibbert (1822).[4] The word was later also misread or misprinted as Troicis in MacFarlane & Mitchell edd. (1908),[5] though emended back to Trowis against three manuscripts in Calder & MacDonald (1936).[6]
  2. ^ concubuit, coeunt "copulate"
  1. ^ "trow", Dictionary of the Scots Language, Scottish Language Dictionaries, 2004, retrieved 2014
  2. ^ Edmondston, Thomas (1866), An Etymological Glossary of the Shetland & Orkney Dialect, Adam and Charles Black, pp. 131-2
  3. ^ a b Dalyell, John Graham, Sir (1835), Popular Tales of the West Highlands, orally collected (New edition), 1, Glasgow: Richard Griffin, p. 544
  4. ^ Hibbert (1822), p. 569+; Hibbert (1891), p. 263+
  5. ^ a b Ben, Jo. (1908). "Ben's Orkney". In MacFarlane, Walter; Mitchell, Arthur (eds.). Geographical Collections Relating to Scotland. 3. Edinburgh: Scottish History Society. p. 303-4, 315.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)(in Latin and English)
  6. ^ Calder, Charles S. T.; MacDonald, George (1936), "The Dwarfie Stane, Hoy, Orkney: its period and purpose. Note on 'Jo. Ben' and the Dwarfie Stane" (PDF), Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 70: 220
  7. ^ Grydehøj (2009), p. 59.
  8. ^ {{citation|last=Scott |first=Walter, Sir |author-link=Walter Scott |title=Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft |location=Edinburgh, |publisher=Richard Griffin |origyear=1830 |date=1884 |url= |page=104}
  9. ^ Dey (1991), p. 12.
  10. ^ "The Fiddler's Companion". Retrieved 2014.


  • Dey, Joan (1991). Out Skerries - an Island Community. Lerwick: The Shetland Times. ISBN 0-900662-74-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External links

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