folklore, Monstrous May

Orkney & Shetland Folklore: Trows (#MonstrousMay Day 9: Trolls)

Graphic and Prompt Credit: Johannes T. Evans

Trolls and Trows

Just a short little post today! Trolls are Scandinavian in origin, but in the British Isles they show up mainly where there was extensive Norse settlement, like the Orkney Isles, where they are called trows.

The trow is an ugly, mischievous creature that like in fairy folklore of Northern Europe, residing in the barrows and only ever coming out at night. The ugliness and the nocturnal aspects reflect the Norwegian troll folklore, and sometimes, like fairies, they can be invisible. They often visit houses at night. In the tales where they are invisible, sometimes only certain people can see them, and if that’s not you, then you can see them if you’re touching a person who can.

Trow rhymes with cow, and could be a corruption of Norwegian ‘troll’, or is actually related to the undead draugr, in Orkney dialect pronounced ‘drow’.

Trows also appear in the Shetland Isles, and you can read about the Shetland trow lore here. The tale of Mallie and the Trow is a Shetland tale. Adventure Shetland also has a video and article on the trows of the islands here.

The 16thC text, Jo Ben’s Descriptio Insularum Orchadiarum (Description of the Orkneys), is online here, use the side menu list to navigate. In his description of Stronsey, Jo Ben writes:

“Furthermore sea-monsters called Trowis very often go with the women living there…..This is a description of that monster. It is clad in seaweed, in its whole body it is like a foal, with curly hair, it has a member like that of a horse and large testicles.”

The Sea-Trow is a distinct type of trow with lots of folklore around them too.


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