A trow (also trowe or drow), is a malignant or mischievous fairy or spirit in the folkloric traditions of the Orkney and Shetland islands. Trows are generally inclined to be short of stature, ugly and shy in nature.
Like the troll of Scandinavian legend, with which the trow shares many similarities, trows are nocturnal creatures; venturing out of their 'trowie knowes' (earthen mound dwellings) solely in the evening, they 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.
The sea trow (Trowis[a]) of Stronsay, according to Jo Ben's Description of the Orkney Islands (1529), 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.
According to Sir Walter Scott: "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".
Origins and parallels
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". However most Roman sources describe the Picts as tall, long limbed and red or fair haired.
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 ...
- "trow", Dictionary of the Scots Language (Scottish Language Dictionaries), 2004, retrieved 28 June 2014
- Edmondston, Thomas (1866), An Etymological Glossary of the Shetland & Orkney Dialect, Adam and Charles Black, pp. 131–2
- 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
- Ben, Jo. (1908). "Ben's Orkney". In MacFarlane, Walter; Mitchell, Arthur. Geographical Collections Relating to Scotland 3. Edinburgh: Scottish History Society. p. 303–4, 315. (Latin) & (English)
- Grydehøj (2009), p. 59.
- Sir Walter Scott, Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830), p. 122. Sometimes "drow" is used as a synonym for devil.
- Dey (1991), p. 12.
- "The Fiddler's Companion". ibiblio.org. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
- Dey, Joan (1991). Out Skerries - an Island Community. Lerwick: The Shetland Times. ISBN 0-900662-74-3.
- Grydehøj, Adam (2009). Historiography of Picts, Vikings, Scots, and Fairies and its Influence on Shetland’s Twenty-First Century Economic Development (PDF) (PhD). University of Aberdeen.