The same as drow. An Orcadian fairy or goblin; a mischievous imp.
The word "trow" has a common root with the Old Norse troll. Although often just a synonym for "fairy", in many Orcadian folk tales the trows or "trowies" represent one or more distinct races of supernatural creatures. They vary in size, but are usually small though powerful. They were known to steal away newborn babies and replace them with their own sickly children1 but, in a unique twist on the changeling story-formula, they could also abduct a woman who had recently given birth, and force her to wet nurse a trow infant. The unfortunate woman was replaced by an inanimate object, such as a log of wood, made in her image by magic, so as to make it appear that she had died in childbirth. Cattle were taken in a similar way. The best protection against this was an open Bible left in the bed, and a steel or knife above the door.
Trows were said to inhabit mounds or small hills; there is no shortage of Neolithic Chambered Cairns in Orkney. Such places were best avoided, for fear of "elf-shot" (Neolithic flint arrow heads).
For all their unpleasantness, trows are also known for their love of music and dancing. Those who dared to enter their mounds enjoyed joining in the fun, but often found on leaving that time outside had passed much faster than it had inside2.
At Midsummer, Midwinter, and Hallowe'en, the trowies were particularly powerful, and extra care had to be taken. At these times, they were known to ride on horses stolen from mortal men, or through the air on bulwands (dock stems). Other superstitions associated with trows include crushing eggshells before disposing of them (lest the peedie beasties use it as a boat).
A separate race of "Sea-Trows" also exists in some tales. These trows were said to have been driven underwater by the more powerful Land-Trows, but were always eager to find a way back on shore. They are described as having faces like that of a monkey, with a sloping head, like the roof of a house. They were covered in scales, with hair like seaweed, and their oversized limbs and round feet made them ugly, although unlike their dry-land counterparts, they were relatively harmless. However they were extremely lazy, to the point of stealing fish from fishermen's hooks, on which they were occasionally ensnared themselves.
Capitalised, "Trow" is an Orcadian euphemism for the Devil (Satan).
- "Trow tak' thee!" is a phrase still heard in (admittedly rarer) use by exasperated islanders when their children misbehave.
- It is worth noting that American author Washington Irving, who wrote the tale of Rip Van Winkle the man who fell asleep for thirty years, was of Orcadian descent; his father William Irving was born at Quholme farm on Shapinsay (he left home at a young age to go to sea).
- Muir, Tom 1998 "The Mermaid Bride, and Other Orkney Folk Tales". (Kirkwall Press, Kirkwall)
- "Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable" 14th Edition. (Cassell, London)