Today I would like share a story passed down to me from my ancestors - as horribly clichéd as that line may appear at first, please hear me out.
You see, like many, I have Scottish heritage, and have thus heard tales of the vicious man-eating kelpies or the gruesome redcap pixies that were believed to haunt the remote areas of Scotland up until the recent past.
Yet I was also raised on tales from a place further North than even Scotland, a remote area known as the Shetland Isles - although belonging to Britain, the islands have long seen itself as a unique place which is in many ways as Norse as it is British, the result of Viking settlement in days of old.
It was from these Norse warriors that the Shetland Isles gained the trows, a creature not unlike the troll of legend but often confused with a goblin or troublesome imp. The story I was told as a child is by no means the traditional tale of trows, so those who are "purists" of folklore may wish to stop reading now as what I am about to share is a family story rather than what the Shetland Isles believe as a whole.
Now, when I was young I was told about the trows and how they would pick their victims often at random - like many bogeymen, they favored disobedient children or drunken fools who strayed too far from the path; though they were also just as prone to going after members of the clergy, taunting them and testing their faith as they made frightening faces and jumped to and fro in the shadows.
One of the most frightening traits I was told of about the trows was that if they were ignored they would not simply disappear - they would stalk their victim and grow progressively more violent until they would leap onto their victim's back and cling on, clawing and biting as they "rode" the victim across the wilderness: usually to some untimely demise at the edge of a cliff or stream.
Often I would stay up at night as I envisioned these horrible goblins dancing in the wilds that surrounded the house me and my family lived in at the time - for those of you who are unfamiliar with the landscape of Shetland, it is a very flat place, filled with moors and small hills which spread for miles; most of the land was still as wild as it was when the Vikings first set foot on the isle and as such a child's imagination truly went wild.
Recently I heard an interesting theory on the trows and other "goblins" of the wild - that they were somehow the ancient inhabitants of the Shetland isles, driven into hiding and emerging at night to steal and raid. This idea was almost as fascinating as the "fairy folk" themselves and although I have outgrown my childhood fear of trows, I will always remain amazed by the stories.
You see, although I personally do not belief in the trows, there are still many in the Shetland isles who do, many of these people are of the older generation but there are also children who grow up in fear of the trows. Each family tells their own tale, thus each individual seems to envision them differently. Yet the common desire to do harm to children, livestock and those who strayed too far from home was an almost universal trait to the trow tales.
Shortly before I left the Shetland Isles to move to my current residence, I witnessed a startling display of how little some things have changes over the centuries as two women sat and talked about a family whose daughter had been awoken at night to ugly figures pelting mud at her window, a trick often used by trows to terrorize their victims. The father had went out to chase off what he had taught were local children playing pranks only to experience a rush of terror as he was suddenly chased by what he described as "ugly little men with eyes like hot coals".
The father ran into his home and according to the women called police, who arrived to find the family a terrible state but no signs of the so-called monsters, though the police did see that the daughter's window was covered in mud.
To this day I often wonder if there was any truth in that classic "old wives' tale" - a little shiver ran down my spine, reminding me that even in my adult years the trows can still bring back memories of that distant land.