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Fairy Beliefs - The Trows Of The Zetlanders

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

At p. 155, vol. 1., of the "Life of Sir Walter Scott," by Mr. Lock-hart, in one of the five very interesting journals kept by the poet on his "lighthouse tour," as he calls it, mention is made of the superstitions of the Zetlanders. " Witches, fairies, etc.," he observes, "are as numerous as ever they were in Teviotdale." " The latter," he continues, " are called trows, probably from the Norwegian dwarg (or dwarf), the d being readily converted into t. The dwarfs are the prime agents in the machinery of Norwegian superstition. The troves do not differ from the fairies of the Lowlands, or sighean of the Highlanders. They steal children, dwell within the interior of green hills, and often carry mortals into their recesses. Some, yet alive, pretend to have been carried off in this way, and obtain credit for the marvels they tell of the subterranean habitations of the trows. Sometimes, when a person becomes melancholy and low-spirited, the trows are supposed to have stolen the real being and left a moving phantom to represent him. Sometimes they are said to steal only the heart, like Lancashire witches."

Local superstitions are never, matters of indifference to the poet or the philosopher, to the antiquary or historian, for they are at once elements and symbols of national character. No wonder, therefore, that they never escaped the attention of one who so pre-eminently united each of those characters in his own person. But my only object in citing the above passage is to venture another etymology for the word /row.

I need scarcely observe that it is evidently too far removed from dwarg or doarg; for that to be the legitimate derivation. The fact is that the common word for demons and witches in the northern languages is the very expression from which the Zetlanders have obtained their troves. Troll is the Swedish name for these imaginary beings, and troua, the verb, is " to use witchcraft." Troll-packa is the Macbethian witch or sorceress, and trolldom the arts which she uses. The Laplanders have the same term. Trullet is with them to bewitch, and their enchanter or sorcerer is trulles almats, a man of witchery, which the Danes call a trold karl.* Trold, indeed, signifies with them any frightful or portentous being. But with the Icelanders the troll is the very giant or ogre who carries off men and children, and, for all we know, makes broth of them for their refectories within the green hills, or devours them.

Our word droll and the French word drôle are both, no doubt, from this source. Ménage derives the latter from drauculus, the diminutive of draucus : " Ou plutôt," he continues, "de tropulus, dans la signification d'un homme, qui fait le beau, qui se pique d'être élégant en la personne," etc. In the close, however, he mentions that M. de Caseneuve actually ascribed to it the very etymology which I have already affixed.

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