Fairy Folk attack!
not fighting among themselves, the fairies - and trows - were renowned, disliked,
and particularly feared, for of their habit of attacking liestock and humans.
When an animal became thin and ill, it was said to have been elf-shot or trow-shot.
To remedy this potentially disastrous condition, every Orkney parish
turned to the women who were said to be able to diagnose the disease, and thereafter
restore the animal to health.
In all these cases, the malicious
fairy's weapon was usually a stone or flint arrowhead, but sometimes the projectile
was a sharp splinter of wood.
When summoned to an elf-shot
animal, the wise-woman would examine every part of the animal's body, looking
in particular for a hairless spot on its side, or any lumps beneath the skin. These,
she would assure the onlookers, were sure signs that the animal had been trow-shot.
Her final test was to pierce the cow in various places
with a large needle - if the beast did not bleed it was obvious that it was bleeding
internally from the fairy's inflicted hurt.
Some of the
measures taken to cure such a condition were described in the publication Notes
on Orcadian Folklore, written in 1884:
"The owner had
fired guns over the cow between sun and day. He had whispered in her ears until
he was tired; he had given her drinks off silver, but all to no avail, for her
heart was riddled with fairy shot."
incidents, we know there seems to have been no standard treatment for elf-shot
animals. Almost every wise-woman, who specialised in the cures, had her own preferred
method. Two of these were
recorded in Shetland and, as you will see, are both completely different from each
other. They do, however, demonstrate how the wise-woman preyed upon the superstitious
beliefs of her fellow islanders.
The first instance was
recorded in 1895.
In this case, the old woman, who had been
called in to help, discovered a small dimple in the cow's skin, opposite the heart.
She asked for a Bible and, after searching for a certain segment of holy text,
ripped out the page on which it was printed:
" I shall
tak a verse oot o' dis leaf, an whitever a verse dat is none knows bit me, for
it's a saecret, an dem at wid be weel sud never middle wi' things at dey ken no
here for translation
She tore the healing
verse from the page and rolled the tiny scrap of paper into a hard pellet,
which was then pushed into the supposed wound. After waiting a while, she withdrew
the pellet and taking it, the torn leaf, and the mutilated Bible, went into the
cottage where she received her "payment" in the form of gifts. A
few days later the cows were said to be well again.
second account is even more surprising as it was recorded as recently as 1959.
The writer was quoting "a charming and intelligent woman" who had witnessed
the rite as a girl:
"Aunty Betty hed a coo, an she was
trow-shot. So sheu got twa veemin at kent aboot daelin wi dis an dey trivelled
ower da animal, an sained ower her a while. Dan dey gaed her saut and sut, an
tied a simmit aboot her middle. Dan dey set fire till a coarn o gun pooder anunder
her; an last iv aa, dey got a he-cat, an set his clewers ithin her shooders, an
rave him fae her heid till her tail."
here for translation
performance did not kill the unfortunate beast, but its condition was once again
said to have improved. This ceremony was still in use in Shetland between the
Cattle were not the sole targets of
the fairies. mortals were also attacked, although the frequency of these assaults
was considerably less.
In 1884, the Orcadian poet Duncan
"There is still a man living in Papa
Westray who is lame from the effects of an arrow which was shot into his back
when he was ploughing by a hill-trow."
found an elf-arrow was supposedly immune from such hurt, but they had to keep the
protective artefact with them at all times. If the arrow was given away, the person
parting with it was liable to be stolen away by the fairies.
1908, one Peter Smith from Tankerness
found a small splinter of wood, which he supposed to be an elf-arrow:
was esteemed so sacred that he kept it locked up in his chest, so that no one
was allowed to look on it or handle it."