reading about Orkney's trows, finmen
and fairy-folk, you would be forgiven for
thinking that all the islands' supernatural inhabitants were abhorrent creatures!
This, however, was not always the case.
Orcadian trow lore there are occasional episodes that refer to a trow that appears to be
reasonably friendly towards its human neighbours.
with the main body of trow folktales, these accounts seem distinctly out of character
- a fact that hints that the tales of the pleasant mound-dwelling trow actually
stem from a case of mistaken identity.
In Orkney folklore there exists another
supernatural being not recorded in Shetland lore - at least not going by its original name.
This creature - known variously as the "hogboon" or "hogboy"
- is more likely to be the source of the original benign mound-dweller.
the years this once distinct spirit seems to have been enveloped by the mass of
trow tales. Eventually, the distinction between the two became lost and the terms "trow"
and "hogboon" became interchangeable.
"hogboon" is a corruption of the Old Norse "haug-bui", or "haug-buinn",
roughly translated as "mound-dweller" or "mound-farmer".
one time almost every mound in Orkney was said to house a hogboon. Even Maeshowe,
the largest and most famous of Orkney's howes, was the residence of a particularly
unpleasant one. For more details of Maeshowe's mound-dweller, click
Like the trow, the origin of the Orcadian hogboon
can be traced back to the ancient beliefs the islands' Norse
They believed that after death a person's spirit
continued to live on, or near, the family farm. This particularly applied to
the "founding-father" of the estate, over whose body a large "haugr",
or burial mound, was constructed. This revered ancestor's spirit remained "living"
in his mound, usually becoming the family, or farm, guardian.
This guardian was, however, a somewhat fickle benefactor and therefore
treated with an awed, if not fearful, respect. He kept a watchful eye over the
property that had once been his and resented the slightest liberty that might
be taken on, or near, his resting place.
Minor infractions, such
as children playing nearby or livestock grazing on the mound, would cause great
outbursts, and woe betide anyone who attempted to enter the hogboon's mound in
the hope of finding his treasure. This foolish individual inevitably took their lives in their hands.
it is likely that when the Norsemen came, they brought with them the belief in
the haug-bui. In this new and foreign land they placed their homesteads close
to the many conspicuous mounds that covered the landscape, hoping to gain the protection
of the dweller they believed resided within.
To this day
houses, which were built, and rebuilt, can still be seen in the shadow
of these mounds.