Orkney Folklore

The small archipelago of the Orkney Islands have been home to a gallumphing cacophony of FaeryFolk for thousands and thousands of years. As well as having native faeries and beasts, Orkney is a melting pot of diverse magical life and cultures. 

The island of Copinsay is home to a well-kent sea-brownie called Hughbo

Trolls and giants migrated from Scandinavia, carving the path for the Vikings to follow. The Ring o’ Brodgar legend tells of how one fiddle-playing giant simply kept fiddling until they were all the dancing giants turned to stone by the rising sun. (If, wandering around Stenness, you hear a sudden thunderous shout of ‘fiddle-feckan’, you’ll know why.)

Smaller troll like creatures are the lovable and incredibly annoying hogboons and trows. Hogboons belong to houses and farms, where they watch over and despair at ‘humans today’. Trows delight into luring the same humans into their hill-homes and letting them out again 100 years later. Mischievous Trows are the No. 1 reason WiFi is poor in Orkney: it messes with their magic. So they mess with us.

A lesser-hairy trow careening about Orkney’s high-winds on his bulwand of dockan leaves

Orkney is also home to mermaids, selkies, and Finfolk.  Mermaids yearn for a human man, otherwise they will be forced to marry a ‘hideous Finfolk man with seaweed toes’ and will eventually lose all their golden-good looks. Selkies soar and spiral through the Scottish seas, occasionally tiptoeing onto the shore. On land, they slip off their sealskins, and in dazzling human form, sing and dance upon the sand.  They love to ‘feel the moonlight bounce off our botties’.

Hundreds of witches have blown into the islands during a storm where they wreak havoc with the shipping forecasts. Some transform into canny corvids to spy on the neighbours. Others take on the spirit of beautiful hares, to make a quick escape from telephone calls, and run wild in the heather.

A witch at work

Some more unusual creatures are the Mester Stoorworm, part of which Orkney is made from, and the Stronsay Beast that baffles science. (These two may be distant relations.) There is also the occasional dragon, that may or may not terrorise the West Mainland. And we mustn’t forget the snarling, egg-snatching Fierce Orkney Haggis!

Watch out for the Fierce Orkney Haggis – they nip your ankles!

Orkney is endless inspiration for storytellers and the islands fill artists sketchbooks. Orkney has many wonderfuss books, new and old, full of these magical creatures and their tales. The Orkney Storytelling Festival is always a delightful event and gives a fantastic glimpse into magical Orkney.

There is also excellent reading, and only a small swarm of dust-imps, at the Orkney Library and Archive. It is an enchanted place, with a stamp of approval from J.K. Rowling, but please be mindful of the ghost that haunts the lavatories. Greetin’ Gerty is very emotional.

Orkney Folklore Links:

Orkney Storytelling

Orkneyjar Folklore

Orcadian Story Trust

Folklore in the Orcadian Bookshop

Caution: Don’t sit on the comfy chair by the window in the archive room – it’s the favourite spot of a particularly peevish boggart. If you ignore this advice, he will doodle marks in beautiful old books using an ugly blue biro from the 70’s. All the blame will fall on you, naturally.

Unsuccessful attempt to photograph a foaming sea serpent, that I personally believe to be the Stronsay Beast’s pen pal.
All artwork and text belongs to Ellen Forkin. (And a cantankerous goblin called Trupp-Trink.)