The 'Stoor Worm' of Orcadian folklore is described as one of the nine fearful curses that plague mankind, what are the other curses if there are any?

Islanders were terrified of the serpent; it was described by Traill Dennison, who transcribed its story, as "the worst of the nine fearful curses that plague mankind" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoor_worm)

I wanted to know if there is anything else in Orcadian folklore that's called one of the nine fearful curses or something similar, and what they are, or if the term was purely a literary invention by Traill Dennison, who was the first recorder of much of their folklore and apparently did romanticise his work a bit, so I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case. I at least haven't found anything else referred to as one of the nine curses in my searching

Sorry if the the title and question is a bit of a mess, I've really been struggling with how to word it for some reason, and thanks for any answers provided!

  • 2
    Thank you for the edit Semaphore! You've definitely helped make it read a lot better
    – Washtun
    Dec 14, 2021 at 18:49
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    In reading about Assipattle and the Stoor Worm, I saw some reference to the Mester Stoor Worm being the creature in the story, but that there were also other Stoor Worms. Could these be the nine fearful curses that plague mankind? Dec 18, 2021 at 12:34
  • I hadn't thought of it like that before but that's definitely another possibility, that they're a species of nine with their king Mester S. Worm as the most terrible. Thanks for suggestion, I don't think I would've come up with it on my own
    – Washtun
    Dec 20, 2021 at 0:50

1 Answer 1


Indeed, the source of the expression "one of the nine curses that plague mankind" appears to be Trall Dennison, in this article which appeared in The Scottish Antiquary, or, Northern Notes and Queries Vol. 5, No. 19 (1891). Note that in the article he does not explain what the other curses are, or mention them again.

Also in his much more detailed retelling of the folktale "Assipattle and the Stoor Worm", which appeared in Scottish Folk & Fairy Tales edited by George Douglas (of which you can find the scanned pages here) he makes no mention of the "nine curses".

Note also that Dennison did not claim the Stoor Worm to be the worst of the nine curses, but rather just one of them: the quoted passage in the Wikipedia page is from The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland by Ernest Marwick, who used Dennison as a source.

While it's entirely plausible that the nine curses were Dennison's invention, one should also take into account the likely Norse origin of the Stoor Worm myth, which is based on the similarities it shares with Jörmungandr. In the Norse mythological corpus (and in the Germanic corpus in general), similar references to the number nine are extremely common, as shown in this article by Joseph Hopkins and in the Wikipedia entry on Numbers in Norse mythology.

A very famous one is the reference to "nine worlds" in stanza 2 of the Völuspá. Just like Dennison's "nine curses", the "nine worlds" of Norse cosmology are not listed or expanded on in the corpus, and scholars are left wondering what they actually were (assuming there even was such a list).

A similar occurrence of the number nine in relation to the Stoor Worm appears in the aforementioned Dennison article a bit after the "nine curses". He writes:

Every Saturday morning at sunrise he yawned nine times.

This apparently irrelevant detail is quite reminiscent of analogous details appearing in the Norse corpus, like for example Thor taking nine steps before falling dead after his battle with Jörmungandr. Such details gain meaning in light of the significance the number nine held among the Norse.

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