Take care if the peerie folk ask you to play

Pen and ink black and white cartoon showing a section through a chambered cairn. Inside small fairy folk dance to the tune of a human fiddler while a skeleton watches them. Caption reads "take care if the peerie folk ask you to play. The night may go on for a year and a day."
Cartoon for the May 2018 edition of iScot Magazine. Pen & ink.

 

This cartoon was created for The Orkney News column in the May 2018 edition of iScot magazine. The theme is music, and the article addresses the excellent standard of musical education and live performance that can be found in Orkney. Click here to read the article online.

In Orcadian folklore the ‘peerie,’ ‘trowie’, or fairy folk were said to dwell within ancient mounds and cairns. These mischievous creatures were great lovers of music. A human musician playing for them might be well rewarded, for example with a magical ‘trowie shilling’. This would always be found in the pocket when money was needed (at least until the spell was broken).

The downside of playing for the fairy folk is the effect they have on the passage of time. A year and a day (or more!) might pass in the human realm before the fiddler emerges from the trowie mound, and the fiddler would be none the wiser.

According to The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland, the father of Washington Irving, American author of Rip Van Winkle, was an Orcadian (Marwick, 2000, p.34). It seems plausible that the old folk tales of the Northern Isles influenced his writing.

 

References

Marwick, E., 2000. The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland. Edinburgh: Birlann Limited.