Belief and Unbelief, by W. B. Yeats
There are some doubters even in the western villages. One woman told
me last Christmas that she did not believe either in hell or in ghosts.
Hell she thought was merely an invention got up by the priest to keep
people good; and ghosts would not be permitted, she held, to go
"trapsin about the earth" at their own free will; "but there are
faeries," she added, "and little leprechauns, and water-horses, and
fallen angels." I have met also a man with a mohawk Indian tattooed
upon his arm, who held exactly similar beliefs and unbeliefs. No matter
what one doubts one never doubts the faeries, for, as the man with the
mohawk Indian on his arm said to me, "they stand to reason." Even the
official mind does not escape this faith.
A little girl who was at service in the village of Grange, close under
the seaward slopes of Ben Bulben, suddenly disappeared one night about
three years ago. There was at once great excitement in the
neighbourhood, because it was rumoured that the faeries had taken her.
A villager was said to have long struggled to hold her from them, but
at last they prevailed, and he found nothing in his hands but a
broomstick. The local constable was applied to, and he at once
instituted a house-to-house search, and at the same time advised the
people to burn all the bucalauns (ragweed) on the field she vanished
from, because bucalauns are sacred to the faeries. They spent the whole
night burning them, the constable repeating spells the while. In the
morning the little girl was found, the story goes, wandering in the
field. She said the faeries had taken her away a great distance, riding
on a faery horse. At last she saw a big river, and the man who had
tried to keep her from being carried off was drifting down it—such are
the topsy-turvydoms of faery glamour—in a cockleshell. On the way her
companions had mentioned the names of several people who were about to
die shortly in the village.
Perhaps the constable was right. It is better doubtless to believe
much unreason and a little truth than to deny for denial's sake truth
and unreason alike, for when we do this we have not even a rush candle
to guide our steps, not even a poor sowlth to dance before us on the
marsh, and must needs fumble our way into the great emptiness where
dwell the mis-shapen dhouls. And after all, can we come to so great
evil if we keep a little fire on our hearths and in our souls, and
welcome with open hand whatever of excellent come to warm itself,
whether it be man or phantom, and do not say too fiercely, even to the
dhouls themselves, "Be ye gone"? When all is said and done, how do we
not know but that our own unreason may be better than another's truth?
for it has been warmed on our hearths and in our souls, and is ready
for the wild bees of truth to hive in it, and make their sweet honey.
Come into the world again, wild bees, wild bees!