There are some people who doubt the existence demons and fairies, Hell, or Heaven. At a Christmas dinner last year, a woman told me that she did not believe in ghosts or fairies, in Hell or a Heavenly paradise. She was sure that Hell was an invention created by the priesthood as a means of frightening people into being good, while ghosts, she was certain, would not be allowed to go wandering all over the mortal to do whatever they willed. The woman did, however, express a strong belief in the Fairy Folk, Leprechauns, water-horses, and in fallen an angels. At the same party I also met a man whose arms were covered in tattoos, and he held exactly the same beliefs and doubts as the woman did. Isn’t it strange that, in Ireland, no matter what we doubt, we never seem to doubt the existence of the fairy folk. But why should this be so?
There was a little girl in service to a family that lived in a seaside village along the County Down coast, beneath the shadows of the Mourne Mountains, just before the land was partitioned. Her sudden disappearance caused immediate and great excitement in the district because the rumour spread that she had been taken by the fairies. There was a story doing the rounds that a local man had struggled to keep the girl from the fairies, but they prevailed and took her from him, leaving nothing in his hands but a broomstick. The local police reacted quickly by instituting a house-to house search and advising locals to burn all the ragweed in the field from which she had vanished, believing that this action would force the fairy folk to return the girls since ragweed (bucalauns) is sacred to them. The local people spent the entire night burning bucalauns, while the police constable acted like a fairy doctor, repeating spells all the time. The next morning the little girl was discovered, wandering alone in the field. She said that the fairies had taken her far away on a fairy horse until she came at last to big river. Here she saw the man, who had tried to keep her from being carried off by the fairies drifting down the great river in a cockleshell. On the way to the river her fairy companions told her the names of several people in the village who, they prophesied, would die soon.
The policeman was right when he said it was better to believe unproved claims that appear to have little truth about them, than to deny such a claim just for the sake proof, for anyone who does this no longer has an open mind that is willing to seek out the truth. Such people have to fumble their way in a great dark and empty world in which all kinds of demons. There is no evil that can touch us if we keep a fire in our hearth and in our souls, and welcome with an open hand whatever comes to seek warmth, whether it be a man or a demon. We should not be too keen to speak fiercely to those visitors and demand that they, “Be gone!” After all, who are we to judge that our scepticism is better and more worthy than someone’s true belief.