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One historicizes only insofar as one belongs to a mode of being in the world that is aligned with the principle of “disenchantment of the universe,” which underlies knowledge in the social sciences (and I distinguish knowledge from practice). But “disenchantment” is not the only principle by which we world the earth. The supernatural can inhabit the world in these other modes of worlding, and not always as a problem or result of conscious belief or ideas. The point is made in an anecdote about the poet W. B. Yeats, whose interest in fairies and other nonhuman beings of Irish folk tales is well known. I tell the story as it has been told to me by my friend David Lloyd :

One day, in the period of his extensive researches on Irish folklore in rural Connemara, William Butler Yeats discovered a treasure. The treasure was a certain Mrs. Connolly who had the most magnificent repertoire of fairy stories that W.B. had ever come across. He sat with her in her little cottage from morning to dusk, listening and recording her stories, her proverbs and her lore. As twilight drew on, he had to leave and he stood up, still dazed by all that he had heard. Mrs. Connolly stood at the door as he left, and just as he reached the gate he turned back to her and said quietly, “One more question Mrs. Connolly, if I may. Do you believe in the fairies?” Mrs. Connolly threw her head back and laughed. “Oh, not at all Mr. Yeats, not at all.” W.B. paused, turned away and slouched off down the lane. Then he heard Mrs. Connolly’s voice coming after him down the lane : “But they’re there, Mr. Yeats, they’re there.”

As old Mrs Connolly knew, and as we social scientists often forget, gods and spirits are not dependent on human beliefs for their own existence ; what brings them to presence are our practices.

Dipesh Chakrabarty Provincializing Europe. Postcolonial thought and historical difference Princeton University Press 2000 p. 111–112 anecdote conte conte de fées croyance fairy tale fée historicisme lloyd magie rationalité yeats