Second Sight
Paranormal perception at a distance in time and space,
today classified by parapsychology under such labels as ESP,
clairvoyance, precognition and remote viewing. Second sight,
as a faculty of foreseeing future events or occurrences happening
at the moment at a distance, is traditionally attributed to
certain individuals in the Highlands of Scotland.
The medium Daniel Dunglas Home, who claimed descent
from a Highland family, was supposed to have second sight and
described it in the following way ‘‘A deadly tremor comes over
me, and there is a film on my eyes, and I not only see persons,
but hear conversations taking place at a distance.’’ While in
Paris Home saw his brother, who was then in the North Sea. He
saw his fingers and toes fall off. Six months afterward tidings
came of the brother having been found dead on the ice, his fingers
and toes having fallen off from scurvy.
The chief peculiarity of second sight is that the visions are
often of a symbolic character. For example, in March 1927, in
a lecture before the Societé Internationale de Philologie, Sciences
et Beaux Arts, F. G. Fraser noted ‘‘The vision of coming
events which some of the Highlanders possess, used to be accompanied,
in some cases, by a nerve storm and by a subsequent
prostration. It must not be confused with the sight of apparitions,
nor does it depend upon artificial aids, such as
accompanied by the invocation of the oracles in classic times.’’
Samuel Johnson took note of the phenomenon in his 1775
account of A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland ‘‘The foresight
of the seers is not always prescience. They are impressed
with images, of which the event only shows them the meaning.’’
He denied that ‘‘to the second sight nothing is presented but
phantoms of evil. Good seems to have the same proportion in
those visionary scenes as it obtains in real life.’’ According to
some old books (Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon, 1482 and Robert
Kirk’s Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, 1691)
second sight is communicated by touch. Napier’s Folklore or Superstitious
Beliefs in the West of Scotland (1879) mentions the practice
as surviving in the nineteenth century.
The belief in second sight dates back to a very early period
in the history of these regions, and has not been altogether
eradicated by the encroachments of the twentieth century. And,
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of course, apart from the name, which is used primarily in Scotland,
second sight itself is not exclusive to the Celts of Scotland,
for it is allied to the clairvoyance, prophetic vision, soothsaying,
and so on, that have been reported from time immemorial in
practically every part of the world. Yet the second sight has certain
distinctive features of its own.
It may, for instance, be either congenital or acquired. In the
former case, it generally falls to the seventh son of a seventh
son, by reason of the potency of the mystic number seven. In
the days of large families and no birth control, such a person
appeared far more frequently than in modern society. Yet
again, sometimes Highlanders would find themselves suddenly
endowed with the mysterious faculty. A person gifted with second
sight is said to be ‘‘fey.’’ Generally there is no apparent departure
from the normal consciousness during the vision, although
sometimes a seer may complain of a feeling of disquiet
or uneasiness. A vision may be communicated from one person
to another, usually by contact, but the secondary vision is dimmer
than that of the original seer.
A frequent vision is that of a funeral, a premonition of a
death shortly to occur in the community. This is an instance of
the second sight taking a symbolical turn. Occasionally the apparition
of the doomed person will be seen—his wraith, or double—while
he himself is far distant.
Another form second-sight visions often take is that of ‘‘seeing
lights.’’ The lights, too, may indicate death, but they may
likewise predict lesser happenings. In one instance, a light was
seen by two persons to hover above the mansion of an estate,
then to travel swiftly in the direction of the gamekeeper’s cottage,
where it remained stationary for a while. The next day the
gamekeeper was found dead.
Animals also are said to possess second sight, especially dogs
and horses. Two men were travelling in Scottland from Easdale
to Oban on a stormy night. In making a short cut through a
wood, one of them died from fatigue and exposure. That night
more than one horse had to be carefully led past the spot by
his driver, who as yet knew nothing of the tragedy. Many Highlanders
used to believe that the faculty was common to all the
lower animals, since they whine and bristle when there is nothing
visible to human eyes or audible to human ears.
The march of civilization has eroded the occult beliefs of the
Highlanders, but they still believe in second sight, even those
who claim that they are not in the least ‘‘superstitious.’’
Sources
Campbell, John L., and Trevor H. Hall. Strange Things The
Story of Fr. Allan McDonald, Ada Goodrich Freer, and the Society for
Psychical Research’s Enquiry into Highland Second Sight. London
Routledge & Kegan Paul; Philadelphia Folklore Associates,
1968.
Mackenzie, Alexander. The Prophecies of the Brahan Seer. Stirling,
Scotland Eneas Mackay, 1935. Reprint, London Constable,
1977.
Macrae, Norman, ed. Highland Second-Sight With Prophecies
of Conneach Odhar of Petty. Dingwall, Scotland G. Souter, 1908.
Napier, James. Folklore, or Superstitious Beliefs in the West of
Scotland, within this Century. Paisley, Scotland, 1879.
Spence, Lewis. Second Sight Its History and Origins. London
Rider, 1951.
Sutherland, Elizabeth. Ravens and Black Rain The Story of
Highland Second Sight. London Constable, 1986.
Thompson, Francis. The Supernatural Highlands. London
Robert Hale, 1976.