Akin to some of the superstitions we have
noticed, but differing from them in many essential respects, is the belief - for
superstition it cannot well be called - in the Second Sight, by which, as Dr. Johnson
observes, "seems to be meant a mode of seeing, super-added to that which nature
generally bestows," and consists of "an impression made either by the mind upon
the eye, or by the eye upon the mind, by which things distant or future are perceived, and
seen as if they were present." This "deceptive faculty" is in Gaelic called
Traibhse, i.e. a spectre, or a vision, and is neither voluntary nor constant, but
consists "in seeing an otherwise invisible object, without any previous means used by
the person that sees it for that end; the vision makes such an impression upon the seer,
that they neither see nor think of anything else, except the vision, as long as it
continues; and then they appear pensive or jovial, according to the object which was
represented to them."
It has been observed by
lookers-on, that those persons who saw, or were supposed to see, a vision, always kept
their eye-lids erect, and that they continued to stare until the object vanished. Martin
affirms that he and other persons that were with them observed this more than once, and he
mentions an instance of a man in Skye, the inner part of whose eye-lids was turned so far
upwards during a vision, that after the object disappeared he found it necessary to draw
them down with his fingers, and would sometimes employ others to draw them down, which he
indeed, Martin says, "found from experience to be the easier way."
The visions are said to have taken place either in the
morning, at noon, in the evening, or at night. If an object was seen early in the morning,
its accomplishment would take place in a few hours thereafter. If at noon, that very day.
If in the evening, perhaps that night; if after the candles were lighted, the
accomplishment would take place by weeks, months, and sometimes years, according to the
time of night the vision was seen.
As the appearances which are said to have been observed in
visions and their prognostics may prove curious to the general reader, a few of them shall
be here stated, as noted by Martin.
When a shroud was perceived about one, it was a sure
prognostic of death. The time was judged according to the height of it about the person.
If not seen above the middle, death was not expected for the space of a year, and perhaps
some months longer; and as it was frequently seen to ascend higher towards the head, death
was concluded to be at hand within a few days, if not hours.
If a woman was seen standing at a man's left hand, it was a
presage that she would be his wife, whether they were married to others, or unmarried at
the time of the apparition.
If two or three women were seen at once standing near to a
man's left hand, she that was next to him would undoubtedly be his wife first, and so on,
whether all three, or the man, were single or married at the time of the vision or not.
It was usual for the Seers to see any man that was shortly
to arrive at the house. If unknown to the Seer he would give such a description of the
person he saw as to make him to be at once recognised upon his arrival. On the other hand,
if the Seer knew the person he saw in the vision, he would tell his name, and know by the
expression of his countenance whether he came in a good or bad humour.
The Seers often saw houses, gardens, and trees, in places
where there were none, but in the course of time these places became covered with them.
To see a spark of fire fall upon one's arm or breast, was a
forerunner of a dead child to be seen in the arms of those persons. To see a seat empty
when one was sitting on it, was a presage of that person's immediate death.
There are few persons, if any, who pretend to this faculty,
and the belief in it is almost generally exploded. Yet it cannot be denied that apparent
proofs of its existence have been adduced which have staggered minds not prone to
superstition. When the connection between cause and effect can be recognised, things which
would otherwise have appeared wonderful and almost incredible, are viewed as ordinary
occurrences. The impossibility of accounting for such an extraordinary phenomenon as the
alleged faculty, on philosophical principles, or from the laws of nature, must ever leave
the matter suspended between rational doubt and confirmed scepticism.
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