“The Second Sight, or an dara sealladh, meaning two sights, is one of the more curious, but constant cultural phenomenons, in Celtic lands, particularly Scotland and Ireland. It is the definition given to the idea of a world widely known perception of a sixth sense, the ability to see and perceive, images or knowledge of events, of death to come. Modern science, in an attempt to classify the phenomenon, describes it as the paranormal perception at a distance in time and space and the parapsychologist place the Second Sight along side ESP, or extra sensory perception.
A frequent vision seen by those with the Second Sight is a premonition of a death shortly to occur in the community. This can take the form of seeing an apparition of the person, his wraith, no matter how far away the person might be. There are also reports of those gifted seeing lights around the person that is fated soon to pass over.
“Science is only now perhaps providing some explanation into the Second Sight. As leading physicists develop theories into quantum physics, into String Theory, or of multiple universes and dimensions no further away than our fingertips, perhaps some explanation into the Second Sight can be understood. Perhaps in the population among certain people, in Scotland for instance, some families have long had abilities perceive these things, to have access to time and space, not as a linear progression, but access to the entire flow of events.” www.ulsterheritage.com
“Second Sight” is an evocative personal tale featuring the last generation of Second Sight Gaelic storytellers on Scotland’s Isle of Skye by Alison McAlpine.
“Recently a large study was done by the University of Edinburgh and the results were quite interesting. They conducted a large scale mail survey which showed that those that claimed to have second sight was 10% in the Western Isles, 16% in the Highlands and Lowlands and 33% in the Grampian region. Neither highland descent nor gender seemed to be significantly related to people reporting second sight. The responses also indicated that there was quite a diverse range of ages, occupations, religious beliefs and cultural experiences. Some of the visions were reported as being “film-like” images through the mind, projected three-dimensional images which became the central focus of perception or described as a waking dream they felt they could not control.”
Martin Martin, who was from Duntulm on the Isle of Skye wrote in his book A description of the Western Isles of Scotland (1703):
“The Second Sight is a singular faculty of seeing an otherwise invisible object, without any previous means used by the person that sees it for that end; the vision makes such a lively impression upon the seers, 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.”
Easily the best known and most popular of Highland prophets is Kenneth Mackenzie, The Brahan Seer; who may (or may not) have lived around 400 years ago to the north and west of Inverness. The story goes that his mother cut a deal with the spirit of a Danish princess, and in return for letting the wraith return to her grave the power of second sight would be gifted upon her child. In the morning Kenneth awoke to find a stone with a hole cut through the middle next to his bed. On looking through the stone he was engulfed with visions, good and bad, of a future yet to come. In time he would learn to control this gift and make numerous predictions for his own people and for the Highlands as a whole.
Although he is most famous for predicting the downfall of his own clan, the Mackenzies of Seaforth, with a dramatic vision of deaf chiefs, white-hooded lassies and tragedy; he also foresaw the destinies of many other clans as well, for example – “When the big-thumbed sheriff officer and the blind man of the twenty-four fingers shall meet, then MacNeil of Barra shall prepare for a flitting“. It is known that this prophecy came true in 1838 when the last of the MacNeils of Barra left Kisimul Castle behind bankrupt (a ‘flitting’ in Scotland is to move house). Most of his predictions follow this vein, with many being very specific. Many of the prophecies are about battles or hardship ahead, and often a little macabre: “The day will come when the raven will drink its three fills of the blood of Clan Donald on top of the Hills of Minaraidh in Lewis“; ravens drinking the blood is a recurring theme. He would also foresee the changes that ravaged the Highlands during the Clearances of the 18th and 19th century that began in Ross-shire.
Sometimes landowners made the mistake of evicting seers as well, and one such soothsayer forcibly removed from Jura in the early 1700s left her Campbell landlord with an ominous prediction: “The last Campbell laird of Jura will be blind in one eye, and will leave the island with all of his belongings tied to a cart pulled by a lone white horse.” This was well known to the islanders, and finally came true in 1938 when Charles Campbell, who’d been blinded in the First World War fell on hard times, sold up and left the island behind with nothing but a cart and horse. Today, the Isle of Jura distillery produces a whisky commemorating the story, called “Prophecy”
Not all prophecies are doom and gloom; some have a more positive aspect. For example it is well known to the Clan Cameron that “As long as there’s snow on Ben Nevis the Camerons will command Locheil“. At 4409 ft. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British isles and looms high and large over the Cameron estates of Locheil; being so high the snow has only melted six times in the last 120 years, only to remain the next year. The Camerons I think are safe. But, eventually we may all be doomed by the famous words of the Border prophet known as ‘Thomas the Rhymer’: “When the Cows of Gowrie come to land, the Judgement Day is near at hand.” The Cows of Gowrie are two boulders sitting in the sands of the Firth of Tay near Dundee, and it is said they move landward at about an inch a year.” –www.scotclans.com
This all sounds familiar and harkens us back to the ancient days of the Druids when Ovates were the seers of their clans and foretold the future by way of divination through various methods. Some may have used the movement of birds called augury. Others may have used Ogham wands. Even Tarot, gaining popularity in the 15th century was mainly popular in France, Spain, Portugal and Germany. I think some of this can be attributed to the cultural underpinnings of the past, and the natural promotion of the deep and innate connections between ourselves and the natural world as well as the Otherworld. These connections may run clear all the way back to the beginnings of agriculture itself. We have a few classical source first hand accounts of augury and Druidesses telling fortunes as well as a reference to Ogham wands in one of the modern versions of Irish tale of the Wooing of Etaine…
“Then, at the last, king Eochaid sent for his Druid, and he set to him the task to seek for Etain; now the name of the Druid was Dalan. And Dalan came before him upon that day; and he went westwards, until he came to the mountain that was after that known as Slieve Dalan; and he remained there upon that night. And the Druid deemed it a grievous thing that Etain should be hidden from him for the space of one year, and thereupon he made three wands of yew; and upon the wands he wrote an ogham; and by the keys of wisdom that he had, and by the ogham, it was revealed to him that Etain was in the fairy mound of Bri Leith, and that Mider had borne her thither. ” – Tochmarc Etaine, Version D
“In later times those who claimed to belong to the ancient order seem to have been for the most part females in a humble class of life, who professed to tell fortunes. Women were no doubt treated with more indulgence than men, as being less likely to use their power for political purposes. When the Emperor Alexander Severus was on the march through Gaul in 235 CE, shortly before he was assassinated by some of his own troops, a Druidess met him and called out in the Gallic language, “Go thy way, but hope not for victory and trust not thy soldiers.” -Lampridius (Roman)
“On certain occasions Aurelian would consult Gaulish Druidesses to discover whether or not his descendants would continue to rule. They told him that no name would be more famous than those of the line of Claudius. And indeed, the current emperor Constantius is a descendant of his.” – Aurelianus (Roman)
“The practice of divination is not even neglected by barbarians. I know there are Druids in Gaul because I met one myself. Divitiacus of the Aedui tribe, who was your guest and praised you highly. He claimed a knowledge of nature derived from what the Greeks call “physiology”- the inquiry into natural causes and phenomena. He would predict the future using augury and other forms of interoperation.” – Cicero (Roman)
“When she finished speaking, she employed a species of divination, letting a hare escape from the fold of her dress; and since it ran on what they considered the auspicious side, the whole multitude shouted with pleasure, and Boudica, raising her hand toward heaven said: ‘I thank thee Andraste, and call upon thee as woman speaking to woman.” – Cassius Dio on Bouddica in his Roman History
While we know the classical sources may have very well been politically motivated, there is at least a cultural pattern among those who may have tapped into a very rare and powerful source of knowledge and ability to “see”.
Many feel that the second sight could be waning and the massive intrusion of media, the incessant TV and radio programs, cell phone signals, satellite communications, computers and more, could very well make the all too fragile links to the Otherworld too frayed and cloudy for those with the true Second Sight to perceive their senses as accurately anymore. Many people could also be falsely interpreting their abilities as a sort of patterned disorder and not be “in tune” as people used to be and able to recognize what it is. Unfortunately, another hitch casting doubt on such abilities are people with ill intentions trying to cash in on claiming to have psychic abilities and giving one size fits all type of readings. For every tried and true psychic, there are fifty more that are exposed for being scammers.