1703: Forseeing Things to Come

Martin MapIn 1703, the Scottish writer Martin Martin published A description of the Western Islands of Scotland. : Containing a full account of their situation, extent, soils, product, harbours, bays, tides, anchoring places, and fisheries. The ancient and modern government, religion and customs of the inhabitants, particularly of their druids, heathen temples, monasteries, churches, chappels, antiquities, monuments, forts, caves, and other curiosities of art and nature. Of their admirable and expeditious way of curing most diseases by simples of their own product. A particular account of the second sight, or faculty of forseeing things to come, by way of vision, so common among them. A brief hint of methods to improve trade in that country, both by sea and land. With a new map of the whole, describing the harbours, anchoring places, and dangerous rocks, for the benefit of sailers. To which is added a brief description of the Isles of Orkney, and Schetland (here).

His discussion of the “second sight, or faculty of forseeing things to come” that he finds common among the inhabitants of the Hebrides begins as follows:

An Account of the Second-Sight, in Irish called Taish

The Second Sight is a singular Faculty of Seeing an otherwise invisible Object, without any previous Means us’d by the Person that fees 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.

At the sight of a Vision, the Eyelids of the Person are erected, and the Eyes continue staring until the Object vanish. This is obvious to others who are by, when the Persons happen to see a Vision, and occur’d more than once to my own Observation, and to others that were with me.

There is one in Skie of whom his Acquaintance observed, that when he sees a Vision, the inner part of his Eye-lids turn so far upwards, that after the Object disappears, he must draw them down with his Fingers, and sometimes employs others to draw them down, which he finds to be the much easier way….

Children, Horses and Cows see the Second Sight, as well as Men and Women advanced in years.

That Children see it, is plain from their crying aloud at the very instant that a Corpse or any other Vision appears to an ordinary Seer. I was present in a House where a Child cried out of a sudden, and being asked the reason of it, he answer’d that he had seen a great white thing lying on the Board which was in the Corner : but he was not believ’d, until a Seer who was present told them that the Child was in the right; for, said he, I saw a Corpse and the Shroud about it, and the Board will be us’d as part of a Coffin, or some way employed about a Corpse: and accordingly, it was made into a Coffin, for one who was in perfect health at the time of the Vision.

That Horses see it, is likewise plain from their violent and Sudden starting, when the Rider or Seer in Company with him fees a Vision of any kind, night or day. It is observable of the Horse, that he will not go forward that way, until he be led about at some distance from the common Road, and then he is in a sweat….

That Cows see the Second Sight appears from this; that when a Woman is milking a Cow, and then happens to see the Second Sight the Cow runs away in a great fright at the same time, and will not be pacified for some time after….

The Second Sight is not a late Discovery seen by one or two in a Corner, or a remote Isle, but it is seen by many Persons of both Sexes in several Isles, separated above forty or fifty Leagues from one another: the Inhabitants of many of these Isles, never had the least Converse by Word or Writing; and this faculty of seeing Visions, having continued, as we are informed by Tradition, ever since the Plantation of these Isles, without being disproved by the nicest Sceptic, after the strictest enquiry, seems to be a clear proof of its Reality.

It is observable, that it was much more common twenty Years ago than at present; for one in ten do not see it now, that saw it then….

He then gives a great many examples. Here are a few of them:

Daniel Stewart, an Inhabitant of Hole in the North-Parish of St. Maries in the Isle of Skie saw at Noon day five Men on Horseback riding Northward; he ran to meet them, and when he came to the Road, he could see none of them, which was very surprizing to him, and he told it his Neighbours : The very next day he saw the fame number of Men and Horse coming along the Road, but was not so ready to meet them as before, until he heard them speak, and then he found them to be those that he had seen the day before in a Vision ; this was the only Vision of the kind he had ever seen in his Life. The Company he saw was Sir Donald MacDonald and his Retinue, who at the time of the Vision was at Armidil, near forty Miles South from the place where the Man lived.

A Man in the Parish of St. Maries in the Barony of Troterness in Skie called Lachlin, lay sick for the space of some Months, decaying daily, insomuch that all his Relations and Acquaintance despair’d of his Recovery. One of the Parishioners, called Archibald Mack-Donald, being reputed famous for his Skill in foretelling things to come, by the Second-sight asserted positively that the sick Man would never die in the House where he then lay. This being thought very improbable, all the Neighbours condemn’d Archibald as a foolish Prophet: upon which, he passionately affirm’d, that if ever that sick Man dies in the House where he now lies, I shall from henceforth renounce my Part of Heaven ; adding withal, the Sick Man was to be carried alive out of the House in which he then lay, but that he would never return to it alive; and then he nam’d the Persons that should carry out the Sick Man alive. The Man having liv’d some Weeks longer than his Friends imagined, and proving uneasy and troublesome to all the Family; they considered that Archibald had reason for his peremptory Assertion, and therefore they resolv’d to carry him to a House joining to that in which he then lay: but the Poor Man would by no means give his consent to be mov’d from a Place where he believ’d he should never die; so much did he rely on the Words of Archibald, of whose Skill he had seen many Demonstrations. But at last his Friends being fatigu’d day and night with the Sick Man’s Uneasiness, they carried him against his Inclination to another little House, which was only separated by an Entry from that in which he lay, and their Feet were scarce within the Threshold, when the Sick Man gave up the Ghost; and it was remarkable that the two Neighbours, which Archibald named would carry him out, were actually the Persons that did so. At the time of the Prediction, Archibald saw him carried out as above, and when he was within the Door of the other House, he saw him all white, and the Shroud being about him, occasion’d his confidence as above mention’d. This is Matter of fact, which Mr. Daniel Nicholson, Minister of the Parish, and a considerable Number of the Parishioners, are able to vouch for, and ready to attest, if occasion requires.

The same Archibald Mack-Donald happen’d to be in the Village Knockow one night, and, before Supper told the Family, that he had just then seen the strangest thing he ever saw in his Life: to wit, a Man with an ugly long Cap, always shaking his Head: but that the strangest of all, was a little kind of a Harp which he had, with four Strings only, and that it had two Harts-Horns fixed in the Front of it. All that heard this odd Vision, fell a laughing at Archibald, telling him that he was dreaming, or had not his Wits about him ; since he pretended to see a thing that had no being, and was not so much as heard of in any Part of the World. All this could not alter Archibald’s Opinion, who told them that they must excuse him, if he laugh’d at them after the Accomplishment of the Vision. Archibald return’d to his own House, and within three or four days after, a Man with the Cap, Harp, &c. came to the House, and the Harp, Strings, Horns, and Cap answer’d the Description of them at first view : he shook his Head when he play ‘d, for he had two Bells fixed to his Cap. This Harper was a poor Man, and made himself a Buffoon for his Bread, and was never before seen in those Parts ; for at the time of the Prediction, he was in the Isle of Barray, which is above twenty Leagues distant from that Part of Skie. This Story is vouched by Mr. Daniel Martin, and all his Family, and such as were then present, and live in the Village where this happen’d.

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1 Response to 1703: Forseeing Things to Come

  1. Pingback: 1891: The Young Woman in Dress and Appearance Corresponded with the Visitor of the Dream | corvusfugit.com

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