Second Sight in Scotland

The Scots are well known for being a culture enmeshed in folklore, fate, and fairies. One of the less-discussed traditions is that of the Second Sight. Although this is in no way unique to the Scots, their seemingly endless stories of prophets and seers make the version of the Scottish Second Sight quite interesting. Often, those with Second Sight have to live with the burden that their knowledge usually foretells destruction and disaster. But how does one get Second Sight, and what are some of the most popular tales from the Highlands?

Source Source Source

In Scotland, it is usually called “an da shealladh”, which translates to “two sights.” 

The knowledge of the Scottish Second Sight reached beyond the Highlands, though. The first professor of mathematics at the University of Glasgow, George Sinclair, wrote in his book Satan’s Invisible World Discovered, “I am undoubtedly informed, that men and women in the Highlands can discern fatality approaching in others, by seeing them in waters, or with winding sheets about them.”

Although in some cultures, having second sight is considered a gift in Scotland it is regarded as a misfortune and heavy burden. In fact, it is even to be feared as it is believed Second Sight comes entirely from the ‘otherworld.’ In Scottish lore, the otherworld is a realm of supernatural beings that exist beyond the bounds and constraints of the human world. Additionally, Scottish Second Sight is not wholly related to fortune-telling, it is largely only able to see the outcomes of those far away and/or about to die. 

In some cases, Second Sight was given to people by otherworld creatures or randomly shared with at birth...and in some rare cases, there were even ways one could win the Second Sight for themselves. A ritual called Taghairn was one way to achieve Second Sight. This is a surprisingly intense ritual and involves ritualistic sacrifices of cats. You have to roast a number (usually 5-7) live cats over multiple days. The person performing the ritual would not be able to eat, sleep, or take a break from constantly turning the spit over the fire. Once a cat died, another would replace it and the ritual would continue. In retribution for their horrible deaths, the spirits of the cats would slowly begin to return to haunt the person performing the ritual. The goal of the cats would be to drive the ritual performer mad and end the ritual. 

Eventually, the Cat-Sith, a powerful cat demon, would arrive to bargain with the torturer to end the killing of the animals. In this exchange, you could request Second Sight and be given it. However, you will eventually pay a heavy price. According to lore, everyone who carried out this grisly, heinous ritual would die in painful or horrendous ways. 

However, stories of those who received their Second Sight without the help of a ritual often became as legendary as the Second Sight itself. Kenneth Mackenzie, also known as the Brahan Seer, is one of the most well-known Highlanders with Second Sight. Kenneth’s Second Sight was not born out of random chance and, instead, comes from the actions of his mother. Mackenzie’s mother met the spirit of a powerful Danish princess and promised to lead her back to her a thank you, the princess declared her child would have Second Sight. Kenneth, a young child at the time, awoke the next morning with a strange stone with a hole cut through its middle in his bed. He picked it up and peered into the hole and was instantly overcome with visions. As time wore on, he began to be able to control his gift which made him a powerful tool to powerful men, since he could make predictions for his own clan and the Highlands as a whole. In fact, he even saw the downfall of his own clan.

One day, he described what the Second Sight had shown him...and it was very specific: “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“ (flit, in this case, is slang for moving). While strange, this specific prophecy came to fruition in 1838 when the last of the MacNeils of Barra left Kisimul Castle behind bankrupt and left the seat of the clan. Most of his predictions follow this vein, with many being very specific and a little macabre.

Although the lore of having second sight is not unique to the Scottish Highlands, there is no doubt that the Highlanders have their very own specific version of the power and burden of premonition.

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. Attribution: Keith Ruffles.