“A Description of THE WESTERN ISLANDS Of Scotland (CIRCA 1695) By Martin Martin, Gent” (1703)
Martin was a Hebridean whose account of the ‘Second Sight’ both scandalised and excited those who read it. His was an age of science and religious extremism in which juxtaposed ancient and modern points of view were contesting for the hearts and minds of the populations of the British Isles and Ireland:
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 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.
At the sight of a vision, the eye-lids of the person are erected, and the eyes continue staring until the object vanishes. This is obvious to others who are by, when the persons happen to see a vision, and occurred more than once to my own observation, and to others that were with me.
There is one in Skye, 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 much the easier way.
This faculty of the second-sight does not lineally descend in a family, as some imagine, for I know several parents who are endowed with it, but their children not, and vice versa. Neither is it acquired by any previous compact. And after a strict enquiry, I could never learn from any among them, that this faculty was communicable any way whatsoever.
The seer knows neither the object, time, nor place of a vision, before it appears; and the same object is often seen by different persons, living at a considerable distance from one another. The true way of judging as to the time and circumstance of an object, is by observation; for several persons of judgment, without this faculty, are more capable to judge of the design of a vision, than a novice that is a seer. If an object appear in the day or night, it will come to pass sooner or later accordingly.
If an object is seen early in the morning (which is not frequent) it will be accomplished in a few hours afterwards. If at noon, it will commonly be accomplished that very day. If in the evening, perhaps that night; if after candles be lighted, it will be accomplished that night: the latter always in accomplishment by weeks, months, and sometimes years, according to the time of night the vision is seen.
When a shroud is perceived about one, it is a sure prognostic of death. The time is judged according to the height of it about the person; for if it is not seen above the middle, death is not to be expected for the space of a year, and perhaps some months longer; and as it is frequently seen to ascend higher towards the head, death is concluded to be at hand within a few days, if not hours, as daily experience confirms. Examples of this kind were shown me, when the persons of whom the observations then made enjoyed perfect health.
One instance was lately foretold by a seer that was a novice, concerning the death of one of my acquaintance; this was communicated to a few only, and with great confidence; I being one of the number, did not in the least regard it, until the death of the person about the time foretold, did confirm me of the certainty of the prediction. The novice mentioned above, is now a skilful seer, as appears from many late instances; he lives in the parish of St. Mary’s, the most northern in Skye.
If a woman is seen standing at a man’s left hand, it is a presage that she will be his wife, whether they be married to others, or unmarried at the time of the apparition.
If two or three women are seen at once standing near a man’s left hand, she that is next him will undoubtedly be his wife first, and so on, whether all three, or the man be single or married at the time of the vision or not; of which there are several late instances among those of my acquaintance. It is an ordinary thing for them to see a man that is to come to the house shortly after; and if he is not of the seer’s acquaintance, yet he gives such a lively description of his stature, complexion, habit,& c., that upon his arrival he answers the character given him in all respects.
If the person so appearing be one of the seer’s acquaintance, he will tell his name, as well as other particulars; and he can tell by his countenance whether he comes in a good or bad humour.
I have been seen thus myself by seers of both sexes at some hundred miles distance; some that saw me in this manner had never seen me personally, and it happened according to their visions, without any previous design of mine to go to those places, my coming there being purely accidental.
It is ordinary with them to see houses, gardens, and trees, in places void of all three; and this in process of time used to be accomplished: as at Mogstot, in the Isle of Skye, where there were but a few sorry cow-houses thatched with straw, yet in a few years after, the vision which appeared often was accomplished, by the building of several good houses on the very spot represented to the seers, and by the planting of orchards there.
To see a spark of fire fall upon one’s arm or breast is a forerunner of a dead child to be seen in the arms of those persons; of which there are several fresh instances.
To see a seat empty at the time of one’s sitting in it, is a presage of that person’s death quickly after.
When a novice, or one that has lately obtained the second-sight, sees a vision in the night-time without doors, and comes near a fire, he presently falls into a swoon.
Some find themselves as it were in a crowd of people, having a corpse which they carry along with them; and after such visions the seers come in sweating, and describe the people that appeared: if there be any of their acquaintance among them, they give an account of their names, as also of the bearers, but they know nothing concerning the corpse.
All those who have the second-sight do not always see these visions at once, though they be together at the time. But if one who has this faculty designedly touch his fellow-seer at the instant of a vision’s appearing, then the second sees it as well as the first; and this is sometimes discerned by those that are near them on such occasions.
There is a way of foretelling death by a cry that they call taisk, which some call a wraith in the Lowlands.
They hear a loud cry without doors, exactly resembling the voice of some particular person, whose death is foretold by it. The last instance given me of this kind was in the village Rigg, in the isle of Skye.
Five women were sitting together in the some room, and all of them heard a loud cry passing by the window; they thought it plainly to be the voice of a maid who was one of the number; she blushed at the time, though not sensible of her so doing, contracted a fever next day, and died that week.
Things also are foretold by smelling, sometimes as follows. Fish or flesh is frequently smelled in a fire, when at the same time neither of the two are in the house, or in any probability like to be had in it for some weeks or months; for they seldom eat flesh, and though the sea be near them, yet they catch fish but seldom in the winter and spring. This smell several persons have, who are not endued with the second-sight, and it is always accomplished soon after.
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 answered that he had seen a great white thing lying on the board which was in the corner: but he was not believed, until a seer who was present told them that the child was in right; for, said he, I saw a corpse and the shroud about it, and the board be used 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 vision.
That horses see it is likewise plain from their violent and sudden starting, when the rider or seer, in company with him sees a vision of any kind, night or day. It is observable of the horse, that he will not forward that way, until he be led about at some distance from the common road, and then he is in a sweat.
A horse fastened by the common road on the side Loch Skeriness in Skye, did break his rope at noon-day, and run up and down without the least visible cause. But two of the neighbourhood that happened to be at a little distance and in view of the horse, did the at same time see a considerable number of men about a corpse directing their course to the church of Snizort; and this was accomplished within a few days after by the death of a gentlewoman who lived thirteen miles from that church and came from another parish from whence very few came to Snizort to be buried.
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 time after.
Before I mention more particulars discovered by the second-sight, it may not be amiss to answer the objections that have lately been made against the reality of it.
Object. 1. These seers are visionary and melancholy people, and fancy they see things that do not appear to them or anybody else.
Answer. The people of these isles, and particularly the seers, are very temperate, and their diet is simple and moderate in quantity and quality, so that their brains are not in all probability disordered by undigested fumes of meat or drink. Both sexes are free from hysteric fits, convulsions, and several other distempers of that sort; there’s no madmen among them, nor any instance of self-murder. It is observed among them that a man drunk never sees the second-sight; and that he is a visionary, would discover himself in other things as well as in that; and such as see it are not judged to be visionaries by any of their friends or acquaintance.
Object. 2. There is none among the learned able to oblige the world with a satisfying account of those visions, therefore it is not to be believed.
Answer. If everything for which the learned are not able to give a satisfying account be condemned as impossible we may find many other things generally believed that must be rejected as false by this rule. For instance, yawning and its influence, and that the loadstone attracts iron; and yet these are true as well as harmless, though we can give no satisfying account of their causes, how much less can we pretend to things that are supernatural?
Object. 3. The seers are impostors, and the people who believe them are credulous, and easily imposed upon.
Answer. The seers are generally illiterate and well meaning people, and altogether void of design, nor could I ever learn that any of them made the least gain by it, neither is it reputable among them to have that faculty; besides the people of the isles are not so credulous as to believe implicitly before the thing foretold is accomplished; but when it actually comes to pass afterwards it is not in their power to deny it without offering violence to their senses and reason. Besides, if the seers were deceivers, can it be reasonable to imagine that all the islanders who have not the second-sight should combine together and offer violence to their understandings and senses, to force themselves to believe a lie from age to age. There are several persons among them whose birth and education raise them above the suspicion of concurring with an imposture merely to gratify an illiterate and contemptible sort of persons; nor can a reasonable man believe that children, horses, and cows could be pre-engaged in a combination to persuade the world of the reality of the second-sight.
Such as deny those visions give their assent to several strange passages in history upon the authority aforesaid of historians that lived several centuries before our time, and yet they deny the people of this generation the liberty to believe their intimate friends and acquaintance, men of probity and unquestionable reputation, and of those whose veracity they have greater certainty than we can have of any ancient historian.
Every vision that is seen comes exactly to pass according to the true rules of observation, though novices and heedless persons do not always judge by those rules. I remember the seers returned me this answer to my objection and gave several instances to that purpose, whereof the following is one.
A boy of my acquaintance was often surprised at the sight of a coffin close by his shoulder, which put him into a fright and made him to believe it was a forerunner of his own death, and this his neighbours also judged to be the meaning of that vision; but a seer that lived in the village Knockow, where the boy was then a servant, told them that they were under a great mistake, and desired the boy to lay hold of the first opportunity that offered; and when he went to a burial to remember to act as a bearer for some moments: and this he did accordingly, within a few days after, when one of his acquaintance died; and from that time forward he was never troubled with seeing a coffin at his shoulder, though he has seen many at a distance, that concerned others. He is now reckoned one of the exactest seers in the parish of St. Mary’s in Skye, where he lives.
There is another instance of a woman in Skye, who frequently saw a vision representing a woman having a shroud about her up to the middle, but always appeared with her back towards her, and the habit in which it seemed to be dressed resembled her own: this was a mystery for some time, until the woman tried an experiment to satisfy her curiosity, which was, to dress herself contrary to the usual way; that is, she put that part of her clothes behind, which was always before, fancying that the vision at the next appearing would be easier distinguished: and it fell out accordingly, for decision soon after presented itself with its face and dress looking towards the woman, and it proved to resemble herself in all points, and she died in a little time after.
There are visions seen by several persons, in whose days they are not accomplished; and this is one of the reasons why some things have been seen that are said to never come to pass, and there are also several visions seen which are not understood until they be accomplished.
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 skeptic, after the strictest inquiry, 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.
The second-sight is not confined to the Western Isles alone, for I have an account that it is likewise seen in several parts of Holland, but particularly in Bommel, by a woman, for which she is courted by some, and dreaded by others. She sees a smoke about one’s face, which is a forerunner of the death of a person so seen, and she did actually foretell the death of several that lived there: she was living in that town this last winter.
The corpse-candles, or dead-men’s lights in Wales, which are certain prognostics of death, are well-known and attested.
The second-sight is likewise seen in the Isle of Man, as appears by this instance: Captain Leaths, the chief magistrate of Belfast, in his voyage 1690, lost thirteen men by a violent storm, and upon his landing upon the Isle of Man, an ancient man, clerk to a parish there, told him immediately that he had lost thirteen men: the captain inquiring how he came to the knowledge of that, he answered, that it was by thirteen lights which he had seen come into the churchyard; as Mr. Sacheverel tells us, in his late description of the Isle of Man.
It were ridiculous to suppose a combination between the people of the Western Isles of Scotland, Holland, Wales, and the Isle of Man, since they are separated by long seas, and are people of different languages, governments, and interests: they have no correspondence between them, and it is probable that those inhabiting the north-west isles have never yet heard that any such visions are seen in Holland, Wales, or the Isle of Man.
Four men of the village Flodgery in Skye being at supper, one of them did suddenly let fall his knife on the table, and looked with an angry countenance; the company observing it inquired his reason, but he returned them no answer until they had supped, and then he told them that when he let fall his knife, he saw a corpse, with the shroud about it, laid on the table which surprised him, and that a little time would accomplish the vision. It fell out accordingly, for in a few days after one of the family died, and happened to be laid out on that very table. This was told me by the master of the family.
Daniel Stewart, an inhabitant of Hole in the north parish of St. Mary’s in the isle of Skye, 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 surprising to him, and he told it to his neighbours: the very next day he saw the same 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 Armadale, near forty miles south from the place where the man lived.
A woman of Stornvay, in Lewis, had a maid who saw visions, and often fell into a swoon; her mistress was very much concerned about her, but could not find out any means to prevent her seeing those things; at last she resolved to pour some of the water used in baptism on her maid’s face, believing this would prevent her seeing any more sights of this kind. And accordingly she carried her maid with her next Lord’s day, and both of them sat near the basin in which the water stood, and after baptism, before the minister had concluded the last prayer, she put her hand in the basin, took up as much water as she could, and threw it on the maid’s face; at which strange action the minister and the congregation were equally surprised. After prayer the minister enquired of the woman the meaning of such an unbecoming and distracted action; she told him it was to prevent her maid’s seeing visions; and it fell out accordingly, for from that time she never once more saw a vision of any kind. This account was given me by Mr. Morison, minister of the place, before several of his parishioners who knew the truth of it. I submit the matter of fact to the censure of the learned; but for my own part I think it to have been one of Satan’s devices to make credulous people have an esteem for holy water.
John Morison, of Bragir, in Lewis, a person of unquestionable sincerity and reputation, told me that within a mile of his house a girl of twelve years old was troubled at the frequent sight of a vision, resembling herself in stature, complexion, dress, &c., and seemed to stand or sit, and to be always employed as the girl was; this proved a great trouble to her: her parents, being much concerned about it, consulted the said John Morison, who enquired if the girl was instructed in the principles of her religion, and finding she was not he bid them teach her the Creed, Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer, and that she should say the latter daily after her prayers. Mr. Morison and his family joined in prayer in the girl’s behalf, begging that God of his goodness would be pleased to deliver her from the trouble of such a vision: after which, and the girl’s complying with the advice as above, she never saw it any more.
A man living three miles to the north of the said John Morison is much haunted by a spirit, appearing in all points like to himself; and he asks many impertinent questions of the man when in the fields, but speaks not a word to him at home, though he seldom misses to appear to him every night in the house, but to no other person. He told this to one of his neighbours, who advised him to cast a live coal at the face of the vision the next time he appeared; the man did so next night, and all the family saw the action; but the following day the same spirit appeared to him in the fields, and beat him severely, so as to oblige him to keep his bed for the space of fourteen days after. Mr. Morison, minister of the parish, and several of his friends came to see the man, and joined in prayer that he might be freed from this trouble, but he was still haunted by that spirit a year after I left Lewis.
A man in Knockow, in the parish of St. Mary’s, the northernmost in Skye, being in perfect health, and sitting with his fellow-servants at night, was on a sudden taken ill, and dropped from his seat backward, and then fell a-vomiting; at which all the family were much concerned, he having never been subject to the like before: but he came to himself soon after, and had no sort of pain about him. One of the family, who was accustomed to see the second-sight, told them that the man’s illness proceeded from a very strange cause, which was thus: An ill-natured woman (naming her by her name), who lives in the next adjacent village of Bornskittag, came before him in a very furious and angry manner, her countenance full of passion, and her mouth full of reproaches, and threatened him with her head and hands, until he fell over as you have seen him. This woman had a fancy for the man, but was like to meet with a disappointment as to his marrying her. This instance was told me by the master of the family, and others who were present when it happened.
One that lived in St. Mary’s, on the west side of the isle of Skye, told Mr. MacPherson, the minister, and others, that he saw a vision of a corpse coming towards the church, not by the common road, but by a more rugged way, which rendered the thing incredible, and occasioned his neighbours to call him a fool; but he bid them have patience and they would see the truth of what he asserted in a short time: and it fell out accordingly, for one of the neighbourhood died, and his corpse was carried along the same unaccustomed way, the common road being at that time filled with a deep snow. This account was given me by the minister and others living there.
Mr. Macpherson’s servant foretold that a kiln should take fire, and being some time after reproved by his master for talking so foolishly of the second-sight, he answered that he could not help his seeing such things as presented themselves to his views in very lively manner; adding further, I have just now seen that boy sitting by the fire with his face red, as if the blood had been running down his forehead, and I could not avoid seeing this: and as for the accomplishment of it within forty-eight hours, there is no doubt, says he, it having appeared in the day-time. The minister became very angry at his man, and charged him never to speak one word more of the second-sight, or if he could not hold his tongue, to provide himself another master; telling him he was an unhappy fellow, who studied to abuse credulous people with false predictions. There was no more said on this subject until the next day, that the boy of whom the seer spoke, came in, having his face all covered with blood; which happened by his falling on a heap of stones. This account was given me by the minister and others of his family.
Daniel Dow, alias Black, an inhabitant of Bornskittag, was frequently troubled at the sight of a man, threatening to give him a blow; he knew no man resembling this vision; but the stature, complexion and habit were so impressed on his mind, that he said he could distinguish him from any other, if he should happen to see him. About a year after the vision appeared first to him, his master sent him to Kyle-Raes, about thirty miles further south-east, where he was no sooner arrived, than he distinguished the man who had so often appeared to him at home; and within a few hours after, they happened to quarrel, and came to blows, so as one of them (I forgot which) was wounded in the head. This was told me by the seer’s master, and others who live in the place. The man himself has his residence there, and is one of the precisest seers in the isles.
Sir Norman MacLeod, and some others playing at tables, at a game called in Irish Falmermore, wherein there are three of a side, and each of them threw the dice by turns; there happened to be one difficult point in the disposing of one of the table-men: this obliged the gamester to deliberate before he was to change his man, since upon the disposing of it the winning or losing of the game depended. At last the butler, who stood behind, advised the player where to place his man; with which he complied, and won the game. This being thought extraordinary, and Sir Norman hearing one whisper him in the ear, asked who advised him so skillfully? He answered, it was the butler; but this seemed more strange for he could not play at tables. Upon this, Sir Norman asked him how long it was since had learnt to play? and the fellow owned that he never played in his life, but that he saw the spirit Browny reaching his arm over the player’s head, and touched the part with his finger, on the point where the table-man was to be placed. This was told me by Sir Norman arid others, who happened to be present at the time.
Daniel Dow, above named, foretold the death of a young woman in Minginis, within less than twenty-four hours before the time; and accordingly she died suddenly in the fields, though at the time of the prediction she was in perfect health; but the shroud appearing close about her head, was the ground of his confidence, that her death was at hand.
The same Daniel Dow foretold the death of a child in his master’s arms, by seeing a spark of fire fall on his left arm; and this was likewise accomplished soon after the prediction.
Some of the inhabitants of Harris sailing round the isle of Skye, with a design to go to the opposite main land, were strangely surprised with an apparition of two men hanging down by the ropes that secured the mast, but could not conjecture what it meant. They pursued the voyage, but the wind turned contrary, and so forced them into Broadford in the isle of Skye, where they found Sir Donald MacDonald keeping a sheriff’s court, and two criminals receiving sentence of death there: the ropes and mast of that very boat were made use of to hang those criminals. This was told me by several who had this instance from the boat’s crew.
Several persons living in a certain family, told me that they had frequently seen two men standing at a young gentlewoman’s left hand, who was their master’s daughter: they told the men’s names; and being her equals, it was not doubted but she would be married to one of them: and perhaps to the other, after the death of the first. Some time after a third man appeared, and he seemed always to stand nearest to her of the three, but the seers did not know him, though they could describe him exactly. And within some months after, this man, who was seen last, did actually come to the house, and fulfilled the description given of him by those who never saw him but in a vision; and he married the woman shortly after. They live in the isle of Skye; both they and others confirmed the truth of this instance when I saw them.
Macleod’s porter passing by a galley that lay in the dock, saw her filled with men, having a corpse, and near to it he saw several of Macleod’s relations: this did in a manner persuade him that his master was to die soon after, and that he was to be the corpse which was to be transported in the galley. Some months after the vision was seen, Macleod, with several of his relations and others, went to the isle of Mull; where, some days after, Maclean of Torlosk happened to die, and his corpse was transported in the galley to his burial-place, and Macleod’s relations were on board to attend the funeral, while Macleod stayed ashore, and went along with the corpse after their landing.
Mr. Dougal Macpherson, minister of St. Mary’s, on the west side of Skye, having his servants in the kiln drying of corn, the kiln happened to take fire, but was soon extinguished. And within a few months after one of the minister’s servants told him that the kiln would be on fire again shortly, at which he grew very angry with his man, threatening to beat him if he should presume to prophesy mischief by that lying way of the second-sight. Notwithstanding this, the man asserted positively and with great assurance that the kiln would certainly take fire, let them use all the precautions they could. Upon this, Mr. Macpherson, had the curiosity to enquire of his man if he could guess within what space of time the kiln would take fire. He told him before Hallowtide. Upon which, Mr. Macpherson called for the key of the kiln, and told his man that he would take care of the kiln until the limited day was expired, for none shall enter it sooner, and by this means I shall make the devil, if he is the author of such lies, and you both liars. For this end he kept the key of the kiln in his press until the time was over, and then delivered the key to the servants, concluding his man to be a fool and a cheat. Then the servants went to dry corn in the kiln, and were charged to have a special care of the fire; yet in a little time after the kiln took fire; and it was all in a flame, according to the prediction, though the man mistook the time. He told his master that within a few moments after the fire of the kiln had been first extinguished, he saw it all in a flame again! and this appearing to him in the day time, it would come to pass the sooner.
John Macnormand and Daniel MacEwin, travelling along the road, two miles to the north of Snizort church, saw a body of men coming from the north, as if they had a corpse with them to be buried in Snizort; this determined them to advance towards the river, which was then a little before them, and having waited at the ford, thinking to meet those that they expected with the funeral, were altogether disappointed, for after taking a view of the ground all round them, they discovered that it was only a vision. This was very surprising to them both, for they never saw anything by way of the second-sight before or after that time. This they told their neighbours when they came home, and it happened that about two or three weeks after a corpse came along that road from another parish, from which few or none are brought to Snizort, except persons of distinction, so that this vision was exactly accomplished.
A gentleman, who is a native of Skye did, when a boy, dislodge a seer in the isle of Raasay, and upbraid him for his ugliness, as being black by name and nature. At last the seer told him very angrily, my child, if I am black, you’ll be red ere long. The master of the family chid him for this, and bid him give over his foolish predictions, since nobody believed them; but next morning the boy being at play near the houses, fell on a stone, and wounded himself in the forehead, so deep, that to this day there is a hollow scar in that part of it.
James Beaton, surgeon in the isle of North-Uist, told me that, being in the isle of Mull, a seer told him confidently that he was shortly to have a bloody forehead; but he disregarded it, and called the seer a fool. However, this James being called by some of the Macleans to go along with them to attack a vessel belonging to the Earl of Argyll, who was then coming to possess Mull by force; they attacked the vessel, and one of the Macleans being wounded, the said James, while dressing the wound, happened to rub his forehead, and then some of his patient’s blood stuck to his face, which accomplished the vision.
My Lord Viscount Tarbat, one of her Majesty’s Secretaries of State in Scotland, travelling in the shire of Ross, in the north of Scotland, came into a house, and sat down in an armed chair. One of his retinue, who had the faculty of seeing the second-sight, spoke to some of my Lord’s company, desiring them to persuade him to leave the house, for, said he, there is a great misfortune will attend somebody in it, and that within a few hours. This was told my Lord, but he did not regard it. The seer did soon after renew his entreaty with much eagerness, begging that my Lord might remove out of that unhappy chair, but had no other answer than to be exposed for a fool. Some hours after my Lord removed, and pursued his journey; but was not gone many hours when a trooper riding upon the ice, near the house whence my Lord removed, fell and broke his thigh, and being afterwards brought into that house, was laid in the armed chair, where his wound was dressed, which accomplished the vision. I heard this instance from several hands, and had it since confirmed by my Lord himself.
A man in the parish of St. Mary’s, in the barony of Trotterness, in Skye, called Lachlin, lay sick for the space of some months, decaying daily, insomuch that all his relations and acquaintances despaired of his recovery. One of the parishioners, called Archibald Macdonald, 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 condemned Archibald as a foolish prophet; upon which he passionately affirmed 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 named the persons that should carry out the sick man alive. The man having lived 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 resolved 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 moved from a place where he believed 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 fatigued 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 occasioned his confidence as above mentioned. 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 Macdonald happened 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 hart’s 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 laughed at them after the accomplishment of the vision. Archibald returned 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 answered the description of them at first view; he shook his head when he played, 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 Skye. 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 happened.
Mr. Daniel Nicholson, minister of St. Mary’s in Skye, the parish in which Archibald Macdonald lived, told me that one Sunday after sermon at the chapel Uig, he took occasion to inquire of Archibald if he still retained that unhappy faculty of seeing the second-sight, and he wished him to lay it aside if possible; for, said he, it is no true character of a good man. Archibald was highly displeased, and answered that he hoped he was no more unhappy than his neighbours, for seeing what they could not perceive; adding, I had, says he, as serious thoughts as my neighbours in time of hearing a sermon to-day, and even then I saw a corpse laid on the ground close to the pulpit, and I assure you it will be accomplished shortly for it was in the day-time. Mr. Nicholson and several parishioners then present endeavoured to dissuade Archibald from this discourse, but he still asserted that it would quickly come to pass, and that all his other predictions of this kind had ever been accomplished. There was none in the parish then sick, and few are buried at that little chapel, nay sometimes not one in a year is buried there; yet when Mr. Nicholson returned to preach in the said chapel two or three weeks after, he found one buried in the very spot named by Archibald. This story is vouched by Mr. Nicholson, and several of the parishioners still living.
Mr. Daniel Nicholson, above mentioned, being a widower at the age of 44, this Archibald saw in a vision a young gentlewoman in a good dress frequently standing at Mr. Nicholson’s right hand, and this he often told the parishioners positively, and gave an account of her complexion, stature, habit, and that she would in time be Mr. Nicholson’s wife; this being told the minister by several of them, he desired them to have no regard to what that foolish dreamer had said; for, said he, it is twenty to one if ever I marry again. Archibald happened to see Mr. Nicholson soon after this slighting expression, however he persisted still in his opinion, and said confidently that Mr. Nicholson would certainly marry, and that the woman would in all points make up the character he gave of her, for he saw her as often as he saw Mr. Nicholson. This story was told me above a year before the accomplishment of it; and Mr. Nicholson, some two or three years after Archibald’s prediction, went to a synod in Bute, where he had the first opportunity of seeing one Mrs. Morison, and from that moment fancied her and afterwards married her. She was no sooner seen in the isle of Skye than the natives, who had never seen her before, were satisfied that she did completely answer the character given of her, etc., by Archibald.
One who had been accustomed to see the second-sight, in the isle of Egg, which lies about three or four leagues to the south-west part of the isle of Skye, told his neighbours that he had frequently seen an apparition of a man in a red coat lined with blue, and having on his head a strange sort of blue cap, with a very high cock on the fore part of it, and that the man who there appeared was kissing a comely maid in the village where the seer dwelt; and therefore declared that a man in such a dress would certainly debauch or marry such a young woman. This unusual vision did much expose the seer, for all the inhabitants treated him as a fool, though he had on several other occasions foretold things that afterwards were accomplished; this they thought one of the most unlikely things to be accomplished, that could have entered into any man’s head. This story was then discoursed of in the isle of Skye, and all that heard it, laughed at it; it being a rarity to see any foreigner in Egg, and the young woman had no thoughts of going anywhere else. This story was told me at Edinburgh, by Norman Macleod of Grabam, in September, 1688, he being just then come from the isle of Skye; and there were present, the Laird of Macleod, and Mr. Alexander Macleod, advocate, and others.
About a year and a half after the late revolution, Major Ferguson, now Colonel of one of Her Majesty’s regiments of foot, was then sent by the Government with 600 men, and some frigates to reduce the islanders that had appeared for King James, and perhaps the small isle of Egg had never been regarded, though some of the inhabitants had been at the battle of Killiecrankie, but by a mere accident which determined Major Ferguson to go to the isle of Egg, which was this: a boat’s crew of the isle of Egg happened to be in the isle of Skye, and killed one of Major Ferguson’s soldiers there; upon notice of which, the Major directed his course to the isle of Egg, where he was sufficiently revenged of the natives: and at the same time, the maid above-mentioned being very handsome, was then forcibly carried on board one of the vessels by some of the soldiers, where she was kept above twenty-four hours, and ravished, and brutishly robbed at the same time of her fine head of hair. She is since married in the isle, and in good reputation: her misfortune being pitied, and not reckoned her crime.
Sir Norman Macleod, who has his residence in the isle of Bernera, which lies between the isles of North Uist and Harris, went to the isle of Skye about business, without appointing any time for his return; his servants, in his absence, being all together in the large hall at night, one of them who had been accustomed to see the second-sight told the rest they must remove, for they would have abundance of other company in the hall that night. One of his fellow-servants answered that there was very little appearance of that, and if he had seen any vision of company, it was not like to be accomplished this night. But the seer insisted upon it, that it was. They continued to argue the improbability of it, because of the darkness of the night, and the danger of coming through the rocks that lie round the isle; but within an hour after, one of Sir Norman’s men came to the house, bidding them provide lights, etc., for his master had newly landed; and thus the prediction was immediately accomplished.
Sir Norman hearing of it called for the seer, and examined him about it; he answered that he had seen the spirit called Browny in human shape come several times, and make a show of carrying an old woman that sat by the fire to the door; and at last seemed to carry her out by neck and heels, which made him laugh heartily, and gave occasion to the rest to conclude he was mad to laugh so without reason. This instance was told me by Sir Norman himself.
Four men from the isles of Skye and Harris having gone to Barbadoes, stayed there for fourteen years; and though they were wont to see the second-sight in their native country, they never saw it in Barbadoes; but upon their return to England, the first night after their landing they saw the second-sight, as was told me by several of their acquaintance.
John Morison, who lives in Bernera of Harris, wears the plant called fuga dæmonum sewed in the neck of his coat, to prevent his seeing of visions, and says he never saw any since he first carried that plant about him. He suffered me to feel the plant in the neck of his coat, but would by no means let me open the seam, though I offered him a reward to let me do it.
A spirit, by the country people called Browny, was frequently seen in all the most considerable families in the isles and north of Scotland, in the shape of a tall man; but within these twenty or thirty years past he is seen but rarely.
There were spirits also that appeared in the shape of women, horses, swine, cats, and some like fiery balls, which would follow men in the fields; but there has been but few instances of these for forty years past.
These spirits used also to form sounds in the air, resembling those of a harp, pipe, crowing of a cock, and of the grinding of querns: and sometimes they have heard voices in the air by night, singing Irish songs; the words of which songs some of my acquaintance still retain. One of them resembled the voice of a woman who had died some time before, and the song related to her state in the other world. These accounts I had from persons of as great integrity as any are in the world.