Second sight has a long tradition in Scotland, more particularly in the Highlands and among Irish Scots. Scots are a superstitious people and many believe even today in the gift or curse of the second sight. 1 My family was Irish Scots and maybe this is why they believed that they had family members with this gift. The reason it is called the second sight is because the first sight is our normal vision that everyone has. Only some people are fortunate to have inherited the second sight. There are many Gaelic words for the second sight, the most common being An Da Sheallad, meaning two sights.2
My Auntie Ann always said that she had inherited the gift of premonition. She knew things before they were going to happen. She also claimed that she could ‘feel’ things about people.
“Such nonsense!” my mother would snort when we got back in the car after visiting Auntie Ann. Her sister-in-law always had a story or two about the times she could foresee the future or just knew something. I listened in open-mouthed wonder while my father squirmed uncomfortably. My mother held her tongue but I could feel her bristling with indignation.
One time Auntie Ann told a story that scared me for years. She was in her kitchen and she felt a cold shadow pass over her. She knew something terrible had happened and she learned later that a toddler had fallen to his death in the neighbourhood.
Another story that struck me was about Auntie Ann’s son, Tommy Smith, when he was overseas during World War II. He was injured in battle and she claims to have sat right up in bed because she knew he was going to be injured in the leg. When I was little as I could easily imagine Auntie Ann sitting up in bed, terrified and unable to reach her son.
There are detailed written accounts of incidents involving the second sight since the 17th century in Scotland. They have been collected by modern day folklorists and ethnographers. There are also many detailed descriptions about how the prophecy appeared to the person with the second sight. Sometimes they were able to see exactly what was going to happen. At other times, they saw symbols and interpreted them. Sometimes these visions were accompanied by smells and sounds.3
When I would ask my dad about Auntie Ann’s second sight, he would answer that Scots believe that this ability runs in families and that Auntie Ann was convinced that she had this gift. But I wanted to know whether my father believed it. I realize today that my father didn’t want to hurt his sister so he never really said one way or the other.
Ethnographers are sure that the second sight is an inherited ability.4 However, no one in our family has this ability now. And what would my mother say? “Hogwash!”
- McCain’s Corner, Barry McCain, blogger, The Second Sight Amongst the Scots Irish, July 17, 2015, https://barryrmccain.blogspot.com/2015/07/the-second-sight-among-scots-irish.html, accessed November 26, 2018
- Scotclans website, Prophecy, Scottish Second Sight, David McNicoll, February 2, 2012, https://www.scotclans.com/prophecy-scottish-second-sight/, accessed November 26, 2018
- Cohen, Shari Ann, Doctoral thesis abstract, Scottish tradition of second sight and other psychic experiences in families, University of Edinburg Research Archive, 1996, https://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/handle/1842/9674, accessed November 26, 2018