The invention of Highland Second Sight
in The supernatural in early modern Scotland
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This chapter examines and reassesses the earliest Scottish accounts of a constellation of diverse supernatural abilities, primarily relating to premonition and clairvoyance, often described in English as Second Sight and in Scottish Gaelic as an dà shealladh or taibhsearachd.

In modern English-language scholarship and popular discourse alike, Second Sight tends to be regarded as distinctive to the people of the Scottish Highlands: a primal, hereditary phenomenon involving involuntary visions of future events. Close analysis of the earliest Scottish references, however, collated with folkloric evidence from elsewhere in Europe, suggests that belief legends concerning ‘Second Sight’ may have been a Lowland as well as a Highland phenomenon, and that heightened interest in and concern over supposed visionary encounters with the supernatural in Lowland covenanting heartlands may have directed outside attention to similar experiences and narratives retailed in the Gàidhealtachd. The expression ‘Second Sight’ itself clearly derives from theological discourse. Its adaptation into popular belief may represent a pragmatic, creative response to increasing anxieties in interpreting supposed visions of and encounters with a supernatural other world, in an attempt to circumvent the aggressive stance taken against demonically inspired maleficia by contemporary religious reformers. Second Sight, then, follows a common trajectory to other early modern ‘superstitions’, from being a cause of clerical concern to an object of learned scepticism and enquiry.


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