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Folklore of Nova Scotia
Chapter IV. The Second Sight

That some persons are endowed with the. gift of Second Sight is a well authenticated Celtic belief. The Gaelic name for it, da-shealladh, does not mean literally “The Second Sight,” but “The Two Sights,” the vision of the world of sense and that of the world of spirits. (MacDougall's Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Scottish Highlands). MacDougall, who considers that it may be the remains of the magic of the Druids, accounts for its flourishing more among the Celts than among any other people thus: “In every age there are individuals who are spectre-haunted, and it is probable enough that the sage Celtic priests, assuming the spectres to be external, reduced the gift of seeing them to a system, a belief in which formed part of their teachings.” Other thinking men consider it a remnant of the knowledge once possessed by our first parents. The Celts., who live nearer the spirit land than any other race, seem to have been particularly endowed with the gift.

Lord Larbolt, in 1652, made a study of second sight in the Highlands of Scotland, and gave an account of his research work in a letter written in Gaelic, and published in 1876 in the magazine, “The Gael” (Vol. V. p. 78). In that letter he said that there were men, women and children who had the second sight; that there were children who had it but not their parents; that some people had it when they were old who did not have it in their youth; that none of them could tell how the came to have it; and that it was a gift of which they would gladly rid themselves if they had the power. They saw the vision only so long as they kept looking at it steadily. Those who had a strong heart usually took a good look at it, and could see it for a longer time than the weak and timid. They did not have visions of the dead at all. They saw the living; and had no doubt but that what they saw them do, or what they saw happen to them, would really occur just as they saw it. They could not tell what time might intervene before the event would happen; but those who were accustomed to see things for a long time had special rules by which they could give a close guess. For example, they could tell pretty well how soon a person was going to die, by noting how much of his form was covered by a shroud. If the whole form was covered, the person was on his death bed.

All these findings of Lord Talbolt hold good for second sight in Nova Scotia, where many people have been endowed with the gift. Sometimes whole families have had it in a greater or less degree. The old people watched carefully the color of the eyes of a child when it was born. If it had, say, one eye blue and the other brown, they were on the look-out for second sight; for if at the end of a certain number of weeks the colors had blended so that they could not tell which eye had been blue and which brown, that child was sure to have the gift. If the colors did not blend, the child was normal.

Those who had the gift were sometimes very sensitive about it. They made no parade of it, but concealed it as much as possible. (This local information I have from a man who has been in close touch with several people endowed with Second Sight, and who got several of the stories which follow from them at first hand. On account of their sensitiveness, he asked me to suppress both his name and theirs, for some of the seers are yet living, and all of them have many relatives in the country).

The story that follows was given me as a personal experience, with the injunction not to mention any names:

"During the summer vacation of 1879, Father N- was asked one Sunday morning to go up the river to see my brother, who was on his deathbed. The distance was a little better than two miles. I was about nineteen years old. I did not know that Father N ’s brother, who was an ecclesiastic, was visiting him that day, nor that he was in existence. About thirty or thirty-five minutes before the priest actually arrived, I was standing near the house above the road, and saw Father N- with his horse and waggon passing up the road, ‘between the two gates/ as we called the spot, with another man, who was not so tall, at his left in the waggon with him. They were both dressed like priests — at least they looked very much like it. The view I got of them was as distinct as it possibly could be; but it lasted for a very short time. I can say that it was gone in a moment or two. Some person asked: ‘I wonder is Father N- coming?’ ‘Yes' I said; ‘he will come; and there will be another man with him’; but those around me were too stupid to comprehend. Sure enough, some minutes later the reality was before me at the same identical spot — and a most perfect reproduction of the vision it was.”

At Fraser’s Mills, Antigonish Co., a man was going down a hill one day when he saw on the road at the foot of the hill a number of men carrying a dead man to the side of the road. He recognized all the men as his neighbors except the dead man, whom he had never seen before. All disappeared in a moment. This visionary then went away to the States, but returned a number of years later to see the old place once more. During this visit he was coming down the same hill one day when he saw the same group of men carrying a dead man and placing him exactly where he saw him so many years before. This time it was the reality. A young man, whom he had never seen before, had just been killed at that spot.

The story that follows I heard my father tell many a time. Apart from this one instance, he never saw anything preternatural in his life.

When he was a young man in his ’teens, he left his home in Antigonish County to seek his fortune in California.. After several years, he had amassed a sum of money, which he was contemplating investing in a ranch stocked with a large number of cattle. On the night before the transaction was to have been completed, he was lying awake thinking it all over, and very anxious about its being the best thing for him to do, when into the moon-lit room walked a young woman whom he had never seen before. She was dressed in black, with a white ruffle about her neck. She stood at the foot of the bed, and in a warning voice, repeated three times: “Do not buy these cattle or you’ll be sorry for it; come home.” She remained long enough to have her features indelibly imprinted on his memory; then she disappeared as mysteriously as she had come. He did not doubt for a moment but that the warning was supernatural. The next day he wrote to his brother, who was in Boston, asking that he meet him in Chicago, where an exhibition was in progress. Leaving the deal open, he set out for the east.

On his arrival in Chicago, his brother urged him to continue his journey home to see his aged mother, and he consented to do so. Now, his mother had always worried about the welfare of her absent boy., so when he got home she begged him to remain, and urged him to buy a fine farm that was for sale at Antigonish Harbor. To please her he went to see the farm, but had no intention of buying it. He was packing his trunk for California when his mother increased her pleadings and begged him, with tears, to remain at home. He could resist no further.

After he had bought the farm, he was conducted to the nearest neighbor’s house to be introduced to the family. As he sat in the living room at nightfall one of the daughters of the family brought in a lighted lamp. The moment she entered, he rose to his feet, fixed his eyes upon her, and stared in speechless amazement. She was dressed in black with a white ruffle around her neck —in a word, she was the woman who had brought him home. She, who was totally unconscious of the wanderings of her spirit, was indignant at being stared at by this stranger, and left the room. Only two years later, when she was his promised wife, did he tell her the cause of his rudeness.

A young man named William -, of Antigonish Harbor, was standing in front of his home facing the Harbor one day, nearly fifty years ago, when he saw his father coming up from the shore half carrying along a man who seemed to be very infirm. He knew that what he saw was nothing natural. He could not make out who the sick man was. A year later William himself was not well. One day he went to the shore, and was so long away that his father became very uneasy about him; so he went to look for him. He found him lying on the sand, after having had a paralytic stroke. His father managed to get him home with a great deal of difficulty. He knew, then, that he himself was the sick man he had seen a year before. (Story told me by William’s niece, who had it from himself).

There lived at the rear of a farm at Antigonish Harbor an old man who was remarkable for Second Sight. He was popularly known as ‘‘Mountain Rory.” One morning the owner of the farm came into the house and said: “Mountain Rory had a strange story for me this morning. He told me that when he was coming over the mountain early to-day he saw a great many men working out there, some digging, some building a railway, and so on. "Whoever lives to see it, there will be some kind of works set up out at the rear of this farm yet.” This year (1928) the prediction is being verified. A company has bought up that land, with its fine gypsum deposits, and are at this writing building a railway out to the Harbor.

A kind old priest, who helped me considerably in the procuring of material for this work, gave me an instance in his personal experience of Second Sight. He wrote: “I never before told this incident to a living soul; in fact, I had practically forgotten it. Not long after my ordination — I think it was during the first clerical retreat I attended at Antigonish — I met Father Macintosh and Father Ronald MacGillivray, of Arisaig, together. Immediately I saw Father Macintosh in the purple. The vision was not very distinct; but it was. sufficiently so to be quite unmistakable. It lasted for an instant only. Were the same scene to be re-enacted to-day, I should very likely keep my mouth shut; but I was young and inexperienced then, and, another thing, I had no idea of a Monsignor di Manteletta. With me, one was a priest, a simple priest, or a bishop. From instinct, I immediately pointed my finger at Father Macintosh and said: ‘You will be a bishop yet.’ Many years afterwards, when, without the aid of any preternatural manifestation, I saw the dear, saintly Mgr. Macintosh in his full regimentals, wearing more purple than His Lordship, you may depend that the time I met himself and Father MacGillivray came to my mind.”

In “A Bit of Autobiography,” Right Reverend Bishop MacDonald gives the following instances of Second Sight which came within his own experience:

"When I was about seven or eight years of age my father went from home, with two jet black, horses. He was minded to sell or barter one or both of them. He was away several days, and my grandmother was getting very anxious about him. Every once in a while she would ask me to go out and look if I could see him coming. Some three hours before sundown I went out and saw him entering at a gate opening on the main road, a quarter of a mile away. He had two brown or bay horses, and was mounted on one of them. I ran in to tell that I had seen him, and mentioned the color of the horses. Everybody rushed out to look, but could see him nowhere. Neither was he to be seen. But in an hour or two from then, I went out once more, and saw him in the same place, with the two brown horses. He was actually there then. He had swapped both of the horses with which he had gone from home. The incident is still very vivid in my memory. I would set it down as a hallucination were it not that I distinctly saw two brown horses and specified this circumstance on my running into the house, as my sister can still bear witness.

“Another, and very striking instance of Second Sight, may properly be recorded here. When my father was a lad of 12 or 13 years he was sent by his parents one cold winter’s day to buy some needed articles in the store of Hon. Wm. MacKeen. The store stood at the north side of Mabou Harbour, near the mouth. My father was born and bred, even as I was. at the South West River, about six miles from Mr. MacKeen’s, as the crow flies. When he reached the store he was shivering with the cold. Old William MacKeen, being a kind-hearted man, brought him up to the house, and got his wife to make him a cup of hot tea. She set it on the table, with some bread and butter, and bade the boy come and take it. But he was bashful and wouldn’t come. At last she turned to him and said—I translate literally from the Gaelic vernacular, in which I got the story—‘You need not be so bashful; it is you who will be staying here yet/ Staying, by the way, is a good word. That is precisely what we do; we stay in a place for a while, and then somebody else comes along and stays there, when we are dead and gone. While these things were happening, the woman’s husband had gone to the other end of the house. Thither she followed him and said: 'That boy will have this place yet' Her words pleased him none too well, for he was the father of many boys and girls. Twice married, he had twenty-one children. So impressed was he, however, with his wife’s words, that on the way back to the store he said to the boy: 'What do you suppose my wife has been telling me? She told me it is you who are to have this place yet.’ Forty-five years afterwards my father bought the farm, and our folks are still living there at this day.

"Two things suggest themselves here: The first is that the instance just related does not differ in principle from the vision of my father that I had. I saw him coming with a span of bay horses two or three hours before he was there, and she saw him living on the farm forty-five years before he was there. If you can see one in a place two hours before his coming, you can see him forty-five, or any number of years, before. The difficulty is in seeing him at all.

“The other thing is in the nature of an inference. ‘Second Sight’ is from God as its Author. None but He can know the future so far as it depends upon the free will. Now a bargain between man and man, be it the swapping of horses or the buying and selling of a farm, is a free-will transaction. The issue of the conference that precedes it is strictly incalculable before the event and can be known only to Him Who gazes down from the pinnacle of eternity and sees, at a glance, everything that comes to pass in the whole tract of time.”

The daughter of a man who had Second Sight told me the incidents that follow. One evening her father was taking a short cut home and had to climb over a fence to do so. As he was stepping to the ground he saw a coffin lying in his path. Two days later, he and another man were carrying a coffin through the same field, and they let it down on the ground at the exact spot where he had previously seen it.

On another occasion, this same man was out in a boat fishing, when he noticed a funeral procession entering the cemetery quite near the shore. He recognised everybody in it, even himself, and from the mourners he knew whose funeral it was. Some time later the real funeral took place just as he had seen it.

An old man named MacNeil, of Big Pond, C.B., was very remarkable for Second Sight. He was walking along the shore one day when he saw the body of a man wearing a blue shirt with white buttons 011 it, lying on the sand, and two women coming towards it. Two years afterwards, a man dressed in the same fashion, was out fishing. He took one of the fits to which he was subject, fell into the water., and was drowned. His body was washed ashore at the very spot where MacNeil saw it, and was discovered there by two women.

A good many years ago a young man at Antigonish returned home from work one evening looking as pale as death. To his mother’s anxious inquiries, he answered that he was sick from what he met on the'road. He told her that a funeral passed him that he thought was his own, for he named all the people at it, the whole country-side, he himself being the only one missing. A week later he was drowned accidentally. Something went wrong with the water-wheel at the mill where he was working and he went down to fix it. Some one by accident turned on the water in the mill-race. Great sympathy was felt for his family, and everybody turned out for the funeral. It was remarked that everyone whom he had named as present at the phantom funeral was there.

That the Second Sight is a gift that is not always recognized by the person possessing it is shown by this story, which was told by a near relative of the seer. A little boy, tired from playing, sat beside his mother and put his head in her lap. All at once he told her that two men, whom he did not know, had come into the room. She asked him to describe them to her. He did so very minutely, even to the fact that one of them was wearing new shoes. The very next night the strangers arrived, and looked just as the boy had described them. The child did not realize that he had the gift of Second Sight; but when he was grown to manhood he was rendered very unhappy by its possession. He was afraid to go out alone, and even when in company, an evening’s enjoyment was frequently marred by the things he saw.

A young man who was teaching in a Nova Scotia school section had to walk one morning after a holiday a considerable distance to his school. On the way, he called at a very hospitable house for refreshments. The daughter of the house set before him a large bowl of buttermilk and bread, to which he did ample justice. Her old father, who had the Second Sight, came into the kitchen and reproved her very severely for giving the young man such poor fare. “The day will come,” said he, “when you will be proud to sit at his table; for as he sat there with the bowl of buttermilk in his hand, I could see the chasuble on his back.” Some years later this young man did become a priest, and it was he himself who told me this story.

A young man was away from his home in Inverness Co., and for eighteen years he never wrote to his people; but they were not uneasy about him. for they had the Second Sight, and they knew that he was alive and well.

Two young boys were walking along a country road in Inverness Co., in earnest conversation about the brother of one of them, who was in Minnesota at the time. “I suppose you’ll be expecting Neil home next summer?” the one who was not Neil’s brother said. The brother looked away and seemed troubled. "Neil will never come home,” he replied at last. Within the year Neil died.

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