The faculty of clear-sightedness, the supposed paranormal ability to see persons and events that are distant in time or place. Clairvoyance may be roughly divided into three classes— retrocognition and premonition; perceiving past and future events; and perception of contemporary events happening at a distance, or outside the range of normal vision. Clairvoyance may include psychometry, second sight, and crystal gazing.
Prophecy is a form of clairvoyance extending back into antiquity, and second sight is also an ancient form. It is notable that Spiritualism in Great Britain was directly heralded, about the third decade of the nineteenth century, by an outbreak of clairvoyance. Among clairvoyants of that period was Alexis Didier, whose phenomena suggested that telepathy at least entered into his feats, which included reading letters enclosed in sealed packets, playing écarté with bandaged eyes, and others of a like nature. Clairvoyance remains a prominent feature of the Spiritualistic séance.
Although there exists a quantity of evidence, collected by members of the Society for Psychical Research and other scientific investigators, that would seem to support the theory of supernormal vision, it must be acknowledged that many cases of clairvoyance lend themselves to a more mundane explanation. For instance, it has been shown that it is almost impossible to bandage the eyes of a medium so that the person cannot make some use of his or her normal vision. The possibility of hyperesthesia during trance should also be taken into account, as should telepathy, which may conceivably play a part in clairvoyant performances.
A private detective agency could also be a possible source of some of the knowledge displayed by the professional clairvoyant. The crystal is, as has been indicated, a favorite mode of exercising the clairvoyant faculty, presumably because the hypnotic state is favorable to development of supernormal vision; however, it could also be that the condition thus induced favors the rising into the upper consciousness of knowledge previously stored in the subconscious.
The term clairvoyance is also used to describe the power to see discarnate spirits, and is applied to mediumship generally.
For a discussion of the early history of clairvoyance, see divination.
Types of Clairvoyance
Charles Richet used the term cryptesthesia in a wide sense to cover a whole range of such related phenomena as clairvoyance, premonitions, monitions, psychometry, dowsing, and telepathy. F. W. H. Myers used the term "telesthesia" in a narrower context. As substitutes for "clairvoyance" Henry Holt suggested the word "telopsis" and Dr. Heysinger the word "telecognosis" but these terms would not include deathbed visions and other apparitions.
The clairvoyant experience may be spontaneous or induced by suggestion (as in hypnotism) or autosuggestion (as in crystal gazing and other methods of divination). There are four important subdivisions: X-ray clairvoyance, medical clairvoyance, traveling clairvoyance, and platform clairvoyance. The first is the faculty to see into closed space, such as boxes, envelopes, rooms, and books; the second is the ability to see the inner mechanism of the human body and diagnose disease; the third involves a change of the center of perception—a mental journey to a distant scene and giving a description thereof; and the fourth is seeing spirits.
The so-called X-ray clairvoyance is a frequently observed manifestation of the power. There are many cases on record in which sealed letters were read when the contents were totally unknown to the experimenter or were couched in a language of which the seer was ignorant. The clairvoyant often has to handle the envelope but not necessarily. In pellet reading the pellets may or may not be touched at all; they may even be burnt and the contents revealed thereafter. Conscious effort and anxiety at demonstration, however, have most often resuited mostly results in failure. Moreover, pellet reading has been notorious as a fraudulent phenomenon.
Examples of Clairvoyance
The following statement appeared in the Report of the Experiments on Animal Magnetism, made by the Committee of the Medical Section of the French Royal Academy of Sciences, 1831:
"We have seen two somnambulists who distinguished, with their eyes closed, the objects which were placed before them; they mentioned the color and the value of cards, without touching them; they read words traced with the hand, as also some lines of books opened at random. This phenomenon took place even when the eyelids were kept exactly closed with the fingers.
In 1837 the French Academy offered a prize of 3,000 francs for a demonstration of true clairvoyance. One of the claimants of the prize was the 12-year-old daughter of one Dr. Pigaire, a physician, whose clairvoyant faculty was admitted by the scientist Arago. At the decisive séance the jury rescued itself from the awarding the prize by stating that, according to the doctors, normal vision could not be excluded even if the girl's eyes were plastered up and covered with cotton wool and a silk mask.
In a remarkable case of clairvoyance, Thomas A. Edison, experimenting with the clairvoyant Bert Reese, wrote in a distant room on a piece of paper, "Is there anything better than hydroxide of nickel for an alkaline electric battery?" When he rejoined Reese, the latter at once said, "No, there is nothing better than hydroxide of nickel for an alkaline battery." In another case involving Reese, Baron Schrenck-Notzing wrote on five pieces of paper the questions, What is my mother's name? When will you go to Germany? Will my book be a success? What is the name of my eldest son? and an intimate question. He mixed the papers and presented them without knowing which contained which question. Reese, barely touching them, answered all the questions.
Experimenting with Stephan Ossowiecki in Warsaw, Charles Richet wrote this phrase: "The sea never appears so great as when it is calm. Its fury lessens it." He folded the paper and put it in an envelope. Ossowiecki kneaded it feverishly and said after 10 minutes, "I see much water, much water. You want to attach some idea to the sea. The sea is so great that beside its motion…. I can see no more." Gustav Geley wrote on a visiting card, under the table, "Nothing is more moving than the call to prayer by the muezzins." Ossowiecki, feeling the envelope, said, "There is a feeling of prayer, a call, from men who are being killed or wounded…. No, it is not that…. Nothing gives rise to more emotion than the call to prayer, it is like a call to prayer, to whom? A certain caste of men, Mazzi, madz…. A card. I can see no more."
Sleepwalkers furnish evidence of a clairvoyant faculty of vision. The existence of such a faculty may explain strange experiences in dreams, such as the oft-quoted story of Rev. Henry Bushnell (Sunday at Home, vol. 1875) about Capt. Youatt, a wealthy man who in a dream saw a company of emigrants perishing in the mountain snow. He distinguished the faces of the sufferers and gave special attention to the scenery; a perpendicular white rock cliff struck him particularly. He fell asleep again and the dream was repeated. He described the scenery to a comrade, who recognized its features as belonging to the Carson Valley Pass, 150 miles away. A company was collected with blankets, provisions, and mules. On arriving they found the company exactly as portrayed in the dream.
That clairvoyant vision may be independent of normal eyesight and exercised by the mind without the assistance of the senses is shown by a note by Stainton Moses, dated March 1, 1874:
"In the midst of the séance, when perfectly clear of influence, I saw Theophilus and the Prophet. They were as clear and palpable to the eye as human beings would be in a strong light. Placing my hand over my eyes made no difference, but turning away I could see them no longer. This experiment I repeated several times."
Darkness presents no obstruction. Elizabeth d'Esperance could sketch in the dark, the paper before her appearing just as well illuminated as the spirit face that she sketched.
The nature of clarivoyant perception is difficult to define. It is not seeing, it is being truly impressed. "In the clairvoyant state," wrote Alfred Vout Peters (Light, October 11, 1913), "all bodily sensations seem to be merged into one big sense, so that one is able to see, hear, taste, smell, and above all, know. Yet the images stand out clear and strong." In Horace Leaf's experience sometimes the images are considerably smaller than life-size, in some cases a few inches in height, although normally proportioned. He occasionally saw abnormally large forms, sometimes the face alone covering the entire field of vision. A clairvoyant may give a perfect character delineation of a man seen for the first time in his life. Heinrich Zschokke possessed this gift:
"It has happened to me sometimes on my first meeting with strangers, as I listened silently to their discourse, that their former life with many trifling circumstances therewith connected, or frequently some particular scene in that life, has passed quite involuntarily, and as it were dream-like, yet perfectly distinct, before me."
An early allusion to medical clairvoyance, the ability to see inside the body and diagnose disease, is found in Hippocrates: "The affections suffered by the body the soul sees with shut eyes." In the age of animal magnetism, medical clairvoyance was widely demonstrated. The investigation committee of the French Academy of Medicine admitted the phenomena of medical clairvoyance in 1831.
With the coming of Spiritualism the magnetizer disappeared and both medical and ordinary clairvoyance found an outlet in spontaneous trance, or was exercised in the waking state. In the astounding psychic development of Andrew Jackson Davis, medical clairvoyance represented the initial stage.
Both in the United States and in England, the first well-attested records of medical clairvoyance involve servant girls. Mary Jane, the servant of Dr. Larkin, of Wrentham, Massachusetts, diagnosed her own state and the diseases of the doctor's patients with remarkable precision in 1844 in a trance. Emma, the maid of Dr. Joseph Haddock showed similar powers. She distinguished between arterial and venous blood in the heart, calling one the "light side" and the other the "dark side." Dr. Haddock's experiences were corroborated by Dr. William Gregory in Letters on Animal Magnetism (1851), in the accounts of Sir Walter Trevelyan and Dr. Elliotson, and in Dr. Herbert Mayo's Letters on the Truths contained in Popular Superstitions (1849, 1851).
With the unfolding of Spiritualism, it was thought less and less preposterous to employ mediums professionally for medical purposes. Bessie Williams was a doctor's assistant for some years, and psychic diagnosis was further developed by Walter Kilners 's discovery of the human aura and its color changes according to the state of health. The psychic healer Edgar Cayce diagnosed thousands of cases and is credited with many cures.
There is abundant evidence of traveling clairvoyance, the ability to mentally journey to a distant scene and observe events, in old and present-day records. Such ability was freely exercised by the shamans and medicine men of primitive peoples. Sir William Barrett 's conclusion in Psychical Research (1911) that the reputed evidence on behalf of traveling clairvoyance is more widespread and ancient than that for telepathy may be justified.
A well-authenticated and frequently quoted instance of traveling clairvoyance is Emanuel Swedenborg 's vision in 1756 at Gothenburg of a devastating fire in Stockholm. Kant wrote it down in 1758, having obtained the details from the witnesses themselves. This is a case of spontaneous traveling clairvoyance, not purposive, representing rather a psychic invasion by the medium. It resembles the experience of Apollonius of Tyana, who, during a lecture at Ephesus, suddenly broke off, saying that the tyrant Domitian had been killed at Rome.
The first known instance of something resembling real traveling in magnetic sleep was recorded in a letter written from Nantes to the Marquis de Puysegur in March 1785. A young girl followed the movements of her magnetizer when he went into town and described everything that was taking place around him.
In Germany some early records are to be found in Dr. Van Ghert's Archiv für den tierischen Magnetismus. The first carefully investigated traveling clairvoyants were the French Alexis and Adolph Didier and Adèle Maginot. President Seguier, without giving his name, called upon Alexis Didier for a sitting. Didier made an imaginary journey to Seguier's room and saw a tiny bell on a table. Seguier denied this. On returning home, Sequier found that in his absence a bell had been placed on the table.
The Didier brothers were widely experimented with in England. An account of 14 séances held at Brighton with Alexis Didier is to be found in Dr. Edwin Lee's Animal Magnetism (1866). Adolphe Didier was investigated mainly by H. G. Atkinson. Adèle Maginot's striking adventures in traveling clairvoyance were recorded by Louis-Alphonse Cahagnet. She not only found for his sitters distant relatives who had vanished years ago, but also claimed to have actually conversed with them.
In one instance, Maginot, "traveling" by clairvoyance to a tropical country, asked to be awakened because she was afraid of wild beasts. It is within the bounds of possibility that an encounter with a wild beast on the scene would severely affect a clairvoyant's nervous system.
In another instance, actual harm was suffered by the medium. A M. Lucas de Rembouillet was very anxious about the fate of his brother-in-law. With the mother of the vanished man he visited Adèle Maginot.
"That which astonished this good woman, not a little, as well as Mr. Lucas, and the other persons present at the séance, was to see Adèle putting her hands before the left side of her face to shelter her from the burning rays of sunshine of that climate, seeming at the same time to be overcome with heat; but what was more marvelous still was the fact that she had a violent sun-stroke, which made all the side of her face, from her brow to her shoulder, a bluish red, whilst the other side remained white. This deep color only began to disappear twenty-four hours later. The heat was so violent at this time that you could not keep your hand on her.
Five thousand miles from Melbourne at sea William Howitt had a vision in which he clearly saw his brother's house, premises, and the landscape around. When he landed, he was so sure of his bearings that he went cross-country. All was as the vision portrayed.
Another case from an early record has some curious features. Dr. F. magnetized Jane and warned William Eglinton that he would send Jane to see what he was doing between eight and ten that evening. Jane said, "I see a very fat man with a wooden leg, he has no brain. He is called Eglinton. He is sitting before a table where there is brandy, but he is not drinking." The fact was Eglinton had made a fat dummy and dressed it in his own clothes.
In Thirty Years of Psychic Research (1923), Charles Richet describes a dramatic instance of traveling clairvoyance concerning himself. Pierre Janet sent Leonie B., in trance, after Richet, who had left for Paris. The clairvoyant suddenly declared that Richet's laboratory was burning. It was later determined that the laboratory was indeed burning at the time of the vision.
To exercise the faculty of traveling clairvoyance, sometimes an object belonging to a distant friend or locality is necessary, but often an index, say, the name of a friend or a place, is sufficient. The process of locating the desired person or object escapes explanation. As F. W. H. Myers writes in Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, 1903:
"The clairvoyant will frequently miss her way, and describe houses and scenes adjacent to those desired. Then if she almost literally gets on the scent—if she finds some place which the man whom she is sent to seek has some time traversed—she follows up his track with greater ease, apparently recognizing past events in his life as well as present circumstances. The process often reminds one of the dog who, if let loose far from home will find his way homewards vaguely at first, and using we do not quite know what instinct; then if he once gets on the scent will hold it easily across much of confusion and obstacle."
E. W. Cox in What Am I? (1874) observes, "The description is rarely or never that which should be given of an object then clearly present to the sight. It is more or less wanting in definite outline, like objects seen in a fog, suggesting that the perspective faculty, whatever it may be, is exercised through more or less obstacle. The objects do not preserve their relative proportion of size or colour in the impression they make upon the mind of the patient. Whatever the perspective faculty may be it is certainly not so powerful, nor so clear as the sense of sight. Small and unimportant things are often perceived when more prominent objects are unnoticed. Moreover, the faculty seems to be subject to continuous variation during the few minutes of its exercise, as if interrupted frequently by passing clouds."
Cox also asks whether traveling clairvoyance might not be a survival of the mysterious power of orientation so well developed in animals but nearly extinguished in men.
Vincent Turvey writes in The Beginnings of Seership?,
"In the mental body-travelling the 'I' (the spirit) appears to leave the 'me' (the body) and to fly through space at a velocity that renders the view of the country passed over very indistinct and blurred. The 'I' appears to be about two miles above the earth, and can only barely distinguish water from land, or forest from city; and only then, if the tracts perceived be fairly large in area. Small rivers or villages would not be distinguishable."
Traveling clairvoyance may take the seer into the future. Robert James Lees' claimed visions of the crimes that Jack the Ripper was going to commit the following day, with an exact description of the locality.
Perhaps traveling clairvoyance could also be exploited for historical research in guiding the medium into the past. Many sensitives claim to be able to go back into past ages in trance, some as far back as the mythical Atlantis or the still older Lemuria. Accomplishments of this sort, however, are more psychometric than clairvoyant and defy verification.
Many trance communications are classed under traveling clairvoyance if the control is considered the subconscious self of the medium. A strange mixture of traveling clairvoyance, clairaudience or control by the subconscious of the living is described in the following letter from Rosina Thompson to J. G. Piddington of the Society for Psychical Research, May 24, 1900:
"On Monday, March 7, 1900, about 7:30 in the evening, I happened to be sitting quite alone in the dining-room and thinking of the possibility of my subliminal communicating with that of another person—no one in particular. I was not for one moment unconscious. All at once I felt someone was standing near and quietly opened my eyes, and was very surprised to see—clairvoyantly, of course—Mr. J. G. Piddington. I was very keen to try the experiment, so at once spoke to him aloud. He looked so material and lifelike I did not feel in the least alarmed. I commenced: 'Please tell me of something I may afterwards verify to prove that I am really speaking to you.' "
J. G. P. replied, "I have had a beastly row with [name witheld]."
Then Thompson asked, "What about?" but there was no answer.
J. G. P. answered, "He says he did not intend to annoy me, but I said he had been very successful in doing so whether he intended or not." And after these words he disappeared.
According to Piddington, all the details were correct. The quarrel was in correspondence. The final remark was addressed to Mrs. Piddington at breakfast. It is not possible that Thompson heard of the remark.
A curious form of clairvoyance is what Turvey (The Beginnings of Seership ) describes as phone-voyance, a sort of psychic television in which the telephone wire apparently plays some part but which is nevertheless replete with elements of mystery not encountered in psychic television.
Psychical research has offered no convincing explanation for the phenomena of clairvoyance. In Letters on the Truths contained in Popular Superstitions, published in 1849, Herbert Mayo, professor of physiology in King's College and the Royal College of Surgeons, London, suggested an exo-neural action of the mind:
"I hold that the mind of a living person in its most normal state is always, to a certain extent, acting exo-neurally or beyond the limits of the bodily person, and in the lucid state this exo-neural apprehension seems to extend to every object and person around." This hypothesis differs only in degree from another, much bolder speculation put forward by which Sir William Barrett: "It may be that the intelligence operating at a séance is a thought-projection of ourselves—that each one of us has his simulacrum in the unseen. That with the growth of our life and character here, a ghostly image of ourselves is growing up in the invisible world; nor is this inconceivable."
There are opinions in essential agreement with part of the spiritist view, according to which the sense organs of the etheric body come into play or the information is impressed on the seer's mind by the spirits. It is also suggested that in traveling clairvoyance the double travels to the scene. The objection to this suggestion is that the double is temporarily separated the body is usually left behind unconscious and the memory of the journey is seldom brought back, whereas in traveling clairvoyance the subject describes with living voice what transpires at a distant place. The Theosophists have speculated on an "astral tube" that the clairvoyants construct for themselves from astral matter to see through.
Vincent Turvey appeared to see through some such agency. He writes:
"In plain, long distance clairvoyance, I appear to see through a tunnel which is cut through all intervening physical objects, such as towns, forests and mountains. This tunnel seems to terminate just inside Mr. Brown's study, for instance, but I can only see what is actually there, and am not able to walk about the house, nor to use any other faculty but that of sight. In fact, it is almost like extended physical sight on a flat earth void of obstacles. (This tunnel also applies to time as well as to space.) In mental body-travelling the 'I' (the spirit) is actually on the spot and sees and hears and smells and uses all the sense of the 'me' (the body) which remains at home; although, if physical force be needed this is as a rule borrowed from a third party."
Theosophists have also suggested that the clairvoyant may see thought-pictures. Mediums themselves are at variance as to how they do it. Bessie Williams (Mrs. Russel-Davies) claimed that clairvoyance is vision by one's spirit. W. H. Bach, in Mediumship and its Development, contends that both clairvoyance and clairaudience are impressional. The gift is often noticed in children, and it may disappear later. D'Esperance, when a child, continually saw "shadow people" in the house where she lived; Bessie Williams played with spirit children in the garden; and most other gifted mediums had similar experiences. Alfred Vout Peters experienced a feeling of irritability or excitement before becoming clairvoyant.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle suggested that the special atmosphere of clairvoyants might be the result of ectoplasm emanating from the sensitive's body and enabling the spirit to impress it. The cold chill and subsequent fainting in seeing ghosts may be due not only to terror but also to the drain on the body. In The Coming of the Fairies (1922) Doyle proposed a vibrational theory:
"If we could conceive a race of beings which were constructed in material which threw out shorter or longer vibrations (than ours), they would be invisible unless we could tune ourselves up or tone them down. It is exactly that power of tuning up and adapting itself to other vibrations which constitutes a clairvoyant and there is nothing scientifically impossible, so far as I can see, in some people seeing that which is invisible to others. If the objects are indeed there, and if the inventive power of the human brain is turned upon the problem, it is likely that some sort of psychic spectacles, inconceivable to us at the moment, will be invested and that we shall all be able to adapt ourselves to the new conditions. If high-tension electricity can be converted by a mechanical contrivance into a lower tension, keyed to other uses, then it is hard to see why something analogous might not occur with the vibrations of ether or other waves of light."
Dr. Daniel Frost Comstock, who was a professor at the Massachusetts Technical Institute, claimed to have known a clairvoyant woman with whom he made the discovery that her range of vision extended far past the point in the violet end of the spectrum where most of us cease to get any further retina stimuli. She therefore had an actual ultraviolet vision to a degree greatly beyond anything Comstock had ever heard of.
In the experiments of Dutch researchers G. Heymans, Henry Brugmans, and Weinberg with the clairvoyant D. Vandam, it was found that when certain substances, including alcohol and bromide, were ingested, clairvoyance became more intense. The reason, according to Brugmans, was that alcohol lessened the power of inhibition, of reasoning, and of attention, thereby increasing the power of the subconscious.
Charles W. Donville-Fife describes in his book Among Wild Tribes of the Amazons (1924) how clairvoyance could be induced by a drug named yage or peyotl (peyote). He was convinced by actual experiments of the strange workings of the drug. Since then, Louis Levin's Phantastica (1931) and Aldous Huxley 's The Doors of Perception (1954) have familiarized a whole generation with psychedelic drugs.
Dr. Norman Jeans, in experiments with himself under various anesthetics, found that under the influence of laughing gas (nitrous oxide) he became clairvoyant and was able to see events happening at various distant places.
A more complicated form of clairvoyance is shown in the case of the medium Knudsen, who, blindfolded, steered a steamlaunch around the harbor of Copenhagen. For him to do it, however, somebody in the boat had to place his hand on his head. A similar feat was demonstrated by Gaston Overien in August 1928. With his face and eyes completely covered by a thick mask, he rode twice round the dirt track at White City, London, on a motorcycle and avoided numerous obstacles that had been placed in the way after he had been blindfolded.
Many clairvoyants (e.g., Gerard Croiset ) have been consulted by the police of several countries to help trace criminals. Although startling claims of success have been made, there is some ambiguity in many instances.
Because much claimed clairvoyant faculty is of a spontaneous nature, it presents difficulties for parapsychological experimentation and testing. The personal associations and emotional stimuli of mediumship are difficult to embody in the atmosphere of laboratory testing. However, a more rigorous approach to spontaneous phenomena, involving fuller documentation (e.g., prompt recording, independent firsthand corroboration, background information on medium and sitter), can assist in tentative evaluation. Laboratory experiments have involved card guessing, target guessing, and Ganzfeld setting, but decades of experimentation have not yet established any consistent rationale for clairvoyant faculty, although there is some presumptive evidence for its occurrence under control conditions. Further experimentation with talented subjects is needed to determine the relationship between clairvoyance and other forms of ESP, such as telepathy and psychometry.
(See also Eyeless sight )
Butler, W. E. How to Develop Clairvoyance. New York: Samuel Weiser, 1971.
Dykshoorn, M. B., and Russell H. Felton. My Passport Says Clairvoyant. New York: Hawthorn, 1974.
Edmonds, Simeon. ESP: Extrasensory Perception. London: Aquarian Press, 1965. Reprint, North Hollywood, Calif.: Wilshire Book, 1972.
Fukurai, T. Clairvoyance & Thoughtography. London, 1931. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.
Geley, Gustav. Clairvoyance & Materialisation. London: T. F. Unwin Ltd., 1927.
Gurney, Edmund, F. W. H. Myers, and Frank Podmore. Phantasms of the Living. 2 vols. London: Trubner, 1886. Reprint, Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1970.
Hodson, Godfrey. The Science of Seership. London, 1920.
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Montague, Nell St. John. Revelations of a Society Clairvoyante. London, 1926.
Myers, F. W. H. Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death. 2 vols. London: Longmans, Green, 1903. Abridged edition. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1961.
Osty, Eugene. Supernormal Faculties in Man: An Experimental Study. London: Methuen, 1923.
Pollack, J. H. Croiset the Clairvoyant. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964.
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Van Over, Raymond. ESP & the Clairvoyants. New York: Award Books, Happauge, 1970.
Paranormal perception at a distance in time and space, today classified by parapsychology under such labels as ESP, clairvoyance, precognition and remote viewing. Second sight, as a faculty of foreseeing future events or occurrences happening at the moment at a distance, is traditionally attributed to certain individuals in the Highlands of Scotland.
The medium Daniel Dunglas Home, who claimed descent from a Highland family, was supposed to have second sight and described it in the following way: "A deadly tremor comes over me, and there is a film on my eyes, and I not only see persons, but hear conversations taking place at a distance." While in Paris Home saw his brother, who was then in the North Sea. He saw his fingers and toes fall off. Six months afterward tidings came of the brother having been found dead on the ice, his fingers and toes having fallen off from scurvy.
The chief peculiarity of second sight is that the visions are often of a symbolic character. For example, in March 1927, in a lecture before the Societé Internationale de Philologie, Sciences et Beaux Arts, F. G. Fraser noted: "The vision of coming events which some of the Highlanders possess, used to be accompanied, in some cases, by a nerve storm and by a subsequent prostration. It must not be confused with the sight of apparitions, nor does it depend upon artificial aids, such as accompanied by the invocation of the oracles in classic times."
Samuel Johnson took note of the phenomenon in his 1775 account of A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland: "The foresight of the seers is not always prescience. They are impressed with images, of which the event only shows them the meaning." He denied that "to the second sight nothing is presented but phantoms of evil. Good seems to have the same proportion in those visionary scenes as it obtains in real life." According to some old books (Ranulf Higden's Polychronicon, 1482 and Robert Kirk's Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, 1691) second sight is communicated by touch. Napier's Folklore or Superstitious Beliefs in the West of Scotland (1879) mentions the practice as surviving in the nineteenth century.
The belief in second sight dates back to a very early period in the history of these regions, and has not been altogether eradicated by the encroachments of the twentieth century. And, of course, apart from the name, which is used primarily in Scotland, second sight itself is not exclusive to the Celts of Scotland, for it is allied to the clairvoyance, prophetic vision, soothsaying, and so on, that have been reported from time immemorial in practically every part of the world. Yet the second sight has certain distinctive features of its own.
It may, for instance, be either congenital or acquired. In the former case, it generally falls to the seventh son of a seventh son, by reason of the potency of the mystic number seven. In the days of large families and no birth control, such a person appeared far more frequently than in modern society. Yet again, sometimes Highlanders would find themselves suddenly endowed with the mysterious faculty. A person gifted with second sight is said to be "fey." Generally there is no apparent departure from the normal consciousness during the vision, although sometimes a seer may complain of a feeling of disquiet or uneasiness. A vision may be communicated from one person to another, usually by contact, but the secondary vision is dimmer than that of the original seer.
A frequent vision is that of a funeral, a premonition of a death shortly to occur in the community. This is an instance of the second sight taking a symbolical turn. Occasionally the apparition of the doomed person will be seen—his wraith, or double —while he himself is far distant.
Another form second-sight visions often take is that of "seeing lights." The lights, too, may indicate death, but they may likewise predict lesser happenings. In one instance, a light was seen by two persons to hover above the mansion of an estate, then to travel swiftly in the direction of the gamekeeper's cottage, where it remained stationary for a while. The next day the gamekeeper was found dead.
Animals also are said to possess second sight, especially dogs and horses. Two men were travelling in Scottland from Easdale to Oban on a stormy night. In making a short cut through a wood, one of them died from fatigue and exposure. That night more than one horse had to be carefully led past the spot by his driver, who as yet knew nothing of the tragedy. Many Highlanders used to believe that the faculty was common to all the lower animals, since they whine and bristle when there is nothing visible to human eyes or audible to human ears.
The march of civilization has eroded the occult beliefs of the Highlanders, but they still believe in second sight, even those who claim that they are not in the least "superstitious."
Campbell, John L., and Trevor H. Hall. Strange Things: The Story of Fr. Allan McDonald, Ada Goodrich Freer, and the Society for Psychical Research's Enquiry into Highland Second Sight. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; Philadelphia: Folklore Associates, 1968.
Mackenzie, Alexander. The Prophecies of the Brahan Seer. Stirling, Scotland: Eneas Mackay, 1935. Reprint, London: Constable, 1977.
Macrae, Norman, ed. Highland Second-Sight: With Prophecies of Conneach Odhar of Petty. Dingwall, Scotland: G. Souter, 1908.
Napier, James. Folklore, or Superstitious Beliefs in the West of Scotland, within this Century. Paisley, Scotland, 1879.
Spence, Lewis. Second Sight: Its History and Origins. London: Rider, 1951.
Sutherland, Elizabeth. Ravens and Black Rain: The Story of Highland Second Sight. London: Constable, 1986.
Thompson, Francis. The Supernatural Highlands. London: Robert Hale, 1976.
Clairvoyance is based on increased sensitivity and awareness of potential channels for communication. On some level everyone possesses the ability for prophetic sight: an inner voice warns the woman not to get on the elevator with the stranger, a man decides not to board a plane only to learn later that his flight has crashed. Often clairvoyant abilities surface during or following times of heightened stress, such as serious illness or accident, extreme physical danger, or near death experiences. A smaller proportion of the population, those traditionally thought of as clairvoyant, appear to have mastered the control of their brainpower, resulting in stronger psychic abilities.
Clairvoyant episodes can occur in a fully conscious state, or while dreaming, fasting, or using hallucinogenic drugs. Messages can also be received while the person is in a suspended state or trance. Often clairvoyants will engage in the practice of scrying; concentrating on the shiny surface of an object such as a mirror, stone, or pool of water to help visions materialize. A common image of such is the fortune-teller with her crystal ball.
While the term ‘clairvoyance’ first appeared in English in 1840, the phenomenon of second sight itself is much older. Prophetic predictions have been made for thousands of years in cultures and religions all around the globe. Aristotle wrote on prophesying through dreams. Nostradamus offered many predictions for the coming centuries. Other examples include visions by Russian, Scottish, and Japanese seers as well as numerous Australian and North American aboriginal tribal elders. In some cultures, those with second sight are called sages or wise ones. In other cases, such as Europe in the Middle Ages, such abilities bring charges of witchcraft or heresy.
Often during times of escalated conflict between scientific discovery and religious philosophy a bridge is sought for the gap between the physical and spiritual worlds, and interest in phenomena like clairvoyance, ESP, and the occult rises. Throughout Europe and North America during the second half of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century, numerous people advertised their services as clairvoyants and spirit mediums. Many subscribed to the belief of spiritualism, and hosting séances became a popular form of social gathering. Following World War II, interest in such activities waned, but with the approach of the new millennium interest in predicting the future increased, and clairvoyance has now gone high-tech with the help of psychic hotlines and the Internet.
See also extrasensory perception.
clair·voy·ant / kle(ə)rˈvoiənt/ • n. a person who claims to have a supernatural ability to perceive events in the future or beyond normal sensory contact. • adj. having or exhibiting such an ability. DERIVATIVES: clair·voy·ant·ly adv. ORIGIN: late 17th cent. (in the sense ‘clear-sighted, perceptive’): from French, from clair ‘clear’ + voyant ‘seeing’ (from voir ‘to see’). The current sense dates from the mid 19th cent.
clairvoyance (klâr´voi´əns), alleged power to perceive, as though visually, objects or persons not discernible through the ordinary sense channels. Clairvoyance may occur in a supposedly normal state (second sight) or more generally in a trance induced by various agencies, such as drugs, fasting, illness, or crystal gazing. See spiritism and parapsychology.
sec·ond sight • n. the supposed ability to perceive future or distant events; clairvoyance. DERIVATIVES: sec·ond-sight·ed adj.