So... what is the deal with the Faeries and the Second Sight? It is very simple; I have a deep, profound, interest in the two topics, which are related. I do not have an interest in pseudo Faerie lore, i.e. the cartoon and Disney varieties; I study the folk beliefs of European people, including my own wee tribe. I approach Second Sight also from a factual, even scientific perspective. I became curious about the physics of the phenomenon. The Faerie Faith and the Second Sight show up in my writing projects, so I offer these short essays.
The Faerie Faith:
I have had an interest in the Faerie Faith and Second Sight for over a half century. This interest began when I was a very young boy growing up in Ouachita, Parish, Louisiana. As I boy I discovered books where I discovered the world of European lore and myth. I was enchanted. In this world I found what many people call the Faerie Faith. I probably should just call it the Old Faith, as that is what it is really. By Old Faith, I mean the beliefs of the European people before Christianity was introduced. This in of itself is a massive subject, and I focus my own research and writing on Celtic beliefs with an emphasis on Gaelic Celtic beliefs.
I read, research, and write, about the Old Faith and I use primary sources. While some may think pre-Christian Old Faith literature is scarce, it is not really. If you factor in all the known pre-Christian (and all Abrahamic for that matter) literature of the Greeks and Romans, you will find a wealth of source materials with similarities and cognates that are useful in researching Gaelic beliefs. We do have the literature that comes from medieval Christian monks and clerks. We must view these sources through the filter of those Christian monks and clerks, but their data includes a genesis from Gaelic pagan times.
There are also the Norse and Slavic writings. They also come to us through a Christian filter, but again, there are elements in this lore that also has connections and cognates that are useful in a study of the Old Faith of the Gaels. We may lament that much has been lost and that so few manuscripts have survived intact, but let us also be thankful that the monks did write down so much, so at least we have that. There are other primary sources we can use also. We have linguistic and archeology data, and even DNA results, all can be used to extract information about our ancestors. There is also the Dual Faith element.
The phenomenon of Dual Faith is a living aspect of the Old Faith. It is always present, has been here for millenniums, is practiced daily, and yet is the least talked about, the least written about. The Dual Faith is a double belief system. This is the term that is used to describe a people that are Christian, but retain varying degrees of their pre Christian Old Faith beliefs. The concept is well understood and mid-nineteenth century Russian writers used the term Dvoeverie to describe the phenomenon.
The Russians coined the term Dvoeverie because in the Dual Faith was practiced so widely in the Slavic countries and areas.
Dual Faith is a conscious or unconscious, preservation of pagan beliefs and ritual within a Christian community. The Dual Faith is present in greater and lesser degrees across Europe. The European examples are too many to mention in this short essay, but to point out obvious examples of Gaelic Dual Faith one only needs to look at Halloween, Christmas, Easter, Midsummer’s Day, Lughnasa, etc. These festivals have pagan origins and are celebrated within Christian communities.
The Gaels converted to Christianity in the fifth to seventh centuries. The terminal date is not hard or fixed and there were certainly Gaelic pagans of a sort much later in medieval times. The Gaels certainly converted, but many of their Old Faith ways and beliefs continued on. So much so, the Gaels can certainly be said to practice a Dual Faith. There was a conscious preservation of Old Faith beliefs and ritual practices, but within their Christian communities. There are Holy Wells, which date to pagan times, but with Christian Saints’ names attached to them. The Old Faith rituals, such as Lughnasa, Samhain (Halloween), Christmas, Bríd’s Day, Beltaine, Easter, etc., remained and have thinly veiled pagan trappings.
There is more, as we come to the Faerie Faith proper. The so-called Faerie Faith is nothing more or less than the old gods themselves, still around. The Faerie Faith existed millenniums, it survived Christianity, and it even survived the New Age movement. The Faerie Faith has been quietly practice in the Gaelic homelands in an unbroken continuum for several thousand years. It is still here in the twenty-first century, more or less, intact and still present. The Faerie Faith as it is practiced today is part of a Gaelic Dual Faith.
I will mention two examples of Dual Faith rituals from Ireland and Scotland. First example is the Lughnasa Festival. On the face of it, Lughnasa is a festival for the Gaelic god Lugh and is celebrated from late July through August. It is a harvest festival and there is feasting, dancing, bonfires, and competitions, including various folk arts with music and readings. This very ancient festival managed to survive the twentieth century and is even making a comeback here in the twenty-first century (no doubt in part due to the encouragement to tourism officials always on the lookout for a new way to make money). There are several version of the festival, usually revolving around lore in which the god Lugh ensures the harvest, sometimes with other Gaelic gods as an antagonist.
There are older versions of Lughnasa however.... and more magical ones. In some versions it is Crom Dubh, not Lugh, who presides over the harvest. In Cloghane, County Derry, Crom Dubh's image is seen by the local church where it is an object of luck and healing. The Lughnasa festival in Cloghane village is still called the Domhnach Chruim Dhuibh, i.e. Crom Dubh's Sunday. There is still a saying in the Gaeltacht there, said when someone is pronouncing something is true... Dar Chruim, which means, 'For Crom.' I enjoy this older version of the Lughnasa lore as Crom is the most interesting of gods in the Old Faith. He is complex, a god of fertility, of the natural world, but he also has aspects of the Diespiter. His cognate in Celtic Gaul was, Sucelos, who in turn is a cognate with Jupiter (Zeus).
Another example of Dual Faith among the Gael is the blessing ritual of Seónaidh (anglicised Shoney) in the Hebrides.
Seónaidh is the nickname of Manannan Mac Lir, the Gaelic sea god. Gods were serious business and not to be trifled with. Many of the old gods were know by nicknames as it was bad luck or taboo to say the god’s name outright. In the Hebrides, on Lewis and on Iona, these rituals went on well into the late 1800s into the early twentieth century. These rituals were held on Allhallowtide, which ran from Samhain on 31 October, to All Saints’ Day on 1 November, through All Souls’ Day on 2 November. The ritual involved a libation of ale poured into the sea and a candle lit on the altar of the local church. This was followed by a period of reverence in silence then a village father would extinguish the candle flame and song, dance, music and drink would follow. There is still a Blessing of the Fleet on island of Mull to this day in which there is ale poured into the sea to garner the blessings of Seónaidh.
As Irish and Scottish people migrated to the New World, they brought with them elements of Dual Faith. In my life I have seen it present in my native South and I have experienced it with my own family. As my readers will know, my grandmother, Sarah Pearl McCain née Tweedy, was born in 1883. As a boy I was very fortunate to spend time at her house. There I learned about the Jackro, a type of Gaelic Faerie that inhabited the Southern Uplands. The Jackro could be found in barns, occasionally in houses, and also in the lonely areas of field, mountain, and wood. The Jackro is an Irish anglicised word for a Gruagach, or Brownie. A few of the Faerie Folk migrated to the New World along with the people from Ireland and Scotland. My grandmother also had the Second-Sight. This is an important aspect of the Old Faith and that brings us to the second part of this page.
The phenomenon of Second sight has fascinated me for many years. I was exposed to the Second Sight early in my life, before I even knew what it was. My grandmother had the Second Sight. She was Sarah Pearl McCain née Tweedy, born in Carbondale, in southern Illinois, in 1883. She passed away in 1962, when I was only twelve years old, but I was close to her and despite her passing when I was young, I remember her countenance and personality well. I also remember she had a unique quality to her; it is hard to describe in words, other than to say she had an other world quality. I found out about her Second Sight through a child's eyes and ears. I heard her friends and my relatives talk about it and tell stories. My older brother, Ronnie, was an excellent informant, and he would fill me in with the details of grandmother’s Second Sight even after she had passed on. It was a topic we never tired of nor forgot over the ears. My grandmother herself never mentioned it to me, but we all knew she 'saw' things and had experiences that exist in a world that is not well understood by our sciences.
The Second Sight is so called because normal vision was regarded as coming first, and with certain individuals a supernormal vision developed. The Gaelic term is An Da Shealladh which means "the two sights," meaning normal sight and the sight of the seer. There are many Gaelic words for the various aspects of second sight, but An Da Shealladh is the one mostly recognized by non-Gaelic speakers, even though, strictly speaking, it does not really mean second sight.
Simply put, Second sight is a form of extrasensory perception, the ability to perceive things that are not present to the senses, whereby a person perceives information, in the form of a vision, about future events or events at remote locations. Other manifestations include knowing things about a person just by meeting them, such as their true nature and history, or sometimes by perceiving this by merely handling an object that the person owns. In popular culture it is also called 'the sixth sense.'
As an adult my research discovered that the Second Sight runs in their family. This is not unusual and the Second Sight often report it as an inherited trait. I found records of a Tweedy woman that had been accused of witchcraft in the mid-1600s. I do not know if the woman was a relation to my grandmother's family, but it is very possible. In the mid-1600s people with the Second Sight were sometimes accused of witchcraft and brought to trial. Such was the case of the poor Tweedy woman whose records I read. She was arrested and a trial held. I found the record of the trail, her charges, and also found the brutal method with which she was interrogated. It involved a government paid witch hunter. He would ask questions and then stick her with long metal needles, about the size of a small knitting needle. If the wound bled it meant she was telling the truth, if it did not bleed, this indicated a lie. Yes, I know what you all are thinking, that is insane. She was found guilty and did not survive the ordeal.
My grandmother was born in the hills and ridges of southern Illinois, which is called the Illinois Ozarks. The first settler there were mainly of Scots-Irish origin. Those with the Second Sight are called Seers throughout the Upland South and Backsettlements. Seers were common from Colonial times and there are still some around in Appalachia, the Ozarks and Ouachitas.
© 2018 Barry R McCain