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Andrew Lang

’Opening the Gates of Distance’

The Making of Religion: Chapter IV (1900)

Published on: Saturday 28 October 2006

Keywords :

Andrew Lang, ’Opening the Gates of Distance’, The Making of Religion, (Chapter IV), Longmans, Green, and C°, London, New York and Bombay, 1900, pp. 65-83.


’To open the Gates of Distance’ is the poetical Zulu phrase for what is called clairvoyance, or vue à distance. This, if it exists, is the result of a faculty of undetermined nature, whereby knowledge of remote events may be acquired, not through normal channels of sense. As the Zulus say: ’Isiyezi is a state in which a man becomes slightly insensible. He is awake, but still sees things which he would not see if he were not in a state of ecstasy (nasiyesi).’ [1] The Zulu description of isiyezi includes what is technically styled ’dissociation.’ No psychologist or pathologist will deny that visions of an hallucinatory sort may occur in dissociated states, say in the petit mal of epilepsy. The question, however, is whether any such visions convey actual information not otherwise to be acquired, beyond the reach of chance coincidence to explain.

A Scottish example, from the records of a court of law, exactly illustrates the Zulu theory. At the moment when the husband of Jonka Dyneis was in danger six miles from her house in his boat, Jonka ’was found, and seen standing at her own house wall in a trance, and being taken, she could not give answer, but stood as bereft of her senses, and when she was asked why she was so moved, she answered, "If our boat be not lost, she was in great hazard."’ (October 2, 1616.) [2]

The belief in opening the Gates of Distance is, of course, very widely diffused. The gift is attributed to Apollonius of Tyana, to Plotinus, to many Saints, to Catherine de’ Medici, to the Rev. Mr. Peden, [3] and to Jeanne d’Arc, while the faculty is the stock in trade of savage seers in all regions. [4]

The question, however, on which Mr. Tylor does not touch, is, Are any of the stories true? If so, of course they would confirm in the mind of the savage his theory of the wandering soul. Now, to find anything like attested cases of successful clairvoyance among savages is a difficult task. White men either scout the idea, or are afraid of seeming superstitious if they give examples, or, if they do give examples, are accused of having sunk to the degraded level of Zulus or Red Indians. Even where travellers, like Scheffer, have told about their own experiences, the narratives are omitted by modern writers on savage divination. [5] We must therefore make our own researches, and it is to be noted that the stories of successful savage clairvoyance are given as illustrations merely, not as evidence to facts, for we cannot cross-examine the witnesses.

Mr. Tylor dismisses the topic in a manner rather cavalier:

’Without discussing on their merits the accounts of what is called "second sight," [6] it may be pointed out that they are related among savage tribes, as when Captain Jonathan Carver obtained from a Cree medicine-man a true prophecy of the arrival of a canoe with news next day at noon; or when Mr. J. Mason Brown, travelling with two voyageurs on the Copper Mine River, was met by Indians of the very band he was seeking, these having been sent by their medicine-man, who, on enquiry, stated that "he saw them coming, and heard them talk on their journey."’ [7]

Now, in our opinion, the ’merits’ of stories of second sight need discussion, because they may, if well attested, raise a presumption that the savage’s theory has a better foundation than Mr. Tylor supposes. Oddly enough, though Mr. Tylor does not say so, Dr. Brinton (from whom he borrows his two anecdotes) is more or less of our opinion.

’There are,’ says Dr. Brinton, ’statements supported by unquestionable testimony, which ought not to be passed over in silence, and yet I cannot but approach them with hesitation. They are so revolting to the laws of exact science, so alien, I had almost said, to the experience of our lives. Yet is this true, or are such experiences only ignored and put aside without serious consideration?’

That is exactly what we complain of; the alleged facts are ’put aside without serious consideration.’

We, at least, are not slaves to the idea that ’the laws of exact science’ must be the only laws at work in the world. Science, however exact, does not pretend to have discovered all ’laws.’

To return to actual examples of the alleged supernormal acquisition of knowledge by savages: Dr. Brinton gives an example from Charlevoix and General Mason Brown’s anecdote. [8] In General Mason Brown’s instance the medicine-man, at a great distance, bade his emissaries ’seek three whites, whose horses, arms, attire, and personal appearance he minutely described, which description was repeated to General Brown by the warriors before they saw his two companions.’ General Brown assured Dr. Brinton of ’the accuracy of this in every particular.’ Mr. Tylor has certainly not improved the story in his condensed version. Dr. Brinton refers to ’many’ tales such as these, and some will be found in ’Among the Zulus,’ by Mr. David Leslie (1875).

Mr. Leslie was a Scottish sportsman, brought up from boyhood in familiarity with the Zulus. His knowledge of their language and customs was minute, and his book, privately printed, contains much interesting matter. He writes:

’I was obliged to proceed to the Zulu country to meet my Kaffir elephant-hunters, the time for their return having arrived. They were hunting in a very unhealthy country, and I had agreed to wait for them on the North-East border, the nearest point I could go to with safety. I reached the appointed rendezvous, but could not gain the slightest intelligence of my people at the kraal.

’After waiting some time, and becoming very uneasy about them, one of my servants recommended me to go to the doctor, and at last, out of curiosity and pour passer le temps, I did go.

’I stated what I wanted—information about my hunters—and I was met by a stern refusal. "I cannot tell anything about white men," said he, "and I know nothing of their ways." However, after some persuasion and promise of liberal payment, impressing upon him the fact that it was not white men but Kaffirs I wanted to know about, he at last consented, saying "he would open the Gate of Distance, and would travel through it, even although his body should lie before me."

’His first proceeding was to ask me the number and names of my hunters. To this I demurred, telling him that if he obtained that information from me he might easily substitute some news which he may have heard from others, instead of the "spiritual telegraphic news" which I expected him to get from his "familiar."

’To this he answered: "I told you I did not understand white men’s ways; but if I am to do anything for you it must be done in my way—not yours." On receiving this fillip I felt inclined to give it up, as I thought I might receive some rambling statement with a considerable dash of truth, it being easy for anyone who knew anything of hunting to give a tolerably correct idea of their motions.

’However, I conceded this point also, and otherwise satisfied him.

’The doctor then made eight little fires—that being the number of my hunters; on each he cast some roots, [9] which emitted a curious sickly odour and thick smoke; into each he cast a small stone, shouting, as he did so, the name to which the stone was dedicated; then he ate some "medicine," and fell over in what appeared to be a trance for about ten minutes, during all which time his limbs kept moving. Then he seemed to wake, went to one of the fires, raked the ashes about, looked at the stone attentively, described the man faithfully, and said: "This man has died of the fever, and your gun is lost."

’To the next fire as before: "This man" (correctly described) "has killed four elephants," and then he described the tusks. The next: "This man" (again describing him) "has been killed by an elephant, but your gun is coming home," and so on through the whole, the men being minutely and correctly described; their success or non-success being equally so. I was told where the survivors were, and what they were doing, and that in three months they would come out, but as they would not expect to find me waiting on them there so long after the time appointed, they would not pass that way.

’I took a particular note of all this information at the time, and to my utter amazement it turned out correct in every particular.

’It was scarcely within the bounds of possibility that this man could have had ordinary intelligence of the hunters; they were scattered about in a country two hundred miles away.’

Mr. Leslie could discover no explanation, nor was any suggested by friends familiar with the country and the natives whom he consulted. He gives another example, which may be explained by ’suggestion.’ A parallel case from Central Africa will be found in the ’Journal of the Anthropological Institute,’ November 1897, p. 320, where ’private information,’ as usual, would explain the singular facts.

The Zulus themselves lay claim to a kind of clairvoyance which looks like the result of intense visualising power, combined with the awakening of the subconscious memory. [10]

’There is among black men a something which is divination within them. When anything valuable is lost, they look for it at once; when they cannot find it, each one begins to practise this inner divination, trying to feel where the thing is; for, not being able to see it, he feels internally a pointing, which tells him if he will go down to such a place it is there, and he will find it. At length it says he will find it; at length he sees it, and himself approaching it; before he begins to move from where he is, he sees it very clearly indeed, and there is an end of doubt. That sight is so clear that it is as though it was not an inner sight, but as if he saw the very thing itself, and the place where it is; so he quickly arises and goes to the place. If it is a hidden place he throws himself into it, as though there was something that impelled him to go as swiftly as the wind; and, in fact, he finds the thing, if he has not acted by mere head-guessing. If it has been done by real inner divination, he really sees it. But if it is done by mere head-guessing and knowledge that he has not gone to such a place and such a place, and that therefore it must be in such another place, he generally misses the mark.’

Other Zulu instances will be given under the heads ’Possession’ and ’Fetishism.’

To take a Northern people: In his ’History of the Lapps’ [11] Scheffer describes mechanical modes of divination practised by that race, who use a drum and other objects for the purpose. These modes depend on more traditional rules for interpreting the accidental combinations of lots. But a Lapp confessed to Scheffer, with tears, that he could not help seeing visions, as he proved by giving Scheffer a minute relation ’of whatever particulars had happened to me in my journey to Lapland. And he further complained that he know not how to make use of his eyes, since things altogether distant were presented to them.’ This Lapp was anxious to become a Christian, hence his regret at being a ’rare and valuable’ example of clairvoyance. Torfaeus also was posed by the clairvoyance of a Samoyed, as was Regnard by a Lapp seer. [12]

The next case is of old date, and, like the other savage examples, is merely given for purposes of illustration.

25e Lettre. [13]

’"Suite des Traditions des Sauvages."

’Au Fort de la Rivière de St. Joseph, ce 14 Septembre 1721.

’"Des Jongleurs"— ... Vous ayez vu à Paris Madame de Marson, & elle y est encore; voici ce que M. le Marquis de Vaudreuil son Gendre, actuellement notre Gouverneur Général, me raconta cet Hyver, & qu’il a sçu? de cette Dame, qui n’est rien moins qu’un esprit foible. Elle etoit un jour fort inquiette an sujet de M. de Marson, son Mari, lequel commandoit dans un Poste, que nous avions en Accadie; et etoit absent, & le tems qu’il avoit marqué pour son retour, etoit passé.

’Une Femme Sauvage, qui vit Madame de Marson en peine, lui en demanda la cause, & l’ayant apprise, lui dit, après y avoir un peu rêvé, de ne plus se chagriner, que son époux reviendroit tel jour et à telle heure, qu’elle lui marqua, avec un chapeau gris sur la tête. Comme elle s’apperçut que la Dame n’ajoutoit point foi à sa prédiction, au jour & à l’heure, qu’elle avoit assignée, elle rotourna chez elle, lui demanda si elle ne vouloit pas venir voir arriver son Mari, & la pressa de telle sorte de la suivre, qu’elle l’entraîna au bord de la Rivière.

’A peine y etoient-elles arrivées, que M. de Marson parut dans un Canot, un chapeau gris sur la tête; & ayant appris ce qui s’étoit passé, assûra qu’il ne pouvoit pas comprendre comment la Sauvagesse avoit pû sçavoir l’heure & le jour de son arrivée.’

It is unusual for European travellers and missionaries to give anecdotes which might seem to ’confirm the delusions of benighted savages.’ Such anecdotes, again, are among the arcana of these wild philosophers, and are not readily communicated to strangers. When successful cases are reported, it is natural to assert that they come through Europeans who have sunk into barbarous superstition, or that they may be explained by fraud and collusion. It is certain, however, that savage proficients believe in their own powers, though no less certainly they will eke them out by imposture. Seers are chosen in Zululand, as among Eskimos and Samoyeds, from the class which in Europe supplies the persons who used to be, but are no longer the most favourite hypnotic subjects, ’abnormal children,’ epileptic and hysterical. These are subjected to ’a long and methodical course of training.’ [14] Stoll, speaking of Guatemala, says that ’certainly most of the induced and spontaneous phenomena with which we are familiar occur among savages,’ and appeals to travellers for observations. [15] Information is likely to come in, as educated travellers devote attention to the topic.

Dr. Callaway translates some Zulu communications which indicate the amount of belief in this very practical and sceptical people. Amusing illustrations of their scepticism will be quoted later, under ’Possession,’ but they do accept as seers certain hysterical patients. These are tested by their skill in finding objects which have been hidden without their knowledge. They then behave much like Mr. Stuart Cumberland, but have not the advantage of muscular contact with the person who knows where the hidden objects are concealed. The neighbours even deny that they have hidden anything at all. ’When they persist in their denial ... he finds all the things that they have hidden. They see that he is a great inyanga (seer) when he has found all the things they have concealed.’ No doubt he is guided, perhaps in a super-sensitive condition, by the unconscious indications of the excited spectators.

The point is that, while the savage conjurer will doubtless use fraud wherever he can, still the experience of low races is in favour of employing as seers the class of people who in Europe were, till recently, supposed to make the best hypnotic subjects. Thus, in West Africa, ’the presiding elders, during your initiation to the secret society of your tribe, discover this gift [of Ebumtupism, or second sight], and so select you as "a witch doctor."’[15] Among the Karens, the ’Wees,’ or prophets, ’are nervous excitable men, such as would become mediums,’ [16] as mediums are diagnosed by Mr. Tylor.

In short, not to multiply examples, there is an element of actual observation and of bona fides entangled in the trickery of savage practice. Though the subjects may be selected partly because of the physical phenomena of convulsions which they exhibit, and which favourably impress their clients, they are also such subjects as occasionally yield that evidence of supernormal faculty which is
investigated by modern psychologists, like Richet, Janet, and William James.

The following example, by no means unique, shows the view taken by savages of their own magic, after they have become Christians. Catherine Wabose, a converted Red Indian seeress, described her preliminary fast, at the age of puberty. After six days of abstention from food she was rapt away to an unknown place, where a radiant being welcomed her. Later a dark round object promised her the gift of prophecy. She found her natural senses greatly sharpened by lack of food. She first exercised her powers when her kinsfolk in large numbers were starving, a medicine-lodge, or ’tabernacle’ as Lufitau calls it, was built for her, and she crawled in. As is well known, these lodges are violently shaken during the magician’s stay within them, which the early Jesuits at first attributed to muscular efforts by the seers. In 1637 PËre Lejeune was astonished by the violent motions of a large lodge, tenanted by a small man. One sorcerer, with an appearance of candour, vowed that ’a great wind entered boisterously,’ and the Father was assured that, if he went in himself, he would become clairvoyant. He did not make the experiment. The Methodist convert, Catherine, gave the same description of her own experience: ’The lodge began shaking violently by supernatural means. I knew this by the compressed current of air above, and the noise of motion.’ She had been beating a small drum and singing, now she lay quiet. The radiant ’orbicular’ spirit then informed her that they ’must go westwards for game; how short-sighted you are!’ ’The advice was taken and crowned by instant success.’ This established her reputation. [17] Catherine’s conversion was led up to by a dream of her dying son, who beheld a Sacred Figure, and received from Him white raiment. Her magical songs tell how unseen hands shake the magic lodge. They invoke the Great Spirit that

’Illumines earth
Illumines heaven!
Ah, say what Spirit, or Body, is this Body,
That fills the world around,
Speak, man, ah say
What Spirit, or Body, is this Body?’

It is like a savage hymn to Hegel’s fühlende Seele: the all-pervading Sensitive Soul. We are reminded, too, of ’the doctrine of the Sanscrit Upanishads: There is no limit to the knowing of the Self that knows.’ [18]

Unluckily Catherine was not asked to give other examples of what she considered her successes.

Acosta, who has not the best possible repute as an authority, informs us that Peruvian clairvoyants ’tell what hath passed in the furthest parts before news can come. In the distance of two or three hundred leagues they would tell what the Spaniards did or suffered in their civil wars.’ To Du Pont, in 1606, a sorcerer ’rendered a true oracle of the coming of Poutrincourt, saying his Devil had told him so.’ [19]

We now give a modern case, from a scientific laboratory, of knowledge apparently acquired in no normal way, by a person of the sort usually chosen to be a prophet, or wizard, by savages.

Professor Richet writes: [20]

’On Monday, July 2, 1888, after having passed all the day in my laboratory, I hypnotised Léonie at 8 P.M., and while she tried to make out a diagram concealed in an envelope I said to her quite suddenly: "What has happened to M. Langlois?" Léonie knows M. Langlois from having seen him two or three times some time ago in my physiological laboratory, where he acts as my assistant.—"He has burnt himself," Léonie replied,—"Good," I said, "and where has he burnt himself?"—"On the left hand. It is not fire: it is—I don’t know its name. Why does he not take care when he pours it out?"—"Of what colour," I asked, "is the stuff which he pours out?"—"It is not red, it is brown; he has hurt himself very much—the skin puffed up directly."

’Now, this description is admirably exact. At 4 P.M. that day M. Langlois had wished to pour some bromine into a bottle. He had done this clumsily, so that some of the bromine flowed on to his left hand, which held the funnel, and at once burnt him severely. Although he at once put his hand into water, wherever the bromine had touched it a blister was formed in a few seconds—a blister which one could not better describe than by saying, "the skin puffed up." I need not say that LÈonie had not left my house, nor seen anyone from my laboratory. Of this I am absolutely certain, and I am certain that I had not mentioned the incident of the burn to anyone. Moreover, this was the first time for nearly a year that M. Langlois had handled bromine, and when Léonie saw him six months before at the laboratory he was engaged in experiments of quite another kind.’

Here the savage reasoner would infer that Léonie’s spirit had visited M. Langlois. The modern inquirer will probably say that Léonie became aware of what was passing in the mind of M. Richet. This supranormal way of acquiring knowledge was observed in the last century by M. de Puységur in one of his earliest cases of somnambulism. MM. Binet and Féré say: ’It is not yet admitted that the subject is able to divine the thoughts of the magnetiser without any material communication;’ while they grant, as a minimum, that ’research should be continued in this direction.’ [21] They appear to think that LÈonie may have read ’involuntary signs’ in the aspect of M. Richet. This is a difficult hypothesis.

Here follows a case recorded in his diary by Mr. Dobbie, of Adelaide, Australia, who has practised hypnotism for curative purposes. He explains (June 10, 1884) that he had mesmerised Miss ---- on several occasions to relieve rheumatic pain and sore throat. He found her to be clairvoyant.

’The following is a verbatim account of the second time I tested her
powers in this respect, April 12, 1884. There were four persons present during the séance. One of the company wrote down the replies as they were spoken.

’Her father was at the time over fifty miles away, but we did not know exactly where, so I questioned her as follows: "Can you find your father at the present moment?" At first she replied that she could not see him, but in a minute or two she said, "Oh, yes; now I can see him, Mr. Dobbie." "Where is he?" "Sitting at a large table in a large room, and there are a lot of people going in and out." "What is he doing?" "Writing a letter, and there is a book in front of him." "Whom is he writing to?" "To the newspaper." Here she paused and laughingly said, "Well, I declare, he is writing to the A B" (naming a newspaper). "You said there was a book there. Can you tell me what book it is?" "It has gilt letters on it." "Can you read them, or tell me the name of the author?" She read, or pronounced slowly, "W.L.W." (giving the full surname of the author). She answered several minor questions re the furniture in the room, and I then said to her, "Is it any effort or trouble to you to travel in this way?" "Yes, a little; I have to think."

’I now stood behind her, holding a half-crown in my hand, and asked her if she could tell me what I had in my hand, to which she replied, "It is a shilling." It seemed as though she could see what was happening miles away easier than she could see what was going on in the room.

’Her father returned home nearly a week afterwards, and was perfectly astounded when told by his wife and family what he had been doing on that particular evening; and, although previous to that date he was a thorough sceptic as to clairvoyance, he frankly admitted that my clairvoyant was perfectly correct in every particular. He also informed us that the book referred to was a new one, which he had purchased after he had left his home, so that there was no possibility of his daughter guessing that he had the book before him. I may add that the letter in due course appeared in the paper; and I saw and handled the book.’

A number of cases of so-called ’clairvoyance’ will be found in the ’Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research.’ [22] As the authors of these essays remark, even after discounting, in each case, fraud, malobservation, and misreporting, the residue of cases can seldom justify either the savage theory of the wandering soul (which is not here seriously proposed) or Hegel’s theory that the fühlende Seele is unconditioned by space. For, if thought transference be a fact, the apparent clairvoyant may only be reading the mind of a person at a distance. The results, however, when successful, would naturally suggest to the savage thinker the belief in the wandering soul, or corroborate it if it had already been suggested by the common phenomena of dreaming.

To these instances of knowledge acquired otherwise than by the recognised channels of sense we might add the Scottish tales of ’second sight.’ That phrase is merely a local term covering examples of what is called ’clairvoyance’—views of things remote in space, hallucinations of sight that coincide with some notable event, premonitions of things future, and so on. The belief and hallucinatory experiences are still very common in the Highlands, where I have myself collected many recent instances. Mr. Tylor observes that the examples ’prove a little too much; they vouch not only for human apparitions, but for such phantoms as demon dogs, and for still more fanciful symbolic omens.’ This is perfectly true. I have found no cases of demon dogs; but wandering lights, probably of meteoric or miasmatic origin, are certainly regarded as tokens of death. This is obviously a superstitious hypothesis, the lights being real phenomena misconstrued. Again, funerals are not uncommonly seen where no funeral is taking place; it is then alleged that a real funeral, similar and similarly situated, soon afterwards occurred. On the hypothesis of believers, the percipients somehow behold

’Such refraction of events
As often rises ere they rise.’

Even the savage cannot account for this experience by the wandering of the soul in space; nor do I suggest any explanation. I give, however, one or two instances. They are published in the ’Journal of the Caledonian Medical Society,’ 1897, by Dr. Alastair Macgregor, on the authority of the MSS. of his father, a minister in the island of Skye.

’He once told me that when he first went to Skye he scoffed at the idea of such a power as second sight being genuine; but he said that, after having been there for some years as a clergyman, he had been so often consulted beforehand by people who said they had seen visions of events which subsequently occurred, to my father’s knowledge, in exact accordance with the form and details of the vision as foretold, that he was compelled to confess that some folks had, apparently at least, the unfortunate faculty.

’As my father expressed it, this faculty was "neither voluntary nor constant, and was considered rather annoying than agreeable to the possessors of it. The gift was possessed by individuals of both sexes, and its fits came on within doors and without, sitting and standing, at night and by day, and at whatever employment the votary might chance to be engaged."’

Here follows a typical example of the vision of a funeral:

’The session clerk at Dull, a small village in Perthshire, was ill, and my grandfather, clergyman there at the time, had to do duty for him. One fine summer evening, about 7 o’clock, a young man and woman came to get some papers filled up, as they were going to be married. My grandfather was with the couple in the session clerk’s room, no doubt attending to the papers, when suddenly all three saw through the window a funeral procession passing along the road. From their dress the bulk of the mourners seemed to be farm labourers—indeed the young woman recognised some of them as natives of Dull, who had gone to live and work near Dunkeld. Remarks were naturally made by my grandfather and the young couple about the untimely hour for a funeral, and, hastily filling in the papers, my grandfather went out to get the key of the churchyard, which was kept in the manse, as, without the key, the procession could not get into God’s acre. Wondering how it was that he had received no intimation of the funeral, he went to the manse by a short cut, got the key, and hurried down to the churchyard gate, where, of course, he expected to find the cortège waiting. Not a soul was there except the young couple, who were as amazed as my grandfather!

’Well, at the same hour in the evening of the same day in the following week the funeral, this time in reality, arrived quite unexpectedly. The facts were that a boy, a native of Dull, had got gored by a bull at Dunkeld, and was so shockingly mangled that his remains were picked up and put into a coffin and taken without delay to Dull. A grave was dug as quickly as possible—the poor lad having no relatives—and the remains were interred. My grandfather and the young couple recognised several of the mourners as being among those whom they had seen out of the session clerk’s room, exactly a week previously, in the phantom cortège. The young woman knew some of them personally, and related to them what she had seen, but they of course denied all knowledge of the affair, having been then in Dunkeld.’

I give another example, because the experience was auditory, as well as visual, and the prediction was announced before the event.

’The parishioners in Skye were evidently largely imbued with the Romanist-like belief in the powers of intercession vested in their clergyman; so when they had a "warning" or "vision" they usually consulted my father as to what they could do to prevent the coming disaster befalling their relatives or friends. In this way my father had the opportunity of noting down the minutiae of the "warning" or "vision" directly it was told him. Having had the advantage of a medical, previous to his theological, training, he was able to note down sound facts, unembellished by superadded imagination. Entering into this method of case-taking with a mind perfectly open, except for a slight touch of scepticism, he was greatly surprised to discover how very frequently realisations occurred exactly in conformance with the minutiae of the vision as detailed in his note-book. Finally, he was compelled to discard his scepticism, and to admit that some people had undoubtedly the uncanny gift. Almost the first case he took (Case X.) was that of a woman who had one day a vision of her son falling over a high rock at Uig, in Skye, with a sheep or lamb.

’CASE X.—She heard her son exclaim in Gaelic, "This is a fatal lamb for me." As her son lived several miles from Uig, and was a fisherman, realisation seemed to my father very unlikely, but one month afterwards the realisation occurred only too true. Unknown to his mother, who had warned him against having anything to do with sheep or lambs, the son one day, instead of going out in his boat, thought he would take a holiday inland, and went off to Uig, where a farmer enlisted his services in separating some lambs from the ewes. One of the lambs ran away, and the fisher lad ran headlong after it, and not looking where he was going, on catching the lamb was pulled by it to the edge of one of the very picturesque but exceedingly dangerous rocks at Uig. Too late realizing his critical position, he exclaimed, "This is a fatal lamb for me," but going with such an impetus he was unable to bring himself up in time, and, along with the lamb, fell over into the ravine below, and was, of course, killed on the spot. The farmer, when he saw the lad’s danger, ran to his assistance, but was only in time to hear him cry out in Gaelic before disappearing over the brink of the precipice. This was predicted by the mother a month before. Was this simply a coincidence?’

Dr. Macgregor’s remarks on the involuntary and unwelcome nature of the visions is borne out by what Scheffer, as already quoted, says concerning the Lapps.

In addition to visions which thus come unsought, contributing knowledge of things remote or even future, we may glance at visions which are provoked by various methods. Drugs (impepo) are used, seers whirl in a wild dance till they fall senseless, or trance is induced by various kinds of self-suggestion or ’auto-hypnotism.’ Fasting is also practised. In modern life the self-induced trance is common among ’mediums’—a subject to which we recur later.

So far, it will be observed, our evidence proves that precisely similar beliefs as to man’s occasional power of opening the gates of distance have been entertained in a great variety of lands and ages, and by races in every condition of culture. [23] The alleged experiences are still said to occur, and have been investigated by physiologists of the eminence of M. Richet. The question cannot but arise as to the residuum of fact in these narrations, and it keeps on arising.

In the following chapter we discuss a mode of inducing hallucinations which has for anthropologists the interest of universal diffusion. The width of its range in savage races has not, we believe, been previously observed. We then add facts of modern experience, about the authenticity of which we, personally, entertain no doubt; and the provisional conclusion appears to be that savages have observed a psychological circumstance which has been ignored by professed psychologists, and which, certainly, does not fit into the ordinary materialistic hypothesis.

View online : Crystal visions, savage and civilised (The Making of Religion: Chapter V)


[1Callaway, Religion of the Zulus, p. 232.

[2Graham Dalzell, Darker Superstitions of Scotland, p. 481.

[3See good evidence in Ker of Kersland’s Memoirs.

[4Autus Gellius, xv. 18, Dio Cassius, lxvii., Crespet, De la Haine du Diable, Procès de Jeanne d’Arc.

[5See ’Shamanism in Siberia,’ J.A.I., November 1894, pp. 147-149, and compare Scheffer. The article is very learned and interesting.

[6Williams mentions second sight in Fiji, but gives no examples.

[7Primitive Culture, i. 447. Mr. Tylor cites Dr. Brinton’s Myths of the New World, p. 269. The reference in the recent edition is p. 289. Carver’s case is given under the head ’Possession’ later.

[8Journal Historique p. 362; Atlantic Monthly, July 1866.

[9Probably impepo, eaten by seers, according to Callaway.

[10Callaway’s Religion of the Amazulu, p. 358.

[11Oxford, 1674.


[13From Charlevoix, Journal Historique, p. 362.

[14Bastian, Ueber psych. Beobacht. p.21.

[15Miss Kingsley, Travels in West Africa, p. 460.

[16Primitive Culture, ii, 181; Mason’s Burmah, p. 107.

[17Schoolcraft, i. 394.

[18Brinton’s Religions of Primitive Peoples, p. 57.

[19Purchas, p. 629.

[20S.P.R. Proceedings, vol. vi. 69.

[21Binet and Féré, Animal Magnetism, p. 64.

[22Vol. vii. Mrs. Sidgwick, pp. 30, 356; vol. vi. p. 66, Professor Richet, p. 407, Drs. Dufay and Azam.

[23The examples in the Old Testament, and in the Life of St. Columba by Adamnan, need only be alluded to as too familiar for quotation.

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