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The Occult Laboratory

The Occult Laboratory: Magic, Science and Second Sight in Late Seventeenth-Century Scotland. A new edition

Edited and Introduced by MICHAEL HUNTER
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 255
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  • Book Info
    The Occult Laboratory
    Book Description:

    The uncanny ability of certain individuals to foresee future events had long been regarded as a characteristic of the Scottish Highlands, but in the late seventeenth century interest in the phenomenon came to a head, stimulated by English scientific and philosophical curiosity about magic, particularly second sight.The natural philosopher Robert Boyle and other English savants investigated these Highland beliefs; they found the region a kind of laboratory, strange yet accessible, where data about unusual beliefs could be collected and theories tested. Scottish authors were also stimulated to write accounts of second sight, notably John Fraser, Dean of the Isles, and the Highland minister, Robert Kirk (1644-92), in his famous work, The Secret Commonwealth. These and other texts are included in this book, making available crucial information about belief systems which might otherwise never have been recorded, and illuminating changing contemporary attitudes towards the relationship between the natural and the supernatural. Contents: TEXTS An Interview with Lord Tarbat, 3 Oct 1678 (Robert Boyle) A Collection of Highland Rites and Customes The Secret Commonwealth (Robert Kirk) Letter to Joh Aubrey on Second Sight Letter to Samuel Pepys on Second Sight Second Sight (John Fraser) Questionnnaires and Responses (Edward Lhuyd and Robert Wodrow, John Fraser and John Maclean) Introductory material (33pp) by Michael Hunter MICHAEL HUNTER is Professor of History, Birkbeck College, University of London.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-010-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-32)

    This book is about a significant but little-known episode. It presents a series of interconnected texts dating from the last twenty years of the seventeenth century, the common theme of which is second sight – in other words, the uncanny ability of certain individuals to foresee future events. This strange phenomenon was particularly associated with the Scottish Highlands, where most documented examples of it were recorded. Yet interest in it came principally from south of the Border, being initially stimulated by enquiries made in 1678 by the English natural philosopher, Robert Boyle.

    Thereafter, a series of figures took up the matter,...

    (pp. 33-50)

    These notes are intended to supplement the Introduction by providing more specific information about each of the texts that follow, its provenance, dating, and previous publication history. In addition, any complication about the texts and any special features of their annotation are noted here.

    All texts from manuscript sources have been presented according to principles outlined elsewhere, which are becoming standard in dealing with material of this kind.¹ Briefly, the MSS have been transcribed literally, retaining original spelling, capitalisation and punctuation; the ampersand has also been retained. Underlining in the original has been denoted by the use of italic. Words...

  6. 1. Robert Boyle’s notes on his interview with Lord Tarbat, 3 October 1678
    (pp. 51-53)
    Robert Boyle and Lord Tarbat

    This afternoon I ‹(R.B.)› received the honnour of a visit from my Lord of Tarbot, accompanied with a very ingenious gentlman of his acquaintance and mine.aAfter some discourse about some rare particulars of the natural History of his Lo[rdship’s] contrey Scotland, occasion was given me, to take notice, that I had been told, that no man was better able than he, to gratify the curiosity I had, to receive some credible information about those, who are said in Scotland to have, what they call The Second Sight, which information invited me to beg his Lo[rdship] to let me know...

  7. 2. ‘A Collection of Highland Rites and Customs’
    (pp. 54-76)

    They borrow the names of Feasts moveable & immovable from the Christian Account; onely they have mercat days held in Saints names unknown in other Languages as Feil Seirbh (thought to be St. Serf or Serbanus) Feil Domhingart, makessag, haden, moden &c.b

    They reckon not by moneths of 30 or 31 days but by four weeks, computing by the Moon, which they much observe almost in all maters.

    They have no proper names to any month except April which they call Diblin; onely, they reckon them by certain Seasons as the most cold Season fourteen days before Candlmasse & 14...

  8. 3. Robert Kirk’s The Secret Commonwealth and his ‘A Short Treatise of the Scotish-Irish Charms and Spells’
    (pp. 77-117)
    Robert Kirk

    1. THESE sith,’s or Fairies, they callsluag[h] maitheor the good people: (it would seem, to prevent the dint of their ill attempts: for the Irish use to bless all they fear harme of) and are said to be of a midle nature betwixt man and Angell (as were dæmons thought to be of old); of intelligent studious /p. 2/ Spirits, and light changable bodies (lik those called Astrall) somewhat of the nature of a condens’d cloud, and best seen in twilight. These bodies be5so plyable thorowgh the subtilty of the spirits, that agitate them, that they...

  9. 4. James Garden’s letters to John Aubrey
    (pp. 118-159)
    James Garden and John Aubrey

    Honoured Sir,

    Yours dated at London April 9th – 92 came to my hands about ten dayes after. Since that time I have been using my best endeavours for obtaining a satisfactory answer to your Quære’s: if that which I now send you be not such, as I desired & it may be you expected, it is none of my fault: For I not only went and visited sundrie of those antiquities (to the number of six or seaven) concerning which you desire to be informed; but also employed the assistance of my freinds, whereof some were going from this place...

  10. 5. Samuel Pepys’s collection of letters on second sight
    (pp. 160-186)
    Samuel Pepys

    Honoured Sir,

    I would have written to you severall tymes as I promised to give you an account of all the information I could make in those things you recomended to me but that I was so harrassed with troublesome affairs since I came to this Kingdome that I had no tyme till of late to inquire unto them. Since I have made some but can’t promise the’l answer your exspectation thô I spared no pains in informing myself of all those that either by experience or learning could have any knowledge in them, and in a word I informed...

  11. 6 John Fraser’s Δευτεροσχοπια
    (pp. 187-204)
    John Fraser

    The Reverend Author of the ensuing Discourse having married my near Kinswoman, and being in this City inNovemb. 1700, in order to the settling of some of his Affairs; as we were discoursing of several things relating to theHighlandsandWestern IslesofScotland, we came to speak of theSecond Sight, reported to be so common in these parts; he told me, that as to the thing itself, it was most certain and undeniable, and that he could give many instances of it; As also that he had written a short Discourse upon that Subject. This he...

  12. 7. Edward Lhuyd’s and Robert Wodrow’s questionnaires and the responses of John Fraser and John MacLean
    (pp. 205-216)
    Edward Lhuyd, Robert Wodrow, John Fraser and John MacLean

    ———But it lies not in their way to be so immediately assisting in the undertaking I am engagd in; in regard, they are strangers to the old Scottish Language & customes, the comparing of which with the Welsh, Cornish, & Armorican is one part of my design. I therefore make bold to addresse my self to you for your kind assistance; & intreat you that besides you’r own trouble, you would prevail with some friend or two (in regard it may prove tedious) to contribute their helping hand. In return I can only promise that if hereafter it may...

    (pp. 217-228)
  14. APPENDIX: Quotations of Biblical Passages Cited in the Texts above
    (pp. 229-232)
    (pp. 233-237)
    (pp. 238-240)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 241-247)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 248-248)