Old English læfan “to allow to remain in the same state or condition; to let remain, allow to survive; to have left (of a deceased person, in reference to heirs, etc.); to bequeath (a heritage),” from Proto-Germanic *laibijan (source also of Old Frisian leva “to leave,” Old Saxon farlebid “left over”), causative of *liban“remain” (source of Old English belifan, German bleiben, Gothic bileiban “to remain”), from root *laf- “remnant, what remains,” from PIE *leip- “to stick, adhere;” also “fat” (cognates: Greek lipos “fat;” Old English lifer “liver,” life).

The Germanic root seems to have had only the sense “remain, continue” (which was in Old English as well but has since become obsolete), which also is in Greek lipares “persevering, importunate.” But this usually is regarded as a development from the primary PIE sense of “adhere, be sticky” (compare Lithuanian lipti, Old Church Slavonic lipet “to adhere,” Greek lipos “grease,” Sanskrit rip-/lip- “to smear, adhere to.”

Originally a strong verb (past participle lifen), it early switched to a weak form. Meaning “go away, take one’s departure, depart from; leave behind” (c. 1200) comes from notion of “leave behind” (as in to leave the earth “to die;” to leave the field “retreat”). From c. 1200 as “to stop, cease; give up, relinquish, abstain from having to do with; discontinue, come to an end;” also “to omit, neglect; to abandon, forsake, desert; divorce;” also “allow (someone) to go.”


Leave, Online Etymology Dictionary




It is worth relating that in our days there lived in the neighbourhood of this City of the Legions a certain Welshman called Meilyr who could explain the occult and foretell the future. He acquired his skill in the following way. One evening, and, to be precise, it was Palm Sunday, he happened to meet a girl whom he had loved for a long time. She was very beautiful, the spot was an attractive one, and it seemed too good an opportunity to be missed. He was enjoying himself in her arms and tasting her delights, when suddenly, instead of the beautiful girl, he found in his embrace a hairy creature, rough and shaggy, and, indeed, repulsive beyond words. As he stared at the monster his wits deserted him and he became quite mad. He remained in this condition for many years. Eventually he recovered his health in the church of St David’s, thanks to the virtues of the saintly men of that place. All the same, he retained a very close and most remarkable familiarity with unclean spirits, being able to see them, recognising them, talking to them and calling them each by his own name, so that with their help he could often prophesy the future. Just as they are, too, he was often mistaken about events in the distant future, or happenings far away in space; but he was less often wrong about matters nearer home or likely to occur within the coming year. He nearly always saw these spirits standing close beside him and near at hand. They would appear in the form of huntsmen, with horns hanging round their necks, but it was human souls which they were pursuing, not animals or wild beasts. He saw them most often and in greatest numbers outside monasteries and houses of religion. Wherever man is in revolt, there they deploy their full battalions, there they need their greatest strength. Whenever anyone told a lie in his presence, Meilyr was immediately aware of it, for he saw a demon dancing and exulting on the liar’s tongue. Although he was completely illiterate, if he looked at a book which was incorrect, which contained some false statement, or which aimed at deceiving the reader, he immediately put his finger on the offending passage. If you asked him how he knew this, he said that a devil first pointed out the place with its finger.

Gerald of Wales, Journey Through Wales, 12th century


Second sight is here associated with a similar distressing environment noted in the previous example .

Particular emphasis is placed not just on vision but in accurate retrospective interpretation of it’s signs. Vision may be a child of a chaotic and highly stressed environment,  selection and interpretation is retrospective and an ongoing shared processes of evaluation both by the seer and his audience.

Whilst Meilyr see’s spirits standing beside him, he also views devils dancing on the tongue of a deceiver. Vision here we can suspect ranges from ‘life like’ to symbolic representation and a system in which visual images can be understood by both observer and audience.

The late 17th century focus on vision and second sight increasingly concentrates on the relationship between eye and brain, the tongue and hand are notable additional features of this 12th century text.

The Transmission of All Goodbyes


The Monster In Me

I am about to mix up sources taking them out of context. This is problematic given the arguments surrounding this subject in ethnology and history.

In Scotland the difficulty has been that ethnology has generally taken a deep historical approach which has a tendency to present  the subject as static, history takes a contextual approach looking at the subject in a specific space and time with a tendency to deny the subject a history beyond that .

I prefer the contextual approach of history. I don’t however think that means rejecting the textual history completely. A 16th century historian looking at the subject of the last post may make the conjecture that the subject may be influenced by elite perspectives regarding demons particularly the succubus. Examining the tale over the long term I find myself far more interested in the relationship between the supernatural and the natural world and in the way this sexual motif is associated with man like apes. A processes already long underway that will explode in the 17th century.

I have a sense of the tales past and know it has a future beyond the 16th century.

What comes out of the contextual detail is a reminder of the way these phenomena were experienced. They were living things and a part of peoples lives.

They were seen, they could be felt and touched and had a very direct emotional impact on those who experienced such things.

Lived experience rather than a medieval repetition.

Streams Isle


Stronsay or Sdronsay, so called as if ‘Streams Isle.’ This island is six miles in length and four in breadth: peats are abundant here, and half part is uncultivated. Some here worship God, others not. They also greatly believe in fairies, and say men dying suddenly afterwards live with them, although I do not believe it. Troici, under the name of a marine monster, very often cohabit with women living here, which, when I lived there, a beautiful woman was there married to a sturdy farmer; she was tormented with a great spirit, and was seen against the husband’s will lying in one bed, and he cohabiting naturally with the women. The woman at length became emaciated from sorrow: I advised that she might get free by prayer, alms-giving,  and fasting, and which she did; she was thus troubled during a year. The description of this monster is this. He was covered with marine plants over the whole body, he was similar to a young horse covered with hair, he had a member similar to a horse and large testicles.



A Description of the Orkney Islands by Jo. Ben, 1529

Symbolic System

S Pepys to Lord Reay, 21 November 1699

” Whereas in this case, we are entertain’d with daggers, Shrouds, Arrows, Gibbets, & God knows what, that indeed are not: And consequently must be the creature of the mind only (however directed to them) & not of the eye.”



Daggers, shrouds, arrows and gibbets, these are species of vision that were thought to defy the normal rules of time as they are a species of object that came from the future. Lord Reay suggests they were a species of vision, directly related either to a particular quality found in Scottish air or in a quality found in the eye ball of Scottish seers. Pepy’s counters that with the perspective that it is a quality of mind only. A species of thought.


Domestic Issues

I decided last night any hope of catching sight of fairy belief was going to be rather a forlorn hope. Spent a few days looking at legal sources relating to witchcraft, they are highly localised.

What I am going to have to do is to keep things fluid, messy and build a picture from the ground up.

One of the most significant issues is how do you classify what a fairy is? Any structure here is going to have to take situational features into account. Is for example the wild hunt a fairy concept? Its certainly often associated with fairies. I suspect I may find it is perhaps a subject that will prove interesting when it comes to ask, who actually catches sight of such things? I think with the hunt, I will find a more diverse base of observers.

Can any folk theories on sight and its interpretation help me here? I think the answer here may be yes. Supernatural forms of vision are subject to convention, its a feature found in elite belief and one we will later find in late 17th century peasant culture in Scotland. I will cite some examples next.

Issue here it does not help me understand how people saw faeries more how people viewed the operation of what what we would now term second sight.

More general comparative points, its the subject of convention, what people see is understandable and meaningful to others as it forms a shared symbolic system.

The other thought I am finding useful to hold onto here is the different ways in which the supernatural was viewed in the past. The supernatural realm was real and whilst memorable, a part of everyday life that operated at a domestic level.

Its at this domestic level that we catch sight of fairies in the trial records relating to witchcraft. Symbolic system and meaning here may be viewed as highly localised. The supernatural here is at its most mundane and ordinary, part and parcel of everyday being, intimately confined within a small group of people, captured and playing within it’s rhythm

Supernatural here is small-scale, entangled, within grasp. This highly intimate domestic level is where face to face encounters with the creatures of such realms occur in peasant society.

Blue Sky




Belief expressed by some writers in late 17th century Scotland that second sight is restricted to natives. In order to see in this way you have to be local.

Texts from the period can be quite distinctive, Robert Kirk’s perspective on second sights relationship with faeries is a very individual perspective rather than one drawn from the wider pool of popular belief.

Is the perspective that access to supernatural forms of vision are strictly only open to locals a distinct elite perspective?

A distinctive blood and soil position on the relationship of mind and visual processing?

Trying to work out a low cost comparative way of measuring  that.

Question is simple, in the 16th and 17th century how much evidence exists to suggests that non-native Scots could see Scottish faeries? How localised are sightings and do they involve local people or is the phenomena open to people from outside the neighbourhood?

Evidence pool will be weighted in terms of localised phenomena I suspect, as in large part for this period, legal records of witchcraft trails form a large bulk of the evidence. Accusations here formed in cases of local dispute between neighbours. Highly localised context. I may have to cast my net a bit further.

Wider question is to what extent (if any) is access to the supernatural locked to outsiders.

Is this a belief that develops in the late 17th century, a possible response to the rather complex nature of  identity politics in Britain? Or is the belief related to forms of classification used by the mass of the population at an elite and popular level?