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.”
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.
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.
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
” 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.