The Manx people in former times held a belief, of which a memory still lingers, that once in several years the rising sun flashed on the world a momentary ray or tincture of his light which was charged with a special potency.
If a glimpse could be caught of this portent it conferred on the lucky beholder some benefit in the nature of Second Sight or divinatory power, or occult knowledge of some kind. As it was necessary that the sun should be seen in the very act of rising, it may be supposed that it was coming up out of the sea, and I take the belief to have resulted from the acquaintance of a race of fishermen and herdsmen with the natural phenomenon generally called ‘THE GREEN RAY’ or ‘THE GREEN FLASH.’
I addressed an inquiry to the newspaper about this aspect of the matter. My letter elicited one response only but it furnished the desired details:
SIR, – I should like to corroborate the statement of your correspondent Mr Gill in your issue of 30th August, that something like ‘the Green Flash’ appears occasionally in Manx folk-lore. The old Manx name for it is SOILSHEY-BIO or LIVING LIGHT, and I have gathered the impression without having been actually told so, that it was thought to be an emanation of the sun’s life in much the same way as the ‘living image’ or apparition of a living person, is believed to be an emanation of the personality or will.
The SOILSHEY-BIO is, however, sometimes taken as a warning sign. In several fragments taken down by me from Manx fisherfolk, the ‘flash’ was seen at sunrise on the morning preceding a wreck of one or more boats, sometimes by a relative of men actually lost and in other cases by the men themselves who took the warning and withdrew from the fated enterprise.
Perhaps the real significance of this danger-signal aspect of the SOILSHEY-BIO may be a belief that it conferred upon the watcher a kind of second-sight, enabling him or her to apprehend coming events. At any rate, the ‘flash’ certainly also had its beneficial side in popular belief, and in this aspect it was made use of by the old charmers or witch-doctors who flourished in the Island until recently. It was believed by them that if this strange ray fell upon certain medicinal herbs and they were gathered immediately afterwards, they acquired an almost miraculous power.
I had this belief directly from a very old man who was, I should think, about the last survivor of the charmers, and who claimed to be able to cure ‘all diseases of body or mind in man, woman or child,’ provided that the sufferer came to him in good time and that he did not ‘see the sign of death’ on him or her. This man also told me that if any person could find what he called ‘the herb of life’ at the moment when it was touched by the SOILSHEY-BIO death would never touch him or anyone to whom he gave a portion of the herb to eat.
Isle of Man
(source: A Second Manx Scrapbook by W. Walter Gill, 1932; artwork)