The Brahan Seer: Legend, Folklore & Prophecies all Surround Scotland's Answer To Nostradamus

The Brahan Seer is revered in Scottish folklore as a man who was gifted with second sight, allowing him to see into the future. It is claimed that many of his prophecies came true, both during his life and after his violent death.

The story of the Brahan Seer
The story of the Brahan Seer

The name of the Brahan Seer has been associated with prophecies in many areas of Scotland over a very long period of time. His identity is often confused with others in history who had similar abilities. Stories of his prophecies have been at times confused both with the prophecies of other seers and also with mere superstition. That such a man did exist is believed to be fact. It is not known, however, how many of the stories that are told about him are true or which stories might have been associated with him in error.

In one way the Brahan Seer was typical of many of those with second sight in that he had no aspirations for fame. He happened to be able to foretell certain things with accuracy, and this made him something of a celebrity. There are conflicting theories about his origins, but the most likely theory is that he became known as the Brahan Seer because he was a labourer on the estate of the same name some three hundred and seventy years ago. The Brahan Seer made many predictions, but two of them stand out as chilling warnings of the route that history was to take.

It is said that the Brahan Seer visited Culloden long before the famous battle, where the Jacobite forces were routed, and that on walking through the area that was destined to be the battlefield, he stopped. Then he said: "This bleak moor, ere many generations have passed, shall be stained with the best blood of Scotland. Glad I am that I will not see the day."

The second prediction, the one for which he is best known, was made by the Brahan Seer just before his own untimely death, which he suffered as a result of his unfortunate gift. The Countess of Seaforth had asked the Brahan Seer if he could give her some news of her husband, who was overseas in France. The Earl had travelled to France to attend to some business, but he had been away for a long time, and the Countess was getting a little suspicious.

The Seer was initially reluctant to tell the Countess what he saw. He tried to fob her off with vague generalisations, but the lady was most insistent that he tell her exactly what was going on. The Brahan Seer, so pressed, threw caution to the wind and told the Countess everything.

He went into great detail about her husband's activities. Apparently, the Earl of Seaforth was not attending to clan business, as he ought to have been, but having a fine old time consorting with another fair damsel. The Seer described the woman, the luxurious surroundings, and the obvious pleasure the Earl was taking in the woman's company. It might have been what the Countess had feared, but it was not at all what she wanted to hear.

The Culloden Battlefield
The Culloden Battlefield

So enraged was the Countess at what the Brahan Seer had to say, that she vented her anger upon him there and then. She saw to it that he was charged with witchcraft and burnt to death.

Before he died, however, the Seer made his most astounding prophecy:

"I see into the far future and I read the doom of my oppressor. The long-descended line of Seaforth will, ere many generations have passed, end in extinction and sorrow. I see a chief, the last of his house, both deaf and dumb. He will be the father of four fair sons, all of whom he will follow to the tomb. He will live careworn, and die mourning, knowing that the honours of his line are to be extinguished forever and that no future chief of the Mackenzies shall bear rule at Brahan or in Kintail. After lamenting over the last and most promising of his sons, he himself shall sink into the grave, and the remnant of his possessions shall be inherited by a white-hooded lass from the east, and she is to kill her sister. And as a sign by which it may be known that these things are coming to pass, there shall be four great lairds in the days of the last Seaforth - the deaf and dumb chief, and these lairds shall be: Gairloch, Chisholm, Grant, and Raasay. And one shall be bucked-toothed, another hare-lipped, another half-witted, and the fourth a stammerer. Chiefs like these shall be the allies and the neighbours of the last of the Seaforths; and when he looks around him and sees them, he may know that his sons are doomed to death, that his broad lands shall pass away to the stranger, and that his race shall come to an end."

Such a pronouncement, so startling in its detail, sounding as much like a curse as anything, was hardly likely to save the Brahan Seer from his fate. He was duly put to death. His prediction was to come true, uncannily accurate in every detail. The Earl of Seaforth returned from France in due course and was astounded at what his wife had done. He was even more disturbed when he heard what the last words of the Brahan Seer had been. The Earl of Seaforth died in 1678 and was succeeded by his son, who was the fourth earl.

The family had its ups and downs but fared reasonably well for some years. The fifth Earl of Seaforth lost his estates and titles after the rebellion of 1715, but the lands were eventually restored. Both he and his son enjoyed wealth and position, and in 1771 the family was allowed to regain the title of Seaforth when his son was made an earl. He was to be the last Earl of Seaforth, for the title died out when he did. He was succeeded for two years by a second cousin, who died in 1783, leaving the chiefdom of the Mackenzies to his brother, who was the last in the line. Three generations had passed. The last of the Seaforth line was Francis Humberton Mackenzie. He was born in 1755 and became deaf at quite an early age as a result of illness. He was not dumb initially, but over the years he spoke less and less, becoming more or less mute in old age. The words of the Brahan Seer were coming true.

There were four contemporaries of Francis, chiefs who bore the characteristics that the Seer had predicted. They were Mackenzie of Gairloch, who was buck-toothed, Chisholm of Chisholm, who had a harelip, Macleod of Raasay who had a stammer, and Grant, Baronet of Grant, who was said to be half-witted. Francis Mackenzie married a woman called Mary, and she bore him six children in all - two girls and four boys. Francis must have had the words of the Brahan Seer ringing in his ears for most of his married life, for all four of his sons did indeed predecease him, the last-born dying very young.

Francis died in 1815, the last chief. His estates passed to his daughter, Mary Fredericka Elizabeth Mackenzie. Her husband, Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, had only just died in India, and when she returned home to take possession of her father's estate, she was in mourning. So a lass had, as predicted, come from the east. She was also white-hooded. Not only did she bear the married name of Hood but she was dressed in white widow's clothes. Mary eventually remarried, and her new husband took over the estates - Seaforth had now gone from the family. The final part of the Brahan Seer's prophecy came true when Mary and her sister had an accident while out riding in a carriage one day. Mary, who had been driving the carriage, survived, but her sister died. The white-hooded lass had killed her sister. The origin or cause of the visions that come to those with second sight is not known. In some ways, the Brahan Seer was not typical of most people who had second sight. First, he had several visions throughout his life. Most people who have second sight have few visions - many have only one. Secondly, the Brahan Seer used a white stone, probably a crystal, to help him to see into the future. With most other people, the visions that they experience come uninvited and unprompted.

Are the visions that appear to those with second sight things that come from some unseen external influence or do they have their origins within the psyche of the individual?

The fact that the visions are more often than not unwelcome and very unpleasant - very frightening at times - must make one wonder. Is a vision of bad things to come in any way similar to the phantom funeral - a sign from the world of the already dead?

A ghost story that comes from the Isle of Skye suggests that some people believed such an explanation was likely.

Second Sight - A Ghostly Gift

This story concerns another seer, Kenneth Ouir of the Lews, and how he came to acquire his gift. When Kenneth was not yet born, his mother was out in the fields one night when she saw the ghost of a dead woman. The spirit was soaking wet - her clothes were dripping - and she was clearly in great distress. Kenneth's mother realised who the ghost must be.

The body of an unknown woman had been washed ashore nearby a few weeks before. The islanders had been unable to find out who the woman was or how she had come to drown but had buried her body. Kenneth's mother was very frightened by the ghost's appearance, but in spite of this, she felt sorry for her - she was obviously very unhappy. She asked the ghostly woman why she was crying. It turned out that the ghost was unable to rest in peace. She was a stranger to the Highlands, and as the grave in which she had been buried had not been bought, she had not got the right to lie in Highland soil.

Kenneth's mother wanted to help, and accordingly, she placed a handful of corn from the fields on the woman's grave. This would be payment for the burial spot. The ghost was thankful that she could now rest in peace, and as a gesture of gratitude, she handed Kenneth's mother a beautiful black stone with the following instructions.

"Give this stone to your first-born son on the seventh anniversary of his birth - no sooner, no later."

Kenneth Ouir was his mother's first-born son, and on his seventh birthday, she handed him the stone that the ghost had given her. From that day onwards, Kenneth was able to see things that others could not and to prophesy events that were to happen far into the future. The gift of second sight was something that, in this case, had come from beyond the grave.

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