Heritage and Culture

Folklore Thursday: The Brahan Seer

By Kirsty McIntyre

The art of fortune telling has long been a part of Scottish mythology, but few soothsayers are as well-known as Kenneth Mackenzie, or Coinneach Odhar (Kenneth the Sallow). Known colloquially as the "Brahan Seer", he is believed to have been born on the island of Skye in the 17th century. According to legend, his fortune telling powers are courtesy of his mother. Having encountered the ghost of a Danish princess in a graveyard one night, she demanded that her son be given "the sight" in exchange for allowing the princess to pass back into her grave.

Little is known about the early life of the Kenneth Mackenzie. The story says that the day after his mother's graveyard encounter, he found an adder stone (a glassy stone with a hole in the centre) that he was able to see visions of the future through. He later worked on the grounds of Brahan Castle for the 3rd Earl of Seaforth, after being invited when his prowess for seeing the future came to light. It was a job that would ultimately lead to his downfall.

He predicted for Lady Seaforth that her husband was engaging in amorous activities while he was in France. Horrified by the scandal and shame that this would bring upon her house and marriage, she ordered Mackenzie's death. He was reportedly burned alive in a tar barrel at Chanonry Point, near Inverness.

In the years following his death, a number of the prophecies that Mackenzie made came to fruition. Upon visiting Drumossie Moor, the site of the Battle of Culloden, he is recorded as saying:

"Oh! Drumossie, thy bleak moor shall, ere many generations have passed away, be stained with the best blood of the Highlands. Glad am I that I will not see the day, for it will be a fearful period; heads will be lopped off by the score, and no mercy shall be shown or quarter given on either side."

He also predicted the discovery of North Sea oil, with the ominous sounding words "A black rain will bring riches to Aberdeen".

He claimed that when men could walk between England and France, Scotland would see its old parliament. The Channel Tunnel was opened in 1994, making this a reality, and the Scottish Parliament was formally reconvened in 1999.

Despite being shrouded in mystery and mythology, the words of the Brahan Seer still ring true today. A particular Celtic stone known as the Eagle stone stands in the town of Strathpeffer in Ross-shire. The prophecy goes that if the stone falls down three times, Loch Ussie would flood the valley below the town. The stone has fallen down twice in its lifetime - it has now been set in concrete to prevent that particular prophecy from coming true!