The Brahan Seer
Sixteenth- or seventeenth-century Scottish seer named
Coinneach Odhar (Kenneth Mackenzie). Although Coinneach
Odhar is still spoken of and believed in as a seer throughout
the Highlands of Scotland, and especially in the county of Ross
and Cromarty, his reputation is of comparatively recent
The first literary reference to him was made by Hugh Miller
in his Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland (1834). About
half a century later, a collection of the seer’s predictions was
published by Alexander Mackenzie of Inverness, the author of
several clan histories. Many of these alleged foretellings are of
a trivial character. The most important prophecies attributed
to Coinneach (Kenneth) are those that refer to the house of
Seaforth Mackenzies.
One, which dates to the middle of the seventeenth century,
foretold that the last of the Seaforths would be deaf. It was uttered
at Brahan Castle, the chief seat of the Seaforths, near
Dingwall, after the seer had been condemned to death by Lady
Seaforth for some offensive remark. He declared to her ladyship
that he would go to heaven, but she would never reach it.
As a sign of this he declared that when he was burned, a raven
and a dove would hasten toward his ashes. If the dove was the
first to arrive it would be proved his hope was well founded.
Notably, the same legend is attached to the memory of Michael
Scott. According to tradition, Kenneth was burned on
Chanonry Point, near Fortrose, although no record survives of
this event.
The first authentic evidence regarding the alleged seer was
unearthed by William M. Mackenzie, editor of Barbour’s Bruce,
who found among the Scottish parliamentary records of the
sixteenth century an order, which was sent to the Ross-shire authorities,
to prosecute several wizards, including Coinneach
Odhar. This was many years before there was a Seaforth.
It is quite probable that Kenneth was burned, but the legendary
cause of the tale must have been a ‘‘filling in’’ of late tradition.
Kenneth’s memory apparently had attached to it many
floating prophecies and sayings, including those attributed to
Thomas and Michael Scott. The sayings of ‘‘True Thomas’’
were hawked through the Highlands in Gaelic chapbooks, and
so strongly did the bard appeal to the imaginations of the eighteenth-century
folk of Inverness, that they associate him with
the Fairies and Fingalians (Fians) of the local fairy mound,
A Gaelic saying runs, ‘‘When the horn is blown, True Thomas
will come forth.’’ Thomas took the place of Fingal (Finn or
Fionn) as chief of the ‘‘Seven Sleepers’’ in Tom-na-hurich, Inverness.
At Cromarty, which was once destroyed by the sea,
Thomas is alleged to have foretold that it would be thrice destroyed.
Of course, the Rhymer was never in Cromarty and probably
knew nothing about it. As he supplanted Fingal and Inverness,
Bradley, Marion Zimmer Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
so at Cromarty he appears to have supplanted some other legendary
individual. The only authentic historical fact that remains
is that Coinneach Odhar was a notorious wizard of mature
years in the middle of the sixteenth century. Wizards were
not necessarily seers. It is significant that no reference is made
to Kenneth in the letters received by Pepys from Lord Reay regarding
second sight in the seventeenth century, or in the account
of Dr. Johnson’s Highland tour, although the learned
doctor investigated the problem sympathetically.
There is little support for the ‘‘Brahan Seer’’ legends, especially
when it is found that Kenneth died before the Seaforth
branch of the Mackenzies came into existence. Whoever foretold
the fall of that house, it was certainly not the ‘‘notorious
wizard’’ of the Scottish parliamentary records.
No doubt Kenneth made himself notorious by tyrannizing
over a superstitious people in the sixteenth century and was remembered
on that account. During his lifetime he must have
been credited with many happenings supposed to have been
caused by his spells. After his death his reputation for prophecy
and piety snowballed through folklore, a not unfamiliar happening
in the history of the Scottish Highlands, where Sir William
Wallace, St. Patrick, St. Bean, and others were reputed to
have been giants who flung glaciated boulders from hilltop to
hilltop across wide glens and lochs.
One interesting aspect of the claimed visionary powers of
the Brahan Seer is that he was said to use a white or blue stone
in which he saw distant or future events, as in crystal gazing.
MacGregor, Alexander. Highland Superstitions. Eneas Mackay,
———. The Prophecies of the Brahan Seer. Inverness, 1896.
Reprint, London Constable, 1977.
Miller, Hugh. Scenes and Legends in the North of Scotland.
Nimmo, 1834.
Sutherland, Elizabeth. Ravens and Black Rain. London Constable,