The author of this article is an Englishman, a Director of
the British Society of Paranormal Studies, author of some 24 books -mainly devoted to the
esoteric. He is himself a Medium and assistant Editor of the Spiritualist monthly
"Psychic World" and one of the the team who launched the campaign to
secure a posthumous Pardon for the much persecuted Scottish Materialisation Medium Helen
First announced in July 1997 this fascinating tale of the WWII Medium who was jailed for
"seeing true" -despite the protection of premier Winston Churchill -
caught the attention of the world's media (see website : http://members.tripod/spirit/~helenduncan)
and there are now plans for a full length movie about her remarkable life.
This same Sassenach has since broadened his research and now calls for:
A SCOTTISH DEPARTMENT FOR MYSTICAL HERITAGE ?
c Michael Colmer
THE DELAY in securing a posthumous Pardon for the much persecuted Scottish Materialisation
medium Helen Duncan comes as no suprise to those who have been valiantly fighting her
As one of those campaigners my researches into the parallel fates of other natural Celtic
sensitives have revealed a horrific history of persecution, torture and murder summarily
meted out by successive Scottish authorities.
Yet, now poised as she is on the eve of regaining independent nationhood, is the perfect
time for Scotland to awaken to her inherent duty of care and acknowledge the
centuries of cultural neglect of her vast wealth of Mystical Heritage.
Many experts hold that the 'Favoured Isles' - as the wise elders of Atlantis described
Britain - have long been regarded as the most secure possible depository for the
world's mystical and occult knowledge. They point to the sacred Indian Vedic texts dated
five centuries before Christ which praise Britain's famed Druid Universities as the most
accomplished centres of educational excellence of mystical teaching in the
known world of that time.
The essence of that rich legacy of esoteric teaching lingers yet in Britain today
-especially in its Celtic fringes. Who would deny the gifts of the 'fey' Irish, the
weatherwise Cornish, the Bardic traditions of the Principality of Wales, the Wiccan
traditions of East Anglia and the New Forest and, specifically, the famed 'second
sight' of the Scots ?.
It is this very rare psychic gift, long respected as a genetic Celtic birthright, that has
been one that has long been feared - and persecuted - by so many successive
authorities.Scotland's history of persecution of its psychically gifted sons and daughters
makes for grisly reading (see feature article below) but now, at the dawn of
regained nationhood, this nation is offered a golden opportunity to restore its
psychically tarnished honour.
Recent Vatican announcements of Catholic culpability in its historical persecution of
witches opens the door to rapprochment and long overdue public expressions of regret,
especially since it was that superstitious Catholic monarch King James VI whose
seminal work "Demonology" that launched a series of hysterical witch hunts
throughout Scotland and beyond.
Another recent comment , from the Scottish Nationalist Party leader Alex Salmond, that
religion and politics should never be mixed may have validity but the issue here is not
one of religion but rather one of Mysticism and it is here, with such a vast arcane
tradition to draw upon , including some remarkable seers like - Thomas the Rhymer and the
Seer of Brahan Scotland, along with other regions of Britain, has a duty of care to
protect and nourish this long neglected aspect of its culture.
Prosecuting potential 'prophets' of tourism
Just one of many examples of this was the treatment offered by Scotland to Kenneth Odhar -
the Seer of Brahan. This remarkable 17th century labourer was many times more accurate in
his predictive skills than his famous French counterpart Michel de Nostradamus yet to this
day the only acknowledgement to his skills is a plaque at the point where he was burned
alive in a tar barrel for the crime of 'telling true'.
Yet for many years the French town where Nostradamus lived has preserved his home as a
museum thus providing our Gallic cousins with an annual and highly
'prophetable' tourist trade - an object lesson in tourism that Scotland would
be wise not to ignore.
The same is true for another equally remarkable Celtic penman; Rhyming Thomas. Once
this much revered national hero was oft quoted by Scottish authorities, particularly when
they sought to inspire fervour against their English enemies At the dawn of the last
century there were few Scottish crofts or mansions that lacked a copy of the chap book
containing the predictions of 'True Thomas'. Yet now, at the dawn of the next century,
tragically few Scots even know of his name.
But, it seems, it's not only their naturally gifted sensitives that the Scots have
persecuted and neglected. So too is their inheritance of hundreds of ancient
standing stone circles - most predating religion since they were in place for centuries
before the birth of Christ. Whilst their fabric may be cared for by bodies like the
Scottish National Trust it is the very spirit of these menhirs, once
seen as vital to individual and community survival by ancient Druids and Celts that now
Sean Connery's interest
I am saddened to have to report that I have only been able to trace just two attempts to
celebrate this uniquely Celtic phenomena. One such took place a few years ago when when
the Scottish Symphony Orchestra performed its new opera "The Seer of Brahan"
whilst the other was the reaction from a national hero; the internationally acclaimed film
star Sean Connery.
I wrote to Sean Connery, who has made no secret of his support for Scottish nationalism,
drawing his attention to this much neglected facet of Gaelic culture and suggested a
screenplay based upon the life of the Seer of Brahan. He replied that at that time he was
fully committed lending his voice to an animated dragon movie, yet he was intrigued
by this tale and wished such a project all possible success.
Connery's connection may not end there. His life-long dream to bring Hollywood to Scotland
in the form of his Fountainbridge Film project seems poised to take-off this year,
aided by important Government changes in improving British film financing.
It seems Scotland would do well at this seminal moment in its history to examine its
historical record of failure to celebrate its sorely persecuted heroes and heroines, its
failure to explore this genre to attract tourism and contemplate its disturbing track
record of cultural and mystical neglect.
Paying the price of neglect
This Sassenach suggests that the new Scottish Parliament would do well to charge one of
its incoming Ministers with the mantle of prosecuting Scotland's immense and much
neglected Mystical Heritage as well as protecting same as a necessary public duty of care.
And the time for such action must be soon or else Scotland's hundreds of unprotected
ancient standing stone circles will suffer the fate of sister sites in England where
vandalism and graffiti have begun appearing at such historic landmarks as Glastonbury Tor,
the world heritage site at Avebury and the famous Merry Maiden circle of menhirs in
Cornwall. With a growing number of pagan and other groups targetting such sites as points
of celebration to mark the forthcoming Millennium a wise conservator makes plans.
Until then this writer cannot see how Scotland can ever fly its Saltire , that so proudly
bears the Cross of its patron saint St Andrew, with the total honour it so
SINS UNDER THE SALTIRE
reviewing Scotland's neglect of its Mystical Heritage
c Michael Colmer
WHEN Saint Augustine told his followers to pull down all the Druid meeting groves and
build Christian churches over their remains so that pagan worshippers would still attend
he lauched the biggest property takeover in history. In 1233 AD when the Church feared it
was losing its grip on her flock came the feared Holy Inquisition and the excuse for mass
persecution and purging of 'heretics'. It was to last many years and became an
excuse for the western world to torture and burn countless innocents. Initially their
targets were the richer heretics, for the simple reason that after excommunication came
automatic confiscation of each accused's land and property. This provided the Holy Fathers
and their inquisitors with much revenue. Later it was to be blood lust and fanaticism that
were to rule the day.
In France, during the reign of Henry III some 30,000 were hanged, burned or both. In
England a group of soldiers stumbled upon some disgruntled noblemen making a wax
effigy of Queen Elizabeth. This was unwise for Good Queen Bess was herself no stranger to
the occult. Indeed one of her most favoured courtier's was one Dr John Dee who employed a
combination of scrying, secret codes and clairvoyance to successfully maintain an army of
telepaths in Europe. He was her spymaster and the originator of England's secret service.
Thus the Queen, above all her subjects, knew just how successfully the occult could be
applied. This prompted her to to create the Witchcraft At of 1563 which prescribed
eath by hanging for 'employing or exercising witchcraft with the intent to kill or destry'
and a years' imprisoment for 'hurting persons in bodie or to waste and destroy goods'.
Thousands of old crones were hauled before the courts and condemned, often on the
flimsiest of evidence. During the 45 years of her reign more witchcraft trials took place
than in the entire 17th century .
It was the Queen's successor, that highly superstitious Scottish King James VI
(simultaneously King James I of England) who also found reason to fear witches. It
was this king who forced Parliament to repeal Queen Elizabeth's Witchcraft Act of 1563 and
replace it with his excessively brutal 1604 version offering death for many more
This paranoid monarch had experienced a rough sea voyage en route to Norway to visit his
future queen . Rather than accept this as an Act of God he determined the storms were the
product of witchcraft and had a number of innocents burned. He set the standard for other
monarchs to follow. Some 30 years later when the new King Charles I was visiting Scotland
his baggage ship, the 'Blessing of Burntisland', sank in the Firth of Forth with all of
his gold and most of his courtiers. He also blamed this squall on witchcraft and ordered
ten English witches burned for causing it.
James' infamous judgements included the North Berwick witch trials of 1590 where one of
the defendants attempted to prove her psychic gifts to be genuine by whispering in the
King's ear the very words he had spoken to his new bride on their wedding night.
The King immediately declared that her words were indeed chillingly accurate and then
promptly sentenced her to be burned alive at the stake. Her name was Mistress Duncan. Some
400 years later another Mistress Duncan with equally genuine gifts was also thrown into
Thanks to this Monarch's paranoia these poor wretches once accused were brutally
tortured. Witches were kept naked in solitary confinement with only stone floors to sleep
on. Flogging, crushing legs in a vice, finger and toe nails removed by pincers were all
standard fare. One uniquely Scottish form of torture was to place a hair shirt steeped in
vinegar over the flayed torso of each victim to ensure any remaining skin was pulled from
Each act of torture had to be paid for by the accused. The mildest form was branding on
one cheek - which cost the victim six shillings and eight pence (Aberdeen, 1597). Each
successive act of inhumanity had also to be paid for . Such 'accountings' were
frequently padded by greedy officials.
A year earlier one Margaret Balfour "a known and notorious witch" was kept 48
hours in the "Caspie Claws", an iron vice designed crush legs. Whilst under
torture at Edinburgh Castle she was forced to watch her 81-year old husband pressed under
700lbs of iron bars, her son placed in 'Spanish boots' and given 57 hammer blows to
shatter his leg bones, and her seven year old daughter tortured with the 'pilliwinks'
(thumbscrews). In addition her servant was kept some 264 hours in the aforementioned
'Caspie Claws' and scourged with ropes" which left neither flesh nor hide upon
In Kirkaldy husband and wife Alison and William Coke were burned for being witches. Placed
in tar barrels and clad only in in rough hemp covered with pitch to facilitate their
burning they were murdered on Nov 19 1636 . Such as it was their pitiful estate was sold
to pay for their fate and Kirkaldy town council paid the remainder of the bill;
For 10 loads of coal to burn them - £3. 6s. 8d.
For a tar barrel - 14s.
For the Hangman's rope - 6s.
For the Laird's attendance - 6s.
For the pains of the Executioner - £8.14s.
For his expenses whilst in Kirkaldy - 16s.4d.
By 1640 it was the turn of the Protestants to embrace this purge. In that year and again
two years later the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland ordered all of its ministers
to search out suspected witches and punish them. Even as late as 1705 this hunger for
It was not until 1718 that the King's Advocate, Robert Dundas, rebuked the deputy sheriff
of Caithness for proceeding against witches without notifying him, because of the
'difficulty with the charges'. And it was not until 1736 that the "Acts
Anentis, witchcraft " was to be finally repealed.
Centuries of Neglected Seers
Yet another once famous - yet now all but forgotten - Scottish Seer was Kenneth Odhar, the
17th century peat cutter born under the shadow of the famed Standing Stones at Callanish
on the Isle of Lewis. Soon revered throughout Scotland as the Seer of Brahan
he rapidly became this nation's own unsung Nostradamus whose remarkable prophecies were
many times more specific than his French counterpart.
His forevision of the coming of public utilities; "The day will
come when fire and water shall run in streams through the streets and lanes of
Inverness", was an astonishing accurate prediction made some 200 years before the
As was his prophecy concerning rail travel: "The day will come when long
strings of carriages without horses shall run between Dingwall and Inverness, and. more
wonderful still, between Dingwall and the Isle of Sky ," - not bad for an illiterate
17th century farm labourer.
Another prediction which must have sounded equally impossible to his peers was:
" Uninviting and disagreeable as it now is, with its thick encrusted surafce and
unpleasant smell, the day will come when it shall be under lock and key, whilst crowds of
pleasure and health seekers shall be seen thronging its portals, in their eagerness to
take a draught of its waters " - a clear reference to the now celebrated Strathpeffer
Much of his seership involved the pre-occupations of Scottish clans with their survival
and coping with their fierce pride. And Kenneth Odhar was no fool. Described as
"very shrewd and clear headed despite his menial position" this seer must, like
the psychics of today, have tired of continually being taxed by his patrons to answer
those same questions that have pre-occupied men and women since the dawn of time;
Longevity and Love, Wealth and War.
His anwers often reflected the dour Scottish temperament. One such appears here in the
original Gaelic; "Nuair a thraoghas abhain no Manachain tri uairean, agus a ghlacair
Bradan Sligeach air grunnd na h-aibhne, 's ann an sin a bhitheas as deuchain ghoirt.
(English translation; "When the River Beauly has dried up three times and a 'scaly
salmon' or royal sturgeon is caught on the river, there will
be a time of great trial "). According to local archivists this river did dry up
three times and a 'Bradan Sligeach' was acutally netted shortly before the outbreak of
Odhar is reported to have wept when, passing Millburn en-route from Inverness to Petty he
pointed to an old mill and declared; "The day will come when thy wheel shall turn for
three successive days ,watered by human blood; for on the banks of thy lake a fierce
battle shall be fought, at which much blood will be spilt."
But it wasn't this forevision of the forthcoming massacre at Culloden nor his glimpse of
the ample profits that his beloved Scotland would one day reap from harvesting "Black
Gold" - oil - but his chilling accuracy in describing the fates of several clans that
was to cost his his life.
Odhar's chilling Clan Curse
His reading of the "doom of my oppressor" in which he detailed the lives and
deaths of the Seaforth clan in centuries ahead were so detailed and accurate that it
prompted that celebrated collector of Gaelic mythology, Sir Walter Scott, to pen his
poignant lament; "The Last of the Seaforths"
Kenneth Odhar was sentenced to death by the wife of his absent Laird; Lady Seaforth. But ,
as he was led away to be tarred and burned, he uttered the following curse; "I see
into the far future and read the doom of the race of my oppressor. The long descended line
of Seaforth will, ere many generations have passsed end in extinction and
He then went on to detail their fates, declaring " I see a chief, the last of his
house, both deaf and dumb. In his time four other great Lards; Garloch, Chisholm, Grant
and Ramsey -one of whom who shall be buck-toothed, another hare-lipped, another
half-witted and the fourth a stammerer".
In 1754, Francis Humberstone Mackenzie (created Lord Seaforth in 1797) was born and the
first part of Odhar's prediction was fulfilled. Lord Seaforth suffered an attack of
scarlet fever in childhood which left him deaf at 15. Later in life he lost the power of
speech.Of the four lairds who were his neighbours Sir Hector Mackenzie of Garloch was
buck-toothed, Chisholm of Chisholm was hare-lipped, Grant of Grant was mentally challenged
and MacLeod of Ramsey stammered.
This remarkable case of predictive skill did at least secure some degree of
acknowledgement. From the pen of Scotland's diligent collector of Gaelic mythology,
the celebrated poet Sir Walter Scott came this evocatively poignant poem;
Lament for the Last of the Seaforths
In vain the bright course of thy talents to wring
ate deaden'd thine ar and imprison'd thy tongue,
For brighter o'er all her obstructions arose
The glow of the genius they could not oppose;
And who, in the land of the Saxon or Gael,
Might match with Mackenzie, High Chief of Kintail ?
Thy sons rose around thee in light and in love,
All a father could hope, all a friend could approve;
What 'vails it the tale of thy sorrows to tell ?
In the sping time of youth and of promise they fell.
Of the line of MacKenzie remains not a male,
To bear the proud names of the Chief of Kintail.
And thou, gentle Dame, who must bear to thy grief,
For thy clan and thy country the cares of a Chief,
Whom brief rolling moons in six changes have left,
Of thy husband and father and brethen bereft;
To thine ear of affection, how sad is the hail;
That salutes thee - the heir of the line of Kintail.
Another of this band of forgotten Celtic heroes and heroines was Thomas the Rhymer. Barely
a handful of examples of his classic work exists today . Yet this magnum opus - penned
around the 13th century, is said to have predicted many landmarks of Scotland's colourful
history; including the bloody battles of Falkirk (1229) and Bannockburn (1314), the death
of Robert the Bruce (1329), the occupation of Perth (1332), the English withdrawal
to the French war (1337) , the crowning of Robert Stewart (1370) and the failed invasion
of Engalnd (1388).
The prologue to this mighty work and three of his 'fyttes' (sections) of theRhymer's once
cherished words are preserved in a precious handful of rare manuscripts. To date my
researches have failed to find any historic copies within Scotland itself. But three
authentic fragments lie under lock and key south of her border in English cities. Perhaps,
like the Stone of Scone, they should also be rightfully be returned to Scottish care ?
Surely Scotlands' own renowned centres of educational excellence should be exploring this
glaring historic and cultural vacuum. Students of Gaelic culture might wish to prosecute
the creation of an academically reliable synthesis of these extant historic manuscripts,
although such a task would require perseverance, application and an inherent sensitivity
to the Border Gaelic in common usage in True Thomas' time.
And, to bring this brief yet deeply disturbing history up to date we now have the
appalling treatment meted out to the much persecuted Scottish Materialisation medium
Helen Duncan. However, thanks to the support from many quarters, this is one case of
shameful neglect which we are determined shall be redressed.
[ For the latest update on the campaign to secure a posthumous Pardon for Mrs Duncan see
NB: This article contains extracts from various chapters in my forthcoming book;
"Prophets & Prophecy" scheduled to be published later this year and , whilst
media reports and comment and similar review extracts are encouraged, international
copyright laws will apply to any unauthorised reproductions. The author's email address
is; [email protected]