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Strange Tales from Scotland
Mystical Heritage

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 Duncan.

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:

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 corner.

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 lies wanting

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 merits.

reviewing Scotland's neglect of its Mystical Heritage
c  Michael Colmer

The Background:
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 .

Scottish fears:

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 'crimes'.

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 prison.

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 their bodies.

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 him".

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 persecution lingered.

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 event.

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 mineral wells.

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 WWII.
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 sorrow".         

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 website;].

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;

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