The Viking Princess and the Seeing Stone

Gradhag's Pool

Lewis tradition maintains that the Brahan Seer was born in Uig, in the vicinity of Baile na Cille, and that his powers of second sight came from a seeing stone he found there.  Dolly Doctor gives the following account in Tales and Traditions, based on the version told in the Uig ceilidh-houses:

Kenneth’s mother was watching the flocks by night, and as she sat on Cnoc Eothail, which looks down on the ancient mound [the cemetery at Baile na Cille] and commands a wide view of sea and moorland and mountain, she occupied her time by spinning with her distaff and spindle.  As she watched her flock, looking over the graveyard, she saw the graves open and the ancient mound became thronged with a great concourse of spirits.  Then one and all sallied into the stilly night in all directions.  Before cock-crow the spirits returned, fluttering into their own places, and then she noticed one grave was still open.  The old lady decided to watch for the late-comer and put her distaff across the open grave, and at last she saw the spirit approaching from the ocean regions to the north.  In a moment a vision of beauty stood before her, and a young woman, graceful as a fawn, ‘golden-haired and fair as the young morn’, entreated the old lady to allow her entrance.  She refused to do so unless the spirit would tell her who she was and where she had been.

“In the days of my earthly life,” said the wraith, “my name was Gradhag, the daughter of the King of Lochlinn.  in those far-off days my people ruled the seas, and few were the dwellers in the Southern Isles who had not reason to dread when the while sails of the ships of Lochlinn appeared on the horizon.  There were burnings and slaughter and spoils werever my fierce kinsmen descended and often my heart was sore within me at the thought of the red ruin these sea-reivers left in their wake, for I had the gift of seeing the dreadful things that were done.  One day I hid myself on board one of the warriors’ ships, hoping that being a king’s daughter, and favoured of the gods, I might perhaps be able to stay this senseless slaughter.

“The voyage was not favourable to the Northmen, for before they sighted these Southern Isles, our ship went down and all perished.  My body flated about the ocean currents until it was left at the foot of this mound by a high spring tide.  When it was discovered by the people they carried it up here and buried it among their own kindred.  That is why I have been so long in getting back to my place of rest, for I have to travel far over seas to distant Lochlinn, to commune with the spirits of my own people.

One thing more let me tell you.  When I was in the world of the living breath, the gift of vision which I had was in virture of a stone of prophecy which was given to me by an ancient Sgald.  This stone fell from my bosom as i lay in yonder pool, and there it is still with all its pristine virtue, waiting for a finder who is worthy to look into the things that are hidden from the natural vision of man.  he who seeks will find it and he will be a famous man, but he who will neither seek for it nor find it, will be a much happier man.  Now, I beseech thee, remove the distaff from the mouth of my grave and let me enter into my rest.

When Coinneach came to relieve his mother at sunrise she told him of the strange happenings of the night.  Scarcely conscious of what he was doing he searched diligently amongst the pebbles in teh shallow pool, putting each one to his left eye, but no vision came.  Eventually he picked the fatal talisman, for an agonising pain shot through his eye, and to his dismay he discovered that his sight was gone.  The sight came back gradually and whenever Coinneach put his left eye to the hole in the stone he could see what was happening in other places or what was to happen in the future.