The Feast of Nicnevin
It’s Halloween again – or for those of us who prefer the old ways – Samhain.
We all know that this great and ancient pagan festival celebrates the crone. In other words, the old and wise woman more commonly known as a witch. She is associated with bringing us into life and helping us cross over into the world of the dead and she has many names. You may have heard of Hecate (or Hekate) – the three-headed goddess of Greek mythology (although her origins are probably far earlier). She is the goddess of witchcraft, the night, magic, necromancy, the moon and ghosts and is often depicted with a pair of flaming torches, or with dogs, keys, a snake. She knows about herbs, poisons, and all manner of magical arts, making her greatly revered among witches. She is also well documented. Consult your favorite search engine and you will find plenty of information on Hecate.
I would venture to suggest though that probably only those who are serious students of witchcraft or of folklore – Scottish folklore in particular – will ever have stumbled across the somewhat elusive and shadowy Nicnevin who, whatever her origins, has become a much-revered goddess among witches. She is a true crone who rides the night sky, clad in gray, preferring stormy nights and who commands a following of nymphs and ghosts who accompany her on her travels. She can predict the future, achieve mastery of both sea and land and her special festival is Samhain.
On that night when the veil between the living and dead is at its thinnest, Nicnevin reigns supreme. For many she is firmly linked to the better-known Scottish Queen of Winter – Cailleach. Certainly they are both tied to the festival of Samhain and are part of the trilogy of the year, and of life – represented by the Maiden (Bride or Bridget) who ushers in the spring growing season at Imbolc where the Mother takes over and nurtures life until we are back to the end of the old year and beginning of a new one – the tasks assigned to the Crone (Nicnevin or Cailleach).
In common with Hecate and Cailleach, Nicnevin’s symbols are associated with protection, divination and ghosts or spirits. Interestingly, she is often depicted with pumpkins and other gourds – and traditionally these were frequently carved with symbols of protection and used to light the path of the dying, illuminating their journey from this life into whatever lay beyond. So that’s where the Jack O’Lanterns came from!
Sir Walter Scott described Nicnevin as a ‘gigantic and malignant female…who rode on a storm and marshaled the rambling host of wanderers under her grim banner’. Nicnevin had extensive powers over sea and land, able to build mountains and large hills simply by dropping large stones from her apron or basket. Equally, she could change water into rock and sea into land. There is no tradition of her bearing children but because she was inextricably tied to the cycle of the seasons and therefore to the cycle of birth, life and death, she was worshiped as a mother goddess – similar in stature to Frigg in Norse tradition.
I said Nicnevin’s origins were shadowy and they are, because no one really knows where she sprang from. There are a number of theories, including the possibility that she may even have been based on a real person. As far as her name is concerned, it may derive from a Scottish Gaelic surname, ‘Neachneohain’, meaning ‘daughter of the divine’ but that is by no means certain. The first recorded mention of Nicnevin doesn’t arise until 1580 when court poet to King James VI of Scotland – Alexander Montgomerie – described her in verse:
Nicnevin with her nymphes, in number anew
With charms from Caitness and Chanrie of Ross
Whose cunning consists in casting a clew.
She then drops out of literature until John Leyden in the early 1800s described her as one of the “popular appellations” of the Queen of Fairies, Hecate, the great hag and others. Robert Cromek declared she was near kin to Satan, warning that she presided over ‘Halloween Rades’, causing mothers to warn their children to behave or they would be given to the ‘McNeven’. In his description she is portrayed as wearing a long gray cloak and brandishing a wand which she used to conduct her conversions of water into rock and sea into land.
As for the theory she was based on a real person, this remains a possibility. In May 1569, an accused witch known variously as Nic Neville or Nicneven was condemned to death and burnt at the stake. This was in St Andrews, Scotland but another contender is a nurse, Catherine Niven or Kate McNiven who hailed from Monzie. She also died at the stake, convicted of witchcraft although the date varies from 1563 to 1715 – the last date putting her firmly out of contention.
Whatever the truth of her beginnings, there is no doubt that Nicnevin is a force to be reckoned with – an all-powerful witch not to be dismissed lightly, despite the lack of information on her. Maybe she was once mortal, or maybe, like Hecate, not. But one thing is certain, if you travel out on a stormy night when the clouds race across the dark and troubled heavens, thunder rolls all around you and the rain lashes down on your face, take extra care. Do you see something flash by you, in seemingly impossible flight? Do you hear the beating of hundreds of wings as a massive flock of geese escort Nicnevin and her acolytes across the tempestuous sky?
Be certain, on such a night – especially if it is Samhain – Nicnevin is about. Perhaps you will call on her for help to develop your own psychic powers. If so, this little spell may help you:
The Crone Spell
Only to be performed on Samhain – the Feast of Nicnevin
To cast the spell, you will need:
Two teaspoons of dried mugwort
One teaspoon powdered elder leaves
Six drops cypress oil
One charcoal disc in a flameproof dish
One tall black candle, plus matches or a lighter
Mortar and pestle
Casting the spell:
In the mortar and pestle, blend together the mugwort, cypress oil and elder leaves and grind until it achieves a fine consistency capable of being sprinkled.
Light the charcoal and the candle while saying:
Nicnevin, goddess of the crossroads
Guide my thread into the spaces between
Sprinkle the blended mugwort, cypress oil and elder onto the burning charcoal and inhale the aroma.
Close your eyes and picture yourself walking from an easterly direction toward a crossroads at sunset. Stop and face north. Concentrate and a dark figure will emerge and approach you. Nicnevin is now with you. She will crook her finger, beckoning you to follow her. You do so but when she takes you to a gateway, you do not pass through it on this occasion. Look at it carefully, study any symbols marked on it. When you are ready to move between worlds in your lucid/psychic dreams, you must pass through it or look for its symbols and follow them.
When you have memorized all you need to, you will find you can open your eyes. Your lucid/psychic dreams will be available for your summoning throughout the winter.
Invest in a Book of Shadows if you don’t already have one, and note down all your lucid dreams until Imbolc (February 1st).
Boo-graphy: Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Catherine Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels and novellas.
Her novels include: Dark Observation, In Darkness, Shadows Breathe, The Garden of Bewitchment, The Devil’s Serenade, The Pendle Curse, and Saving Grace Devine, among others.
Her novellas include: The Darkest Veil, Linden Manor, Cold Revenge, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, Dark Avenging Angel, The Devil Inside Her, and The Second Wife.
Her short stories appeared in a number of anthologies including Tomes of Terror, One of Us, and Haunted Are These Houses.
She lives by the sea in Southport, England with her long-suffering husband, and a black cat called Serafina who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt. She sees no reason why that practice should not continue.
Eligos is waiting…fulfill your destiny.
1941. In the dark days of war-torn London, Violet works in Churchill’s subterranean top secret Cabinet War Rooms, where key decisions that will dictate Britain’s conduct of the war are made. Above, the people of London go about their daily business as best they can, unaware of the life that teems beneath their feet. Night after night the bombs rain down, yet Violet has far more to fear than air raids. A mysterious man, a room only she can see, memories she can no longer trust, and a best friend who denies their shared past… Something or someone – is targeting her.
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[Note: All photos are from Flame Tree Studio, Shutterstock, or are the author’s own.]