GUEST POST: Catherine Cavendish

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
Show me,
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.

    Flame Tree Press
    Barnes & Noble
    and at good bookshops everywhere (on the shelf or to order)

    [Note: All photos are from Flame Tree Studio, Shutterstock, or are the author’s own.]

    GUEST MOVIE REVIEW by Christina Bergling: Trick ‘r Treat & Halloween

    Trick ‘r Treat vs. Halloween

    What is THE Halloween movie? What do you watch after the trick-or-treaters have gone home and the Jack o’Lanterns are burning low?

    The knee-jerk reaction might be to say Halloween. I mean, after all, the title of the movie is Halloween. The movie is set on Halloween. The soundtrack has become synonymous with the holiday itself.

    While I do watch Halloween every October, not only the original but multiple offerings from the franchise, I respectfully disagree. For me, there is only one film for All Hallows Eve: Trick ‘r Treat.

    Every year, after we have spent the October weeks hitting pumpkin patches and haunted houses, on Halloween night after we have extinguished the porch light and put our own weary trick-or-treaters to bed, we turn on Trick ‘r Treat. We stumbled up on the movie by accident one year and assumed it was going to be terrible and campy, and yet we discovered it was sheer festive brilliance.

    Trick ‘r Treat is not another horror movie that takes place on Halloween. It does not rely on stock imagery of fog engulfed streets or flickering Jack o’Lanterns. Rather, Trick ‘r Treat is an interwoven set of anthology stories about Halloween. The spirit of Halloween, the traditions and superstitions undermining the holiday are the theme and essence of the film.

    Trick ‘r Treat does, of course, unfold on Halloween night. It has costumed children taking flickering Jack o’Lanterns to the site of a tragic local lore. It has drunken adults looking to get lucky at throbbing Halloween parties. It has naughty children betraying the rules of Halloween. All the archetypes and tropes that come to mind around Halloween appear and are cleverly woven together to the spooky lover’s delight.

    However, what ultimately makes Trick ‘r Treat my Halloween movie is Sam. Sam appears as an observant, childlike trick-or-treater on the peripheral of each tale. Yet Sam is actually Samhain, the embodiment of the spirit of Halloween, and later the enforcer of the traditions of the holiday. When Sam’s rules are not followed, things get ugly.

    Distilled down, Halloween is ultimately a slasher movie. If you changed the title and shifted the timeline and setting, the movie and Michael Meyers could still exist successfully. It would still function in the subgenre. Plenty of the other entries in the franchise wander away from the holiday. Halloween may have the soul of a killer, but it does not have the spirit of Halloween in its essence.

    That spirit is where Trick ‘r Treat is different, is more than other horror movies. A manifestation of Samhain trails through the reels as the underlying current of the culminating narratives is Halloween tradition. The film as a whole can be taken as a campy cautionary tale to heed the superstitions and the rules in an increasingly detached and non-participatory world. Trick ‘r Treat pushes us to remember the Halloween spirit, and the perfect time for that is Halloween night itself.

    Lest you blow out your Jack o’Lantern too soon and meet Sam with his sharpened sucker in the dark.

    Colorado-bred writer, Christina Bergling knew she wanted to be an author in fourth grade. In college, she pursued a professional writing degree and started publishing small scale. With the realities of paying bills, she started working as a technical writer and document manager, traveling to Iraq as a contractor and eventually becoming a trainer and software developer. She avidly hosted multiple blogs on Iraq, bipolar, pregnancy, running. Limitless Publishing released her novel The Rest Will Come. HellBound Books Publishing published her two novellas Savages and The Waning. She is also featured in over ten horror anthologies, including Collected Christmas Horror Shorts, Graveyard Girls, Carnival of Nightmares, and Demonic Wildlife. Bergling is a mother of two young children and lives with her family in Colorado. She spends her non-writing time running, doing yoga and barre, belly dancing, taking pictures, traveling, and sucking all the marrow out of life.

    Sidney, a single mother with a menial day job, has big dreams of becoming a full-time horror reviewer and risqué gore model. She’s determined to make her website a success, and if her growing pool of online followers is any indication, things are looking good for her Elvira-esque aspirations. In fact, Sidney has so many followers that chatting with them is getting to be a job in itself. More than a job, it might be getting a risky….

    When Sidney is attacked on a dark trail late one night, it becomes clear that the horror she loves is bleeding into her real life. She learns that real-life horror is not a game, and being stalked isn’t flattering—it’s terrifying, and it could get her killed.

    Sidney—and her loved ones—are now in serious danger. This follower isn’t just another online fan: he knows her movements, and he knows her routine. In fact, he’s right behind her… and when he gets close enough, he won’t take no for an answer.

    Halloween Extravaganza: Tommy B. Smith: Halloween


    The walls between worlds draw thin. This world and which other, you might ask? The world of shadow, dreams, and imagination. Its denizens hurry along the streets in masks, shrouds of white, black, and orange, and bags full of sugar-bombs.

    Tis the season. No, not that season. The other one. The one many of us horror fiends celebrate all year round, in our fashion.

    The day is known as Samhain to those who recognize and celebrate the occasion’s Celtic roots, Hallow’s Eve to some others, and Halloween to many. It’s inspired countless adventures, tales, and films across the years.

    In general, I’ve found inspiration in the fall season. Its arrival is unmistakable with a cooler note on the winds rustling among falling leaves, the season coloring the trees and steering summer behind us as another year winds toward its wintery conclusion.

    Maybe the next year will be better. Maybe not. Perhaps we should appreciate what we have while it’s around. Watching the leaves fall has become a subtle reminder.

    To step outside and sip a tasty beverage isn’t out of the question. Oktoberfest brews line the shelves, though I’m not partial to the style. In my experience, a winter warmer goes a long way on a brisk October day, even if October isn’t quite winter.

    So there I am, sipping my whiskey-barrel ale on a Halloween night while the vampires, princesses, pirates, and green witches with pointy hats make the streets and occasion their own. A night of tricks and treats, a catalyst for liberation, and imagination overcomes fear.

    Rise and conquer, children of the night. This is the stuff of stories.

    Tommy B. Smith is a writer of dark fiction, author of The Mourner’s Cradle, Poisonous, and the short story collection, Pieces of Chaos, as well as works appearing in numerous magazines and anthologies throughout the years. His presence currently infests Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he resides with his wife and cats.