Nicnevin

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A couple of years ago I contributed to Naming the Goddess by Moon Books with my essay about Nicnevin. Now, for a little Samhain treat, I thought I would publish my article here for people to read. Enjoy!

 

Nicnevin with her nymphes, in number anew
With charms from Caitness and Chanrie of Ross
Whose cunning consists in casting a clew”

– Alexander Montgomerie in his Flyting Betwixt Polwart and Mongomery

Nicnevin (sometimes Nicneven or Nicnevan) is a Queen of the fairies or the Queen of Elphame within Scottish Folklore. She rules the unseelie court of Alba, unusual creatures, spirits and nymphs. She is very much an otherworldly deity associated with witchcraft and necromancy and she has been connected to several other deities with similar attributes.

Her name derives from the Gaelic surname Neachneohain meaning “daughter(s) of the divine” and/or “daughter(s) of Scathach” . NicNaoimhein meaning “daughter of the little saint”.

The use of the name was first recorded c.1585, in Montgomerie’s Flyting, and also given to a woman condemned to death for Witchcraft: Kate McNiven (Scotland: Myth, Legend & Folklore, Stuary McHardy, Luath Press 1999.)

“This name, generally given to the Queen of the Fairies, was probably bestowed upon her [Kate McNiven] on account of her crimes.” Pref. to Law’s Memor. xxviii, N. (Supplement to the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language: Volume Two by John Jamieson).

Nicnevin has been conflated with the Gyre Carling, Black Annis, The Cailleach, Habetrot and has also been called the Scottish Hecate. We can infer from these connections that her domain is primarily magic, witchcraft and her role as Queen of the fairies, she connected to the realm of the dead and necromancy. She is known as a hag and giantess, however both The Cailleach and Habetrot have been known to transform into younger more beautiful versions of themselves, and it can be said Nicnevin also has the power of shape shifting into a young and beautiful form. She is a goddess who moves between the worlds,

She has been called the Bone Mother. She is among those who take part in The Wild Hunt. Nicnevin flies through the air accompanied by flocks of honking geese, and geese are among those classed as psychopomps.” (The Weiser Field Guide to Witches, Judika Illes.)

By examining some of those she is often compared to we will gain a much better understanding of Nicnevin’s domain. To begin with there is the Gyre Carling, gyre possibly originates from the Norse gýgr meaning “ogress” and carlin/carling is used in both Scots and English and translates as “old woman”. So the Gyre Carline is understood to be a crone like figure, an ogress/giantess. The word carlin has also been used to describe a witch, a link to the supernatural. She is much maligned as a giant hag with a taste for the flesh of good Christian men as mentioned in The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy (1508) and the poem The Gyre Carling mentioned in the Bannatyne MS.

It is interesting to consider that the terms Nicnevin and Gyre Carlin were both used to describe a senior witch, so this may not simply be a description of cronehood, but representative of rank and power within a witch cult. As mentioned by Sir Walter Scott in Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830), “After midnight the sorceress Marian

MacIngarach, the chief priestess or Nicneven of the company”

[Mother Nicneven] This was the name given to the grand Mother Witch, the very Hecate of Scottish popular superstition. Her name was bestowed, in one or two instances, upon sorceresses, who were held to resemble her by their superior skill in “Hell’s black grammar.” The Abbot, Sir Walter Scott, 1871.

Nicneven has been called the Scottish Hekate in the works of Sir Walter Scott, and he often uses the terms Nicniven and Hekate interchangeably as though they are one and the same. Scott uses these terms to describe the head of a Scottish covine (coven) of witches practising necromancy in Letter V of his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830).

Hekate is widely known as the Greek goddess of witchcraft, the crossroads, the night and she has connections to the fairy realm and realm of the dead – attributes also associated with Nicnevin so it’s not surprising she is referred to as the Scottish Hekate.

Nicnevin has also been aligned with The Cailleach, and both are Scottish deities described as giantesses and hag-like. It has also been suggested that Nicnevin means daughter of [Ben] Nevis, as Nic means daughter of, and Neven linked to Nevis, thus linking this goddess to The Cailleach as Ben Nevis is her seat of power (Visions of The Cailleach, Sorita d’Este and David Rankine).

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It is said Nicnevin does have a consort but no name is given, and I’ve found no historical content of this nature. It is possible that this is a modern concept to fit in with western witchcraft and of the goddess/consort duality.

In modern practice Nicnevin is believed to ride out on The Wild Hunt at Samhuinn Eve as The Queen of Elphame with her spirits and mysterious creatures, whereas others say her sacred days are 9th and 11th November. Yule or Midwinter is also said to be sacred to her. Nicnevin can be called upon for aid in otherworldly travel, communicating with spirits, protection at night, and pretty much everything within the domain of witchcraft.

I’ve found no specific places or sites sacred to her, there is a folkloric belief that one of her sacred sites is Tomnahurich Hill, on the outskirts of Inverness. However I feel as she is so closely associated with the The Cailleach, Gyre Carling and Black Annis then their sacred sites can be attributed to Nicnevin also. It is worth considering all these deities may in fact be one and the same and their names have changed throughout the duration of history. Another place of interest linked loosely to Nicnevin is Kate McNiven’s Stane which is a solitary standing stone believed to once be part of a stone circle, found at Knock of Crieff (Scotland: Myth, Legend & Folklore, Stuary McHardy, Luath Press 1999.)

From what we have examined it is apparent Nicnevin is a multi-faceted deity with a far reaching domain and yet she still exudes so much mystery, for not only is she a goddess but also a fairy queen. She is a goddess of transformation and all things in the realm of witchcraft. She is queen, she is hag, she is beauty and she is power. Her mysteries are waiting to be explored, and perhaps if you look to the skies from the safety of your home on Samhuinn Eve, you will be lucky to see the Queen of Elphame ride out with her party.

unseelie-court

Queen of the Bad Fairies by Brian Froud.

Good health and blessings this Samhain night.

Celebrating Imbolc

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Bride’s cross

 

Last night I met up with my local pagan moot to celebrate Imbolc. Braving the harsh wind and rain from Storm Henry, we gathered and huddled inside the building clutching steaming cups of tea and coffee.

We gathered around the altar, gazing into the candle representing Bride’s hearth fire, with Bride in her bed overlooking our circle. A motley crew of pagans; among our party was a heathen, two animist folk witches, a green witch and a kemetic witch. Yet despite our different paths and beliefs we met common ground and came together to celebrate the season. We all took turns talking about what this time of year meant for us. For me it is as though I were a bear, slowly coming out of a spiritual hibernation. Winter makes me retreat, hermit-like and I store my energy inwards to help me focus on the mundane tasks at hand.

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Bride in her bed

But as soon as Imbolc approaches I feel the need to go forth like a seedling bursting through the cold, damp soil towards the promise of the sun. The inner fires within me burn and rise, and I feel the aching need to get back into my craft and socialise, as well as plot and plan projects over springtime. Bride has come, and She renews us, giving us the vitality needed to break out of the lackluster winter darkness.

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Moot Imbolc Altar

We cleansed ourselves with incense and blessed water with purifying herbs, using a bird’s foot as an aspergillum. We each lit a candle from the central hearth fire, and later snuffed it out to be relit, taking Bride’s fire into our homes. The moot co-ordinator Ffyona guided us through a seasonal meditation and I felt myself relaxing, sinker deeper and deeper into it, the imagery filling my senses. When it was done I felt like I’d woken up from a nice long nap. Using the energy we’d gathered, and the light from Bride’s hearth flame we sent out healing to loved ones and took some of the healing within us too.

Then after all the energy work, we laughed and chatted and feasted together 🙂

Although we were a small gathering this time round, I can attest to the success of our moot as I was one of the co-founders. The moot is now running in its fifth year and going strong.

A moot is only successful when it’s members contribute. So please folks, support your moots and gatherings. They are run by hard working volunteers with busy lives,  so although showing up to moots is great, perhaps you can also offer to lend a hand? If you have a skill, or a talent, put it to use 🙂 Moot co-ordinators don’t want to be running the show 24/7, the point of a moot is to create a safe community for members to get to know others of a like mind and for celebration, but also as a place of learning. We all have something we can contribute to the community.

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My Imbolc celebration has turned into a two day event. This evening I relit my hearth flame from the candle I used at the moot to welcome Bride into the home, an offering of milk was placed on my altar and then I made some Bride’s crosses out of pipe cleaners.

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I am looking forward most to the days lasting longer and can’t wait to get out foraging again when new things start popping up out of the soil.

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Bride’s hearth flame

Wishing you all a very blessed Imbolc, Là Fhèill Brìghde and Candlemas.

slàinte mhath!

 

Naming the Goddess – Moon Books

“Then a clear Companie came soon after closs,
Nicneven with her Nymphs, in number anew,
With Charms from Caitness and Chanrie in Ross,
Whose Cunning consists in casting a Clew…”

– Flyting Betwixt Polwart and Montgomery.

-Alexander Montgomerie

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A wee bit of shameless self-promotion

Naming the Goddess is an anthology written by over eighty adherents and scholars of Goddess spirituality, merging what we historically know of Goddesses and the personal gnosis of those who practice a Goddess based path. The first part of the book examines goddess culture and archetypes and the second part is a range of essays singular goddesses ranging from Aine to Yinggara.

This book also contains my essay about “Nicnevin” a Scottish Faerie Queen and deity linked to magic and witchcraft, necromancy, spirits and the otherworld. She is the ruler of the Unseelie Court of Alba, and has similarities to other deities such as The Cailleach and even nicknamed the Scottish Hekate in the works of Sir Walter Scott.

She is a fascinating deity, and her night is soon approaching on Samhuinn Eve and I will be incorporating offerings to her on the evening.

If you get the chance to read the book, feel free to drop me a line, would love to hear from you 🙂