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.

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Queen of the Bad Fairies by Brian Froud.

Good health and blessings this Samhain night.

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The Magic of Rowan

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When the days were still as deith,

An’ I couldna see the kye,

Though I’d mebbe hear their breith

I’ the mist oot-bye;

When I’d mind the lang grey een

O’ the warlock by the hill,

And sit flegged, like a wean,

Gin a whaup cried shrill;

Though the hert wad dee in me

At a fitstep on the floor,

There was aye the rowan tree

Wi’ its airm across the door.”

– The Silver Bough, Volume 1, F. Marian McNeill

 

The magic of the rowan tree has enchanted me since childhood. It seems to be a tree which marks the end of summer and beginning of autumn, with its red jewels drooping towards the earth. I’d felt a pull towards this tree long before I knew anything about witchcraft. Perhaps a wee bit of ancestral memory was passed down, as this tree is very important in Scottish folklore.

The rowan, rodden, or mountain ash – ‘the mystic tree whose scarlet berries were the ambrosial food of the Tuatha de Danann’ – may still be seen growing hard by many of our cairns, stone circles and other sites of pagan worship. As a potent charm against witchcraft and evil spells, it was used in many forms about the homestead – in fact, an old Scots word for the cross-beam in the chimney is rantree, a form of rowan tree, o which, as a lucky wood, it was commonly made. Rowan wood was also used for the distaff, the churn-staff, the peg of the cow shackle, the pin of the plough or water-mill… a rowan tree was commonly planted at the door of the homestead to ‘keep the witches away’.

-The Silver Bough, Volume 1. F. Marian McNeill.

In Highland life, a family’s livestock was often their only source of food and money and rowan charms were used to protect animals from bewitchment and mishap.The rowan tree was also shaped in the form of an arch over the byre door to protect cows, and on Quarter days a wand of rowan was placed above the lintels of the house and out-houses and a twig carried in the pocket for protection. A tree was often planted near a gate or front door of the property.

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One of the most popular pieces of Scottish folk magic is the rowan tree and red thread. An auld rhyme states:

“Rowan tree and red threid, Gar the witches tyne their speed.”

Two twigs of rowan were shaped like a cross and tied together with red thread and this was carried on one’s person for protection from witches and evil spells, or the evil eye.

This practice has a long history, having been recorded by James VI who wrote about the use of rowan charms in his book Daemonologie 1597. He noted that people protected their cattle against the evil eye by “knitting roun trees or sundriest kind of herbes to the haire and tailes of the goods (animals)”.  It is likely this practice dates back much further than 16th century.

In 1709, Thomas Pennant recorded that,

“The farmers carefully preserve their cattle against witchcraft by placing boughs of the mountain ash and honeysuckle in their cows’ houses on the 2nd of May.”

This practice was also seen well into the 19th century in the north-east of Scotland.

Red thread was also used alone by Highland women as a charm tied around the finger or wrist. The colour red was associated with blood and life force and having protective qualities.  Women would also wear a string of rowan berries as necklace for protection.

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The rowan trees outside my home are heavy with lots of bright red berries and I had a dream that the first fall of snow will come early this winter. Folklore suggests that an abundance of berries on a tree can indicate an early and cold winter is on its way. The elder berries this year were very quickly gobbled up by the birds. The signs are telling me to buy a lot of thick woolly jumpers and cardigans! As much as I dislike the thought of a cold Scottish winter, I do feel it’s needed. Last year’s winter was too mild with little snowfall.

So, besides their mystical and folkloric properties, rowan berries were also used as a traditional medicine in Scotland. Mary Beith states in Healing Threads that,

A good gargle can be made from the berries by boiling them to a pulp, then they should be squeezed through muslin and strained for use. Whooping cough was relieved  with a decoction of apples and rowanberries sweetened with brown sugar. Lightfoot mentions that in Jura, ‘They use the juice of [the rowan] as an acid for punch”. (Rowan contains sorbic acid).

Rowan berries must never be eaten raw, because the acids in them can cause indigestion and lead to kidney damage. But heat treatment such as cooking, heat-drying and to a lesser extent freezing, neutralizes the acids making them benign.

Rowan Jelly

Ingredients: Rowan berries, apples, water, sugar.

“Gather your rowan berries when almost ripe. Remove the stalks and wash and drain the berries. Put them in a preserving-pan with enough cold water to float them well. Let them simmer for about forty minutes or until the water is red and the berries are quite soft. Strain off the juice, being careful not to press the fruit in the least. Measure the juice and return it to the pan. Add sugar in the proportion of a pound to each pint of juice. Boil rapidly for half and hour or until some of it sets quickly on a plate when cold. Skim it well, pour it into small pots and tie down quickly.

If you allow pound for pound of apple juice to rowan juice you will get a delightful jelly. Allow a pound of sugar to each pint of apple juice. Rowan jelly is an excellent accompaniment to grouse, venison and saddle of mutton.” 

– The Scots Kitchen, F. Marian McNeill.

 

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Slàinte mhath!

Sources:

The Silver Bough, Volume one – F. Marian McNeill

The Scots Kitchen – F. Marian McNeill

Healing Threads, Traditional medicines of the Highlands and Islands – Mary Beith.

Myth and Magic, Scotland’s Ancient Beliefs & Sacred Places – Joyce Miller

Mystical Scotland – Ann Lindsay Mitchell

Into the Trees!

“Come closer and see
See into the trees
Find the girl
While you can

Come closer and see
See into the dark
Just follow your eyes
Just follow your eyes”

– The Cure, A Forest.

I took a trip into the trees late last night with some friends and my big brother. These trees in particular were based at Faskally Wood for The Enchanted Forest event just outside Pitlochry. We ventured out during the passing of hurricane Gonzalo with strong winds in Dundee (no fecking hurricane was going to stop me going, I can assure you.), but as we reached Pitlochry there was barely a stir in the air. I had been focusing a lot of my own will power and visualizing clear dry weather, and I reckon all of the other ticket holders had done the very same, and thankfully we got our wish 🙂

When we walked into the woods all beautifully lit up and colourful, I was instantly transported back to my youth and  recalled all those girlish dreams of magic. I felt and sounded, and most likely looked like a kid at Christmas, grinning ear to ear. The magic of the forest worked on everyone around me as all I saw before me was happiness, a lightening of the heart and a spring in the step of some of the older visitors. We had crossed an invisible threshold into the realm of youth again. Truly magical!

I only managed to capture a few photos before my phone battery died, but it’s a good thing as it ensured I enjoyed my journey through the woods by being present in the moment,  using my own eyes and not simply glancing through a camera lens. Here are some of the ones I managed to capture:

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These photos are courtesy of The Sea Witch and my big brother:

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One of the acrobats

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One of the water “Kelpies”.

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Now my first thoughts of these woods were: poor nature spirits having to put up with us humans and our mad schemes. If I were one of the genius loci I would run away and hide till the smelly humans had gone.

Second thoughts were: hmmm the genius loci are here though, I can feel it.

Third thoughts: holy fuck! They’re fucking loving this, they’re feeding from the energy!

So overall not bad, they get a tasty treat and we get to pretend we’re part of a faery court twirling around a enchanted realm for an evening. Or at least that’s what I did anyway 😉

One of the guides, calling himself a “druid” mentioned to be careful crossing the bridge as the kelpies were well known to spray water at you for fun. I had to laugh when thinking of the folklore of the kelpie, for it will do much more than spray water at you.

We got home later than my bedtime for I had work the next day, and I crashed into bed and awoke a zombie, red eyes and crazy hair. But it was well and truly worth it.

I would definitely like to go back to the event next year and would love to visit Faskally Wood in the daytime too.

My one month of magic is… well not going to plan. I tend to have a habit of biting off more than I can chew, and silly me thought I could work in depth with sigils in a week… err no. It’s a fascinating system that’s occupying my focus just now, as I try out different methods of design and activation. I love that it can be done pretty much anywhere, friends and I have activated a few in a cafe and a pub. So that’s my focus for just now till I feel ready to move onto learning something new.

Mercury retrograde… well I’m not usually one that likes to blame poor old Merc for whatever catastrophe befalls me… but this month has been hellish for breakdowns in communication and travel disruptions, for delays and forgetfulness. I believe there is a reason for everything, and people tend to see a Mercury retrograde as a negative thing. But I can see how it’s useful. Mercury retrogrades teach me patience. They remind me to slow down. They remind me to stop and take a breath. They remind me to never assume. They remind me to focus on one thing at a time. They remind me to think first before speaking. They remind me to be flexible as plans can change at the drop of a hat.

Lastly, they are a reminder that everything changes all of the time, including ourselves and that’s no bad thing 🙂

Mar sin leat an-dràsta! x

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 🙂

Beltane Revelry: Mirth and Magick at the Beltane Fires

            Oh, do not tell the priest our plight, 
               Or he would call it a sin; 
            But--we have been out in the woods all night, 
                A-conjuring Summer in! 
            And we bring you good news by word of mouth -- 
                Good news for cattle and corn -- 
            Now is the Sun come up from the south, 
                With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn! 

- From A Tree Song by Rudyard Kipling

 

I travelled to Edinburgh on May’s Eve with two fellow witches to celebrate Beltane at the Beltane Fire Festival on Calton Hill. I was last there in 2009, and I couldn’t wait to be there again.

The Beltane Fire Festival of today is inspired by the ancient Gaelic festival marking the start of summer. The festival has been running since 1988 and now thousands of people attend it each year. The Beltane Fire Society also run a Samhuinn Fire Festival and I plan to attend that one later in the year.

Before the festival we stopped off at a nice little gothic pub called Jekyll & Hyde for dinner and drinks.

 

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It was raining heavily outside, not the ideal weather for an outdoor festival lasting over 3 hours. So we put our witchy minds together and using a simple pub table candle and our intent we spent a few moments focusing on dry weather. The bar maid was standing nearby and must have noticed what we were doing, but she didn’t bat an eyelid. Well, she was wearing a t-shirt that said “Book of Spells” on it, so who knows? We got the giggles afterwards and joked about being the power of three, and both me and J joked how the bar maid could be our fourth. Yeah, I think we can quote The Craft word for word 😉

We walked a little tipsily to the Beltane Fires, and lo and behold the rain had stopped. As we queued to get in I could feel the excitement building up in me. All sorts of people were here, old and young, of all races and genders and walks of life. We followed a line of petrol fueled flames and animal masks onto the hill.

We walked to the acropolis which was already surrounded by hundreds of people, so there was no way of getting close to the front. However we managed to position ourselves so we could at least see some of what was going on. The hunting horn sounded, and the neid fire was lit, then came the beat of the drums and I felt the hairs on my arms stand up and the feeling of joy and excitement wash over me.

 

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The May Queen’s procession had begun followed by dozens of blazing torches and we all scrambled to see her, and follow her procession line. The three of us linked arms so as to not lose each other in the crowd. We followed the torches and the drumbeats to a fiery archway guarded by a huge fearsome red dragon, who gave way to the May Queen. The lusty red spirits represent the embodiment of desire and they performed as the rest of the procession moved on ahead.

 

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We watched some of the dancers perform, some using fire poi and lots of drumming. Some of the dancers represented elementals and others resembled animalistic earth spirits. The May Queen had her white painted shieldmaidens to protect her on her procession. The red spirits seemed to be everywhere, performing, dancing, playing with the fire, building up the desires of the crowd. The story line goes that the Green Man is kidnapped by the reds before he can be wed to the May Queen.

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We caught up with the procession as the white shieldmaidens free the Green Man. But he must die first as he sheds the last of his winter self. The May Queen revives him, with the heart’s beat of the drums and the warmth of the flames, one, twice, third time is the charm. He springs up as his youthful self. He dances and rejoices with his new found vitality, and then he see’s her once more. His saviour. Then they dance together and she crowns him. They are reunited with a kiss.

 

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They both lead the procession to the lighting of the Beltane Bonfire to herald in the summer.

 

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We decided to leave after that as we were frozen and the rain had come back on again. It was such a perfect night, and I can still feel the beat of the drums. My photos aren’t so great but here is a link to the photos taken by the Beltane Fire Society.

I hope you all had a lovely Beltane,

 

Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh!

 

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Links:

https://www.facebook.com/beltanefiresociety

http://beltanefiresociety.wordpress.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calton_Hill

 

The Spaewife

 

“O, I wad like to ken — to the beggar-wife says I—

Why chops are guid to brander and nane sae guid to fry.

An’ siller, that’s sae braw to keep, is brawer still to

gi’e.

— It’s gey an’ easy spierin’, says the beggar-wife to me.

 

O, I wad like to ken — to the beggar-wife says I—

Hoo a’ things come to be whaur we find them when we try,

The lasses in their claes an’ the fishes in the sea.

— It’s gey an’ easy spierin’, says the beggar-wife to me.

 

O, I wad like to ken — to the beggar-wife says I—

Why lads are a’ to sell an’ lasses a’ to buy;

An’ naebody for dacency but barely twa or three

— It’s gey an’ easy spierin’, says the beggar-wife to me.

 

O, I wad like to ken — to the beggar-wife says I—

Gin death’s as shure to men as killin’ is to kye,

Why God has filled the yearth sae fu’ o’ tasty things to

pree.

— It’s gey an’ easy spierin’, says the beggar-wife to me.

 

O, I wad like to ken — to the beggar wife says I—

The reason o’ the cause an’ the wherefore o’ the why,

Wi’ mony anither riddle brings the tear into my e’e.

— It’s gey an’ easy spierin’, says the beggar-wife to me.

 

– The Spaewife, Robert Louis Stevenson

 

*It’s gey an’ easy spierin’ – meaning it’s an easy question to ask.

 

The Spae-wife of the Clachen

The Spae-wife of the Clachen.
A group of distressed people gathering before the hut of an old woman, sitting at the door at right with black cat at her feet and a horseshoe hanging over the entrance, through which a male figure is seen in the shadows; cutting from the ‘Illustrated London News’, 7 June 1851, p.542, with part of an illustration of the inauguration of monument to Frederick the Great on the verso. 1851 Wood-engraving
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Spae (from Merriam-Webster online) – chiefly Scottish, meaning foretell. Origin Middle English span, from Old Norse spā; akin to Old High German spehōn to watch, spy.

From Dictionary.com: verb (used with object), spaed, spae·ing. Chiefly Scot.

to prophesy; foretell; predict.

 Middle English span, from Old Norse spā; akin to Old High German spehōn to watch, spy.

A spaewife is a female prophetess, a seer, a diviner, one who sees. In Norse shamanism she was called a  spákona or spækona – a seeress, and stories of such women are found throughout Norse mythology. The völva’s (Norse shamanic seeress) practice involved spá and in an account called Völuspá (Prophecy of the Völva) the first poem of the Poetic Edda, Odin, the father of the gods consulted a völva to find out what was in store for all the gods. 

It must be made clear that in Scottish belief, a spaewife was vastly different to a witch. In the early modern period in Britain, witches were seen as practitioners of maleficium.

” In early modern Britain the term ‘witch’ generally denoted an individual who was seen by others, or perceived by themselves, as being able to employ magical powers to do harm. The type of harmful magic most feared by contemporary villagers was ‘maleficium’. Maleficium was witchcraft at it’s most basic – the manipulation of occult forces at a distance with malevolent intent.”

Emma Wilby, “Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic”, p42, Sussex Academic Press.

 

Villagers would visit a cunning man or woman, or a spaewife for healing, to foretell the future or to counteract the harmful effects of a witch’s spell.  Walter Traill Dennison, a 19th century folklorist and Orkney native wrote of the folk tales of Orkney and the role of the spaewife there. The spaewife was said to possess:

 

“..all the supernatural wisdom, some of the supernatural power, without any of the malevolent spirit of witches.”

He goes on:

“The women of this class were skilled in medicinal and surgery, in dreams, in foresight and second-sight, and in forestalling the evil influence of witchcraft. Such women were looked upon with a kind of holy respect.”

I wrote a blog a little while back about Grissel Jaffray, a woman burned in Dundee as a witch. I’ve updated the photos as the one I used to show her plaque wasn’t clear to read. One thing I had never noticed about the plaque before is that Grissel is noted as being a spaewife, not a witch. Perhaps she could see things others could not and was sadly burned for it.

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I’ve noticed the term spaewife hasn’t been completely disregarded in modern usage, there are those among the pagan and magickal communities claiming the title for themselves. It will be interesting to see if the definition changes over time, and if it will become another branch of the tree in terms of a separate practice. I would be interested in hearing from people who practice spae, so drop me a line if you do 🙂

Mar sin leat an-dràsta! 

 

Grissel Jaffray – The Dundee Witch

Grissel Jaffray was the last so called “witch” to burn in Dundee. Not a huge amount is known about the charges brought against her as documents relating to her trial were mysteriously destroyed.

She was a respectable citizen of Dundee, married to a burgess and later was accused of the crime of practising witchcraft.

Adapted from the book Haunted Dundee by A.H. Miller:

One memorable case in which the Magistrates of Dundee imposed the extreme penalty of the law, with all the barbarity prescribed by the statutes was the martyrdom of Grissel Jaffray in the Seagate of Dundee in November 1669.

On 11th November, 1669, the Privy Council, having been informed that Grissel Jaffray was then a prisoner in the Tolbooth of Dundee, at the corner of High Street and Overgate, accused of ” The horrid crime of witchcraft,” issued an order for her trial.

The remit to the ministers and Dundee Town Council ordained that “If by her own confession, without any sort of torture or other indirect means used, it shall be found she hath renounced her baptism, entered into paction with the devil, or otherwise that malefices be legally proven against her, that then and no otherwise they cause the sentence of death to he executed upon her.”

 

For whatever reason, she was found guilty, and then executed by strangulation and her body burnt thereafter.

Local folklore states that her son was a sailor, and he arrived back in Dundee on the day of his mother’s execution. It’s said when he realised his mother’s body was on the funeral pyre, he jumped back into the ship and sailed away never to return to his home town.

Three men were responsible for her death and they all happened to be leading ministers in the Dundee Presbytery at the time –  Harry Scrymsour of St Mary’s, John Guthrie of South Church and William Rait of St Paul’s.  There is a suggestion that her death was brought on for religious reasons.

From website http://www.ninetradesofdundee.co.uk/:

“In the 1663 Register of Deeds there is reference to a Grissell Jaffrey whose husband was Thomas Boutchard, a merchant in Dundee.
In the same year another reference is made to a Bessie Lyn, relict of James, mariner in Dundee and spouse of Thomas Butchart, merchant in Dundee.
There is also a reference to James Butchard, a maltman in Dundee. There were quite a number of Jaffreys’ in Aberdeen at that time who were prominent Quakers at a time of great religious upheaval. One of them was a
member of the ‘board’ who gave Charles I a hard time in Breda. Bear in mind that one of the Jaffray’s from Aberdeen, which is where we think she originated, went to Breda before the Restoration to negotiate with Charles II. They laid down such conditions that, although Charles was forced to agree them, there was no chance that he could ever keep them, and indeed had no intention of keeping them.
He never forgave those who gave him such a hard time. The Jaffrays’ were Quakers and Charles II persecuted Quakers for many years. They were also a wealthy merchant family, as were the Butchards’. There is a suggestion that
her death may have been a put up job for religious reasons and it is very likely that her burning took the form of something more like a religous assassination”

 

Traditions state that Grissel Jaffray was burned in the Seagate, almost opposite Horse Water Wynd where the first Cross of Dundee stood. There is a flame mosiac at the top of Peter Street and a blue plaque erected in her memory there.

 

mosiac at Peter Street

mosiac at Peter Street

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Flame mosiac, Peter Street, Dundee. In memorial to Grissel Jaffray.

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Grissel Jaffray’s blue plaque in Peter Street as part of Dundee Women’s Trail. She is honoured here as a spaewife.

 

 

 

She has also been immortalised in a work of fiction, The Curewife by Claire-Marie Watson.

 

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There is a certain stone marker in Dundee’s Howff Cemetery which may or may not be linked to Grissel. Howff is an old Scots word for meeting place. In 1564 Mary, Queen of Scots granted the land to the burgh of Dundee for use as a burial ground. It became a meeting place for those in the nine incorporated trades of Dundee and the last burial took place in 1857.  There is a stone in The Howff known locally as The Witches’ Stone and people today believe it is a marker for Grissel or some other unknown accused witch before her. People today visit that stone and leave offerings, usually such things as coins, buttons, bits of cloth and shells, perhaps in offering for her aid.

I visited the stone last year with some friends and laid down a few coins as an offering in her memory. I didn’t feel the need to ask for her aid, and thought it would be rude to do so on the first visit anyway. I just thought of her and all that she suffered, and wished her some peace. I’m glad the people of Dundee haven’t forgotten her.

 

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The Witches’ Stone with coins and a shell