Nicnevin is strongly associated with witches and beside her title of queen of the unseelie she was also called Queen of witches, meaning that she tends to have a fondness for witches who seek to engage with her.
Nicnevin in folklore
One of the most interesting and obscure figures, she appears in folklore from the 16th century onwards as a frightening figure that was used by mothers to ensure children’s good behaviour, a witch and queen of witches, and a fairy queen. In modern understanding she is often depicted as Queen of the unseelie court of Scotland. The truth of her nature and associations is shrouded in mystery.
The meaning of her name is unknown although the official etymology says that it comes from “daughter of the little Saint”given in the 17th century to someone said to be a close relative of Nic Nevin, Connecting her to the Irish war goddess Nemhain. Some think her name means “daughter of the bones”.
We also see an association between Nicnevin and storms and skill at magic and charms.
She is also associated with “All hallow mass” (Halloween), however due to the calendar shift in 1752 which moved the date by 11 days, she became associated with November 11
, the old-style date of Halloween/Samhain.
She carries a powerful wand that can transmute earth to water and vice versa. She is described as malignant and powerful.
Throughout the Scottish countryside the goddess Nicnevin was honored with prayers and feasts, and it was believed that she rode through the air and made herself visible to mortals on this night.
The olde tyme Hallowmass
Hinder end of the harvest,
When the years’ spirits pass
Where the veil becomes thinnest,
Witch Goddess Nicnevin
Daughter of the Bones flying,
Before the clock strikes ten
Mortals see her appearing,
Search for wilted wolfsbane
Remains smoulder of spells cast,
Dark grey gothic days rain
On olde Hallowe’en long past.
This is Nicnevin’s sacred night when she grants wishes and answers petitions.
For a’ that folk said about the skill and witcheries of Mother Nicneven, he would put his trust in God. . . . She was no common spaewife, this Mother Nicneven. . . . She had lords and lairds that would ruffle for her. 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”. 1820 Scott Abbot
Oh Nicnevin queen of the shining ones,
Mother of the wild hunt
Grandmother of witches
She who guards the hedge and draws the veil
Oh Nicnevin queen of Elphame
Grandmother at the crossroads
Mother hare, lady of horns
I honor thee
Was there a real life person named Kate McNeven who became renowned for cursing a whole estate to perish whilst protecting another? Or was she, as represented by lexicographers and burlesque poetry our Witch Mother Goddess Nicneven, a formidable Carlin who ruled over the dead from Samhuinn night and the wild hunt that folks can call on to empower them in the depths of winter?