A Very Spirited Halloween!

As we approach the end of October, we are about to enter the annual spooky celebration that is of course Halloween.

Glenturret Whisky Halloween

This ghoulish celebration can be traced back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago celebrated their New Year on the 1st of November. This day marked the end of Summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the New Year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of the 31st of October, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

In Scotland the popular Halloween activity of Trick-or Treating is often referred to as “guising”. This Scottish term for Trick-or-Treating was used for the tradition because of the disguises or costumes worn by the children.

In the spirit of Halloween and this ghoulish time of year, we look to our local history and our thoughts immediately turn to the tale of Kate McNiven and the witches stone. Along the A822 road past Crieff and then Gilmerton is a small road to Monzie and The Glenturret Distillery. And in this area lies a particular standing stone. In Joyce Miller’s (2010) excellent work on Scottish heathenism, she told the following tale of this particular stone:

“The standing stone is said to mark the site of Kate McNiven or MacNieven’s, sometimes known as the witch of Monzie, execution. The story goes that she was put in a barrel and rolled down what is now known as Kate MacNieven’s Craig on the north side of the Knock of Crieff before being burnt.  Kate had been the nurse to the Grahams of Inchbrackie, and was accused of witchcraft, including turning herself into a bee.  Graham of Inchbrackie tried to save her but to no avail, but as she was about to die it is said that she spat a bead from her necklace into his hand. The bead – a blue sapphire – was turned into a ring and it was believed that the ring would keep the family and lands secure.  She did, however, curse the laird of Monzie, although whether this worked or not is not known. MacNiven or Nic Niven was also believed to be the name of the Queen of Fairies. Indeed, it is not clear whether Kate MacNiven was a real person or is a conflation of stories. There do not appear to be any contemporary records of her execution at or near Crieff, and dates for her unpleasant death are variously given as 1563, 1615 and 1715.”

This 1.7m tall standing stone stands to the north-west of the Monzie kerb cairn, linked by the drive which meanders in an S-shape between these ancient monuments on its way to Monzie Castle. In 1936 the stone stood “in the middle of a causeway 6 yds wide, like a Roman road” but there is no visible evidence of this now. Also disappeared is a possible barrow immediately the to the south-east of the stone, which has presumably been ploughed away. The stone leans heavily to the north, away from Kate McNieven’s Craig which points towards the Witches’ Stone from the Knock of Crieff. Kate McNieven is supposedly the witch who gave her name to the stone, although there are some doubts about her existence, and the name is plural. Tradition has it that the Craig is where she was burned (for turning herself into a bee and buzzing around the head of Graham, laird of Inchbrakie). She is supposed to have been one of the last witches burned in Scotland, but one account has her being burned as early as 1563, while another says that she was burned in St Andrews.

 Alongside local eerie history The Glenturret Distillery has seen some tragic tales and resulting spirits that haunt our buildings to this day. Very sadly in 1870 the female distillery worker Grace Gow lost her life at Glenturret when she fell into a fermenting vat and drowned. In 1897 there was also a very sad record of the death of a two year old boy who drowned in the lade at Hosh Farm. The little boy was the son of a carter at Glenturret. With several fires also documented, it is safe to say that The Glenturret has had its share of eerie tales to tell.

As we prepare to celebrate Halloween and welcome in the Winter, we have been inspired to create a signature Spooky Serve for the occasion. Enjoy our serve suggestion responsibly and we wish you all a wonderful Halloween!

Sláinte mhaith!