Scottish Witchcraft: Grissell Jaffray

Grissell Jaffrey memorial mosaic
Grissell Jaffray memorial mosaic, Dundee. Image my own.

 

Three centuries, yet still binding

She isn’t here anymore

At the plaque

Or on the patterned floor

Binding which need not have been done before.

 

A spirit restrained

Sent to the flames

The spirit of a woman, a mother, a crone

In this city she made her home

Names and confessions, freely given

Knowing there was nothing left worth living.

 

Bind the demon

Which was never present

And remains not

Nevertheless, ink stains

Mark the spot

A cross for a witch is no crime at all

When alleys are dark, and minds are small

When you ask for God to rest a soul

Which is already resting

In its own way

After all.

 

Grissell Jaffrey memorial mosaic
Grissell Jaffray memorial mosaic, Dundee. Image my own.

Grissell Jaffray was the last woman executed for witchcraft in Dundee in 1669. Originally from Aberdeen, she moved to Dundee and married a burgess. They were respectable, prosperous people, and had a son who was a successful seafarer. Few details of Grissell’s trial were kept, so it is unclear why she was accused of witchcraft and what her supposed crimes were. According to legend, on the day of her execution, her son’s ship arrived in the harbour at Dundee. He saw the smoke from the fire, and sailed back out of the city never to return.

The mosaics of torches and a plaque with her name, year of death, and the word ‘spaewife’ (Scots word for a female seer, and perhaps a softer way of saying ‘witch’) can be found on Peter Street in Dundee’s town centre. When I saw the plaque, it had been defaced with graffiti which inspired me to write the above poem. There is also a stone in The Howff, a cemetery in Dundee, which allegedly marks the spot where Grissell is buried. People often visit it to leave her small offerings for good luck.

 

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Amelia Starling is a writer and folklorist. She graduated from the University of Winchester with a degree in Creative Writing, and is Senior Editor for Folklore Thursday. She loves travelling and collecting stories, and spent 15 months living in Japan doing this alongside teaching English. Currently she is living in Scotland and studying for a masters degree in Ethnology & Creative Writing. Amelia blogs about folklore and fairy tales at The Willow Web. You can follow her on Twitter @amyelize.

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