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
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.