Yakuyoke

Keep my safe

In this stranger’s room

Now my own

I arrived in the gloom

When rain was falling

Over the rice fields

When my body was tired

From nights on mountains

And all I had healed

 

A Japanese country house
Image my own

 

No locks on the doors

No light in the halls

Paper cranes on the table

Handprints on the walls

What happens here

Will never leave

Old feelings linger

Spirits in eaves

 

Image my own

 

Keep me safe

As the rain falls

As I sleep

When the moon is hidden

And my dreams are weak

No locks on the doors

Yet I will not fear

We have told the thresholds

Only good may enter here

 

yakuyoke shrine charm from Japan
Image my own

A yakuyoke is a type of omamori (charm) which you can purchase from shrines and temples in Japan. There are many kinds of omamori. Maybe you need help finding love, or nurturing your current relationship. Or some support for coping with a health condition. If you’re going on a trip, get a travel safety omamori and tie it to your bag. Looking to attract positivity? Get a luck or happiness charm. Whatever your needs, there will be an omamori suitable for you. Put it somewhere you can see it every day, and never open it. As it becomes old and worn, you will see the harm it has saved you from in its fraying edges and loosened knots.

The above image is of a yakuyoke charm I took at house I stayed in in Kamikawa-cho, a rural part of Hyōgo Prefecture. A yakuyoke is for protection against evil spirits. This one hung above my bed. It was an old, mysterious house. Over a century old, made of wood, glass, and paper, with no locks. The washroom was a tiny cupboard with a stool and a cold tap in it. I boiled saucepans of water and took them in with me to wash with. There was a dusty parasol hanging from the ceiling, between the kitchen and a side room with a sunken area which I guess used to hold an irori (Japanese fire pit). My friends and I sat there wrapped in blankets, eating combini cookies & listening to the rain, and singing to mask our nerves at being alone in this peculiar place. I was as scared as I should have been, arriving in the dark to somewhere so isolated. But I soon felt at peace. The walls were happy. They held memories. The yakuyoke would let me sleep. The mountains would watch over us.

Read more about omamori on #FolkloreThursday in this article by Kim McGreal.

 

Solstice in the City

It’s Solstice in the city

my heart is not still

I climbed a mountain

and let my hair down

in the wind’s chill.

I walked very far

on streets I know well

I was tired but smiling

so no-one could tell.

 

View of Edinburgh from Salisbury Crags
Edinburgh, taken from Salisbury Crags. Image my own.

 

I’m wearing a crown

of sunflowers and straw

It doesn’t mean much, really

but I couldn’t ignore

this glowing, this summer

beginning today

in the colour of stones

wherever I stray.

 

Image my own.

 

When later I wonder

where all the light went

I’ll look at the flowers,

memories have such strength,

when your heart is not still,

and needs reminding

of what it loves,

of how to be filled.

 

 

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.

 

Seventeen

Amelia Starling Seventeen
October 2010. Image my own.

 

Dressing up

As someone I don’t quite understand

Parts of me, parts that are other

Figuring them out

Not telling my mother.

Stitching up holes in tights

On park benches

Thinking I look wild, and edgy

Hoping a guy will see me and think ‘she’s cool’

Because apparently I wanted a boyfriend who appreciated

My horrendous sewing skills.

 

Wearing a costume, to feel more like myself

To be a photograph

To not look like everyone else

Foundation and Photoshop

Fix me up, be pretty

Make my skin who I am, who I want to be

Feed what’s growing inside of me

That can only come out on Halloween.

 

Prop up the camera

On hardback spell books

Bought from the market, where no-one ever looks

To see how old you are

Or why you want to make potions.

Be still and pose

Look dramatic, look sexy

Autumn wind blows

Shiver in your shabby clothes

Don’t smile

In the lens, confide

Only your measly MySpace followers will see

But be sure to greyscale

To hide your acne.

 

The camera can lie

And so can your mind

Let them play their tricks

Whilst you’re living your life.

Parts of you, parts that are other

One day you’ll know which ones to smother.

 

I’ve learned since

That you don’t need a pointy hat

To be a witch

And that it’s better

To leave your tights ripped

And holy

So you have at least one decent thing to wear

On Sundays.

 

Sixteen

Amelia Starling sixteen
October 2009. Image my own.

 

Habits

Amethyst in pockets

Oracle cards as bookmarks

Pentagrams, etched into the margins of maths books

A cheap golden necklace, cleansed in the sun on a Thursday lunchtime,

Still able to turn my neck green.

A bowl of salt water, on my bedroom floor

Not sure what for

But I like it there

With the dust and the hair

The makeshift altar where

I sit

Staring at the wall.

 

Cast

A book of spells for teenage dramas

Too impatient to wait for karma

Casting,

With a name, a plait of ribbon,

A vanilla pod, bought from Sainsbury’s, in a glass jar

What a star

What an empty sky

Grey at best,

Blackness behest.

Casting,

With purple felt bags,

Stuffed full of scented tissue paper

And wishes scribbled in blue cartridge pen

Tied with scraps of ribbon

To hooks, laden with the fae,

Where I can see them, every day,

And remember

What I am missing.

 

Shadows

Wishes to be better, to be happier,

To be more

To not barricade myself in the bathroom and cry on the floor

When they won’t let me go

Out

When it’s dark, when the moon is full,

When its light ripples on the ocean and it calls me,

When I need to get away

Because words cannot live in this world, where I sit on the roof,

Wondering if anything has truth,

And what each teen will be like

One more year, one more secret tarot reading, one more candle lit

One more journal, full and placed on a shelf,

Maybe someday to be read by someone else,

Who will see what it was like to be a girl,

In the wrong place,

Making her own magic.

 

Come, Tie Your Life Away

Munlochy Clootie Well
Munlochy Clootie Well. Image my own.

Come, tie your life away with me

At the Clootie Well

We’ll wander through the forest

Leaving no footprints to trace our spell

Bring that frayed ribbon from your hair,

And the expensive dresses you never wear

Soak them in the water, slow and dark

All the better to pierce a tender heart.

 

If the well is dry, we can cry instead

All that salt is cleansing, or so it is said

Am I your sorrow?

Will you speak my name as you tie the knot?

Am I your ghost?

If so, is that the best you’ve got?

 

There’s cloths for Cancer, strokes, and suicide

Sad thoughts, where daylight cannot abide

For all the ones that never got to meet

For last goodbyes, and shoes empty of feet

These fabric demons, suffocating the trees.

 

Come, tie your life away with me

It will never wither, we will never be free

Two dripping rags, intertwined

Our love, our curse, too late to mind

We’ll be forever, amongst nature’s rot

Am I the best heartbreak that you’ve got?