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.



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.



Amelia Starling sixteen
October 2009. Image my own.



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.



A book of spells for teenage dramas

Too impatient to wait for karma


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.


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.



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


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.