Clootie Well, Clootie Tree

In the British Isles, there is an old tradition. When one is sick or injured (physically or spiritually), one goes to the clootie well with a strip of cloth. The cloth is dipped into the well and then used to bathe the area where the injury or illness presents. Afterwards, the cloth is tied to a tree (there can be several trees at each well) and left to fade and rot in the elements. When the color is completely gone, so will the illness be, or forgiveness will be given if the illness is spiritual. These poems were written in celebration of ancient traditions.

Clootie Tree I

The strips of home fluttering there
Tell a tale of brokenness and love
An arm here, blue and green calico,
A liver there, bleached cherry in the breeze.
Misused, the garment and its organ
Faded by the glaring sun
And weakened by the shafts of wind
Buffeting without end the night long vigil
Stripped and flung with the frost
Into time’s ruin.
Dipped and wrung, soothed and stroked
Till all is left is soothe and stroke
And rag of calico
Rotting under moon and shimmering
In the clootie tree beside the holy well.

Clootie Tree II

Take your pains and wash them clean
With torn scraps of life’s coverings.
Knot them there unto a brach and
Leave them in the sun and wind.
Let thorns grasp and hold them there
While both gentle breeze and storms do blow.
Colors fade, leached away to nothingness
As scrap wears into thread
As thread surrenders, twists
And straightens into gossamer
A web of memory and pain
Of desire and yawning need,
The roots and leaves of clootie tree.

2 thoughts on “Clootie Well, Clootie Tree

  1. Yes, clootie trees and wells are very special to me. This two-part paean to healing moves me. You knew it would, Susan! I think that sheer conviction…call it belief…is as strong as medicine. In some cases, it’s actually stronger. Thank you for these poems. They remind me to keep the inner faith, hang my sorrows and weaknesses in the bleaching sun and rotting moon, heal the inner wound, walk upright again..

    (I think you may have read Stag Heart. In that novel, the clootie tree and well are a central symbol.)

    I especially like the ironic concreteness of the calico…blue and green and cherry… juxtaposed with the ragged inconstance of frost and wind and sun. Wonderful work. Thanks again for thinking of me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My dearest Bon, it wasn’t Stag Heart which put Clootie trees and clootie wells in my thoughts—it was your Iron Warrior series. I hadn’t known of them until I read those books, how many years ago was it now? And lately, I’ve run across them again, in a book you might enjoy called Spectred Isle (Book 1 in the Green Men series) by KJ Charles. Yes, it’s “spectered” and not “sceptered” because there are specters as well as a clootie well. It’s set in London, in a year you’re fond of—1923—and it is MM. You might like to give it a whirl. It’s different, and very good.

      Thank you for your kind words. The juxtaposition was intended, unlike so many things of mine which pop into my consciousness after they’ve been written. 🙂 I agree with you that belief, conviction, can be much stronger than medicine. It’s such a shame that more of us don’t realize that, and that those of us who do, don’t realize it it all the time, and usually too late.

      Much love, always.


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