Lilias Adie, The Torryburn Witch
3D image of Lilias Adie's face (image:wikipedia)
Lilias Adie is arguably Scotland’s best-known ‘witch’. She is the subject of countless articles, videos, and appeals. Adie was born in approximately 1640 and she lived in Torryburn, Fife where she died in 1704. Not much is known about Adie outside of her ordeal in later life and not much has been recorded or remembered otherwise. Regardless her legacy is such that she is remembered 317 years after her death.
In the early 1700s, a witch hysteria had swept over Fife. One woman, Jean Bizet, accused Adie of having been a witch, allegedly saying ‘beware lest Lilias Adie come upon you and your child’. It is important to note that witnesses at the time of Adie’s trial stated Bizet was likely drunk. The next day, Bizet’s strange behaviour continued, when she began crying ‘by God he is going to take me! by Christ he is going to take me! O Lilly with her blew doublet!’. What would be brushed aside as ramblings today, was enough to warrant the arrest of Lilias Adie in the 18th century. It highlights how little needed to be said against an individual for action to be taken. The false accusation was a common trend in witch trials of all time periods in Scotland, and beyond. Furthermore Adie seems to have been ‘at risk’ of an accusation. Women accused of witchcraft were typically different, older, lived alone or failed to fit into the societal norms and expectations of their time. Adie, who was over 60 at the time of her accusation and arrest, fit into the age category.
Like many other accused, after a month in prison, Adie confessed to being a witch. She told her captors that she met the devil in a cornfield at sunset. During further questioning by the Reverend Allan Logan, Adie confessed to having lain with the devil before ‘renouncing her baptism’. Although it has been suggested Adie was ‘frail’ with ‘failing eyesight’ she is remembered for her ‘courage’. It was believed at the time that witches would meet with the devil in groups. Therefore, the assumption was that an accused witch would be able to identify others. Adie claimed that she could not identify any others as they all wore masks at the meetings. Although she could have named other alleged witches and potentially made her situation easier, this simple lie saved the lives of others in her community.
She was subsequently sentenced to be burned at the stake. This was the preferred method of killing a ‘witch’ as it was feared that the devil could reanimate a witch’s body and allow them to exact revenge on the living. Those reanimated were called ‘revenants’. Thus, burning was thought to be a suitable method of execution.
However, Lilias Adie died before she could make it to the stake. It has been suggested it was suicide. Others suggest that the possible torture and brutality she had faced had been too much for Adie's body to handle, and she died as a result. In an attempt to stop her reanimation, she was buried in between high and low water mark, in a simple wooden box, with a large stone (weighing approximately half a ton) placed on top. This way, they thought that if she did reanimate then at least she wouldn’t be able to get out.
This burial has huge significance for Scotland, and is partly the reason that Adie has been noticed to such an extent. The burial is utterly unique in that it is the only known witch burial in Scotland. All the other known 'witches' were burned, as was the custom.
In 1852, antiquarian Joseph Neil Paton ordered Adie’s exhumation. Her ‘coffin’ was turned into walking sticks. Paton was a practitioner of Phrenology and took his time examining Adie’s skull. It was then passed to the Fife Medical Association, then to St Andrews University. The skull was last traced to an exhibit in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park before disappearing entirely.
Torryburn Bay (image:wikipedia)
The whereabouts of the rest of her body is also currently unknown, though it was reported in 2019 that they were likely sold by Paton to other antique collectors. In 2019 Fife council launched a campaign to try and locate Adie’s remains. So far, Lilias Adie remains to be found.
In 2017, the centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at Dundee University managed to recreate the face of Lilias Adie using pictures taken of her skull before its disappearance. The image they created is at the top of the post. In 2019 there was a memorial service for Adie in Torryburn. Historian and witchcraft specialist Louise Yeoman has expressed her hope that there will be local and national memorials for the women and men who were wrongfully killed as witches.
Overall Lilias Adie was the victim of superstition and fear gone rampant. She is remembered for her ordeal but also for her bravery in refusing to accuse other innocent women as witches, saving them from a similar fate in which she would have been complicit.
‘Bid to find missing bones of Scottish ‘witch’ feared to rise form dead’, The National, https://www.thenational.scot/news/17859215.bid-find-missing-bones-scottish-witch-feared-rise-dead/
‘Face of 18th century 'witch who had sex with the Devil' digitally reconstructed after she died in jail; Lilias Adie died in 1704 before she could be burned for her alleged crimes’, Daily Mirror, https://go.gale.com/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&u=ed_itw&id=GALE|A512427040&v=2.1&it=r&sid=ITOF&asid=358bf237
‘History of Witches’, History.com, https://www.history.com/topics/folklore/history-of-witches
‘Scots Witch who confessed to sex with devil honoured by village’, The Daily Record, https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/scotland-now/scots-witch-who-confessed-sex-22642058
‘Torryburn witch Lilias Adie honoured in village of her persecution’, The Courier, https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/news/local/fife/969449/torryburn-witch-lilias-adie-honoured-in-village-of-her-persecution/
‘Wanted: The missing bones of a Scottish Witch’, The Smithsonian, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/wanted-missing-bones-scottish-witch-180973033/