Lilias Adie, sometimes given as Lillias, Lilly, Addie or Eddie, was an elderly Scottish woman from Torryburn in Fife who confessed to the accusations of witchcraft levelled against her by fellow villagers in 1704. Some accounts mistakenly suggest that she was convicted then her body burned, as was the usual punishment for Scottish witches, but she died – possibly by suicide – while incarcerated in a Dunfermline jail before she could be tried. Her remains were buried on the shoreline at Torryburn Bay, and a large stone slab placed over her grave to prevent her rising from the deadSpirit of a dead person returned to visit the living, the common conception of a ghost. .
Lilias was exhumed in 1852 by some Torryburn locals, and her skull presented to the local antiquarian Joseph Neil PatonDamask designer and antiquarian with large collection containing witchcraft objects, including the skull of Lilias Adie. Father of the artist Joseph Noel Paton.Damask designer and antiquarian with large collection containing witchcraft objects, including the skull of Lilias Adie. Father of the artist Joseph Noel Paton., who had an interest in phrenology. The present whereabouts of Lilias’s skull are unknown, but her grave was rediscovered by Fife Council archaeologist Douglas Spiers in 2014.
Other than that she was a resident of the small village of Torryburn, little is known of Lilias’s life; the only surviving official documents concerning her are the minutes of the Kirk session for 1704 covering the quarter from July to September. Modern-day academics and historians such as the archaeologist Douglas Spiers surmise that at the time of her death she was a vulnerable spinster or widow of low status, elderly, anywhere between her late fifties to seventies, but most likely in her seventies according to the academic Louise Yeoman.
Lilias was poor but had been strong and, at around six feet (1.8 m) in height, was as tall as a man. Despite her age, she had an almost complete set of white teeth, with very prominently protruding upper incisors. Her nose was short, her forehead narrow and receding backwards. It is possible she could read, and possessed intelligence and imagination, but age was causing her eyesight to fail so, coupled with other adverse age-related mobility problems, she may have been more or less housebound in the time before her imprisonment.
The minister at Torryburn, Allan Logan, was a zealous disciplinarian whose sermons castigated witchcraft; he had a reputation for being able to easily identify witches. It came to his attention that a rumour was being propagated in the area concerning one of his constituents, Jean Bizet, being tormented by the Devil. He called a special meeting of the Kirk session on 30 June 1704 where statements were taken from several of those involved although not from Jean herself.
The statements from the witnesses called to the session give minor variations on precisely what happened and what was said during the events leading up to the accusations. The main thrust of the witness narratives revolved around an inebriated Jean Bizet screaming out alerts to others that Lilias was a witch. Some of the villagers indicated that Jean may have been ill, which contradicted the views expressed by Jean’s husband, James Tanochie, who volunteered to beat her into sobriety.
Another woman, Jean Neilson, also maintained that Lilias “dreadfully tormented” her. As a result of that second allegation, Lilias was arrested and imprisoned on the evening of 28 July.
The meeting of the Kirk Session on 29 July, the first time Lilias was questioned, and further subsequent Sessions discussing the case were held in the prison to allow her to be questioned there. Over the course of the next four weeks, Lilias was interviewed seven times and taken to church twice to make confessions.
After pledging to tell the truth, at her first interrogation when asked if she had given an undertaking to the Devil, Lilias readily divulged she had committed herself to him. Her initial contact with him was just before some witches were executed in the village; numerous encounters throughout the locality followed, perhaps more than one hundred. At their second tryst, they engaged in sexual intercourse. She went on to describe the Devil, adding that he wore a hat and as he walked away from her after their coupling, she noticed his feet were cloven like those of cattle.
Over the course of her evidence Lilias continued to elaborate on her meetings with the Devil; she offered the names of Agnes Currie and Elspeth Williamson as two other attendees she recognised. The last meeting or Sabbat that Lilias claimed she took part in was during August 1701.
Death and burial
Lilias died while she was being held in jail. Official records show that she was interviewed by the Kirk session on 29 August 1704; the minutes of that interrogation state that it took place “some hours before her death”.
The usual fate of a convicted witch in Scotland was to be burned, but Lilias had died before she could be tried so was instead buried on the beach at Torryburn, in a “humble wooden box”. Situated between the high and low tide marks, it is the only known witch’s grave of its type in Scotland. To prevent her body from being possessed by the Devil and rising againSpirit of a dead person returned to visit the living, the common conception of a ghost. , Lilias’s grave was covered by a large flat slab. The location of her burial, in unconsecrated ground, suggests the possibility that she comitted suicide, a heinous crime in the early 18th century.
In 1852 a party from Torryburn decided to dig up Lilias’s remains, “stimulated by a desire of gratifying a celebrated local antiquarian”, Joseph Neil PatonDamask designer and antiquarian with large collection containing witchcraft objects, including the skull of Lilias Adie. Father of the artist Joseph Noel Paton.Damask designer and antiquarian with large collection containing witchcraft objects, including the skull of Lilias Adie. Father of the artist Joseph Noel Paton., by presenting him with her skull. Paton maintained a museum in his cottage at Wooer’s Alley containing the possessions of others accused of witchcraft, and had an interest in phrenology, the idea that the shape and size of the cranium somehow determine character and mental abilities. A contemporary report in the Fife Herald describes Lilias’s skull as being “rather below than above a middle size, with the animal preponderating very much over the intellectual or moral region”.
On Joseph Neil Paton’s death, the collection in his museum was inherited by his son, Sir Joseph Noel PatonScottish artist, antiquary, poet and sculptor.. He passed Lilias’s skull on to the Fife Medical Association, which in turn gave it to the University of St Andrews. It was last seen in public at the 1938 Empire Exhibition at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, but its present whereabouts are unknown.
Lilias’s face has been reconstructed from photographs of her skull taken in 1904. Source: CBC, BBC News
In 2017 the forensic artist Christopher Rynn from Dundee University reconstructed Lilias’s face based on photographs taken of her skull while it was in the possession of the University of St Andrews, using 3D virtual sculpture.
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