Lilias Adie

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Lilas Adie
Burial placeTorryburn Bay
ResidenceTorryburn, Fife
Known forAccused of witchcraft

Lilias Adie (died 1704)[1] lived in the coastal village of Torryburn, Fife, Scotland.[1] She was investigated for practising witchcraft and died in prison. Her grave is the only known one in Scotland for an accused witch – most were burned.[2] In 2017, a forensic artist at the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee reconstructed her face which they believe to be the only accurate likeness of a Scottish "witch" in existence.[1]


In 1704, Lilias Adie was held in prison for her "confessed" crimes of practising witchcraft and having sex with the devil.[3] Her story is preserved in the minutes from the 1704 council meeting.

Illness among local residents had led to short witch-hunting craze in the Fife area which, in turn, ultimately led to the arrest of Lilias Adie, who was in her late 50s or early 60s at the time.[4] A woman named Jean Bizet, who “seemed drunk,” according to witnesses, began making accusations against Adie, warning neighbours to “beware lest Lilias Adie come upon you and your child.” [5]

On the strength of this 'drunken' accusation, Adie was arrested and dragged before the local minister, Rev. Allan Logan.[6]

Adie was imprisoned and routinely interrogated for just over a month.[6] She endured days of interrogations and possible torture, such as prolonged sleep deprivation or “witch pricking.” before a confession was extracted from her.[7]


Adie's confessed to the minister that she first met the devil in a cornfield just before sundown and that he was wearing a hat.[6] She continued that the devil had cold pale skin and cloven-hoofed feet like a cow. The devil had persuaded her to renounce her baptism and had "[laid] with her carnally”.[6] After that, the devil would visit her at home “like a shadow.” Adie also confessed that she had attended other meetings and danced with the devil in groups.[6]

Yet despite this fantastic confession, when the minister and his officials asked Adie for names of other witches, she didn't give them any they didn't already have.[6]

Lilias Adie was convicted and sentenced to be strangled to death and burned.[6]

Before this could be carried out, Adie died in prison. [3][4]

Burial site[edit]

In 2014, interest in Adie's story encouraged the historian and BBC broadcaster Louise Yeoman and Fife Council archaeologist Douglas Speirs to look for her burial site.

Using the 19th-century descriptions of the location in historical documents, they found a large sandstone slab covered in seaweed exactly where the documents had indicated.

In a group of rocks near the Torryburn railway bridge there lay "the great stone doorstep that lies over the rifled grave of Lilly Eadie", and a rock with "the remains of an iron ring".[8] Lilias Adie's remains had been buried on the beach at Torryburn Bay in a "humble"[5] wooden box under this large slab of stone, between the low and high tide marks.[3] The "hulking half-ton"[5] slab of stone indicative that the locals were afraid the devil may reanimate her to "torment the living".[5][7][2]

Her remains were dug up by antique-collecting grave raiders in 1852[4] under the direction of an antiquarian named Joseph Neil Paton, who was interested in the field of phrenology.[6] Exactly how much of her skeleton was removed is unknown but her skull, ribs and a femur are known to be definitely missing. Once Paton had finished with her skull, he gave it to the Fife Medical Association, which then gave it to students at the University of St. Andrews for the school's anatomy collection.[6][2] The skull was eventually held at the St. Andrews University Museum.[9]

Her remains then went missing. The skull's last known location was at the Empire Exhibition at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow in 1938.[2]

However, photographs were taken of the remains had been taken in 1904, which are now held at the National Library of Scotland.[3]

Digital reconstruction of her face[edit]

In 2017, Dr Christopher Rynn and a team of forensic artists at the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee constructed a 3D virtual sculpture modelling using the National Library of Scotland photographs to create a digital reconstruction of Adie's face based on her bone structure.[3][2][1] The team believe it is likely to be the only accurate likeness of a Scottish "witch" in existence as most were burnt, destroying any hope of reconstructing their faces from skulls.[1]


According to Speirs, approximately 3,500 women were executed as witches in Scotland between 1560 and 1727 but it is likely that as many as 6,000 were killed.[4][7]

Louise Yeoman said of Lilias Adie:

"I think she was a very clever and inventive person. The point of the interrogation and its cruelties was to get names. Lilias said that she couldn't give the names of other women at the witches' gatherings as they were masked like gentlewomen. She only gave names which were already known and kept up coming up with good reasons for not identifying other women for this horrendous treatment - despite the fact it would probably mean there was no let-up for her. It's sad to think her neighbours expected some terrifying monster when she was actually an innocent person who'd suffered terribly. The only thing that's monstrous here is the miscarriage of justice."[3]

Fife Council has launched a campaign to track down all of Adie's remains, so she can be laid to rest.[4] Speirs stated "It's time to move the narrative away from the Halloween-style figure of the fun witch, and recognise the historic gender bias and suffering that women were exposed to in the name of witch-hunting."[4] Since this campaign, walking sticks made from the coffin have been recovered. Andrew Carnegie was given one such piece of the coffin which had been transformed into a walking stick.[6][4] Councillor Julie Ford, leading the campaign, said:

"It's important to recognise that Lilias Adie and the thousands of other men and women accused of witchcraft in early modern Scotland were not the evil people history has portrayed them to be. They were the innocent victims of unenlightened times. It's time we recognized the injustice served upon them. I hope by raising the profile of Lilias we can find her missing remains and give them the dignified rest they deserve."[4]

On 31 August 2019, exactly 315 years after Adie died in custody, a memorial service was held in Torryburn and a wreath laid at the site of her grave to highlight the history of witch persecution in Fife focused on moving away from accused witches as “hallowe’en style” villains, to the innocent victims of gender bias.[2]

Plans have also been mooted for a permanent memorial at Torryburn, dedicated to Lilias and other women who were persecuted across Scotland.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Younger, Dominic (31 October 2017). "Face of 313-year-old witch reconstructed". University of Dundee.
  2. ^ a b c d e f O'Neill, Emma (26 August 2019). "Bid to return skull taken from Scotland's only witch grave launched". Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "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 [London, England], 31 Oct. 2017. Gale General OneFile Accessed 9 Sept. 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Woodyatt, Amy (2019-09-02). "Scottish officials are hunting the remains of 18th-century 'witch'". CNN Travel. Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  5. ^ a b c d Katz, Brigit (3 September 2019). "Wanted: The Missing Bones of a Scottish 'Witch'". Retrieved 9 September 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Flynn, Meagan (3 September 2019). "The bones of an 18th century 'witch' vanished decades ago. Now Scottish officials are hunting for them". Washington Post. Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  7. ^ a b c "She Hung Herself After She Was Convicted Of Having Sex With The Devil - Now Scotland Is Trying To Find Her Remains". All That's Interesting. 2019-09-03. Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  8. ^ Yeoman, Louise (2014-10-28). "How to bury a witch". BBC News. Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  9. ^ a b Robertson, Aileen. "Bid to find bones of Fife 'witch' accused of 'having sex with the devil'". The Courier. Retrieved 2019-09-09.

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