Lilias Adie lived in the Scottish coastal village of Torryburn, Fife. She was around sixty years old when she died in 1704. She was a villager. Little is known about her life. Sixty was quite an age, and she was probably widowed. Her bones suggest she was of tall stature, and she had strong teeth, but records state she was frail and had failing eyesight. The writings of her last days describe the determination of an intelligent and strong woman. I wonder if she had daughters and granddaughters who may have died with her.
She won’t have worn bloomers in the early 18th Century. Those were the clothes of loose women and prostitutes. But she’ll have worn knitted stockings, tied below the knee with a fabric garter. Her white knee length shift will have been hidden under her bodice top and thick long woollen skirt. She may have protected her clothes with an apron and almost certainly wore a bonnet over her greying hair.
I wonder what role she played in the community. We have a picture of a strong character, aging and beginning to lose her health. Did she bake or sew? Was she self sufficient, the local midwife, or did she heal? Did she keep herself to herself, or work hard along with the older community of women in the village?
She was buried on the beach, like many who committed suicide. Her gravestone was a huge sandstone slab. She was sentenced to be burnt, but she’s thought to have taken her life before this could happen. The slab was to stop the devil entering her body to torment the village. Her story has been preserved in the ‘Kirk Session’ minutes.
Her name is Lilias Adie. And she was accused of witchcraft. She was imprisoned for a month, interrogated and tortured every day. She eventually ‘confessed’ to cavorting with the devil, but she courageously refused to offer names of other women, despite constant questioning. We may never know if she took her life or died from conditions of imprisonment.
In those dark times, with superstition rife and no science, a simple event of illness within a village could be blamed on women who kept pagan ways. The Christian clergy were inflamed with holy zeal against the devil and a brief but monstrous miscarriage of justice saw many women caught, tortured and killed as a result of their witch hunts.
Fife county records alone suggest 3,500 women were executed. Most of the women, and some men, were hung and burnt. Coerced ‘confessions’ dragged daughters and other women into the grips of the witch hunters.
Lilias is the only woman in Scotland to be accused of witchcraft, and known to have a grave. Parts of her body were dug up in 1852. Her skull was last seen in 1938, and is still missing, but photographs have allowed a digitally reconstructed 3D virtual sculpture to be created. There are, of course, no warts or hooked nose, and no reason to believe she was anything but a gentle soul.
The Christian and male imposed fear of wise, strong women is in its death throw, but has done untold damage the whole world over. Lilias Adie was yet another innocent victim of gender bias. I hope her daughters survived.