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Essay: Lilias Adie, The Torryburn Witch

By Euzette Fermilan

In the 16th to 18th centuries, when witch-hunting fever swept Scotland, thousands of people were accused of witchcraft. And one of them was Lilias Adie. According to Goodare (National Geographics, 2019), the hunt stemmed from the belief that the devil was at work in the land, hence why authorities wanted to eradicate the witches.

“Locals talked about his ability to raise storms, kill livestock, and spread deadly illness. Satan sought to undermine human society from within and was recruiting secret agents to do his bidding”

- Goodare, 2019

Lilias lived in a small village in Torryburn, Fife. She was in her sixties at the time of her arrest in 1704.

“We don’t know much about her, but we can assume that she was an old woman living alone and therefore easy prey for the authorities”

- Graeme, 2022

Brigit Katz of the Smithsonian Magazine says that Adie’s story, preserved in the minutes from her 1704 trial, “reveals the frenzied, tragic pattern of false accusations and false confessions that defined many other witchcraft cases.” A neighbour blamed the woman for her hangover, which is ridiculous for all of us at present. 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.” Bizet continued to appear “strangely distempered” the next day, crying out, “By God he is going to take me! By Christ he is going to take me! O Lilly with her blew doublet!”(Katz, 2019).

After weeks of imprisonment and torture, Adie confessed that she was a witch and that she had sex with the devil. But she died in jail before her execution. Yeoman (2014, BBC) suggests that Adie likely committed suicide. Others say it may be due to the brutal torture, and it was too much for her body to handle; thus, she died before she was sentenced and burned. They buried her along the shores of Torryburn, Fife, in a wooden box. And in the fear that the devil might reanimate her, they covered her grave with a large rectangular slab. It is the only known witch’s grave in Scotland. But, it was pillaged in 1852 by curio-hunters (McRoberts). Her skull later ended up in St Andrew’s University Museum, “where it was photographed in 1904 before going missing” (Woodyatt, 2019).

Even after her death, people did not leave Adie alone. Her tragic tale reminds us of the prejudices of a bygone era. Once upon a time, she was a witch; centuries later, the Scottish government and the Church of Scotland solemnly apologised for their historic mistake in witch trials.

Recently, the Fife Witches Trail was launched to honour the executed witches in Fife. A memorial plaque in Torryburn reads, “Lilias Adie, 1640-1704 - they feared she would rise from the dead - how could she as she was an ordinary woman accused. "Oh keep me. There she is coming"”.

Another plaque in Valleyfield reads, “Lilias Adie, 1640-1704, An ordinary woman accused of “lying with the devil”. An innocent victim of unenlightened times.”

Works Cited

Goodare, Julian. “A Royal Obsession with Black Magic Started Europe’s Most Brutal Witch Hunts.” National Geographic, 17 Oct. 2019,

Graeme. “Scottish Witch Stories: The Facts & the Fiction.” Scotland’s Stories, 2 Nov. 2022,

Katz, Brigit. “Wanted: The Missing Bones of a Scottish ‘Witch.’” Smithsonian Magazine, 3 Sept. 2019,

McRoberts, Ally. “Culross Event to Remember the Women Executed for Witchcraft.” Dunfermline Press, 3 Sept. 2020,

Woodyatt, Amy. “A Witch Hunt with a Difference – Scottish Officials Are Seeking the Remains of an 18th-Century Woman Accused of Witchcraft.” CNN, Sept. 2019,

Yeoman, Louise. “How to Bury a Witch.” BBC, 28 Oct. 2014,


About the Writer:

Euzette Fermilan is a Filipino-born poet and writer currently based in the United Kingdom. When her domestic demand is low, she is found reading or rereading important nothings, writing, or wandering about. You can follow her on Instagram @euzette_and_write.


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