The Scottish Witch
By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
Lilias Adie lived in the Scottish village of Torryburn in 1704. She was accused of witchcraft, and after intense questioning, she admitted she was.
The hunt for a witch was spurred by the accusation of Jean Nelson (also referred to as Jean Bizet) who'd become ill. Lilias Adie (Lilly Addie, Eadie) came under scrutiny when Jean accused the old woman, stating, "beware lest Lilias Adie come upon you and your child."
The 60-year-old was taken to Rev. Allan Logan the local Protestant minister, who was prominent as a witch-hunter. After a month of interrogation she confessed.
She said the devil wore a hat when he first came to her in a cornfield at sunset, three years before. He had intercourse with her and made her renounce her baptism. He had "cold pale skin and cloven-hoofed feet like a cow." Other visits followed when he appeared like a shadow. She had described attending meetings with other witches where the devil appeared. She never gave their name, saying the women were masked.
Witnesses at the time of Adie’s trial stated Jean was likely drunk.
Lilias died before the investigation was over, and she was spared a death by fire. Some said it was the strain of her questioning, others believe it was suicide, which is why she was buried outside consecrated grounds.
In 2014, an archaeologists looked for her burial site. A seaweed-covered slab was found as described in a 19th-century historical document. It was in a group of rocks near the Torryburn railway bridge at the beach at Torryburn Bay. She was buried in a wooden box under the sandstone slab between the low and high tide marks. To bury her under the heavy slab indicated the fear of the local populace that the devil might bring her back to "torment the living." These beings were known as revenants, which comes from the Latin word reveniens, and the French verb revenir.
"The great stone doorstep that lies over the rifled grave of Lilly Eadie", and a rock with "the remains of an iron ring".
Since most accused witches were burned at the stake, great pains were taken to hold her corpse trapped, which made her unique.
By 1852, there was no fear of Lilias since antiquarian and phrenologist Joseph Neil Paton, took her remains and examined her skull extensively. He noted her coffin measure 6 feet by 6 inches, and her thighbones would be the about the same length of a man who measured 6 feet. Most of her teeth were white, fresh and intact.
In 1875, her skull was house at Paton's private museum. He passed away in 1874.
The skull was exhibited in 1884, to the Fifeshire Medical Association by a Dr. Dow. Eventually it made its way to the Museum of the University of St. Andrew, and then disappeared until 1938, when it was exhibited at the Empire Exhibition at Bellahouson Park in Glasgow.
Her coffin was also raided for souvenirs. A walking stick was believed to have been made from the wood, which had a silver band near the handle engraved with "Lilias Addie, 1704" which was donated to Pittencrieff House Museum in 1927. Another one was given to Andrew Carnegie by Robert Baxter Brimer who had participated in digging up Adie's grave in 1852.
In 1904, photographs were taken of Adie's remains which are now at the National Library of Scotland.
Using these photographs forensic artists constructed a 3D virtual image of her face. In 2019, a service was held at her grave.
In 2004, Emily Oster of Brown University tracked the frequency of witch trials and bad weather experienced during the "Little Ice Age" which lasted from 1500 to 1800. The coldest years were between 1680 to 1730.
The result of the temperature drop created a slowdown in population growth and economic hardships. The wet, cold weather produced freak frosts, floods, hailstorms, and plagues of mice and caterpillars.
The Salem witch trials which started in February 1692, did not conclude until May 1693. By then fourteen women, five men and two dogs were executed. The village during this time subsisted heavily on agriculture, which was affected by this weather. As to why the girls made their accusations have ranged from convulsive ergotism, caused by ingesting ergot, found in rye and other grain, to an outbreak of encephalitis lethargica spread by insects and birds.
The epicenter of the witch hunts was Europe’s German-speaking heartland, an area that makes up Germany, Switzerland, and northeastern France.
Belief in witches was widespread during Medieval times, however before the 15th century Catholic popes denied the existence of witchcraft, and in 1258, Pope Alexander IV had to issue a canon to prevent prosecutions.
But by the 1500s this had changed.
Between 1560 and 1630, sixty percent of the witch trials were held within a 300-mile radius of Strasbourg, France. Spain, Italy and Portugal which were heavily Catholic avoided witch trials.
There is a theory that prosecution of witches during this time period stemmed from a competition between the Catholic and Protestant churches. Witch prosecutors used the pretext of protecting the local citzenry to win followers to their own particular religion. Ater the Reformation several different Protestant churches competed amongst themselves and the Catholics as well. The public trials were used as advertising for the superior power of those handling the trials.
Contrary to widespread belief, hunting witches was not the aim of the inquisitions.
They were established to hunt non-Catholics–Lutherans in the case of Roman and Venetian Inquisitions, false conversos in the case of the Spanish and Portuguese, though the latter prosecuted Protestants too. Their targets were the Church’s religious rivals and this is where most of the inquisitors’ energies were spent.
During these times, accused witches recounted similar stories which told of murdering babies and using ointment made of the fat of the slaughtered child to enable them to take flight on wooden instruments. They would meet with other witches where they consorted with the devil as members of a satanic sect.
The spell using the baby-fat was found in the Malleus Maleficarum (Latin for The Hammer of Witches, or Hexenhammer in German) ) written in 1487, which was an instructional on rooting out sorcerers. For the next two centuries it sold more than any other book except the Bible.
Was Lilias Eadie a victim of a vengeful neighbor? Did the unstable times, the brutal weather and the fear of Satan and his minions allow the clergy of Torryburn to believe an old woman had the power to hex them? In the end she might have just been a scapegoat, prosecuted to assuage the fears of the villagers. And indeed who would have dared to come to her defense?
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Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer