For centuries women were arrested, tortured, and killed out of suspicion of witchcraft. Take a look at the story of the woman who admitted sleeping with the Devil.
Every county has its legends and ghost stories. From the mysterious nightmare of the Headless Horseman in the small Dutch community in the state of New York to the Weeping Woman of Mexico, who once drowned her children in a river and subsequently sought her own death upon realizing her terrible mistake.
Some stories are based on superstitions, others, on real people, and quite a few mix of these two. Small towns in particular weave hair raising stories to attract curious visitors. The small town of St. Andrews in Scotland boasts all of these elements. When I went to live there, I lapped up all the stories about the town that didn't include the love story between William and Kate. Some stories make you chuckle because you bet they were made up in a pub to make fun of hapless undergraduate students. My favorite is about the Protestant martyr, Patrick Hamilton, who was tried as a heretic and burnt at the stake in 1528. As a scholar and theologian of St. Andrews University, his initials were carved on the cobblestone at Sallies Quad to mark the place where he died. If by any chance you step over his initials you will be cursed academically and there's only two ways to break the curse. Either you must run backwards naked around the quad or dip into the freezing waters of the North Sea at dawn on May Day (I actually did that).
Witches by Hans Baldung (1508)
There are many legends in this sleepy town like Patrick's cobblestone and whenever I hear the more fanciful stories I just roll my eyes and down my pint of beer. But there is one story that went beyond common superstitions, and that is the tragic life of Lilias Adie, a woman from Fife who was convicted and tried for witchcraft. During 1589, King James VI of Scotland, then called James I of England became obsessed with witchcraft and spurred the creation of official hunts to capture these demonic folk. He went even as far as to publish a text defending witch-hunting in his famous Daemonologie (1597).
The persecution and the trials that had already taken the life of about 6,000 people stopped when the monarchy was overthrown and Oliver Cromwell took power. However, as soon as the monarchy was restored, they started once again. During those turbulent years, Lilias Adie was accused by one of her neighbors in 1704. According to the research group from the University of Dundee, who worked on the facial reconstruction of this woman, it’s likely she belonged to a group of educated women who didn’t follow the established norms and behaviors women were to conform to, and as a result she was thrust into the bonfire, literally.
Witch Burning in Derenburg, Germany (1555)
So, Adie was arrested, jailed, and tortured by the authorities until she confessed to being a witch and having sex with the Devil on more than one occasion. According to the records of the time, she declared that the Devil appeared before her, took her to a pile of wheat, and asked her to renounce her religion in a ceremony canceling the baptism. Afterwards to seal the covenant they had sex multiple times. She was sentenced to die at the stake but before she was dragged to this horrible fate, she was found dead in her cell. Believing she had committed suicide, as it was accustomed at the time, she was buried by the shore with a huge rock as the only mark. At the time, people who committed suicide were seen as unholy and their spirits were said to come haunt the living.
During the nineteenth century, her remains were found and taken to the University of St. Andrews to be studied, after all it was an incredible discovery since the bodies of these women were turned to ash to prevent them from coming back. Specialists took photographs of her skull and bones and mysteriously a couple of days later they disappeared. Gossip spread like wildfire, and people believed this was the work of the devil and some believe her spirit continues to haunt the beaches of Fife.
The Witches Sabbath by David Teniers the Younger (17th century)
Thanks to the photographs taken, a group of specialists from the University of Dundee, including forensic artists and scientists, decided to give a face to this woman who passed into history for being one of the Devil’s mistresses. The reconstruction revealed quite a lovely old lady with soulful eyes.
According to Dr. Christopher Rynn (the forensic artist in charge of the project), there was no evidence of Adie being an 'evil' woman in the superstitious sense of the word. On the contrary, it looks like, just as other convicted people, she was just a victim of the traditions of the time.
Lilias Adie's Face Reconstruction
Historian Louise Yeoman, the woman in charge of the BBC Scotland’s show Time Travelers, claims that when people were accused and tortured, they were forced to share people's names. There’s a chance that when she confessed to these crimes she was a heroin who protected the lives of other women who would have likely suffered the same fate. What technology gives us today is the opportunity to see the face of a woman who suffered a terrible fate all because of silly superstitions.
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