Witchcraft

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Magic Circle, by John William Waterhouse

Witchcraft is the use of magical powers. This might be for healing, seeing into the future, causing harm, or for religion. A person practicing witchcraft is called a witch, although a man practicing witchcraft is often called a wizard (a word from Northern Europe), a warlock (a word made up by Hollywood scriptwriters for the 1960's TV show Bewitched), a sorcerer, or shaman (a term for people who practice magic in Siberia).. Such people are said to have a knowledge of the chemical (or pharmaceutical) effects of certain herbs or shrubs. Witches can use this knowledge to help people who are sick or to hurt them.

Definition[change | change source]

Witchcraft is different throughout the world and can be seen as good or bad depending on where you are. Today, many people practice a peaceful kind of witchcraft as their religion, called Wicca. However, there are still many other people who are scared of witchcraft and think that it is bad. Throughout history, there have been stories about good and bad witches. In European history, witches were accused of physically making and preforming spells to harm people. They could also harm people by using their mind. However, this belief was not real and was often used to explain why bad things happened sometimes. In Africa, witches don't use physical tools or actions to curse. They can cause harm by just thinking about it. In fact, one may be unaware of being a witch, or may have been convinced of their witch nature by the suggestion of others. This understanding was described by anthropologist E.E. Evans-Pritchard, who studied African magical beliefs[1].

Accusations of Witchcraft[change | change source]

Éva Pócs (a scholar and folklorist) states that there are four reasons a person is accused of witchcraft[2]:

  1. A person was caught in the act of positive or negative witchcraft (performing a spell)
  2. A well-meaning healer lost the trust of their clients' or the authorities'
  3. A person seemed dangerous and made their neighbors scarred
  4. A person was rumored to be a witch and surrounded with an aura of witch-beliefs or Occultism

She identifies three kinds of witches in popular belief[3]:

  1. The "neighborhood witch" or "social witch": a witch who curses a neighbor following some conflict.
  2. The "magical" or "sorcerer" witch: either a professional healer, sorcerer, seer or midwife, or a person who has, through magic, increased their fortune but caused harm to someone in doing so; due to community rivalries and the hard to recognize nature between good and bad magic, such individuals can become labelled as witches.
  3. The "supernatural" or "night" witch: portrayed in court narratives as a demon appearing in visions and dreams.

"Neighbourhood witches" are the product of neighbourhood arguments, and are found only in rural village communities where the inhabitants largely rely on each other. Such accusations follow the breaking of some social norm, such as the failure to return a borrowed item, and any person part of the normal exchange could potentially be accused. Claims of "sorcerer" witches and "supernatural" witches could arise out of social tensions, but not exclusively; the supernatural witch in particular often had nothing to do with community conflict, but expressed tensions between the human and supernatural worlds; and in Eastern and Southeastern Europe such supernatural witches became an ideology explaining calamities that befell entire communities.[4]

Practices[change | change source]

It is believed that witches can perform magic by using plants, casting spells, or using their mind. The use of plants is often called herbalism and this involves collecting or growing herbs to use in potions or medicines to help or hurt people, animals, or things.

In popular artwork, witches can be seen using big metal cooking bowls called cauldrons to mix their spell ingredients. Witches also use wands, brooms, sticks, candles, swords, and fire to perform spells.

In some cultures, witches can harm people just by using their mind and thinking bad thoughts about a person. In these cultures, witches do not need any items and can potentially be anyone in the community.

By Region[change | change source]

Africa[change | change source]

America[change | change source]

When the first Europeans came to the New World, they brought with them the Christian religion. Along with the Christian religion the European settlers brought their fear of supernatural witches[5]. However, the New World already had people living there who did not have the Christian religion. These Native Americans had their own religion and beliefs. Since the Christian European settlers were living with these Native Americans and also African slaves (who had their own non-Christian religions and beliefs), this scarred the Europeans. The Europeans were already scarred to be far away from their home in the New World with different plants and animals. This fear lead to violent crimes such as accusing and murdering people who they thought were witches and were hurting them with supernatural powers.

Modern era[change | change source]

Every Halloween season, Salem, Massachusetts hosts a Halloween festival in which they highlight their towns notorious history with the 1692 Salem Witch trials. This festival often involves live music, parties, and vendors selling witch themed items.

New Age[change | change source]

Throughout the world there are many people who claim to have supernatural powers such as; psychics, mediums, palm readers and New Age healers. These people are sometimes members of witchcraft religions like Wicca. These people perform tricks to entertain and heal people such as tarot card reading, astrology, crystal healing, Reiki healing, talking to dead family members, or seeing the future.  

Asia[change | change source]

Middle east[change | change source]

The belief in witchcraft and its practice seem to have been widespread in the Ancient Near East and Nile Valley. It played a clear role in the cultures of ancient Egypt and in Babylonia. Later tradition included an Akkadian anti-witchcraft ritual, the Maqlû. A section from the Code of Hammurabi (about 2000 B.C.) prescribes:

If a man has put a spell upon another man and it is not justified, he upon whom the spell is laid shall go to the holy river; into the holy river shall he plunge. If the holy river overcome him and he is drowned, the man who put the spell upon him shall take possession of his house. If the holy river declares him innocent and he remains unharmed the man who laid the spell shall be put to death. He that plunged into the river shall take possession of the house of him who laid the spell upon him.[6]

Europe[change | change source]

Ancient Greece[change | change source]

There are many examples of witches in Greek mythology, such as Circe, who was a sorcerer in Homers’ Odyssey. Circe used potions to put spells on visitors to her house, and she could turn people into pigs.

Ancient Ireland[change | change source]

           Druids

Middle Ages[change | change source]

In Medieval times, witchcraft gradually became an enemy of Christianity. Christians thought that witchcraft was the work of the devil, and the Bible was used as evidence against witchcraft. Verses such as Deuteronomy 18:11–12 and Exodus 22:18 ("Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live") were very influential.

In Europe in the Late Medieval/Early Modernperiod, Catholics, Protestants, and state leaders became very afraid of the power of witches. There were large witch-huntsin many places. People commonly believed that the devil was using witches to try to overthrow Christianity, so tens or hundreds of thousands of people were killed, and others were put in prison, tortured, and had lands and possessions taken away from them. Most of these witches were women, because people believed women were more likely to be witches. Witch-trials looked for evidence to prove that a person was a witch. Witch hunters looked for evidence such as signs of plant medicine or images of non-Christian gods . One way to physically test if a person was a witch was to 'swim a witch'. This meant they would throw them in a river with their hands tied up, and if they sunk, they were innocent. If they floated, they were guilty of witchcraft and were hanged. This violent practice was not based on any actual evidence. Instead, it allowed the witch-hunter to look right and powerful for the scarred people who were watching.

South America[change | change source]

Modern era[change | change source]

In South America, people continue to practice a form of witchcraft which started before the arrival of European Christianity. Throughout the Andes, there are many places called witch markets, such as the Mercado de las Brujas in La Paz, Bolivia. These markets sell items such as plant medicines


  1. Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (Edward Evan), 1902-1973. (1977). Witchcraft, oracles and magic among the azande. Clarendon. ISBN 0198231032. OCLC 850849210.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. Pócs, Éva (2018-07-30). Witchcraft Continued. Manchester University Press. ISBN 9781526137975.
  3. Pócs, Éva (2018-07-30). Witchcraft Continued. Manchester University Press. ISBN 9781526137975.
  4. Pócs, Éva (2018-07-30). Witchcraft Continued. Manchester University Press. ISBN 9781526137975.
  5. Baker, Emerson W. (2016-07-07). "The Salem Witch Trials". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.324. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.324. 
  6. "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Witchcraft".