Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
European Christians in the medieval era, some conservative Christians today, Neopagans and many African religions (past and present) believe that witchcraft is a form of genuine magic which can produce effects that are beyond the natural powers of man. However, the ways they characterize it differ widely.
In colloquial use, the word witch is now applied almost exclusively to women, though in earlier English it applied to men as well. Most people would now call male witches sorcerers, wizards, or warlocks. However witches and wiccans continue to use the term witch for all who practice witchcraft. Warlock is considered an insult among Wiccans and Neopagans.
The etymological roots could be several: among the candidates are German weihen ("consecrate") as well as the English word "victim" in its original meaning for someone killed in a religious ritual. Thus, a "witch" might signify an ancient type of priest or priestess. The Old English words wicca (m.) and its feminine counterpart wicce both mean wizard and gave rise to the adjective "wicked". The root wik- is associated with words meaning 'to bend', such as wicker, and may well relate to witches being considered twisters of the natural order.
It is important to distinguish between the figure of the witch and that of the practitioner of folk magic. In history, witches are invariably malicious, unseen figures, who caused trouble and worked evil. The witch is thus firmly in the category of a folklore monster, along with lycanthropes, vampires and evil spirits. Practitioners of folk magic, the cunning men and wise women, did not refer to themselves as witches and objected to the accusation that they were such. In fact, the typical practitioner of folk magic believed firmly in witches as an unseen threat, and many folk magic practices are intended to oppose or remove the effects of witchcraft. 
Some cunning folk accepted the label of 'white witch'. The designation 'white' was crucial. In more recent times, the concept of a white witch has been disparaged, as more and more people have self-identified as witches and claimed that there are no such things as black and white witchcraft. This view contradicts what is known about witches in history.
- "In the world of late antiquity or the early Middle Ages, it is impossible to define someone as a witch (as opposed, for example, to an amateur herbalist, a heretic or a scold), and none of the legislation of the time attempted to do so. Offenders were designated offenders by virtue of their performing various actions or wearing certain objects declared by the legislation to be condemned or forbidden. For all practical purposes, the `witch' had not yet been invented. There were only practitioners of various kinds of magic, both male and female, who might belong to any rank of ecclesiastical or lay society, and whose actions might, or might not, bring them within the compass of canon or secular law, depending on external factors which were usually local but could, from time to time, be more general." — P.G. Maxwell-Stewart , The Emergence of the Christian Witch
Despite the modern tendency to recast witches as a persecuted pagan clergy who were perpetuating an old religion, there is no evidence for witches having originally been healers or counselors. The characterization of the witch in Europe is not derived from a single source. Popular neopagan beliefs suggest that witches were female shamans who made into malicious figures by Christian propaganda. This is an erroneous oversimplification and presumes that a recognizable folklore figure must derive from a single historical precedent (a female, maligned magic-worker); the familiar witch of folklore and popular superstition is in fact an amalgam of numerous influences.
The characterization of the witch, rather than being a simple caricature of a Pagan priestess, was developed over time . The advent of Christianity suggests that potential Christians, comfortable with the use of magic as part of their daily lives, expected Christian clergy to work magic of a superior form to the old Pagan sort. While Christianity competed with Pagan religion, this concern was paramount, only lessening in importance once Christianity was the dominant religion in most of Europe. In place of the old Pagan methodology of magic, the Church placed a Christian methodology, involving saints and divine relics — a short step from the old Pagan techniques of amulets and talismans.
It was in the Church's interest to suppress competing, Pagan methodologies of magic. This could only be done by presenting a cosmology in which Christian miracles were legitimate and credible, whereas non-Christian ones were 'of the devil'. Hence the following law:
- "We teach that every priest shall extinguish heathendom, and forbid wilweorthunga (fountain worship), and licwiglunga (incantations of the dead), and hwata (omens), and galdra (magic), and man worship, and the abominations that men exercise in various sorts of witchcraft, and in frithspottum (peace-enclosures) with elms and other trees, and with stones, and with many phantoms." (source: 16th Canon Law enacted under King Edgar in the 10th century)
Witches are usually reputed to fly on broomsticks or distaffs. There is a legend in Scandinavia about the sorceress Maran who causes pain by riding at night on people or horses; she flies to her victim by broomstick. Some believe that supposed visitations of Maran were actually a heart disease, causing the victim to awake in a panic.
Witches in modern culture
Today, few people believe in witches that curse enemies, change shapes, or can fly. However, since the emergence of the witchcraft-inspired religion of Wicca in the 1940s a growing number of people have called themselves witches and while most of western culture continues to assign negative connotations to the word, to a Wiccan, it is not a derogatory term, nor do they associate it with Satanism. In fact, many Wiccans wish to claim the term "witch" and assign positive meanings to it.
In 1968, a group of radical politically active women formed a protest organization in the City of New York called W.I.T.C.H., standing for "Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy From Hell". This was a short-lived group that did not have any noticeable impact on the modern development of witchcraft, except possibly Dianic craft, but is often cited because of its colourful acronym.
Witches are iconically associated with Halloween, although Wiccans generally prefer to celebrate Samhain. Both dates are the same, and are at least metaphorically similar in meaning. This is not coincidence. Christianity had a basic contempt for the supernatural overtones of the festival. The association between "witches" and Halloween most certainly came from vilification of practitioners of the Celtic celebration of the last harvest.
Witches also appear as villains in many 19th- and 20th-century fairy tales, folk tales and children's stories, such as "Snow White", "Hansel and Gretel", "Sleeping Beauty", and many other stories recorded by the Brothers Grimm. Such folktales typically portray witches as either remarkably ugly hags or remarkably beautiful young women. In the classic story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum the villain is a bad witch but two good witches play important roles as well.
Witches have come into the mainstream in the last decade as well as common pop-culture figures. Teenage and young adult witches have been the focus or appeared in the movies "The Craft," "Practical Magic," and "Blair Witch Project 2 " (the sequel to The Blair Witch Project), as well as the television programs "Bewitched," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Charmed," "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," and some episodes of "The X-Files." Such neo-Gothic portrayals bear little relationship to Wicca, or even a Christian view of witches. In almost all cases witches portrayed in movies and TV shows today are attractive women who have supernatural powers. In J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, a witch is a female with magical powers.
Recent research does not, however, support the media's portrayal of witchcraft and Wicca. In Witchcraft out of the Shadows (2004), Leo Ruickbie presents findings that demonstrate that Wicca and other forms of modern Witchcraft religion are not exclusively female nor teenage.
The term "white witch" was used to signify a cunning man or wise woman, who sold charms and other services to ward off the effects of witchcraft. While it is historically authentic, the term 'white witch' is rarely used now, because Wicca and similar neopagan movements have largely succeeded in presenting a revisionist view of history in which there is no malevolent witchcraft at all. The argument runs that since witches were unfairly represented as malevolent by Christians, there is no need to characterise a subset of them as 'white'.
It is ironic that the only records of actual people identified as witches by their consent are of white witches, or cunning folk. These people made a very clear distinction between themselves and witches per se, who were universally seen as malevolent. The difference is that while the ordinary person simply believed in witches, the cunning folk believed that they were able to thwart them with their magic. Ordinary people thus turned to cunning folk for relief from supposed witches, a tendency which the Christian clergy condemned but was not able to prevent.
Cunning folk were also called witch doctors, that is, persons qualified to diagnose and treat maladies caused by witchcraft. The term was in use in England before it came to be associated with Africa:
In the north of England, the superstition lingers to an almost inconceivable extent. Lancashire abounds with witch-doctors, a set of quacks, who pretend to cure diseases inflicted by the devil... The witch-doctor alluded to is better known by the name of the cunning man, and has a large practice in the counties of Lincoln and Nottingham. - Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
The Canon Episcopi and witchcraft
The attitude of the Christian church to witchcraft and the belief therein is far from constant. Its definition has varied from century to century. For several centuries it was dismissed altogether as a delusion caused by the Devil.
The Canon Episcopi of circa 900 AD (alleged to date from 314 AD) stated that witchcraft did not exist and that to believe in it was heretical.  The Church, rather than opposing witchcraft, opposed what it saw as the foolish and backward belief in witchcraft. To believe that witchcraft could possibly have any power was to deny the supreme power of God.
It is also not to be omitted that some unconstrained women, perverted by Satan, seduced by illusions and phantasms of demons, believe and openly profess that, in the dead of night, they ride upon certain beasts with the pagan goddess Diana, with a countless horde of women, and in the silence of the dead of the night to fly over vast tracts of country, and to obey her commands as their mistress, and to be summoned to her service on other nights. But it were well if they alone perished in their infidelity and did not draw so many others into the pit of their faithlessness. For an innumberable multitude, deceived by this false opinion, believe this to be true and, so believing, wander from the right faith and relapse into pagan errors when they think that there is any divinity or power except the one God. - from the Canon Episcopi
The Canon Episcopi remained authoritative until the 13th century, when it was superseded.
Ancient middle-eastern and near-eastern beliefs
The belief in witchcraft and its practice seem to have been widespread in the past. Both in ancient Egypt and in Babylonia it played a conspicuous part, as existing records plainly show. It will be sufficient to quote a short section from the Code of Hammurabi (about 2000 B.C.). It is there prescribed,
- If a man has laid a charge of witchcraft and has not justified it, he upon whom the witchcraft is laid shall go to the holy river; he shall plunge into the holy river and if the holy river overcome him, he who accused him shall take to himself his house.
Witchcraft in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament)
In the Bible references to witchcraft are frequent, and the strong condemnations of such practices which we read there do not seem to be based so much upon the supposition of fraud as upon the "abomination" of the magic in itself. (See Deuteronomy 18:11-12; Exodus 22:18, "wizards thou shalt not suffer to live" - A.V. "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live".) The whole narrative of Saul's visit to the witch of En Dor (I Samuel 28) implies belief in the reality of the witch's evocation of the shade of Samuel; and from Leviticus 20:27: "A man or woman in whom there is a pythonical or divining spirit, dying let them die: they shall stone them: Their blood be upon them", we should naturally infer that the divining spirit was not believed to be a mere imposture.
Witchcraft in the New Testament
The prohibitions of sorcery in the New Testament leave the same impression (Galatians 5:20, compared with Revelations 21:8; 22:15; and Acts 8:9; 13:6). Supposing that the belief in witchcraft were held to be an idle superstition, it would be strange that the suggestion should nowhere be made that the evil of these practices only lay in the pretending to the possession of powers which did not really exist.
There are some debate, however, as to whether the word used in Galatians and Revelations, Pharmakeia, is properly translated as "sorcery," as the word was commonly used to describe malicious use of drugs as in poisons, contraceptives, and abortifacients.
Jewish views of witchcraft
Almost all modern day Jews view the practice of witchcraft as idolatry, a serious theological offense in Judaism. Jews believe that the practices associated with witchcraft and magic are in vain, as such magic and supernatural forces don't actually exist. The only supernatural belief Jews still maintain is the belief in God. It should be noted that a small number of Orthodox Jews who study Kabbalah (Jewish esoteric mysticism) do believe in magic; their practices use terminology that varies greatly from witchcraft, but the basic ideas (using supernatural forces to effect results in the physical world) are identical. Most Jews find such ideas ludicrous; since The Enlightenment most Jewish people have abandoned a belief in the Kabbalah.
Some Neopagans study and practice forms of magery based in sincrecy between classical Jewish mysticism and the modern witchcraft uses. A reference on this subject is Ellen Cannon Reed's book "The Witches Qabala: The Pagan Path and the Tree of Life".
See also: Christian views on witchcraft
Unsurprisingly, Africans have a wide range of views of traditional religions. African Christians typically accept Christian dogma as their counterparts in latin America and Asia. The term witch doctor, often attributed to African inyanga , has been misconstrued to mean 'a healer who uses witchcraft' rather than its original meaning of 'one who diagnoses and cures maladies caused by witches'. Combining Roman Catholic beliefs and practices and traditional West African religious beliefs and practices are several syncretic religions in the Americas, including Voudun, Obeah, Candomblé, Santería.
In Southern African traditions, there are three classifications of somebody who uses magic. The thakathi is usually translated into English as "witch," and is a spiteful person who operates in secret to harm others. The sangoma is a diviner, somewhere on a par with a fortune teller, and is employed in detecting illness, predicting a person's future (or advising them on which path to take), or identifying the guilty party in a crime. She also practices some degree of medicine. The inyanga is often translated as "witch doctor" (though many Southern Africans resent this implication, as it perpetuates the mistaken belief that a "witch doctor" is in some sense a practitioner of witchcraft). The inyanga's job is to heal illness and injury and provide customers with magical items for everyday use. Of these three categories the thakatha is almost exclusively female, the sangoma is usually female, and the inyanga is almost exclusively male.
Witchcraft and the paranormal
It is not easy to draw a clear distinction between magic and witchcraft. Both are concerned with the producing of effects beyond the natural powers of man by agencies other than the Divine (occultism). In the traditional European views of Witchcraft, it's commonly understood that there is the idea of a diabolical pact or at least an appeal to the intervention of the spirits of evil. In such cases this supernatural aid is usually invoked either to compass the death of some obnoxious person, or to awaken the passion of love in those who are the objects of desire, or to call up the dead, or to bring calamity or impotence upon enemies, rivals, and fancied oppressors. This is not an exhaustive enumeration, but these represent some of the principal purposes that witchcraft has been made to serve at nearly all periods of the world's history.
In the traditional European belief, not only of the dark ages, but of post-Reformation times, the witches or wizards addicted to such practices entered into a compact with Satan, adjured Jesus and the sacraments, observed "the witches' sabbath" - performing infernal rites which often took the shape of a parody of the Mass or the offices of the Church - paid Divine honour to the Prince of Darkness, and in return received from him preternatural powers, such as those of riding through the air on a broomstick, assuming different shapes at will, and tormenting their chosen victims, while an imp or "familiar spirit" was placed at their disposal, able and willing to perform any service that might be needed to further their nefarious purposes.
Another belief is that those who practice witchcraft are being vague and deceptive. This view holds that while those who practice witchcraft may have the intention of helping people, in the end they are working against the will of God. Both "good" and "bad" witchcraft are condemned. In addition, one who practices witchcraft need not necessarily contact any supernatural beings. They may simply be using moods, lighting, and manipulating the situation to give the appearance of contact with the dead. They may even use ventriloquism to make it seem as if a being has entered a room. An example cited is the biblical story of the witch of En Dor (I Samuel 28) who, when she was successful in bringing up Samuel from the dead, screamed out in surprise and fear. Some use this passage to imply that the witch did not really expect a being to appear and was shocked and afraid when a being did appear. The conclusion is that in the past she had simply faked the appearances.
Today, witchcraft is still a religion for some people. Instead of devil worship, neopagans practice earth-based religion, with little to no connections to the above Middle Ages practices. The term 'Witchcraft' can be used to describe the Dark Ages version, or certain neopagan beliefs.
Listed by date of publication:
- Nathaniel J. Harris, Witcha: A Book of Cunning. Mandrake of Oxford, 2004.
- Leo Ruickbie, Witchcraft Out of the Shadows: A Complete History. Robert Hale, 2004.
- Ray Abrahams, Witchcraft in contemporary Tanzania. Cambridge, 1994.
- Gerina Dunwich, Wicca Craft. Citadel Press, 1991.
- Bengt Ankarloo/Gustav Henningsen, Early Modern European Witchcraft. Centres and Peripheries. Oxford, 1990.
- Wolfgang Behringer, Hexen und Hexenprozesse in Deutschland. Munich, 1988.
- Ariadne Rainbird, David Rankine, Magick Without Peers - A Course in Progressive Witchcraft.Capall Bann, 1997
- Rae Beth, Hedgewitch: A Guide to Solitary Witchcraft. Robert Hale, 1990.
- Gustav Henningsen/John Tedeschi, The Inquisition in Early Modern Europe. Studies on Sources and Methods. Dekalb, 1986.
- Alan C. Kors/Edward Peters, Witchcraft in Europe, 1100-1700. A Documentary History. Philadelphia, 1972.
- Joseph Hansen, Quellen und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte des Hexenwahns und der Hexenverfolgung im Mittelalter. Bonn, 1901.
- Cotton Mather, Wonders of the Invisible World, Boston, 1692
- Robert Calef, More wonders of the Invisible World, London, 1700
- Catalan mythology about witches
- flying ointment
- list of Wiccans
- Lysa Hora (paranormal)
- Malleus Maleficarum
- osculum infame
- Seid (shamanic magic)
- witchcraft trial
- witches (Discworld)
- list of fictional witches
Witch is also known as a person regarded as cruel, heartless , spiteful , overbearing , and is a overall unpleasant person. Another definition for the word defines a person(especially a woman) who practices witchcraft.
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