Witchcraft traditionally means the use of magic or supernatural powers to harm others. A practitioner is known as a witch. In medieval and early modern Europe, where the term originated, accused witches were usually women who were believed to have attacked their own community, and often to have communed with evil beings. It was thought witchcraft could be thwarted by protective magic or counter-magic, which could be provided by cunning folk or folk healers. Suspected witches were also intimidated, banished, attacked or killed. Often they would be formally prosecuted and punished if found guilty or simply believed to be guilty.

European witch-hunts and witch trials in the early modern period led to tens of thousands of executions. Although some folk healers were accused of witchcraft, they made up a minority of those brought to trial. European belief in witchcraft gradually dwindled during and after the age of Enlightenment.

‘Ducking to determine guilt of witchcraft

Contemporary cultures that believe in magic and the supernatural often believe in witchcraft. Anthropologists have applied the term witchcraft to similar beliefs and occult practices described by many non-European cultures. Cultures that have adopted the English language will often call these practices “witchcraft”, as well.  As with the cunning-folk in Europe, indigenous communities that believe in the existence of witchcraft define witches as the opposite of their healers and medicine people, who are sought out for protection against witches and witchcraft. Modern witch-hunting is still found in parts of Africa and Asia today

A theory that witchcraft was a survival of a European pagan religion (the witch-cult hypothesis) gained popularity in the early 20th century, but has since been discredited.

In contemporary Western culture, most notably since the growth of Wicca from the 1950s, some Modern Pagans identify as witches, and use the term witchcraft for their self-help, healing and divination rituals.

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