Definition and Historical Context
– Witchcraft is the use of alleged supernatural powers of magic.
– Traditionally, witchcraft means the use of magic or supernatural powers to inflict harm or misfortune on others.
– Belief in witchcraft has been found in a great number of societies worldwide.
– In Europe, belief in witchcraft traces back to classical antiquity.
– Accused witches were usually women who were believed to have used black magic or maleficium against their own community.

Beliefs and Practices
– Most societies have feared an ability by some individuals to cause supernatural harm and misfortune to others.
– Witchcraft is often seen as immoral and involving communion with evil beings.
– Defensive magic, persuasion, intimidation, or physical punishment can thwart witchcraft.
– Witches are believed to use objects, words, and gestures to cause supernatural harm.
– Some Indigenous peoples believe witches have a substance or an evil spirit in their bodies that drives them to do harm.

Historical Persecution and Witch Trials
– Accusations of witchcraft were often made by neighbors and followed from social tensions.
– Suspected witches were intimidated, banished, attacked, or killed.
– European witch-hunts and witch trials in the early modern period led to tens of thousands of executions.
– Magical healers and midwives were sometimes accused of witchcraft.
– European belief in witchcraft gradually dwindled during and after the Age of Enlightenment.

Cultural Variations
– Different cultures have different explanations for strange misfortune.
– The Gaels of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands historically held a strong belief in fairy folk, which reduced the fear of witchcraft.
– Some African and Melanesian peoples believe witches are driven by an evil substance or spirit inside them.
– Modern witch-hunting takes place in parts of Africa and Asia.
– Followers of certain types of modern paganism self-identify as witches.

Debates and Definitions
– The concept of witchcraft is difficult to define across cultures.
– Historians and anthropologists see witchcraft as an explanation for strange misfortune.
– Witchcraft can be defined as the use of harmful magic or the use of magic to cause harm or misfortune to others.
– The distinction between witches and those who use sorcery has been abandoned in most cases.
– The terms ‘witchcraft’ and ‘witch’ have different meanings in scholarly and general public usage.

Subtopic: Etymology
– The word ‘witch’ is over a thousand years old.
– It originated from Old English, combining the words ‘wicce’ (witch) and ‘cræft’ (craft).
– The masculine form of witch was ‘wicca’ (male sorcerer).
– The word ‘witch’ is derived from the Old English verb ‘wiccian,’ meaning to practice witchcraft.
– The etymology of the word ‘witch’ is uncertain and has no clear cognates in other Germanic languages.

Subtopic: Claimed practices
– Witches are believed to cast curses and use magical words and gestures to inflict harm.
– They may inscribe runes or sigils on objects for magical powers.
– Witchcraft has been blamed for various misfortunes, particularly illnesses and deaths.
– Beliefs in using body parts, such as hair or clothing, for magic are found in many cultures.
– Some Indigenous beliefs associate witches with introducing cursed objects into their victims’ bodies.

Subtopic: Accusations of witchcraft
– Accusations of witchcraft often arise from social and economic tensions.
– Females are commonly accused, but in some cultures, it is mostly males.
– Accusations are often directed at the elderly, but in some cultures, age is not a factor.
– Accusations may stem from being caught in sorcery, losing clients or trust, or gaining enmity.
– Reputation as a witch and association with witch-beliefs can lead to accusations.

Subtopic: Thwarting witchcraft
– Societies believed in using protective or counter-magic to thwart witchcraft.
– Cunning folk were experts in charms, talismans, and amulets for protection.
– Other methods included anti-witch marks, witch bottles, witch balls, and burying objects.
– Another approach was to persuade or force the alleged witch to lift their spell.
– Physical punishment or legal prosecution were common remedies against witchcraft.

Subtopic: Modern witch-hunts
– Witch-hunts, scapegoating, and the persecution of suspected witches still occur.
– Belief in witchcraft or malevolent magic persists in many cultures worldwide.
– Witch trials in the early modern period were a significant historical phenomenon.
– Modern witch-hunts continue to be documented in certain regions.
– The shunning or murder of suspected witches is a tragic consequence of witch-hunting.

Subtopic: Religious perspectives on witchcraft
– Ancient Mesopotamian religion integrated witchcraft into their society and considered it a combination of magical and medical knowledge.
– Witches in ancient Mesopotamia were not necessarily seen as evil but could take on both white and black forms.
– Witches in Mesopotamia were often associated with rural areas and exhibited ecstatic behavior.
– The Code of Hammurabi (about 2000 BC) included legal repercussions for using magic to harm others without justification.
– Witches in Mesopotamia were often individuals of low status, including women, foreigners, actors, and peddlers.

Subtopic: Witchcraft in Confucianism
– Emperor Wu of Han in China suppressed shamanistic practices, including divination and rituals, in favor of Confucianism.
– The primary target of Emperor Wu’s suppression was the Wuism tradition, which involved the worship of spirits and shamanic practices.
– The suppression of shamanism aimed to centralize power, promote Confucian ethics, and standardize cultural practices.
– Local variations and practices of shamanism persisted in some regions despite the imperial ban.
– The historical record of the suppression of shamanism during Emperor Wu’s reign is limited and influenced by ConfucSources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft