What Is Witchcraft? - FamilyEducation

What Is Witchcraft?

by Amina Sharma

Learn more about the history of witches and why people fear witchcraft.

witch"I tried to encourage all my friends to read the Harry Potter books, but all they said was aren't they evil and have a lot of witchcraft in them . . ."
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Why Do People Fear Witchcraft?
Witchcraft of one sort of another has been practiced in many cultures for thousands of years -- witches are shamans, priests and priestesses, historians, teachers, gods, and healers. (Some people who were considered witches include Greek philosopher Pythagoras, Roman poet Virgil, and Swiss physician Paracelsus.) But Western culture's fear of witches dates back to the 1400s, when they were first persecuted in Europe.

What Do Witches Do?
Historically, witches have always been human magic-makers -- people who use folklore, nature, and old, deeply-felt superstitions and practices to change or influence events. When Christianity became the prevailing religion in Europe, many of the ancient "pagan" religions still survived, and these included magic-making practices. The Christian church was convinced that these beliefs were associated with the devil and it attacked the mere suspicion of them with extreme brutality. For the next 300 years, hundreds of thousands of people were tortured and executed. As evidenced by the Salem witch trials in 17th-century Massachusetts, the charges were usually false and the evidence faked.

The targets of these attacks were often old women who were unmarried or widowed, and lived alone with small animals for pets. Sometimes they were condemned because they owned land that others wanted, or because they used plants and folklore traditions for healing remedies, or because they were poor and made easy targets.

Witchcraft Today
The scourge on magic-making bypassed India, Brazil, Thailand, Tibet, and other countries where it is still practiced and respected. Africa has many types of witch doctors who cast spells, read the future, heal the sick and ask ancestors for guidance. A Tibetan Buddhist monk will play the part of an evil spirit from pre-Buddhist beliefs in a ritual dance to drive out evil. A Sri Lankan shaman treats illnesses by trying to restore the body's inner energy balance. The Chinese developed the ancient magical art of feng-shui, which is now popular in America.

Wicca is the most widely practiced form of witchcraft in America. But there are other types of magical beliefs that are popular -- such as astrology, New Ageism, and the rediscovery of herbalism and alternative medicine.

Take the witchcraft poll and tell us what you think about magic-making.

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