Witchcraft and Witches


The Circle.  J. W. Waterhouse. Public domain.

31.  Introduction

2.  Definition, Meaning and Interpretation

3.  Witchcraft and Sorcery

4.  Witchcraft and Demonology

5.  Anthropology and Ethnography of Witchcraft

6.  Witches, Witch-hunts and Witch Trials.

7.  Witchcraft and Folklore

1.  Introduction

The understanding of witchcraft can be approached from a number of academic and scholarly disciplines including anthropology, ethnology, mythology, as well as history and religion. Witchcraft which is variously termed ‘witchery’, spell-craft of just the ‘Craft’ refers the belief in or use of supernatural and magical powers to achieve good or bad outcomes. So called ‘white magic in witchery is the use of skills and abilities to heal. So-called ‘black magic’ in witchcraft is the use of supernatural means to inflict damage or harm. Witchcraft displays worldwide social and cultural variations, but which has a common cultural ideology as a means of explaining human misfortune. Witchcraft is underpinned by the belief that misfortune can be blamed on either supernatural entities or malevolence of earthly individuals.


The Witches Sabbath (1798).  Francisco Goya.  Private domain.

Witchcraft has existed in various forms and guises since the earliest times. However, witchcraft is regarded academically as distinct from many of the modern and contemporary conceptions of the belief and practice. Popular ideas of witchcraft encompass sorcery, magic, shamanism, superstition, folklore and folk medicine, as well as occult practices, necromancy and superstition. A persistent image of the witch is the riding abroad on a broom handle. As a belief witchcraft is not demonstrable whereas the magic of sorcery is based on actual practice, and involves “…the effort to manipulate the forces of nature directly, by the symbolic projection of powers, involving the learned use of objects, words and/or thoughts.” (Stevens, 1996).


The Witches Sabbath (1880).  Luis Riccardo Falero.  Public domain.

2.  Definition, Meaning and Interpretation

Etymologically the term witchcraft is derived from Old English wiccecraeft which combines wicce meaning ‘witch’ and craeft meaning ‘craft’. The Middle English noun is the  word wicche  meaning a woman who practices witchcraft and enchantment. In Old English the masculine is wicca and the feminine is wicce which is connected to viccian to practice witchcraft or witchery. In Middle Dutch wicker means soothsayer and Lower German wikken means to predict. Witchcraft in Europe has been regarded as an ideology to explain the occurrence of misfortune. The Hebrew term for a witch was mekarssepah which specifies a man or woman who makes spells, amulets, poisons and incantations, the word also corresponding to the Latin venfica (Thompson, 1927).


Witches Sabbath (1821-23).  Francisco Goya.  Public domain.

Various attempts have been made to construct a definitive terminology (Briggs, 1962; Ewen, 1929; Parrinder, 1950) which includes the diversity and many ramifications of witchcraft. Historically there has been much confusion about the definition of witchcraft and sorcery. When a witch curses she does not employ physical means or actions but “…is the vehicle for a power greater than herself, often the unwilling agent of vast evil forces…” (MacFarlane, 1972), and indeed  she may not have awareness of being an agent or witch at all.


Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft. Sir Walter Scott.  Public domain.

The witch may possess qualities that are derived from an inner and intangible quality called maleficium, which implies witchcraft is “…predominantly the pursuit of harmful ends by implicit/internal means.” (MacFarlane, 1972). Maleficent is from the Latin from the stem maleficus  meaning ‘evil doing’, and mal plus facere meaning ‘baleful’ or ‘hurtful’.   There is a difference between witchcraft and sorcery. Both represent distinct types of means, which appear to contrast means and ends, but actually have the same ends. Essentially sorcery “…combines harmful ends with explicit means.” (MacFarlane, 1972), whereas white witchery has beneficial aims or ends which it attempts to achieve by explicit means.

The object of witchcraft is to exert an influence on the mind and body of others, by malicious magic or witchery, to affect them against their will. Folk witchery, along with religious rituals, is often employed to frustrate the effect of malicious or malevolent magic. Nonetheless witches are considered as the blameworthy source of impotence, disease in animals, disease and ailments, and even sudden death. The word ‘witch’ is usually applied to a woman who is deemed capable of performing “…some operation beyond human power by the agency of evil spirits…” (Thompson, 1927).


Disquisitionum Magicarum (1679).  Martin del Rio.  Public domain.

With regard to the historiography of witchcraft however There is “…fairly widespread agreement that pre-industrial witchcraft has enough in common with contemporary primitive forms to be accounted the same phenomenon.” (Larner, 1982). Modern comparative studies have classified the elements of witchcraft into its component elements (Pocs, 1999; Larner, 1982).

The witch cults of contemporary western societies can be compared with a witchcraft examples drawn from traditional societies where there is belif in witches, sorcery and witchcraft. However this does not mean that actual correspondences always exist. Firstly, Type A or the maleficium, is witchery in its basic and simplest form and can include sorcery, incantations, causing harm though malevolence or malicious power (Larner, 1982). Secondly, Type B has been referred to as compact witchcraft which alludes to a pact with Satan. This form confuses the distinction between the maleficium and healing, and between ‘black magic’ and ‘white magic’ (Larner, 1982). Thirdly, Type C has been called sabbath witchcraft where witches have a compact with Satan as well as communion with other witches to pay homage to the devil.


Witches Flight (1797-98).  Francisco Goya.  Public domain.

Witch classification  (Pocs, 1999) has further divided witchcraft practitioners into three types. Firstly there is the co-called neighbourhood witch whose curses are a reflection of local tensions or conflicts.  Secondly there is the magical witch or sorcerer who functions within the community as a healer, midwife, seer and healer. Possibly having increased their worth due to detriment of others they are a reflection of social tensions on a wider scale. Lastly there is the supernatural or night witch who appears as the demon of nightmares, visions and disturbing dreams, being a phenomenon that explains community calamities. Fuseli Night Hag

The Night Hag Visiting Lapland Witches (1796).  Henry Fuseli.

There are two groups that comprise modern witch cults. Their practices and rituals do not fill the social roles they did in previous and traditional witch practicing communities and cultures (Larner, 1982). Firstly, Type I has a long and intermittent history that embraces satanic worship and evil  that is characterised by sex. Secondly, Type 2 regard themselves as the inheritors of an ancient pre-Christian fertility religion. he members of Type 2 congregate to carry out sacred dances and ancient rituals. Modern witchcraft in industrial societies do not blame the misfortunes of humans, such as wars, floods, earthquakes, disease and epidemics on witchcraft and sorcery but on contemporary circumstances. Modern witchery is now a branch of Wicca or modern paganism.

3.  Witchcraft and Sorcery

In origin the term sorcerer comes from Old French sorcer and Latin sortidrius  meaning a wizard or magician, with Old French sorcerie meaning witchcraft. In Hebraic scripture the word kasaph possibly means sorceress or witch. In those Jewish writings there are many references to sorcery, witches and witchcraft. When defining sorcery and its practitioners it is important to realise that “…the sorcerer controls the power inherent in certain ‘medicine’ or other objects.” (MacFarlane, 1982). The sorcerer or magician derives his power from invocations and acts of magic, whereas the witch have their derived supernatural powers from a communion with a demon or the Devil. Sorcerers unlike witches do not commune in groups or covens to carry out their rituals  as ‘companions of the devil’.


Witches and Sorcerers (1646).  Salvator Rosa.  Public domain.

Witchcraft and sorcery, by resorting to ‘mystical’ power and miraculous sources, both “…denote the projection of supernatural evil by human instigation.” (Stevens, 1996). The magic of evil intent is known as sorcery whereas witchcraft is characteristically the belief in the mysterious, in mystical forces. The belief in, and practice of, sorcery was widespread in the ancient Near East and “…persisted as an effort to control natural forces for good and evil.” (Stevens, 1996). The Hebrew kaseph could be translated in the Greek term for herbalist or pharmakeia, whereas in Latin veneficos could mean ‘poisoner’. Sorcery was conspicuous in ancient Egypt and in Babylonia, around 2000 BC  the Code of Hammurabi told of Akkadian anti-witchcraft rituals called the Maglu.


The Sorceress (1913).  J. W. Waterhouse.  Public domain.

A widely distributed example of sympathetic magic practice is that of envoutement. A form of casting a spell where the witch makes a clay or waxen image of the individual to be harmed or cursed, which to be effective must bear the name of victim. The effigy has to be “…modelled in great secrecy…the effigy next pricked all over with new needles, each prick being accompanied by an incantation and terrible imprecations,,,” (Thompson, 1927). The waxen model popularly called  ‘voodoo dolls’ were often slowly melted over a fire thus from “…historical and anthropological perspectives, witchcraft is a form of sorcery, the use of magical power to affect change.” (Guiley, 1992).

4.  Witchcraft and Demonology

Demonology is a branch of theology that studies demons and beliefs concerning them that goes back thousands of years. Demons are regarded as supernatural entities but who are not deities themselves. Contemporary outlooks connotates demonology and demons with malevolence and malignance. Etymologically the word demon is from the Greek ‘daimon’ or the Latin ‘daemon’ meaning divinity, divine power, a tutelary of protective deity. Originally daemons were species of in-dwelling evil spirits found in primitive animistic outlooks. As evil spirits demons were viewed as inferior divinities, devils or fiend-like men.  Modern day diverse groups of Satanic worshippers regard demons in general, and especially Satan, as real entities.

demonology cartoon

Demonology and Witchcraft (1830).  Henry Heath.  Public domain.

In pursuit of their Satanic quest witches are “…said to make two covenants with the devil, one public and one private.” (Scott, 1865). Demons are perceived to be fallen angels, an incubus or a succubus, malevolent revenants and ghosts, ancestral spirits or lost souls, as well as vampires and spectres. Therefore the term ‘demoniac’, from the Latin daemoniacus, means possessed by an evil spirit, a supernatural power. Arising out of this came the belief that witches regularly participated in obscene satanic gatherings. Assemblies to which they flew through the air to reaffirm their allegiance to the Devil.

Hell Hans Memling

Hell (1485).  Hans Memling.  Public domain.

Satanism comprises a broad spectrum of concepts that symbolically worship the Devil as a liberating demonic figure. The persona of Satan is only found in the theology and writings of the three Abrahamic religions, and Satanic cults inheritors of beliefs that existed prior to the Enlightenment. Wicca, or contemporary witchcraft recognises “…a bipolar Divine, God and Goddess and gives emphasis to the latter.” (Guiley, 1992), and therefore views Satanism as the ‘dark side of Christianity’. Organised groups of Satanists in the middle of the 20th century included the Ophite Cultus Satanas and the Church of Satan.


Witches Sabbath (1797-98).  Francisco Goya.  Public domain.

It was by selling one’s soul to the devil that one became a witch. Contemporary illustrations of the Devil often portrayed him as a horned goat-like figure complete with cloven feet and a tail. The compact with the Devil endowed the witch with a companion familiar, which was fed through a third nipple, as well as with Satanic powers. It was believed that the ‘kiss under the tail’ or osculum infame was the obscene manner by which witches greeted the Devil. It was also widely believed that female witches also copulated with either ‘demon lovers’ and incubi, or with Satan himself.


Nightmare (1800).  N. A. Abildgaard.  Public domain.

5.  Anthropology and Ethnography of Witchcraft

In anthropological terms there are difficulties encountered when comparing British and European witchcraft with its African counterpart. Anthropologically the classic distinction between ‘witchcraft, and ‘sorcery’ was made concerning the Azande who “…believe that some people are witches and can injure them in virtue of an inherent quality. A witch performs no rite, utters no spell, and possesses no medicines. An act of witchcraft is a psychic act. They believe also that sorcerers may do them harm by performing magic rites with bad medicines.” (Evans-Pritchard, 1937).

Magical beliefs and divinatory practices are found to be universal throughout the world in all human cultures. Magical belief implies that a magician can influence personal well-being and explain the misfortunes that randomly beset mankind. Belief in witchcraft provides a framework that various cultures have used to influence reality by supernatural means. If witchcraft is a phenomenon that has a universal existence it “…probably has been used since humankind first banded together in groups.” (Guiley, 1992).

An interpretation in British social anthropology (Evans-Pritchard, 1937), explained African witchcraft in terms of the control of social conflicts and the amelioration of human misfortunes. Blame for distress and misery was apportioned on an individual  deemed capable of using supernatural powers to inflict harm. This posited that the relationship between the evil-doer and the witch-affected or enchanted was functional in nature, and healers were considered to be sorcerers instead of witches.


Departure of the Witches (1878).  Luis Falero.  Public domain.

The phenomenon of witchcraft in Africa often referred to the one who diagnosed maladies caused by witches. The Zulu term for a witch-doctor was inyanga. Three types of witch were identified in South Africa. Firstly, the exclusively female thalcathi or malicious individual who did  harm in secret. Secondly, the usually female who detected illness, exposed criminals, used divination and practised some medicine, was called a sangoma. Thirdly, the inyanga or witch-doctor was always male and functioned to cure illness, to repair injuries, as well as provide magical remedies in the form of talismans, charms, and fetishes.

Black Magic

Witch-doctor’s paraphernalia from Nigeria.

There are many references to sorcery and the considered abomination of magical practices in the Hebrew scriptures. In the writings of Islam there are numerous references to the arts of divination and magic that encompass astrology, the manufacture of amulets and talismans, and ‘black magic’ or Sihr. The practice of sorcery or Sihr is forbidden. However, the prophets and messengers are permitted to carry out performance of miracles. The supernatural Jinn are capable of possessing humans and the Awliya can carry out supernatural acts.

Middle Eastern witchcraft and sorcery, which draws upon occult ritual magical ceremonies in the Jewish Kaballah, the Kaballa, mysticism and the Key of Solomon, as well as the Tree of Life. Later in textbooks of magical incantations known as grimoire, thence to the ‘Order of the Golden Dawn’, and the Tuscan ‘Legend of Aradia’.

6.  Witches, Witch-hunts and Witch Trials.

During the period around 1560 to 1680 attitudes toward and opinions concerning witchcraft varied according to religious persuasion. The popular concept of witchcraft that is pre-eminent is derived from the Old testament and the tenets of early Christianity. This ethic proposed that evil was associated with the devil as a manifestation of the eternal conflict between good and evil. In early Modern Europe belief in witchcraft led to wide-spread persecution of witches based on the belief that it represented a diabolical conspiracy against established Christianity.


Examination of the Witch (1853).  T. H. Matteson. Public domain.

The Catholic Church issued its first Papal Bulls against witchcraft in 1233 and 1484. The first was that of Pope Gregory the Ninth in 1233, and that of Innocent the Eigth in 1484. Papal Bulls promulgated against the belief in witchcraft and the practice of sorcery as well as the introduction of the Courts Extraordinary. During the Age of Enlightenment the hysteria of the European Protestant witch trials started to come to an end.

The established Protestant and Catholic churches of the Middle Ages regarded witchcraft as apostasy and heresy. In truth the charge of witchcraft was a “…colossal fraud and delusion, impossible because the ‘crime’ of witchcraft was an impossible crime.” (Robbins, 1959). A crime that could in fact not be committed. Christianity, and indeed that of Islam, believed they were engaged in a battle on an apocalyptic scale with the Devil and his secret army of witches. Out of this scenario the panic and fear of witchcraft and sorcery role to epidemic proportions and led to irrational witch hunts an a large scale.

the witch hunt Ferris

The Witch Hunt (1921).  Jean Leon Ferris.  Public domain.

A witch-hunt is the search for a witch or evidence of the practice of witchery. Persecution of witches had its equivalence during Celtic and Roman antiquity. In other words witch-hunts and witch trials were not peculiar to the medieval or early modern periods. The medieval witch mania began around 1450 in Europe. It was the imagined pact with the Devil that increased the belief in witchcraft and eventual legal sanctions to suppress it. Witchcraft came to be seen as a crime against the church itself.


Witch-hunts before 1750 in Britain were sanctified legally in witchcraft trials. However, in Britain the ‘crime’ of witchcraft was no longer punishable after the Witchcraft Act of 1735. The witch-hunts of the early modern period in Europe and America occurred between 1480 and 1750.Two German monks called Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer composed the Malleus Maleficarum in 1486. Published by Heinrich Institutoris. a German Dominican inquisitor, it was more commonly known by its English title the ‘Hammer of the Witches’.


Used for hundreds of years, by both Protestant and Catholic alike it was a manual of witch identification, as well as a denunciation of superstition and demonology, and also became the hand-book of the secular courts. The manual defined a witch, whether guilty or not, as a typically evil female. It contained explanations about why more women than men were witches. The manual detailed how to put a witch on trial and the punishments to be meted out. Confessions were permitted to be obtained by torture, in addition “…the property of the condemned witch also yielded extensive booty for whichever local authority had jurisdiction.” (Robbins, 1959).


The tradition stereotypically embedded within early modern traditions is that witches were women. Persecution of women for alleged witchcraft arose out of the natural awe of their supposed greater powers, influence and instincts. Christian scholars during the Middle Ages held dear to diabolical fantasies about the mythic goddess Diana. The majority of those accused of witchcraft were women and there is not justification in the stereotype that witches were old women as caste by Sir Walter Scott.


The modern stereotype image of a witch.  Public domain.

It is a gross error, as some witches were men, to confuse the witch with the crone of hag of myth and folktale. A male witch is also mistakenly called a ‘warlock’. Witchcraft accusations have been categories into four types (Pocs, 1999) which are: (1) those caught committing either active or passive sorcery; (2) a well meaning practising witch loses the trust of a client; (3) the so-called witch did no more than cause the enmity of a neighbour or ill-wisher, and; (4) the accused is surrounded by the aura of occultism or beliefs in witchery.


Witchcraft was suppose to have originated in anciently held heretical beliefs such as Catharism, the Waldensians , Gnosticism, and Manichaeism. The charge of heresy was allegedly based on the dualist concept of the struggle between good and evil. The belief was that the Devil and witches were party to a diabolical pact whereas in truth “…witchcraft is a Christian heresy…” (Robbins, 1959). The pursuit of witches, their hunting down and subsequent trials and executions can often be traced to panic, popular delusion, and social and mass hysteria.

Salem witches

The Trial of George Jacobs (1855).  T. H. Matteson.  Public domain.

The Witchcraft Acts were instituted in England, Scotland and Ireland between 1542 and 1735. The established church had on occasion condemned witchcraft as only a superstition with formal denunciations at other times. It was the Witchcraft Acts which codified the need to punish the practice of magic and witchcraft (Summers, 2002). It was in Switzerland and the south of France that witch-hunts erupted during the 14th and 15th centuries. Elsewhere in Europe witch fears peaked during the 17th century from the 15th and 16th centuries which came in waves with peaks and lows of persecution. In the south-west of Germany the peak years of the witch-hunt were between 1561 and 1670. The peak period in Europe of ‘witch mania’ was during the early 17th century. In the American colonies witch-hunting hysteria erupted in 1645. Notable were the Salem witch trials in the Puritanical state of Massachusetts from 1992 to 1695. Trials for witchcraft in Europe totalled some 12,000.


The witch-hunts and trials led to an estimate of between 40,000 and 60,000 executions. The final execution being in the 18th century. The Malleus Maleficarum, though employed throughout Europe during the Renaissance was not used by the Inquisition. Though witchcraft was condemned by the Catholic Church in 1490, the “…function of the Inquisition was to change the opinion of anyone who thought differently from what the church told him…” (Robbins, 1959). This was extended to the persecution of Jews in medieval Spain.


The Salem witchcraft hysteria. Engraving. Public domain.

In colonial north America the most notorious trials for witchcraft took place in Salem, state of Massachusetts. The incidents were in many respects the product of existing social and religious tensions. The process began with local magistracy hearings or tribunals followed by a series of trials in Courts of Oyer and Terminer. Between 1645 and 1663 in Springfield thirteen women and two men were arraigned and executed. In the counties of Essex, Suffolk and Middlesex, between February 1692 and May 1693 some 150 were arrested and imprisoned. Of these thirty people were hanged. Other trials led to the execution of fourteen women and five men.


The Execution of Mrs Ann Hibbins in 1696.  E. T. Merrill.  Public domain.

The reality was one where many in officialdom used the trials to seek profit and wealth in their victims ashes. The regulations meant that the victims or their relatives paid the salaries of the judges, clerks and scribes, physicians, torturers, guards and even clergy. Additional remunerations included those for scaffold and stake erectors, meaning the process whether religious or secular, made a the hangings and burnings a lucrative and pecuniary pursuit. People in various positions, of various trades and crafts, of many walks of life profited from the death of witches, and so “…by cruel butchery innocent lives are taken; and by a new alchemy, gold and silver are coined from human blood.” (Robbins, 1959).


The execution of witches in England, 17th century.  Public domain.

7.  Witchcraft and Folklore

Despite the fact that witches can appear with a deceptive beautiful appearance many descriptions from numerous cultures portrayed witches as hag-like and ugly crones. Credited with being capable of shape-shifting and possessing the power of flight, often on a besom, they were often accompanied by their demon animal familiars. In literary terms they have been ascribed as “…generally old, blear-eyed, wrinkled dames, ugly and crippled, frequently papists, and sometimes atheists; of cross-grained tempers and cynical dispositions…often poisoners and generally mono-maniacs…” (Scott, 1865).

Crossroads or ‘crossways’ for ages have been associated with witches. They were the usual sites of gibbets and gallows, and where the remains of criminals and suicides were interred. These “…cruciform landmarks.” (Brown, 1966), hark back to the trivium, the place where three crossroads met, of Roman antiquity. In this context the crossways was seen as a magical location.


Hecate: Procession to a witches Sabbath (1620). Jusepe de Ribera 

For witches and the practice of witchcraft three roads was a magical setting, with the trivium, as a seat of authority presided over by a three-faced monument to the goddess Hecate. The statue often presented as a three masked sacrificial post, the head of Hecate portrayed with the heads of a dog, a lion, and a horse (Brown, 1966). The triple masked portrayal may refer to the three phases of the moon, as well as symbolising the three season tripartite year of antiquity (Graves, 1979). As goddess Hecate regulated the calendar and time, as well as the three lunar phases. Suicides and criminals were laid to rest at the crossroads, the trivium, because it was the Underworld portal guarded by Hecate. In this sense the triple heads of Hecate are therefore assumed to symbolise the three states of sky, earth, and underworld. Witches as worshippers of the triplicity of the goddess, especially the Great Mother goddess, would gather at special sacred times of the year to celebrate a number of triplicities.


Witches at the Crossroads shrine of Hecate.  Public domain.

Religion, witchcraft and folklore beliefs are linked inextricably, where both religion and magic have been called upon or recruited to explain what appears inexplicable. Witchcraft possesses cultural and historical universality because it fulfils an important social need. Many events and happenings have caused human suffering and calamity. It is these circumstances whereby witches became scapegoats.

However, the term witch does not always carry a negative meaning in England. For example, in France they could be called ‘devins-guerisseurs’ or ‘divine healers’. Witches were an integral part of their communities who, as ‘cunning folk’, as ‘white, ‘good’ and ‘unbinding’ witches had an ambivalent role socially. The occurrence of day to day events such as illness, animal and livestock sickness and death, and milk=-spoiling or crop failure were blamed on them. The contradiction lies in the fact that witches were also described as ‘wise women’, ‘blessers’, as wizards and sorcerers, as well as ‘wise men’ and ‘cunning men’. In other words the folk magician had an ambivalent role within their local communities.

The local witch, despite their villainous place in many folktales, had a knowledge of herbalism, healing and potions, of midwifery, and in many instances were the local mediators between the spiritual and the actual world. As with shamans they had the social responsibility for, and expectations, of those they taught, as well as prophecy, of fairy contact and the enchantment of heroines and heroes in tales of wonder in folklore and folktale.

In folklore and folktale witches were believed naively to have the ability to fly, of travel to the Otherworld, of magical transformation or ‘shape-shifting’. Again, their advice on fertility and love was also contrasted with their believed ability to create repulsive concoctions from malevolent ingredients such as fogs legs, human hair, bones and nails, bats and toads. In this context it can be seen that the origins of witchcraft was part of religion, sorcery part of folklore (Robbins, 1959).

The witch-cult hypothesis or theory (Murray, 1971) postulated that the established church during the middle-ages had persecuted witches for their beliefs and practices. That European witchcraft was suppressed for being a pagan religion remains a controversial theory. Hence the claim that witchcraft had pre-Christian origins. Witchcraft, as a religious belief, was popularised during the 19th and early 20th centuries. In certain respects it is a post-second world war phenomenon (Guiley, 1992). Witchcraft designated itself as a branch of neo-paganism around the middle of the 20th century. It was in many ways a movement grounded in a popular interest in myth and the occult.

Witchcraft and the tradition of Wicca was popularised in the public imagination by Gerald Gardner (1884-1964).In the 20th century the original initiatory secret societies were the Bricket Wood Coven of Gerald Gardner and the Clan of Tubal Cain of Ray Bowers. It has to be stressed that modern witchcraft and Wicca are regarded as separate from Satanism. Indeed, in practical as well as historical terms witchcraft is divided into many traditions.


Gerald Gardner.  Public domain.

Contemporary belief and practice of witchcraft “…as a religion seeks to redisover the transcendant Divine Feminine and to affirm the divine feminine within both women and men.” (Guiley, 1992). Of interest in modern times is that the persistence in belief in witchcraft is that it may have a social and psychological function. In one sense it may function as a means of transferring the seeming malevolence of fate to invisible objects. Again this may also explain the survival of healing ‘white magic’ compared to the supernatural power intended for evil purposes by ‘black magic’.

Wicca skycld worship

Wiccan Sky Clad worship.  Public domain.

The Wicca of the 20th century does involve an amount of folk medicine, spiritual healing, and various levels of magical practice that is derived from European pre-Christian ritual and worship of the triple goddess. The 20th century revival of Wiccan religion grew out of interest in the pan-European witch-cult (Murray, 1921).  Even though Wicca still venerates ancient deities and elementals, as well as pagan archetypes and the forces of nature, the cult-theory is somewhat discredited. Interest in Gardner’s witchcraft, which still existed in the mid-1950’s, is now disputed. Nonetheless, the forms of contemporary Neo-Paganism display differences because of different origins. Indeed unfair ridicule is directed at Wicca because some groups use ritual nudity  and ritual ceremonies dedicated to the goddess or her surrogate on earth.

Goddess descent

 The ceremony of Descent of the Goddess.  Public domain.

The practice of divination, working in tandem with unseen spirits, natural forces and magic, as well as spiritual healing and folk-medicine, are still representative. Secrecy and private initiatory practices are a feature of Neo-Pagan groups. Nonetheless, the movement attempts to re-create assumed pre-Christian pagan traditions that may be shamanic and polytheistic. In other words modern Neo-Paganism “…or Wicca, the Craft or the Old Religion…combines magic with pagan religions and mythologies…” (Guiley, 1992). The movement in many respects appears to continue ancient traditions found in folk magic and religious magic. Much of modern witchcraft is aimed at turning malevolence aside that indicates a high level of environmental friendliness. Separated from the popular connotations of ‘black magic’ the practice and beliefs of Wicca emerge as a genuine socially responsible religion .

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Remy, N.  (1974).  Demonology.  University Books.

Robbins, R. H.  (1959).  Introduction.  Encyclopaedia of Witchcraft and Demonology.  Peter Newell Ltd, London.

Ruickbie, L.  (2004).  Witchcraft out of the Shadows: A History.  Robert Hale, London.

Sagan, C.  (1996).  The Demon Haunted World.  Random House, New York.

Scott, Sir W.  (1885).  Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft.  Scotland.

Stevens, P.  (1996).  Sorcery and Witchcraft.  In: Lewinson (1996).

Summers, M.  (2003).  Geography of Witchcraft.  Kessinger Publishing, USA.

Thomas, K.  (1971).  Religion and the Decline of magic. Weidefeld and Nicholson, London.

Thurston, R.  (2007).  The Witch Hunts.  Pearson Longman. London.

Valiente, D.  (1989).  The Rebirth of Witchcraft.  Robert Hale, London.


Filed under Folklore

3 responses to “Witchcraft and Witches

  1. hocuspocus13

    Reblogged this on hocuspocus13 and commented:
    jinxx ♣ xoxo

  2. Hmmm.

    Now following your blog.

    Looks like you have a pretty good library going.

    – Rev. Dragon’s Eye

  3. Veronica

    Hi, your interpretation of ‘public domain’ is flawed. Just because something is on the internet doesn’t mean there is no copyright attached. The image Descent of the Goddess is a photo from the Dark Circle coven in Australia. It’s not public domain and it’s a bit cheeky for you to steal it for your blog without asking. Public domain means copyright has expired. All artwork and photos are copyrighted even if they aren’t labeled so, unless the author gives explicit permission that the item may be reused.

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