Witchcraft or witchery broadly means the practice of and belief in magical skills and abilities exercised by solitary practitioners and groups. Witchcraft is a broad term that varies culturally and societally, and thus can be difficult to define with precision, and cross-cultural assumptions about the meaning or significance of the term should be applied with caution. Witchcraft often occupies a religious divinatory or medicinal role, and is often present within societies and groups whose cultural framework includes a magical world view.
Historically, and currently in most traditional cultures worldwide – notably in Asia, South America, Africa, the African diaspora, and Indigenous communities – the term is commonly associated with those who use metaphysical means to communicate with spirits, deities or ancestors. In the modern era, primarily in western popular culture, the word may more commonly refer to benign, positive, or neutral practices of modern paganism, such as divination or spellcraft.
Belief in witchcraft is often present within societies and groups whose cultural framework includes a magical world view.
Historically, the predominant concept of witchcraft in the Western world derives from Old Testament laws against witchcraft, and entered the mainstream when belief in witchcraft gained Church approval in the Early Modern Period. It posits a theosophical conflict between good and evil, where witchcraft was generally evil and often associated with the Devil and Devil worship. This culminated in deaths, torture and scapegoating (casting blame for human misfortune), and many years of large scale witch-trials and witch hunts, especially in Protestant Europe, before largely ceasing during the European Age of Enlightenment. Christian views in the modern day are diverse and cover the gamut of views from intense belief and opposition (especially from Christian fundamentalists) to non-belief, and in some churches even approval. From the mid-20th century, witchcraft – sometimes called contemporary witchcraft to clearly distinguish it from older beliefs – became the name of a branch of modern paganism. It is most notably practiced in the Wiccan and modern witchcraft traditions, and no longer practices in secrecy.
The Western mainstream Christian view is far from the only societal perspective about witchcraft. Many cultures worldwide continue to have widespread practices and cultural beliefs that are loosely translated into English as “witchcraft“, although the English translation masks a very great diversity in their forms, magical beliefs, practices, and place in their societies. During the Age of Colonialism, many cultures across the globe were exposed to the modern Western world via colonialism, usually accompanied and often preceded by intensive Christian missionary activity (see “Christianization“). Beliefs related to witchcraft and magic in these cultures were at times influenced by the prevailing Western concepts. Witch hunts, scapegoating, and killing or shunning of suspected witches still occurs in the modern era, with killings both of victims for their supposedly magical body parts, and of suspected witchcraft practitioners.
Suspicion of modern medicine due to beliefs about illness being due to witchcraft also continues in many countries to this day, with tragic healthcare consequences. HIV/AIDS and Ebola virus disease are two examples of often-lethal infectious disease epidemics whose medical care and containment has been severely hampered by regional beliefs in witchcraft. Other severe medical conditions whose treatment is hampered in this way include tuberculosis, leprosy, epilepsy and the common severe bacterial Buruli ulcer. Public healthcare often requires considerable education work related to epidemology and modern health knowledge in many parts of the world where belief in witchcraft prevails, to encourage effective preventive health measures and treatments, to reduce victim blaming, shunning and stigmatization, and to prevent the killing of people and endangering of animal species for body parts believed to convey magical abilities.
Etymology and definitions
Main article: European witchcraft
The word witch is of uncertain origin. There are numerous etymologies that it could be derived from. One popular belief is that it is “related to the English words wit, wise, wisdom [Germanic root *weit-, *wait-, *wit-; Indo-European root *weid-, *woid-, *wid-],” so “craft of the wise.” Another is from the Old English wiccecræft, a compound of “wicce” (“witch”) and “cræft” (“craft”).
In anthropological terminology, witches differ from sorcerers in that they don’t use physical tools or actions to curse; their maleficium is perceived as extending from some intangible inner quality, and one may be unaware of being a witch, or may have been convinced of his/her nature by the suggestion of others. This definition was pioneered in a study of central African magical beliefs by E. E. Evans-Pritchard, who cautioned that it might not correspond with normal English usage.
Historians of European witchcraft have found the anthropological definition difficult to apply to European witchcraft, where witches could equally use (or be accused of using) physical techniques, as well as some who really had attempted to cause harm by thought alone. European witchcraft is seen by historians and anthropologists as an ideology for explaining misfortune; however, this ideology has manifested in diverse ways, as described below.
It is argued here that the medical arts played a significant and sometimes pivotal role in the witchcraft controversies of seventeenth century New England. Not only were physicians and surgeons the principal professional arbiters for determining natural versus preternatural signs and symptoms of disease, they occupied key legislative, judicial, and ministerial roles relating to witchcraft proceedings. Forty six male physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries are named in court transcripts or other contemporary source materials relating to New England witchcraft. These practitioners served on coroners’ inquests, performed autopsies, took testimony, issued writs, wrote letters, or committed people to prison, in addition to diagnosing and treating patients. Some practitioners are simply mentioned in passing.
There has also existed in popular belief the concept of white witches and white witchcraft, which is strictly benevolent. Many neopagan witches strongly identify with this concept, and profess ethical codes that prevent them from performing magic on a person without their request.
Where belief in malicious magic practices exists, such practitioners are typically forbidden by law as well as hated and feared by the general populace, while beneficial magic is tolerated or even accepted wholesale by the people – even if the orthodox establishment opposes it.
See also: Magic (paranormal)
Probably the most widely known characteristic of a witch was the ability to cast a spell, “spell” being the word used to signify the means employed to carry out a magical action. A spell could consist of a set of words, a formula or verse, or a ritual action, or any combination of these. Spells traditionally were cast by many methods, such as by the inscription of runes or sigils on an object to give it magical powers; by the immolation or binding of a wax or clay image (poppet) of a person to affect him or her magically; by the recitation of incantations; by the performance of physical rituals; by the employment of magical herbs as amulets or potions; by gazing at mirrors, swords or other specula (scrying) for purposes of divination; and by many other means.
Necromancy (conjuring the dead)
Strictly speaking, “necromancy” is the practice of conjuring the spirits of the dead for divination or prophecy – although the term has also been applied to raising the dead for other purposes. The biblical Witch of Endor performed it (1 Sam. 28), and it is among the witchcraft practices condemned by Ælfric of Eynsham:
“Witches still go to cross-roads and to heathen burials with their delusive magic and call to the devil; and he comes to them in the likeness of the man that is buried there, as if he arise from death.”
Main article: Demonology
In Christianity and Islam, sorcery came to be associated with heresy and apostasy and to be viewed as evil. Among the Catholics, Protestants, and secular leadership of the European Late Medieval/Early Modern period, fears about witchcraft rose to fever pitch and sometimes led to large-scale witch-hunts. The key century was the fifteenth, which saw a dramatic rise in awareness and terror of witchcraft, culminating in the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum but prepared by such fanatical popular preachers as Bernardino of Siena. Throughout this time, it was increasingly believed that Christianity was engaged in an apocalyptic battle against the Devil and his secret army of witches, who had entered into a diabolical pact. In total, tens or hundreds of thousands of people were executed, and others were imprisoned, tortured, banished, and had lands and possessions confiscated. The majority of those accused were women, though in some regions the majority were men. In early modern Scots, the word Warlock came to be used as the male equivalent of witch (which can be male or female, but is used predominantly for females). From this use, the word passed into Romantic literature and ultimately 20th-century popular culture. Accusations of witchcraft were often combined with other charges of heresy against such groups as the Cathars and Waldensians.
The Malleus Maleficarum, (Latin for “Hammer of The Witches”) was a witch-hunting manual written in 1486 by two German monks, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger. It was used by both Catholics and Protestants for several hundred years, outlining how to identify a witch, what makes a woman more likely than a man to be a witch, how to put a witch on trial, and how to punish a witch. The book defines a witch as evil and typically female. The book became the handbook for secular courts throughout Renaissance Europe, but was not used by the Inquisition, which even cautioned against relying on the work, and was later officially condemned by the Catholic Church in 1490.
In the modern Western world, witchcraft accusations have often accompanied the satanic ritual abuse moral panic. Such accusations are a counterpart to blood libel of various kinds, which may be found throughout history across the globe.
Throughout the early modern period, the English term “witch” was not exclusively negative in meaning, and could also indicate cunning folk. As Alan McFarlane noted, “There were a number of interchangeable terms for these practitioners, ‘white’, ‘good’, or ‘unbinding’ witches, blessers, wizards, sorcerers, however ‘cunning-man’ and ‘wise-man’ were the most frequent.” The contemporary Reginald Scot explained, “At this day it is indifferent to say in the English tongue, ‘she is a witch’ or ‘she is a wise woman'”. Folk magicians throughout Europe were often viewed ambivalently by communities, and were considered as capable of harming as of healing, which could lead to their being accused as “witches” in the negative sense. Many English “witches” convicted of consorting with demons seem to have been cunning folk whose fairy familiars had been demonised; many French devins-guerisseurs (“diviner-healers”) were accused of witchcraft, and over one half the accused witches in Hungary seem to have been healers.
Some of the healers and diviners historically accused of witchcraft have considered themselves mediators between the mundane and spiritual worlds, roughly equivalent to shamans. Such people described their contacts with fairies, spirits often involving out-of-body experiences and travelling through the realms of an “other-world”. Beliefs of this nature are implied in the folklore of much of Europe, and were explicitly described by accused witches in central and southern Europe. Repeated themes include participation in processions of the dead or large feasts, often presided over by a horned male deity or a female divinity who teaches magic and gives prophecies; and participation in battles against evil spirits, “vampires”, or “witches” to win fertility and prosperity for the community.
Accusations of witchcraft
Éva Pócs states that reasons for accusations of witchcraft fall into four general categories:
- A person was caught in the act of positive or negative sorcery
- A well-meaning sorcerer or healer lost their clients’ or the authorities’ trust
- A person did nothing more than gain the enmity of their neighbours
- A person was reputed to be a witch and surrounded with an aura of witch-beliefs or Occultism
She identifies three varieties of witch in popular belief:
- The “neighbourhood witch” or “social witch”: a witch who curses a neighbour following some conflict.
- The “magical” or “sorcerer” witch: either a professional healer, sorcerer, seer or midwife, or a person who has through magic increased her fortune to the perceived detriment of a neighbouring household; due to neighbourly or community rivalries and the ambiguity between positive and negative magic, such individuals can become labelled as witches.
- The “supernatural” or “night” witch: portrayed in court narratives as a demon appearing in visions and dreams
“Neighbourhood witches” are the product of neighbourhood tensions, and are found only in self-sufficient serf village communities where the inhabitants largely rely on each other. Such accusations follow the breaking of some social norm, such as the failure to return a borrowed item, and any person part of the normal social exchange could potentially fall under suspicion. Claims of “sorcerer” witches and “supernatural” witches could arise out of social tensions, but not exclusively; the supernatural witch in particular often had nothing to do with communal conflict, but expressed tensions between the human and supernatural worlds; and in Eastern and Southeastern Europe such supernatural witches became an ideology explaining calamities that befell entire communities.
Belief in witchcraft continues to be present today in some societies and accusations of witchcraft are the trigger of serious forms of violence, including murder. Such incidents are common in places such as Burkina Faso, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal and Tanzania. Accusations of witchcraft are sometimes linked to personal disputes, jealousy, and conflicts between neighbors or family over land or inheritance. Witchcraft-related violence is often discussed as a serious issue in the broader context of violence against women.
In Tanzania, about 500 older women are murdered each year following accusations against them of witchcraft or of being a witch. Apart from extrajudicial violence, there is also state-sanctioned violence in some jurisdictions. For instance, in Saudi Arabia practicing witchcraft and sorcery is a crime punishable by death and the country has executed people for this crime in 2011, 2012 and 2014.
Children in some regions of the world, such as parts of Africa, are also vulnerable to violence related to witchcraft accusations. Such incidents have also occurred in immigrant communities in the UK, including the much publicized case of the murder of Victoria Climbié.
Further information:Modern paganism
Modern practices identified by their practitioners as “witchcraft” have grown dramatically since the early 20th century. Generally portrayed as revivals of pre-Christian European ritual and spirituality, they are understood to involve varying degrees of magic, shamanism, folk medicine, spiritual healing, calling on elementals and spirits, veneration of ancient deities and archetypes, and attunement with the forces of nature.
Neoshamanism refers to “new” forms of shamanism, or methods of seeking visions or healing. Neoshamanism comprises an eclectic range of beliefs and practices that involve attempts to attain altered states and communicate with a spirit world. Neoshamanic systems may not resemble traditional forms of shamanism. Some have been invented by individual practitioners, though many borrow or gain inspiration from a variety of different indigenous cultures. In particular, indigenous cultures of the Americas have been influential.
The first Neopagan groups to publicly appear, during the 1950s and 60s, were Gerald Gardner’s Bricket Wood coven and Roy Bowers’ Clan of Tubal Cain. They operated as initiatory secret societies. Other individual practitioners and writers such as Paul Huson also claimed inheritance to surviving traditions of witchcraft.
Main article: Wicca
During the 20th century, interest in witchcraft in English-speaking and European countries began to increase, inspired particularly by Margaret Murray’s theory of a pan-European witch-cult originally published in 1921, since discredited by further careful historical research. Interest was intensified, however, by Gerald Gardner’s claim in 1954 in Witchcraft Today that a form of witchcraft still existed in England. The truth of Gardner’s claim is now disputed too, with different historians offering evidence for or against the religion’s existence prior to Gardner.
The Wicca that Gardner initially taught was a witchcraft religion having a lot in common with Margaret Murray’s hypothetically posited cult of the 1920s. Indeed, Murray wrote an introduction to Gardner’s Witchcraft Today, in effect putting her stamp of approval on it. Wicca is now practised as a religion of an initiatory secret society nature with positive ethical principles, organised into autonomous covens and led by a High Priesthood. There is also a large “Eclectic Wiccan” movement of individuals and groups who share key Wiccan beliefs but have no initiatory connection or affiliation with traditional Wicca. Wiccan writings and ritual show borrowings from a number of sources including 19th and 20th-century ceremonial magic, the medieval grimoire known as the Key of Solomon, Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis and pre-Christian religions. Both men and women are equally termed “witches.” They practice a form of duotheistic universalism.
Since Gardner’s death in 1964, the Wicca that he claimed he was initiated into has attracted many initiates, becoming the largest of the various witchcraft traditions in the Western world, and has influenced other Neopagan and occult movements.
Witchcraft, Feminism, and Media
Wiccan literature has been described as aiding the empowerment of young women through its lively portrayal of female protagonists. Part of the recent growth in Neo-Pagan religions has been attributed to the strong media presence of fictional works such as the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter series with their depictions of witchcraft. Widespread accessibility to related material through internet media such as chat rooms and forums is also thought to be driving this development. Wiccan beliefs are currently often found to be compatible with liberal ideals such as the Green movement, and particularly with feminism by providing young women with means for empowerment and for control of their own lives. This is the case particularly in North America due to the strong presence of feminist ideals. The 2002 study Enchanted Feminism: The Reclaiming Witches of San Francisco suggests that Wiccan religion represents the second wave of feminism that has also been redefined as a religious movement.
Stregheria is an Italian witchcraft religion popularised in the 1980s by Raven Grimassi, who claims that it evolved within the ancient Etruscan religion of Italian peasants who worked under the Catholic upper classes.
Modern Stregheria closely resembles Charles Leland’s controversial late-19th-century account of a surviving Italian religion of witchcraft, worshipping the Goddess Diana, her brother Dianus/Lucifer, and their daughter Aradia. Leland’s witches do not see Lucifer as the evil Satan that Christians see, but a benevolent god of the Sun and Moon).
The ritual format of contemporary Stregheria is roughly similar to that of other Neopagan witchcraft religions such as Wicca. The pentagram is the most common symbol of religious identity. Most followers celebrate a series of eight festivals equivalent to the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, though others follow the ancient Roman festivals. An emphasis is placed on ancestor worship.
Traditional witchcraft is a term used to refer to a variety of contemporary forms of witchcraft. Pagan studies scholar Ethan Doyle White described it as “a broad movement of aligned magico-religious groups who reject any relation to Gardnerianism and the wider Wiccan movement, claiming older, more “traditional” roots. Although typically united by a shared aesthetic rooted in European folklore, the Traditional Craft contains within its ranks a rich and varied array of occult groups, from those who follow a contemporary Pagan path that is suspiciously similar to Wicca to those who adhere to Luciferianism”.According to British Traditional Witch Michael Howard, the term refers to “any non-Gardnerian, non-Alexandrian, non-Wiccan or pre-modern form of the Craft, especially if it has been inspired by historical forms of witchcraft and folk magic”. Another definition was offered by Daniel A. Schulke, the current Magister of the Cultus Sabbati, when he proclaimed that traditional witchcraft “refers to a coterie of initiatory lineages of ritual magic, spellcraft and devotional mysticism”. Some forms of traditional witchcraft are the Feri Tradition, Cochrane’s Craft and the Sabbatic craft.
Contemporary witchcraft, Satanism and Luciferianism
Modern witchcraft considers Satanism to be the “dark side of Christianity” rather than a branch of Wicca: – the character of Satan referenced in Satanism exists only in the theology of the three Abrahamic religions, and Satanism arose as, and occupies the role of, a rebellious counterpart to Christianity, in which all is permitted and the self is central. (Christianity can be characterized as having the diametrically opposite views to these.) Such beliefs become more visibly expressed in Europe after the Enlightenment, when works such as Milton’s Paradise Lost were described anew by romantics who suggested that they presented the biblical Satan as an allegory representing crisis of faith, individualism, free will, wisdom and enlightenment; a few works from that time also begin to directly present Satan in a less negative light, such as Letters from the Earth. The two major trends are theistic Satanism and atheistic Satanism; the former venerates Satan as a supernatural patriarchal deity, while the latter views Satan as merely a symbolic embodiment of certain human traits.
Organized groups began to emerge in the mid 20th century, including the Ophite Cultus Satanas (1948) and The Church of Satan (1966). After seeing Margaret Murray’s book The God of the Witches the leader of Ophite Cultus Satanas, Herbert Arthur Sloane, said he realized that the horned god was Satan (Sathanas). Sloane also corresponded with his contemporary Gerald Gardner, founder of the Wicca religion, and implied that his views of Satan and the horned god were not necessarily in conflict with Gardner’s approach. However, he did believe that, while “gnosis” referred to knowledge, and “Wicca” referred to wisdom, modern witches had fallen away from the true knowledge, and instead had begun worshipping a fertility god, a reflection of the creator god. He wrote that “the largest existing body of witches who are true Satanists would be the Yezedees”. Sloane highly recommended the book The Gnostic Religion, and sections of it were sometimes read at ceremonies. It was estimated that there were up to 100,000 Satanists worldwide by 2006, twice the number estimated in 1990. Satanistic beliefs have been largely permitted as a valid expression of religious belief in the West. For example, they were allowed in the British Royal Navy in 2004, and an appeal was considered in 2005 for religious status as a right of prisoners by the Supreme Court of the United States. Contemporary Satanism is mainly an American phenomenon, although it began to reach Eastern Europe in the 1990s around the time of the fall of the Soviet Union.
Luciferianism, on the other hand, is a belief system and does not revere the devil figure or most characteristics typically affixed to Satan. Rather, Lucifer in this context is seen as one of many morning stars, a symbol of enlightenment, independence and human progression. Madeline Montalban was an English witch who adhered to a specific form of luciferianism which revolved around the veneration of Lucifer, or Lumiel, whom she considered to be a benevolent angelic being who had aided humanity’s development. Within her Order, she emphasised that her followers discover their own personal relationship with the angelic beings, including Lumiel. Although initially seeming favourable to Gerald Gardner, by the mid-1960s she had become hostile towards him and his Gardnerian tradition, considering him to be “a ‘dirty old man’ and sexual pervert.” She also expressed hostility to another prominent Pagan Witch of the period, Charles Cardell, although in the 1960s became friends with the two Witches at the forefront of the Alexandrian Wiccan tradition, Alex Sanders and his wife, Maxine Sanders, who adopted some of her Luciferian angelic practices. In contemporary times luciferian witches exist within traditional witchcraft.
Historical and religious perspectives
Near East beliefs
The belief in sorcery and its practice seem to have been widespread in the Ancient Near East and Nile Valley. It played a conspicuous role in the cultures of ancient Egypt and in Babylonia. The latter tradition included an Akkadian anti-witchcraft ritual, the Maqlû. A section from the Code of Hammurabi (about 2000 B.C.) prescribes:
If a man has put a spell upon another man and it is not justified, he upon whom the spell is laid shall go to the holy river; into the holy river shall he plunge. If the holy river overcome him and he is drowned, the man who put the spell upon him shall take possession of his house. If the holy river declares him innocent and he remains unharmed the man who laid the spell shall be put to death. He that plunged into the river shall take possession of the house of him who laid the spell upon him.
In the Holy Scripture references to sorcery are frequent, and the strong condemnations of such practices found there do not seem to be based so much upon the supposition of fraud as upon the abomination of the magic in itself.
The precise meaning of the Hebrew כָּשַׁף, usually translated as “witch” or “sorceress”, is uncertain. In the Septuagint, it was translated as pharmakeía or pharmakous. In the 16th century, Reginald Scot, a prominent critic of the witch trials, translated כָּשַׁף, φαρμακεία, and the Vulgate’s Latin equivalent veneficos as all meaning “poisoner”, and on this basis, claimed that “witch” was an incorrect translation and poisoners were intended. His theory still holds some currency, but is not widely accepted, and in Daniel 2:2 כָּשַׁף is listed alongside other magic practitioners who could interpret dreams: magicians, astrologers, and Chaldeans. Suggested derivations of כָּשַׁף include “mutterer” (from a single root) or herb user (as a compound word formed from the roots kash, meaning “herb”, and hapaleh, meaning “using”). The Greek φαρμακεία literally means “herbalist” or one who uses or administers drugs, but it was used virtually synonymously with mageia and goeteia as a term for a sorcerer.
The Bible provides some evidence that these commandments against sorcery were enforced under the Hebrew kings:
And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee. And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die?
Note that the Hebrew word אֹב ob, translated as familiar spirit in the above quotation, has a different meaning than the usual English sense of the phrase; namely, it refers to a spirit that the woman is familiar with, rather than to a spirit that physically manifests itself in the shape of an animal.
See also: Christian views on magic
The New Testament condemns the practice as an abomination, just as the Old Testament had (Galatians 5:20, compared with Revelation 21:8; 22:15; and Acts 8:9; 13:6). The word in most New Testament translations is “sorcerer”/”sorcery” rather than “witch”/”witchcraft”.
Jewish law views the practice of witchcraft as being laden with idolatry and/or necromancy; both being serious theological and practical offenses in Judaism. Although Maimonides vigorously denied the efficacy of all methods of witchcraft, and claimed that the Biblical prohibitions regarding it were precisely to wean the Israelites from practices related to idolatry. It is acknowledged that while magic exists, it is forbidden to practice it on the basis that it usually involves the worship of other gods. Rabbis of the Talmud also condemned magic when it produced something other than illusion, giving the example of two men who use magic to pick cucumbers (Sanhedrin 67a). The one who creates the illusion of picking cucumbers should not be condemned, only the one who actually picks the cucumbers through magic.
However, some of the rabbis practiced “magic” themselves or taught the subject. For instance, Rabbah created a person and sent him to Rav Zeira, and Hanina and Hoshaiah studied every Friday together and created a small calf to eat on Shabbat (Sanhedrin 67b). In these cases, the “magic” was seen more as divine miracles (i.e., coming from God rather than “unclean” forces) than as witchcraft.
Judaism does make it clear that Jews shall not try to learn about the ways of witches (Book of Deuteronomy 18: 9–10) and that witches are to be put to death (Exodus 22:17).
Judaism’s most famous reference to a medium is undoubtedly the Witch of Endor whom Saul consults, as recounted in 1 Samuel 28.
Divination, and magic in Islam, encompass a wide range of practices, including black magic, warding off the evil eye, the production of amulets and other magical equipment, evocation, casting lots, and astrology. Muslims do commonly believe in magic (sihr) and explicitly forbid its practice. Sihr translates from Arabic as sorcery or black magic. The best known reference to magic in Islam is surah al-Falaq of the Qur’an, which is known as a prayer to God to ward off black magic:
Say: I seek refuge with the Lord of the Dawn From the mischief of created things; From the mischief of Darkness as it overspreads; From the mischief of those who practise secret arts; And from the mischief of the envious one as he practises envy. (Qur’an 113:1–5)
Also according to the Qur’an:
And they follow that which the devils falsely related against the kingdom of Solomon. Solomon disbelieved not; but the devils disbelieved, teaching mankind sorcery and that which was revealed to the two angels in Babel, Harut and Marut … And surely they do know that he who trafficketh therein will have no (happy) portion in the Hereafter; and surely evil is the price for which they sell their souls, if they but knew. (Qur’an 2:102)
Islam distinguishes between God-given gifts, which can heal sickness, and possession, and sorcery. Good supernatural powers are therefore a special gift from God, whereas sorcery or black magic is achieved through help of jinn and demons. In the Qurʾānic narrative, the Prophet Sulayman had the power to speak with animals and command jinn, and he thanks God for this نعمة (i.e. gift, privilege, favour, bounty), which is only given to him with God’s permission.[Quran27:19] The Prophet Muhammad was accused of being a magician by his opponents.[Quran10:2]
It is a common belief that jinn can possess a human, thus requiring exorcism (ruqya) derived from the Prophet’s sunnah to cast off the jinn or devils from the body of the possessed. The practice of seeking help from the jinn is prohibited and can lead to possession. The ruqya contains verses of the Qur’an as well as prayers specifically targeted against demons. The knowledge of which verses of the Qur’an to use in what way is what is considered “magic knowledge.”
A hadith recorded in Sahih al-Bukhari, 8:76:479 states: “Seventy thousand people of my followers will enter Paradise without accounts, and they are those who do not practice Ar-Ruqya and do not see an evil omen in things, and put their trust in their Lord.” Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, a scholar, commented on this hadith, stating: That is because these people will enter Paradise without being called to account because of the perfection of their Tawheed, therefore he described them as people who did not ask others to perform ruqyah for them. Hence he said “and they put their trust in their Lord.” Because of their complete trust in their Lord, their contentment with Him, their faith in Him, their being pleased with Him and their seeking their needs from Him, they do not ask people for anything, be it ruqyah or anything else, and they are not influenced by omens and superstitions that could prevent them from doing what they want to do, because superstition detracts from and weakens Tawheed”.
Ibn al-Nadim hold, exorcists gain their power by their obedience to God, while sorcerers please the demons by acts of disobedience and sacrifices and they in return do him a favor. Being pious and strictly following the teachings of the Qur’an can increase the probability to perform magic or miracles, that is distinguished from witchcraft, the latter practised in aid with demons.
A hadith recorded in Sahih al-Bukhari, 7:71:671 narrates that one who has eaten seven Ajwa dates in the morning will not be adversely affected by magic in the course of that day.
Students of the history of religion have linked several magical practises in Islam with pre-Islamic Turkish and East African customs. Most notable of these customs is the Zār.
Much of what witchcraft represents in Africa has been susceptible to misunderstandings and confusion, thanks in no small part to a tendency among western scholars since the time of the now largely discredited Margaret Murray to approach the subject through a comparative lens vis-a-vis European witchcraft. Okeja argues that witchcraft in Africa today plays a very different social role than in Europe of the past—or present—and should be understood through an African rather than post-colonial Western lens.
Complimentary remarks about witchcraft by a native Congolese initiate: “From witchcraft … may be developed the remedy (kimbuki) that will do most to raise up our country.” “Witchcraft … deserves respect … it can embellish or redeem (ketula evo vuukisa).” “The ancestors were equipped with the protective witchcraft of the clan (kindoki kiandundila kanda). … They could also gather the power of animals into their hands … whenever they needed. … If we could make use of these kinds of witchcraft, our country would rapidly progress in knowledge of every kind.” “You witches (zindoki) too, bring your science into the light to be written down so that … the benefits in it … endow our race.”
In eastern Cameroon, the term used for witchcraft among the Maka is djambe and refers to a force inside a person; its powers may make the proprietor more vulnerable. It encompasses the occult, the transformative, killing and healing.
In some Central African areas, malicious magic users are believed by locals to be the source of terminal illness such as AIDS and cancer. In such cases, various methods are used to rid the person from the bewitching spirit, occasionally physical and psychological abuse. Children may be accused of being witches, for example a young niece may be blamed for the illness of a relative. Most of these cases of abuse go unreported since the members of the society that witness such abuse are too afraid of being accused of being accomplices. It is also believed that witchcraft can be transmitted to children by feeding. Parents discourage their children from interacting with people believed to be witches.
Every year, hundreds of people in the Central African Republic are convicted of witchcraft.
Christian militias in the Central African Republic have also kidnapped, burnt and buried alive women accused of being ‘witches’ in public ceremonies.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
As of 2006, between 25,000 and 50,000 children in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, had been accused of witchcraft and thrown out of their homes. These children have been subjected to often-violent abuse during exorcisms, sometimes supervised by self-styled religious pastors. Other pastors and Christian activists strongly oppose such accusations and try to rescue children from their unscrupulous colleagues. The usual term for these children is enfants sorciers (child witches) or enfants dits sorciers (children accused of witchcraft). In 2002, USAID funded the production of two short films on the subject, made in Kinshasa by journalists Angela Nicoara and Mike Ormsby.
In April 2008, in Kinshasa, the police arrested 14 suspected victims (of penis snatching) and sorcerers accused of using black magic or witchcraft to steal (make disappear) or shrink men’s penises to extort cash for cure, amid a wave of panic.
According to one study, the belief in magical warfare technologies (such as “bulletproofing”) in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo serves a group-level function, as it increases group efficiency in warfare, even if it is suboptimal at the individual level The authors of the study argue that this is one reason why the belief in witchcraft persists
In Ghana, women are often accused of witchcraft and attacked by neighbours. Because of this, there exist six witch camps in the country where women suspected of being witches can flee for safety. The witch camps, which exist solely in Ghana, are thought to house a total of around 1000 women. Some of the camps are thought to have been set up over 100 years ago. The Ghanaian government has announced that it intends to close the camps.
Arrests were made in an effort to avoid bloodshed seen in Ghana a decade ago, when 12 alleged penis snatchers were beaten to death by mobs. While it is easy for modern people to dismiss such reports, Uchenna Okeja argues that a belief system in which such magical practices are deemed possible offer many benefits to Africans who hold them. For example, the belief that a sorcerer has “stolen” a man’s penis functions as an anxiety-reduction mechanism for men suffering from impotence while simultaneously providing an explanation that is consistent with African cultural beliefs rather than appealing to Western scientific notions that are tainted by the history of colonialism (at least for many Africans).
It was reported on May 21, 2008 that in Kenya, a mob had burnt to death at least 11 people accused of witchcraft.
In Malawi it is also common practice to accuse children of witchcraft and many children have been abandoned, abused and even killed as a result. As in other African countries both African traditional healers and their Christian counterparts are trying to make a living out of exorcising children and are actively involved in pointing out children as witches. Various secular and Christian organizations are combining their efforts to address this problem.
According to William Kamkwamba, witches and wizards are afraid of money, which they consider a rival evil. Any contact with cash will snap their spell and leave the wizard naked and confused. So placing cash, such as kwacha around a room or bed mat will protect the resident from their malevolent spells.
In Nigeria, several Pentecostal pastors have mixed their evangelical brand of Christianity with African beliefs in witchcraft to benefit from the lucrative witch finding and exorcism business—which in the past was the exclusive domain of the so-called witch doctor or traditional healers. These pastors have been involved in the torturing and even killing of children accused of witchcraft. Over the past decade, around 15,000 children have been accused, and around 1,000 murdered. Churches are very numerous in Nigeria, and competition for congregations is hard. Some pastors attempt to establish a reputation for spiritual power by “detecting” child witches, usually following a death or loss of a job within a family, or an accusation of financial fraud against the pastor. In the course of “exorcisms”, accused children may be starved, beaten, mutilated, set on fire, forced to consume acid or cement, or buried alive. While some church leaders and Christian activists have spoken out strongly against these abuses, many Nigerian churches are involved in the abuse, although church administrations deny knowledge of it.
Among the Mende (of Sierra Leone), trial and conviction for witchcraft has a beneficial effect for those convicted. “The witchfinder had warned the whole village to ensure the relative prosperity of the accused and sentenced … old people. … Six months later all of the people … accused, were secure, well-fed and arguably happier than at any [previous] time; they had hardly to beckon and people would come with food or whatever was needful. … Instead of such old and widowed people being left helpless or (as in Western society) institutionalized in old people’s homes, these were reintegrated into society and left secure in their old age … . … Old people are ‘suitable’ candidates for this kind of accusation in the sense that they are isolated and vulnerable, and they are ‘suitable’ candidates for ‘social security’ for precisely the same reasons.”
In Kuranko language, the term for witchcraft is suwa’ye referring to “extraordinary powers”.
In Tanzania in 2008, President Kikwete publicly condemned witchdoctors for killing albinos for their body parts, which are thought to bring good luck. 25 albinos have been murdered since March 2007. In Tanzania, albinos are often murdered for their body parts on the advice of witch doctors in order to produce powerful amulets that are believed to protect against witchcraft and make the owner prosper in life.
Brua is an Afro-Caribbean religion and healing tradition that originates in Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao, in the Dutch Caribbean. A healer in this culture is called a kurioso or kuradó, a man or woman who performs trabou chikí (little works) and trabou grandi (large treatments) to promote or restore health, bring fortune or misfortune, deal with unrequited love, and more serious concerns, in which sorcery is involved. Sorcery usually involves reference to the almasola or homber chiki, a devil-like entity. Transcultural Psychiatry published a paper called “Traditional healing practices originating in Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao: A review of the literature on psychiatry and Brua” by Jan Dirk Blom, Igmar T. Poulina, Trevor L. van Gellecum and Hans W. Hoek of the Parnassia Psychiatric Institute.
Colonial North America
The Salem witch trials followed in 1692–93. These witch trials were the most famous in British North America and took place in the coastal settlements near Salem, Massachusetts. Prior to the witch trials, nearly 300 men and women had been suspected of partaking in witchcraft, and 19 of these people were hanged, and one was “pressed to death”. The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings before local magistrates followed by county court trials to prosecute people accused of witchcraft in Essex, Suffolk and Middlesex Counties of colonial Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693. Over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned, with even more accused who were not formally pursued by the authorities. The two courts convicted 29 people of the capital felony of witchcraft. Nineteen of the accused, 14 women and 5 men, were hanged. One man who refused to enter a plea was crushed to death under heavy stones in an attempt to force him to do so. At least five more of the accused died in prison.
Despite being generally known as the “Salem” witch trials, the preliminary hearings in 1692 were conducted in a variety of towns across the province: Salem Village (now Danvers), Salem Town, Ipswich, and Andover. The best known trials were conducted by the Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692 in Salem Town. All 26 who went to trial before this court were convicted. The four sessions of the Superior Court of Judicature in 1693, held in Salem Town, but also in Ipswich, Boston, and Charlestown, produced only 3 convictions in the 31 witchcraft trials it conducted. Likewise, alleged witchcraft was not isolated to New England. In 1706 Grace Sherwood the “Witch of Pungo” was imprisoned for the crime in Princess Anne County, Virginia.
In Maryland, there is a legend of Moll Dyer, who escaped a fire set by fellow colonists only to die of exposure in December 1697. The historical record of Dyer is scant as all official records were burned in a courthouse fire, though the county courthouse has on display the rock where her frozen body was found. A letter from a colonist of the period describes her in most unfavourable terms. A local road is named after Dyer, where her homestead was said to have been. Many local families have their own version of the Moll Dyer affair, and her name is spoken with care in the rural southern counties.
Accusations of witchcraft and wizardry led to the prosecution of a man in Tennessee as recently as 1833. The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a dramatized and partially fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colonyduring 1692–93.
In Diné culture, witches are seen as the polar opposite of ceremonial people. While spiritual leaders perform “sings” for healing, protection and other beneficial purposes, all practices referred to as “witchcraft” are intended to hurt and curse. Witches are associated with harm to the community and transgression of societal standards, especially those relating to family and the dead.
The yee naaldlooshii is the type of witch known in English as a “skin-walker”. They are believed to take the forms of animals in order to travel in secret and do harm to the innocent. In the Navajo language, yee naaldlooshii translates to “with it, he goes on all fours”. While perhaps the most common variety seen in horror fiction by non-Navajo people, the yee naaldlooshii is one of several varieties of Navajo witch, specifically a type of ’ánti’įhnii.
Corpse powder or corpse poison (Navajo: áńt’į́, literally “witchery” or “harming”) is a substance made from powdered corpses. The powder is used by witches to curse their victims. The effect of the áńt’į́ is a curse and disease, usually indicated by an immediate action to administration of the poison, like fainting, swelling of the tongue, or lockjaw. Sometimes, however, the victims simply wastes away, as from a normal disease.
Traditional Navajos usually hesitate to discuss things like witches and witchcraft with non-Navajos.
North America (Mexico)
In Chile there is a tradition of the Kalku in Mapuche religion; and the Warlocks of Chiloé in the folklore and Chilote mythology.
The presence of the witch is a constant in the ethnographic history of colonial Brazil, especially during the several denunciations and confessions given to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of Bahia (1591–1593), Pernambuco and Paraíba (1593–1595).
Belief in the supernatural is strong in all parts of India, and lynchings for witchcraft are reported in the press from time to time. Around 750 people were killed as witches in Assam and West Bengal between 2003 and 2008. Officials in the state of Chhattisgarh reported in 2008 that at least 100 women are maltreated annually as suspected witches. A local activist stated that only a fraction of cases of abuse are reported. In Indian mythology, a common perception of a witch is a being with her feet pointed backwards.
Apart from other types of Violence against women in Nepal, the malpractice of abusing women in the name of witchcraft is also really prominent. According to the statistics in 2013, there was a total of 69 reported cases of abuse to women due to accusation of performing witchcraft. The perpetrators of this malpractice are usually neighbors, so-called witch doctors and family members. The main causes of these malpractices are lack of education, lack of awareness and superstition. According to the statistics by INSEC, the age group of women who fall victims to the witchcraft violence in Nepal is 20–40.
Witchcraft in the Philippines is often classified as malevolent, with practitioners of black magic called Mangkukulam in Tagalog and Mambabarang in Cebuano; there are also practitioners of benevolent, white magic, in addition to some who practise both. Mambabarang in particular are noted for their ability to command insects and other invertebrates to accomplish a task, such as delivering a curse to a target.
Magic and witchcraft in the Philippines varies considerably across the different ethnic groups, and is commonly a modern manifestation of pre-Colonial spirituality interwoven with Catholic religious elements such as the invocation of saints and the use of pseudo-Latinprayers (oración) in spells, and anting-anting (amulets).
Practitioners of traditional herbal-based medicine and divination called albularyo are not considered witches. They are perceived to be either quack doctors or a quasi-magical option when western medicine fails to identify or cure an ailment that is thus suspected to be of supernatural, often malevolent, origin. Feng shui, an influence of Filipino Chinese culture, is also not classified as witchcraft as it is considered a separate realm of belief altogether.
Saudi Arabia continues to use the death penalty for sorcery and witchcraft. In 2006 Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali was condemned to death for practicing witchcraft. There is no legal definition of sorcery in Saudi, but in 2007 an Egyptian pharmacist working there was accused, convicted, and executed. Saudi authorities also pronounced the death penalty on a Lebanese television presenter, Ali Hussain Sibat, while he was performing the hajj (Islamic pilgrimage) in the country.
In 2009 the Saudi authorities set up the Anti-Witchcraft Unit of their Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice police.
In April 2009, a Saudi woman Amina Bint Abdulhalim Nassar was arrested and later sentenced to death for practicing witchcraft and sorcery. In December 2011, she was beheaded. A Saudi man has been beheaded on charges of sorcery and witchcraft in June 2012. A beheading for sorcery occurred in 2014.
Syria and Iraq
In June 2015, Yahoo reported: “The Islamic State group has beheaded two women in Syria on accusations of “sorcery,” the first such executions of female civilians in Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday.” ISIS decapitated a man in Iraq over sorcery.
An expedition sent to what is now the Xinjiang region of western China by the PBS documentary series Nova found a fully clothed female Tocharian mummy wearing a black conical hat of the type now associated with witches in Europe in the storage area of a small local museum, indicative of an Indo-European priestess.
Main articles: European witchcraft
In Early Modern European tradition, witches were stereotypically, though not exclusively, women. European pagan belief in witchcraft was associated with the goddess Diana and dismissed as “diabolical fantasies” by medieval Christian authors. Witch-hunts first appeared in large numbers in southern France and Switzerland during the 14th and 15th centuries. The peak years of witch-hunts in southwest Germany were from 1561 to 1670.
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.
Historians Keith Thomas and his student Alan Macfarlane study witchcraft by combining historical research with concepts drawn from anthropology. They argued that English witchcraft, like African witchcraft, was endemic rather than epidemic. Older women were the favorite targets because they were marginal, dependent members of the community and therefore more likely to arouse feelings of both hostility and guilt, and less likely to have defenders of importance inside the community. Witchcraft accusations were the village’s reaction to the breakdown of its internal community, coupled with the emergence of a newer set of values that was generating psychic stress.
The records of the Courts of Great Sessions for Wales, 1536–1736 show that Welsh custom was more important than English law. Custom provided a framework of responding to witches and witchcraft in such a way that interpersonal and communal harmony was maintained, Showing to regard to the importance of honour, social place and cultural status. Even when found guilty, execution did not occur.
Becoming king in 1603, James I Brought to England and Scotland continental explanations of witchcraft. His goal was to divert suspicion away from male homosociality among the elite, and focus fear on female communities and large gatherings of women. He thought they threatened his political power so he laid the foundation for witchcraft and occultism policies, especially in Scotland. The point was that a widespread belief in the conspiracy of witches and a witches’ Sabbath with the devil deprived women of political influence. Occult power was supposedly a womanly trait because women were weaker and more susceptible to the devil.
In 1944 Helen Duncan was the last person in Britain to be imprisoned for fraudulently claiming to be a witch.
In the United Kingdom children believed to be witches or seen as possessed by evil spirits can be subject to severe beatings, traumatic exorcism, and/or other abuse. There have even been child murders associated with witchcraft beliefs. The problem is particularly serious among immigrant or former immigrant communities of African origin but other communities, such as those of Asian origin are also involved. Step children and children seen as different for a wide range of reasons are particularly at risk of witchcraft accusations. Children may be beaten or have chilli rubbed into their eyes during exorcisms. This type of abuse is frequently hidden and can include torture. A 2006 recommendation to record abuse cases linked to witchcraft centrally has not yet been implemented. Lack of awareness among social workers, teachers and other professionals dealing with at risk children hinders efforts to combat the problem.
The Metropolitan Police said there had been 60 crimes linked to faith in London so far [in 2015]. It saw reports double from 23 in 2013 to 46 in 2014. Half of UK police forces do not record such cases and many local authorities are also unable to provide figures. The NSPCC said authorities “need to ensure they are able to spot the signs of this particular brand of abuse”. London is unique in having a police team, Project Violet, dedicated to this type of abuse. Its figures relate to crime reports where officers have flagged a case as involving abuse linked to faith or belief. Many of the cases involve children. (…) An NSPCC spokesman said: “While the number of child abuse cases involving witchcraft is relatively small, they often include horrifying levels of cruelty. “The authorities which deal with these dreadful crimes need to ensure they are able to spot the signs of this particular brand of abuse and take action to protect children before a tragedy occurs.”
There is a ‘money making scam’ involved. Pastors accuse a child of being a witch and later the family pays for exorcism. If a child at school says that his/her pastor called the child a witch that should become a child safeguarding issue.
As in most European countries, women in Italy were more likely suspected of witchcraft than men. Women were considered dangerous due to their supposed sexual instability, such as when being aroused, and also due to the powers of their menstrual blood.
In the 16th century, Italy had a high portion of witchcraft trials involving love magic. The country had a large number of unmarried people due to men marrying later in their lives during this time. This left many women on a desperate quest for marriage leaving them vulnerable to the accusation of witchcraft whether they took part in it or not. Trial records from the Inquisition and secular courts discovered a link between prostitutes and supernatural practices. Professional prostitutes were considered experts in love and therefore knew how to make love potions and cast love related spells. Up until 1630, the majority of women accused of witchcraft were prostitutes. A courtesan was questioned about her use of magic due to her relationship with men of power in Italy and her wealth. The majority of women accused were also considered “outsiders” because they were poor, had different religious practices, spoke a different language, or simply from a different city/town/region. Cassandra from Ferrara, Italy, was still considered a foreigner because not native to Rome where she was residing. She was also not seen as a model citizen because her husband was in Venice.
From the 16th-18th centuries, the Catholic Church enforced moral discipline throughout Italy. With the help of local tribunals, such as in Venice, the two institutions investigated a woman’s religious behaviors when she was accused of witchcraft.
Franciscan friars from New Spain introduced Diabolism, belief in the devil, to the indigenous people after their arrival in 1524. Bartolomé de las Casas believed that human sacrifice was not diabolic, in fact far off from it, and was a natural result of religious expression. Mexican Indians gladly took in the belief of Diabolism and still managed to keep their belief in creator-destroyer deities.
Galicia is nicknamed the “Land of the Witches” due to its mythological origins surrounding it’s people, culture and its land.
In pre-Christian times, witchcraft was a common practice in the Cook Islands. The native name for a sorcerer was tangata purepure (a man who prays). The prayers offered by the ta’unga (priests) to the gods worshiped on national or tribal marae (temples) were termed karakia; those on minor occasions to the lesser gods were named pure. All these prayers were metrical, and were handed down from generation to generation with the utmost care. There were prayers for every such phase in life; for success in battle; for a change in wind (to overwhelm an adversary at sea, or that an intended voyage be propitious); that his crops may grow; to curse a thief; or wish ill-luck and death to his foes. Few men of middle age were without a number of these prayers or charms. The succession of a sorcerer was from father to son, or from uncle to nephew. So too of sorceresses: it would be from mother to daughter, or from aunt to niece. Sorcerers and sorceresses were often slain by relatives of their supposed victims.
A singular enchantment was employed to kill off a husband of a pretty woman desired by someone else. The expanded flower of a Gardenia was stuck upright—a very difficult performance—in a cup (i.e., half a large coconut shell) of water. A prayer was then offered for the husbands speedy death, the sorcerer earnestly watching the flower. Should it fall the incantation was successful. But if the flower still remained upright, he will live. The sorcerer would in that case try his skill another day, with perhaps better success.
According to Beatrice Grimshaw, a journalist who visited the Cook Islands in 1907, the uncrowned Queen Makea was believed to have possessed the mystic power called mana, giving the possessor the power to slay at will. It also included other gifts, such as second sight to a certain extent, the power to bring good or evil luck, and the ability already mentioned to deal death at will.
Papua New Guinea
A local newspaper informed that more than 50 people were killed in two Highlands provinces of Papua New Guinea in 2008 for allegedly practicing witchcraft.An estimated 50–150 alleged witches are killed each year in Papua New Guinea.
Among the Russian words for witch, ведьма (ved’ma) literally means “one who knows”, from Old Slavic вѣдъ “to know”). Another frequent term is колдунья (koldun’ya), sorcerer being колдун (koldun).
Pagan practices formed a part of Russian and Eastern Slavic culture; the Russian people were deeply superstitious. The witchcraft practiced consisted mostly of earth magic and herbology; it was not so significant which herbs were used in practices, but how these herbs were gathered. Ritual centered on harvest of the crops and the location of the sun was very important. One source, pagan author Judika Illes, tells that herbs picked on Midsummer’s Eve were believed to be most powerful, especially if gathered on Bald Mountain near Kiev during the witches’ annual revels celebration. Botanicals should be gathered, “During the seventeenth minute of the fourteenth hour, under a dark moon, in the thirteenth field, wearing a red dress, pick the twelfth flower on the right.”
Spells also served for midwifery, shape-shifting, keeping lovers faithful, and bridal customs. Spells dealing with midwifery and childbirth focused on the spiritual wellbeing of the baby. Shape-shifting spells involved invocation of the wolf as a spirit animal. To keep men faithful, lovers would cut a ribbon the length of his erect penis and soak it in his seminal emissions after sex while he was sleeping, then tie seven knots in it; keeping this talisman of knot magic ensured loyalty. Part of an ancient pagan marriage tradition involved the bride taking a ritual bath at a bathhouse before the ceremony. Her sweat would be wiped from her body using raw fish, and the fish would be cooked and fed to the groom.
Demonism, or black magic, was not prevalent. Persecution for witchcraft, mostly involved the practice of simple earth magic, founded on herbology, by solitary practitioners with a Christian influence. In one case investigators found a locked box containing something bundled in a kerchief and three paper packets, wrapped and tied, containing crushed grasses. Most rituals of witchcraft were very simple—one spell of divination consists of sitting alone outside meditating, asking the earth to show one’s fate.
While these customs were unique to Russian culture, they were not exclusive to this region. Russian pagan practices were often akin to paganism in other parts of the world. The Chinese concept of chi, a form of energy that often manipulated in witchcraft, is known as bioplasma in Russian practices. The western concept of an “evil eye” or a “hex” was translated to Russia as a “spoiler”. A spoiler was rooted in envy, jealousy and malice. Spoilers could be made by gathering bone from a cemetery, a knot of the target’s hair, burned wooden splinters and several herb Paris berries (which are very poisonous). Placing these items in sachet in the victim’s pillow completes a spoiler. The Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and the ancient Egyptians recognized the evil eye from as early as 3,000 BCE; in Russian practices it is seen as a sixteenth-century concept.
Societal view of witchcraft
The dominant societal concern those practicing witchcraft was not whether paganism was effective, but whether it could cause harm. Peasants in Russian and Ukrainian societies often shunned witchcraft, unless they needed help against supernatural forces. Impotence, stomach pains, barrenness, hernias, abscesses, epileptic seizures, and convulsions were all attributed to evil (or witchcraft). This is reflected in linguistics; there are numerous words for a variety of practitioners of paganism-based healers. Russian peasants referred to a witch as a chernoknizhnik (a person who plied his trade with the aid of a black book), sheptun/sheptun’ia (a “whisperer” male or female), lekar/lekarka or znakhar/znakharka (a male or female healer), or zagovornik (an incanter).
Ironically enough, there was universal reliance on folk healers – but clients often turned them in if something went wrong. According to Russian historian Valerie A. Kivelson, witchcraft accusations were normally thrown at lower-class peasants, townspeople and Cossacks. People turned to witchcraft as a means to support themselves. The ratio of male to female accusations was 75% to 25%. Males were targeted more, because witchcraft was associated with societal deviation. Because single people with no settled home could not be taxed, males typically had more power than women in their dissent.
The history of Witchcraft had evolved around society. More of a psychological concept to the creation and usage of Witchcraft can create the assumption as to why women are more likely to follow the practices behind Witchcraft. Identifying with the soul of an individual’s self is often deemed as “feminine” in society. There is analyzed social and economic evidence to associate between witchcraft and women.
Although these two methods of torture were used in the west and the east, Russia implemented a system of fines payable for the crime of witchcraft during the seventeenth century. Thus, even though torture methods in Muscovy were on a similar level of harshness as Western European methods used, a more civil method was present. In the introduction of a collection of trial records pieced together by Russian scholar Nikolai Novombergsk, he argues that Muscovite authorities used the same degree of cruelty and harshness as Western European Catholic and Protestant countries in persecuting witches. By the mid-sixteenth century the manifestations of paganism, including witchcraft, and the black arts—astrology, fortune telling, and divination—became a serious concern to the Muscovite church and state.
Tsar Ivan IV (reigned 1547–1584) took this matter to the ecclesiastical court and was immediately advised that individuals practicing these forms of witchcraft should be excommunicated and given the death penalty. Ivan IV, as a true believer in witchcraft, was deeply convinced that sorcery accounted for the death of his wife, Anastasiia in 1560, which completely devastated and depressed him, leaving him heartbroken. Stemming from this belief, Ivan IV became majorly concerned with the threat of witchcraft harming his family, and feared he was in danger. So, during the Oprichnina (1565–1572), Ivan IV succeeded in accusing and charging a good number of boyars with witchcraft whom he did not wish to remain as nobles. Rulers after Ivan IV, specifically during the Time of Troubles (1598–1613), increased the fear of witchcraft among themselves and entire royal families, which then led to further preoccupation with the fear of prominent Muscovite witchcraft circles.
After the Time of Troubles, seventeenth-century Muscovite rulers held frequent investigations of witchcraft within their households, laying the ground, along with previous tsarist reforms, for widespread witchcraft trials throughout the Muscovite state. Between 1622 and 1700 ninety-one people were brought to trial in Muscovite courts for witchcraft. Although Russia did partake in the witch craze that swept across Western Europe, the Muscovite state did not persecute nearly as many people for witchcraft, let alone execute a number of individuals anywhere close to the number executed in the west during the witch hysteria.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia