Witchcraft: A Brief History

by | 7.22.22 | Articles, Witchcraft

Witchcraft: A Very Brief HistoryWitchcraft: Defined

The definition of witchcraft depends on your field of study. It is synonymous most often than not however to sorcery, magic, and spell work.

Witchcraft in the dictionary is defined as the “art of bringing magical or preternatural power to bear” and the “influence of magic, sorcery, or charms.” But in science, witchcraft is associated with the use of physic mechanisms to generate powers without ritual or spell work. Meanwhile, Social Anthropology, the study of human social behavior, classifies witchcraft as an ideology that explains various human conditions. It involves the supernatural – “which refers to anything that people might believe exists, but that falls outside the laws of science or the natural world.” [1]

The origin of the word “witch” came from Anglo-Saxon’s “wicca,” meaning wise. Also related to Middle Low German, “wicken” means “to conjure.” A witch practices witchcraft. 

Evolution of Witchcraft

Tales of Witchcraft are as old as the human evolution itself. Witches were the first healthcare providers. The use of medicinal plants and herbs by witches has been widely recorded throughout history. Herbs were used to evoke euphoric emotions and eventually led to shamanism. Shamans would use these herbal remedies to alter their outlook giving them the ability to talk to divine beings through rituals. Given their abilities as a medium, they assumed roles significant in social decisions.

The evolution of witchcraft practices changed as pagan beliefs were stolen and branded as Christian holidays and celebrations. As “Christianity” was adopted and shoved down the throats of many, witchcraft practitioners were forced to retreat and hide. The lack of understanding that which is unknown, the “Christians” labeled witchcraft as demon worship. This “demon” hysteria is partly what lead to the Witch Trials of the 1600’s. The fear the Christian community will not let go of has caused the death of many witches. Unbelievably, in 2022, by some oddball twist of fate, once again the “Christian” leaders are calling for the burning of witches at the stake.

Spell Work

Primarily, witchcraft practices involve communication with divine spirits and the dead. Witches are healers because of their medical application use of herbs and plants.  Sometimes, if they are strong enough, witches can manipulate weather. An additional practice, even though humans all have free will, witchcraft can be used to influence a humans mind, body, and will through spell work. Black magic, or the “left hand path,” using curses or hexes. White magic is what most of the “love and light” witches practice.

But no matter the specific practice, casting spells is the most apparent and known ability of any witch. The dictionary defines spell as “a word or formula to have a magical power.” The words and verses used are just as important as the rituals and actions made during a casting session. The power of a spell is based on the energy the practitioner puts into the rituals and their intention behind the spell. Typically spells can be cast by using candles, or by inscribing sigils or runes onto physical objects. Witches cast enchantments on objects, and sometimes body parts. Spells can involve the immolation or binding of a wax or clay images or dolls — called poppets — representing an individual.

More to Learn

This has been a VERY BREIF overview of the history and the current view on witchcraft. However, in your own study, you’ll find varying classifications of witchcraft as a spiritual practice. You will find information on the difference between white and black magic, as well as Voodoo and Hoodoo – just to name a couple. Similarly, if you really want to dig your heels in and learn more, we recommend the Digital Library Collection we have for sale. All 72 texts are in PDF format and are full of useful info on the history to the practice of witchcraft.

  1. Amanda Zunner-Keating; Chapter 1: Introduction to the Anthropology of Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion

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