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The word "witchcraft" derives from the Saxon wicca, some-times translated as "wise person" but more accurately derived from an Indo-European root, "weik," that produced words in various Western languages related to magic, religion, and divination. Currently, the word is used to designate a variety of very different but vaguely related phenomena including, but not limited to, (1) the magical/religious practitioners in a variety of third world pre-industrial societies; (2) the Satanism described in the anti-witchcraft books beginning in the late fifteenth century in Europe; (3) the Neopagan followers of Wicca, the religion started by Gerald B. Gardner in the 1940s; and (4) individuals (primarily female) who are reputed to have psychic abilities.

Interpretations of Historic Witchcraft

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the figure of the European witch was interpreted and reinterpreted in numerous ways, depending on the orientations of the scholars involved. They described her (typically) as variously an antisocial practitioner of malevolent magic; as a pro-social healer, midwife, and magician condemned by churches and universities; as a victim of mental illness or of accidental poisoning by mind-altering plants; or as a deliberate user of mind-altering plants who sought a shamanic "soul flight." She was either the follower of a Satanic religion developed in opposition to Christianity, or she was the inheritor of pre-Christian Paganism. She was supported by her neighbors, or she was the unfortunate scapegoat for social tensions, a lonely victim with no family to protect her. These different pictures of the typical witch of the Burning Times or the Great Hunt (both terms for the persecutions that peaked in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) in turn reflect the sympathies of the writers, whether pro or anti-Catholic, socially rebellious, socially conservative, feminist, or Neopagan. These different perspectives on historical European witchcraft have also influenced what is today called Neo-pagan Witchcraft, a new religious movement.

Since the mid-1970s, historians have more closely examined the court records of witch trials in various European countries (and in North American colonies). They have studied the verdicts, punishments, social status of accused witches, lists of goods confiscated from the accused, and other evidence. In one notable case, scholarly re-examination of older work revealed a major forgery, a portion of Etienne Leon de Lamothe-Langon's Histoire de l'Inquisition en France (History of the French Inquisition), written in 1829. Lamothe-Langon's description of huge 14th-century witch trials with hundreds of executions in the South of France turned out to be complete inventions by the writerwho had also written a profitable series of "gothic" horror novels with titles like The Monastery of the Black Friars.

Today, informed estimates of the total deaths in central and western Europe range from 40,000 to 50,000, much lower than the millions once claimed. Contrary to the picture created by writers such as Lamothe-Langon, the Inquisition (an arm of the Roman Catholic Church created in 1246 to combat heresy) did not execute many witches; secular courts were more likely to condemn accused witches than were church courts. As many or more accused witches were executed in Protestant lands as in Catholic countries, and the witch trials did not peak until 1550-1650, a period that historians describe as "early modern" rather than "medieval."

During the early Middle Ages, Church writers were more likely to insist that witchcraft was a delusion and that priests should discourage their congregations from believing that anyone could cast spells or fly through the air in the entourage of a Pagan deity. The famous Canon Episcopi, publicized in the tenth century but possibly of earlier date, stated that it was heretical to believe in witchcraft, not to practice it. This ecclesiastical legal document, like others of its kind, urged bishops and priests to combat the practice of sorcery, but also suggested that people who believed that they were witches were deluded by the Devil. Another set of church ordinances from the late eighth century demanded the death penalty not for the witch, but for the person who murdered an alleged witchagain, because believing in witches was a Pagan superstition.

After the Black Death swept Europe in the 1340s, mysteriously killing thousands of people, Europeans were more likely to accept conspiracy theories involving enemies of Christianity, defined variously as heretics, Muslims, Jews or possibly witches. Officers of the Inquisition now began to expand their scope from Christian dissenters and heretics, such as Cathars and Waldensians, to people who supposedly had chosen to follow a diabolical anti-Christian religion (rather than a lingering Paganism). New manuals for witch-hunters appeared, such as the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, or "Hammer of Witches," a book that although authored by Dominican monks was used and reprinted equally by Protestant witch-hunters in Germany and England. By the sixteenth century, the witches' sabbat was regarded by authorities as a parody of the Christian Sabbath, the worshipful aspect of a religion which was a distorted image of true religion, i.e., Christianity. According to the records, the sabbat was generally held in some wild and solitary spot, often in the midst of forests or on the heights of mountains, at a great distance from the residence of most of the visitors. (The use of the word "sabbat," clearly derived from the Jewish Sabbath, indicates the way in which medieval and early modern Christians tended to blur distinctions between all perceived enemies of Christianity, whether Jews, Muslims, Pagans, or perceived sorcerers and witches.)

The witches themselves told a storyusually after torture of taking off their clothes and anointing their bodies with a special unguent or ointment. They then strode across a stick, or any similar article, and, muttering a charm, were carried through the air to the place of meeting in an incredible short space of time. Sometimes the stick was to be anointed as well as the witch. They generally left the house by the window or by the chimney, which perhaps suggests survival of the custom of an earth-dwelling people. Sometimes the witch went out by the door, and there found a demon in the shape of a goat, or at times of some other animal, who carried her away on his back, and brought her home again after the meeting was dissolved.

In the confessions extorted from them, the witches bore testimony to the truth of all these details, but those who judged them, and who wrote upon the subject, asserted that they had many other independent proofs in corroboration.

Powers of Witches

In the eyes of the populace, the powers of witches were numerous. The most peculiar of these were: The ability to blight by means of the evil eye, the sale of winds to sailors, power over animals, and the power of witches to transform themselves into animal shapes.

Witches were also believed to possess the power of making themselves invisible, by means of a magic ointment supplied to them by the Devil, and of harming others by thrusting nails into a waxen image representing them.

New research has shown that witch trials were more likely to occur in areas of political instability and religious conflict. Hence both Germany and Switzerland, each a patchwork of small political entities and divided between Catholics and Protestants, witnessed more witch trials than did France or Spain. In late seventeenth-century Spain, after an outbreak of witchcraft accusations in the Basque region (shared with France), a lawyer for the Spanish Inquisition convinced its supreme council not to prosecute. Instead, the council ordered an "Edict of Silence" forbidding further discussion of witchcraft. In that Spanish case and others, local secular authorities went around the Catholic Church and appealed to the king for the right to try witches. The king agreed with their request and accused witches began to be sentenced until the Inquisition stopped the process on the grounds that this was church business only.

By the eighteenth century, however, fewer educated Europeans believed in spell-casting, witches flying through the sky, or other typical accusations of the Great Hunt. Thinkers of the Enlightenment such as Voltaire (1694-1778) had denounced the witch trials as the product of religious bigotry, whether Catholic or Protestant, supported by superstitious monarchs across Europe. They hoped that new, more rational attitudes would produce societies where such events could not occur.

In America, the Salem witch trials of the 1690s were similarly seen as the product of a repressive Puritan church struggling to hold onto power. Nineteenth-century American historian George Bancroft's History of the United States used the Salem trials to condemn Puritan "superstition," as did the poet and editor James Russell Lowell. As part of the nineteenth-century struggle for authority between science and religion, the witchcraft trials were entered into evidence as examples of the excesses of religion. This view tended to overlook the fact that secular courts were as likely or more likely to execute accused witches than were religious courts, producing the slightly skewed stereotype of "medieval" witches being hauled before the "Inquisition."

The Witch as Romantic Rebel

This anti-clerical view of the medieval and early modern witch as the victim of superstitious churchmen was strengthened by a new nineteenth-century view of the witch as a Romantic rebel or outlawan idea which partly underlies the new religion of Neopagan Witchcraft. It connects with the romanticization of medieval life (and of rural nineteenth-century life) by writers such as Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Hardy, both of whom described fictional "cunning women" or solitary rural witches in their novels. A leading proponent of this new Romantic view of witches was the French writer Jules Michelet, a fervent anti-Catholic and anti-monarchist, who produced numerous books of history, natural history, and social reform. Advocating a turn from Christianity to worship of a Great Mother Goddess such as Isis, Michelet held that women were morally superior to men, and that their persecution as witches in former centuries was an attack by the elites on both the rights of women and the working classes. Michelet took the position of the Malleus Maleficarum that women were innately drawn to witchcraft and made a positive good of it. Medieval witchcraft, he declared in his 1862 book La Sorcière, had been an egalitarian rural religion led by female priestessesa view which was to resonate with later maverick writers on witchcraft such as Charles Leland and Margaret Murray. Had the witches worshipped Satan, as their accusers claimed? Indeed they had, Michelet wrote, for "Satan" was merely the god of fertility and the patron deity of those persons condemned by kings and bishops and their henchmen. Although he did little actual research for La Sorcière, Michelet succeed in introducing ideas that would be taken up by later generations of non-academic writers and by unconventional academics. One was the idea that witches were healers and midwives persecuted by a male-dominated medical establishment; another was that the persecuted witches represented traces of a secret Pagan religion.

Michelet's advocacy of a Mother Goddess religion helped reinforce a new current in nineteenth-century scholarship: that there had once been a universal matriarchal period of goddess-worship, later buried by a patriarchal Paganism typified by the well-known Greco-Roman pantheon: Jupiter/Zeus, Hera/Juno, and so on. The notion of a universal ancient matriarchy appealed to thinkers as different as Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, both of whom incorporated parts of it in their theories of communism and psychoanalysis respectively. It also influenced the first wave of women's rights advocates, such as the American feminist Matilda Joslyn Gage, who published her own version of the anti-clerical witch trials in 1893, Women, Church, and State. Basing her research largely on Michelet, Gage produced a figure of nine million victims of the Burning Times, a figure which although wildly inflated continues to be repeated by some persons today.

Witches, Drugs, and Shamans

As the nineteenth century closed, two interpretations of the medieval and early modern witchcraft period were gaining adherents. One interpretation, suggested above, held that the persecuted witches were leaders and followers of an underground pre-Christian religion. The second, somewhat related to the first, was that at least some of the accused practiced an underground form of European shamanism, utilizing an ancient tradition of entheogenic plants such as Amanita mush-rooms and members of the solanaceous plant genus such as henbane, mandrake, belladonna, and datura.

During the height of the Great Hunt, the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, some lawyers and physicians had made their own tests of the unguents or "flying ointments" seized from accused witches, attempting to learn their compositions and effects. At the time, these men were advancing a counterargument to the witch-hunters' position that the witches worshiped Satan. No, said such men as Andrés Laguna, physician to Pope Julius III, the witches were merely "wretched ones," deluded by drugs, who "firmly believe that they have done in a waking state all of that which they dreamt while sleeping."

Theologian Nicholas Remy, writing at the height of the trials, in the late 1500s, made numerous references to witches smearing their bodies with oils and ointments, noting, "Now if witches, after being aroused from an 'iron' sleep, tell of things they have seen in places so far distant as compared with the short period of their sleep, the only conclusion is that has been some unsubstantial journal like that of the soul."

In an account published in 1555, Laguna described one of his experiments, using "a jar half-filled with a certain green unguent" confiscated from some accused witches, which he believed was prepared with "cold" herbs such as henbane or man-drake. He took the mixture to another city, where he gave it to the wife of the public hangman. This woman suffered from insomnia, lying awake with worry because she thought her husband was unfaithful to her.

"On being anointed," Laguna wrote, "she suddenly slept such a profound sleep, with her eyes open like a rabbit, that I could not imagine how to wake her. By every means possible, with strong ligatures and rubbing her extremities, with effusions of oil of costus-root and officinal spurge, with fumes and smoke in her nostrils, and finally with cupping glasses, I so hurried her that at the end of thirty-six hours she regained her senses and memory: although the first words she spoke were: 'Why do you wake me at such an inopportune time? I was surrounded by all the pleasures and delights of the world.' And casting her eyes on her husband (who was there all stinking of hanged men), she said to him, smiling: 'Knavish one, know that I have made you a cuckold, and with a lover younger and better than you,' and she said many other and very strange things."

Such experiments led Laguna and some of his contemporaries, including some clergy, to a conclusion that the theologians and demonologists were wrong: the flights through the air, feasts and orgies, encounters with Satan and other fantastic experiences reported by (or tortured out of) the accused witches were really the results of using psychedelic drugs.

These earlier accounts of experiments with witches' unguents led to new experiments using old recipes in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Karl Kiesewetter, a German scholar of the occult, reported dreams of flying after reproducing some of the old ointments; his later experiments were fatal. The pharmacologist Gustav Schenk wrote in The Book of Poisons that he experienced the sensations of flying through the clouds after breathing the smoke of burning hen-bane seeds. As interest in entheogenic or psychedelic drugs increased in the 1950s and 1960s, anthropologists such as Michael Harner returned to the older writings about "flying ointments" in order to suggest that European witches took part in shamanic "soul flights," projecting their consciousness into other realms of existence even while their physical bodies appeared to sleep. If parallel with the shamanism reported from other cultures around the world, these soul-journeys might be attempted to gain a cure for a sick person, for knowledge or simply for the experience.

Some of the same herbs, such as datura, have been traditionally used in India both for religious purposes, pleasure, and as poisons. Likewise, the fly agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria, has been proposed as the source of soma, the drink of the gods in the ancient Hindu scriptures. Unlike the peyote and ayahuasca of the New World, plants such as henbane, datura or fly agaric can be fatally poisonousthey continue to claim victims today. Therefore, if sixteenth-century witches such as Laguna's indeed were using them, they likely were heirs to an underground tradition of safe preparation and use, although we do not know what form such a shamanic tradition might have taken.

Witchcraft as "The Old Religion"

The identity and motives of the witches and their accusers continue to be re-interpreted. In the period from 1890 to 1930, however, one interpretation of the trials not only blossomed but produced a genuine new religion. That was the theory that the witches followed an underground pre-Christian religion. Even though most modern scholars reject the notion, it contributed to the birth of today's fast-growing Neopagan Witchcraft.

Charles Godfrey Leland, an American lawyer, political journalist, and folklore scholar who lived a number of years in the Italian city of Florence, produced three books in the 1890s arguing that some Italian peasants, through their innate religious conservatism, maintained not only a pre-Christian but a pre-Roman religion, dating to the days of the ancient Etruscan culture. Camouflaged with Catholic saints' names and other details, this hidden "Old Religion" maintained its own deities, creation stories, prayers, and rituals, Leland wrote, describing these surviving bits of Paganism as "something more than a sorcery and something less than a faith." His most influential book, Aradia: or the Gospel of the Witches, published in 1899, synthesized traditional legends with material gathered for him by a woman known as Maddalena or Margherita (her surname may have been Talenti) and translated from local dialects into standard Italian, which Leland spoke and wrote moderately well. Aradia, which Leland claims was originally a Semitic goddess name, is described as the daughter of Diana, goddess of darkness, and Lucifer, god of light. Aradia comes to earth, and in the style of Michelet, teaches her ceremonies to outlaws and outcasts, as well as the secrets of poisoning corrupt feudal lords. What remains problematic about Aradia is the source of Leland's witchcraft gospel. Is it genuine, or did Maddalena herself concoct it to please her wealthy American patron, or did Leland shape it from a body of genuine invocations, stories, and folk practices?

Twenty years after Leland's work, the English archaeologist Margaret Murray (1862-1963) developed her own version of the "Old Religion" through her reading of witch-trial records from the British Isles and France. A recognized Egyptologist, Murray turned her attention to the witch-cult problem while World War I prevented her from working in Egypt. Her 1921 book The Witch Cult in Western Europe and its two successors laid out an apparently clear picture of the Old Religion. Even though that picture has largely been refuted by more recent historians such as Russell Hope Robbins, Elliot Rose, L'Estrange Ewen, and Ronald Hutton, its evocative power threatened to overwhelm the former academically accepted idea of the medieval and early modern witches as victims of bigotry, social stresses, and mob psychology. Many followers of modern Witchcraft continue to accept large portions of Murray's version of earlier witchcraft.

In essence, her version was this. The "witch cult" was a pre-Christian religion centered on a fertility god (somewhat parallel to the Greek Pan), whom Christian theologians deliberately confused with their Devil in order to persecute the witches. This god was often depicted with horns, and a man portrayed and embodied him during group rituals. (Murray had much less to say about goddesses than did Leland.) Covens of witches, ideally consisting of thirteen persons, grouped together at four major holidaysCandlemas, around 1 February; May Day; Lammas, around 1 August; and All Hallows or Hallowe'en. These large-group meetings, with their feasting and fertility rituals, alternated with smaller meetings ("esbats") for spell-casting and other local witch business.

In medieval England, Murray claimed, the Old Religion had been protected by the Plantagenet dynasty of kings, beginning with William the Conqueror in 1066. These were "sacred kings" who had to die as sacrificial victims or else find a substitute after they had reigned for seven years, or a multiple of seven years. Murray held that the murder in 1170 of the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas à Becket (later made a saint), supposedly at the orders of King Henry II, his longtime friend, was actually the substitution of a voluntary victim for the king himself. Murray also maintained that the French mystical warrior maiden Joan of Arc (1412-1431) was in fact a priestess of the Old Religion. This underground religion, in Murray's view, permeated medieval society, and its followers left traces in the carvings on Christian churches and in folklore.

Murray's views were almost immediately attacked by historians who pointed out that she manipulated evidence, lifted quotations from witch-trial records out of context, and ignored evidence that did not fit her theory. But her picture of the "Old Religion" was embraced by many folklorists, occultists, and all those who wanted to believe that British rural life retained traces of ancient Paganism, even after 1500 years of Christianity.

Neopagan Witchcraft

Neopagan Witchcraft is the only worldwide religion to have begun in England. Its apparent birth date lies between 1939 and 1951, when the Witchcraft Act of 1735 was repealed by Parliament and reports about people claiming to follow the religion of Witchcraft began appearing in British newspapers. Contemporary Witchcraft appears to have multiple parents, and historians of religion continue to debate who exactly was present at its creation, for no solid evidence exists of a religious continuity with pre-Christian Paganism. This new religion of Witchcraft (usually capitalized it differentiate from definitions 1, 2, and 4 above) has grown rapidly in all English-speaking countries and in Western Europe, aided by its compatibility with the feminist and environmental movements. It is often referred to as Wicca, although some Neopagan Witches limit that term to the "tradition" founded by Gerald Gardner (see below), and as "The Craft," a term borrowed from Freemasonry along with certain aspects of Masonic ritual.

The most public figure associated with the new religion of Witchcraft was Gerald Gardner (1884-1964). Gardner spent most of his adult life in Britain's Asian colonies, owning and managing tea plantations and later working for the colonial customs service in Malaya. He and his wife retired to England in 1936. During his time in Asia, his lifelong interest in magic and the supernatural led him both to the Masonic order and to visits with Buddhists priests, tribal shamans, spiritualists, and any other practitioners he chanced across.

In 1949 Gardner published an adventure novel, High Magic's Aid, set in the Middle Ages and incorporating much ceremonial magic. He claimed that he had met members of a surviving witches' coven shortly before World War II, operating under the cover of the Rosicrucian Theatre at Christchurch, Hampshire, and headed by a wealthy widow. He had been accepted into the group, which performed a magical ritual during the summer of 1940 to stop the threatened German invasion

of England (thus identifying the Witches with the patriotic soul of Great Britain). In 1954 his nonfiction book Witchcraft Today was published, which he wrote in the voice of a sympathetic outsider describing the modern continuation of an ancient fertility religion. Margaret Murray supplied an approving introduction.

Subsequent research suggests that it is more likely that Gardner and a female companion whose Craft name was Dafo, plus possibly other individuals, actually began the coven. They drew inspiration for their practices from ceremonial magic, from Classical Pagan religions, and from British folklore. What Gardner in 1954 described as "Wica" or cult of the "wise people" contained "no crucifixes, inverted or otherwise, no sermons, mock or otherwise, and no absolution or [eucharistic] hosts save for the cake and wine. There is no praise or homage to the Devil, no liturgy, evil or otherwise, nothing is said backwards, and there are no gestures with the left hand; in fact with the exception that it is a religious service and all religious services resemble one another, the rites are not in any way an imitation of anything I have ever seen."

In other words, Gardner denied the reality of "Burning Times" witchcraft with its pacts with the Devil and parodies of Christian ritual. For this he substituted a Murray-style "Old Religion," in which the "Devil" was merely the ritual leader with his crown of stag's hornsand often a nobleman in disguise. Witchcraft, he alleged, had come down from the Stone Age as a fertility religion that honored the "God of death and what comes after" (in other words, rest and reincarnation) and the Great Mother Goddess of nature, love, and pleasure.

These new Witches celebrated a cycle of eight festivals a yearthe solstices and equinoxes and the four cross-quarter days between them: Lugnasadh or Lammas (Loaf-Mass) at the beginning of August, a harvest festival; Samhain (Hallowe'en) a festival honoring the ancestors; Brigid or Oimelc, at the beginning of February, a feast of creativity and new beginnings; and Beltane, at the beginning of May, celebrating the new growing season. New Moons and full Moons were times of magic-working as opposed to the celebration and attunement of the seasonal festivals.

They worshipped in the nude, a practice indeed claimed of medieval witches. Gardner and his first associations were "naturists," people who advocated sunbathing for better health, and he and his first associates purchased land next to a naturist club north of London. While many Neopagan Witches today wear either ritual robes or other clothing, those who continue to meet nude or "skyclad" claim that the practice erases social distinctions, helps them to overcome the fear of aging and death, and makes magic-working easier.

Other common practices include the creation of a temporary sacred space, the circle, usually marked by candles, which may be drawn indoors or out, but which is erased at the conclusion of a ceremony. Most Neopagan Witchcraft rituals involve the use of a sacred knife, the athame, symbolizing the God, and a chalice symbolizing the Goddess.

Coven leadership typically lies with the high priestess ("high" because all experienced Witches are considered to be priests and priestesses themselves) who may or may not have a permanent male partner. This combination of female leadership and a powerful feminine image of deity has drawn many women to the Craft, which they see as a religion that values and sacralizes their bodies, their cycles, their ability to nurture as well as their rage and anger against other male-dominated religions.

Gardner's coven produced a number of offshoots in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition, other Witches came forth who claimed (sometimes falsely) to have no connection with his coven but rather to represent independent traditions of Witchcraft. These included Alex Sanders (1926-1988), Robert Cochrane (d. 1966) and Sybil Leek, who emigrated to the United States in 1965, where she continued to write books on occult topics and to lecture on Witchcraft.

Two more British Witches of Gardner's lineage, Ray and Rosemary Buckland, moved to Long Island, New York, in the mid-1960s and many American and Canadian "Gardnerian" Witches trace their initiatory lineage to them.

Meanwhile, modern Pagan religions were being developed independently in the United States and elsewhere during the 1960s, including Feraferia in Los Angeles, The Church of All Worlds in St. Louis, and others. However, as more books about Witchcraft were being published, including an edition of the basic Gardnerian ritual manual, the Book of Shadows, in 1973, followers of these new movements tended to adopt many of the key characteristics of Gardner's traditionor else to define themselves in opposition to it. Those saying that they followed some other form of Witchcraft often cast it in ethnic terms such as Italian or Scottish. Other forms of Witchcraft include women-only groups (often called "Dianic" Witchcraft) and male-only groups, including the Radical Faeries.

By the 1980s, most elders and leaders in Witchcraft began to distance themselves from claims of an unbroken pre-Christian religious tradition, saying instead that their practices were inspired by ancient Paganism but adapted to the present times. Whether known as Wicca or Witchcraft, this new religious movement grew steadily from the 1970s to the present, typically among people in their twenties and thirties. The Cold War expansion of the American military provided one means, as Wiccan personnel shuttled between the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. Neopagan Witchcraft is now found throughout the English-speaking world and parts of Europe, particularly Germany, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia.

The historian Ronald Hutton describes these common characteristics of the "protean and ecclectic" varieties of Neopagan Witchcraft: They "aim to draw out and enhance divinity within human beings, abolish the traditional Western distinction between religion and magic, [are] a mystery religion or a set of mystery religions [and their essence lies] in the creative performance of ritual."

Estimates of total membership in North America range into the low millions, but since covens are fluid and ever-changing (and since not all Witches belong to covens), an accurate count is impossible. While Witchcraft has no sacred scriptures, modern Witches have produced dozens of books on the practice of their religion. Notable authors, besides those named, include Stewart and Janet Farrar, Starhawk, Scott Cunningham, Vivi-anne Crowley, Marion Weinstein, Margot Adler, Evan John Jones, and Michael Howard.

In the early 1970s, two organizations, the Church and School of Wicca and the Council of American Witches, began holding conventions for their members and other interested people in American hotels. By 1980, outdoor festivals began at campgrounds across the United States, beginning in the Midwest and spreading to both coasts, the South, and the Rocky Mountains. These provide a venue for the exchange of songs, ritual formats, and the merchandising of clothing, jewelry, and other artifacts of the Pagan lifestyle.


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Witchcraft Trials

Witchcraft Trials

In the period from about 1450 to 1750, somewhere around 40,000 to 60,000 individuals were tried as witches and condemned to death in central Europe. Of that number, as high as three-quarters of the victims were women.

Numerous scholars have pointed out that beginning in the fourteenth century, the close of the Middle Ages, the Christian establishment of Europe was forced to deal with an onset of social, economic, and religious changes. It was also during this time (134749) that the Black Death, the bubonic plague, nearly decimated the populations of the European nations and greatly encouraged rumors of devil-worshippers who conspired with other heretics, such as Jews and Muslims, to invoke Satan to bring about a pestilence that would destroy Christianity and the West. During most of the Middle Ages, those who practiced the Old Religion and worked with herbs and charms were largely ignored by the church and the Inquisition. After the scourge of the Black Death, witchcraft trials began to increase steadily throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

The first major witch-hunt occurred in Switzerland in 1427; and in 1428, in Valais, there was a mass burning of 100 witches. In 1486, the infamous "hammer for witches," Malleus Maleficarum, the official textbook for trying and testing witches written by the monks Sprenger and Kramer, was published.

In the early decades of the sixteenth century, when the Protestant Reformation began to restructure nearly all of Europe politically as well as religiously, witches were largely overlooked by the rulers of church and state who now struggled with the larger issues of the great division within Christianity. Then, after a time of relatively little persecution, the period of the great witchcraft craze or hysteria that many practicing witches and students of witchcraft today refer to as the "Burning Times," occurred from about 1550 to 1650.

Although organized witchcraft trials continued to be held throughout Europe and even the English colonies in North America until the late seventeenth century, they were most often civil affairs. About 40 people were executed in the English colonies between 1650 and 1710, and half of these victims perished as a result of the Salem trials of 1692. Persecution of witches and the trials held to punish them had been almost completely abolished in Europe by 1680. One last wave of the witch craze swept over Poland and other eastern European countries in the early eighteenth century, but it had dissipated by 1740. The last legal execution of a witch occurred in 1782 in Glarus, Switzerlandnot far from where the witch craze had begun in 1428. The last known witch-burning in Europe took place in Poland in 1793, but it was an illegal act, for witch trials were abolished in that country in 1782.

The Inquisition or the Church itself had little part in any witchcraft trials after the latter part of the seventeenth century, but the Holy Office continued to serve as the instrument by which the papal government regulated church order and doctrine.

Delving Deeper

adler, margot. "a time for truth: wiccans struggle with information that revises their history." beliefnet. [online] 25 february 2002.

gibbons, jenny. "a new look at the great european witch hunt" (excerpted from "the great european witch hunt," published in the autumn 1999 issue of pangaia). beliefnet[online] 25 february 2002.

lea, henry charles. the inquisition of the middle ages. new york: citadel press, 1963.

netanyahu, b. the origins of the inquisition. new york: random house, 1995.

russell, jeffrey burton. witchcraft in the middle ages. ithaca, n.y.: cornell university press, 1972.

seligmann, kurt. the history of magic. new york: pantheon books, 1948.

trevor-roper, h. r. the european witch-craze. new

york: harper & row, 1967.


The first record of a witch being burned at the stake in the British Isles was the execution of Petronilla de Meath at Killkenny, Ireland, on November 3, 1324. But from that time until the witch craze ended in the eighteenth century, Ireland would neither try nor burn any more witches. England did not really succumb to the witch craze that seized Central Europe. There was no law against witchcraft in England until 1542and that law was repealed in 1547. Perhaps because the nation had a strong central government, as opposed to the independent city states which at that time created constant political turmoil within so many of the European countries, England did not tolerate wholesale witch burnings. The few burnings that did occur took place on the borders where different religious faiths were in conflict and the people were more disposed to see Satan in the other person's manner of worship.

The first recorded execution of a person associated with witchcraft occurred in 1441, but the convicted woman, Margaret Jourdemaine of London, was put to death not because she was a witch, but because she had been found guilty of murder. In 1563, perhaps in reaction to the witch craze in Europe, a new law against witchcraft was passed, and a 63-year-old widow named Agnes Waterhouse was condemned to death in 1566 for bewitching a man to death.

Torture could not be used against accused witches in England; therefore, only about 20 percent of those suspected of dealing with the devil were executed. The single period during which something approaching the witch hysteria on the European continent blighted England occurred during the English Civil War during the 1640s when the central government's power collapsed and opposing factions struggling for dominance were more likely to accuse their opponents of trafficking with the devil.

The last witches executed in England Temperance Lloyd, Susanna Edwards, and Mary Trembles, all of Bideford, Devonwere all hanged on August 25, 1682. The death penalty of witches in England was abolished in 1736. Estimates of the number of witches put to death in England are about 400, and approximately 90 percent of those condemned were women.

Alleged murders by witchcraft and subsequent trials for witchcraft have not disappeared from the world scene, and the fear of cursing, hexing, and causing death by witchcraft remains very powerful in many nations.

In 1998, in scenes reminiscent of the Salem witch hunts, mobs in Indonesia attacked and killed 153 people who were accused of practicing sorcery. In an eight-year-period, from 1990 to 1998, more than 2,000 cases of witchcraft-related violence, including 577 murders, were recorded in the northern corner of South Africa.

In June 2001, the London Sunday Times reported that the president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, feared that he and his government had become the victims of black magic directed at them by powerful Sangomas (witchdoctors). In August 2001, a teenaged girl in Nigeria confessed to taking part in the ritual killing of 48 people after being initiated into a secret witchcraft cult. Three men were arrested by police in that African nation after they were found in possession of a human skull that they were using in Black Magick rituals.

The Washington Post reported on November 28, 2001, that Black Magic murders in the state of Maranhao in northeastern Brazil had claimed the lives of at least 26 boys. Although as many as one in six Brazilians practice a form of religion that combines Roman Catholicism with the ancient beliefs of African and Amazonian magic, such as Tambo de Mina, Umbanda, and Macumba, the priests of those religions denied any part of the mutilation deaths of the young boys. Authorities remained convinced that Black Magic witchcraft was somehow behind the murders.

In December 2001, the Romanian Parliament announced that it was passing new laws to regulate the thousands of witches practicing in their country. It was suggested that politicians be given special advice on how to deal with the witches after the finance minister sufferred a broken leg the day after he introduced a special tax on witches.

Although the widespread horror of the Inquisition being visited upon innocent individuals and hauling accused men and women into torture chambers has receded into a shameful chapter in human history, trials for witchcraft have by no means been relegated to the Middle Ages.

Delving Deeper

"case study: the european witch-hunts, c. 1450 1750," gendercide watch. [online]

faiola, anthony. "witchcraft murders cast a gruesome spell," november 28, 2001. [online] 25 february 2002.

johnson, r. w. "mugabe's men on the run from witchcraft," june 2, 2001. [online]

notestein, wallace. a history of witchcraft in england. new york: thomas y. crowell, 1968.

russell, jeffrey burton. witchcraft in the middle ages. ithaca, n.y.: cornell university press, 1972.

trevor-roper, h. r. the european witch-craze. new york: harper & row, 1967.

summers, montague. the history of witchcraft. new york: university books, 1956.


When an overview of the witchcraft trials in France is made in an effort to derive an accurate picture of the extent of the persecutions of those alleged to be witches, the issue becomes clouded because of two great heretic hunts that had far-reaching repercussions. The first was the crusade launched against the heretical Cathars in the south of France in 1208, and the second was the trial of the Knights Templar for heresy and witchcraft in 1312. From the beginning of the thirteenth century to the end of the seventeenth century, neither the church or civil courts nor the common people were able to make clear distinctions between Cathars, heretics, and witches.

In 1246, Montsegur, the center of the Albigensian (as the Cathars were also known) resistance fell, and hundreds of the sect who had for so many years withstood the only crusade ever launched against fellow Christians were burned at the stake. In that same year, the headquarters of the Inquisition was established in Toulouse. In 1252, Pope Innocent IV (d. 1254) issued a papal bull that placed the inquisitors above the law and demanded that every Christianfrom the aristocracy to the peasantryassist in the work of seeking out witches and heretics or face excommunication. In 1257, the church officially sanctioned torture as a means of forcing witches and heretics to confess to their evil ways.

In 1305, the Knights Templar, who had for centuries been the bulwark of Christianity against those who would destroy or defame it, were themselves accused of invoking Satan, consorting with female demons, and worshipping black cats. While many clergy, including the pope himself, were reluctant to believe such charges against the Knights Templar, it soon became apparent that the order had become too wealthy and powerful to fit suitably into the emerging political structure of France and the aspirations of its king, Philip the Fair (12681314).

After years of persecution, many knights scattered and went into hiding throughout Europe and England. Those valiant Templars who insisted upon presenting a defense were finally brought to trial in 1312; and in spite of 573 witnesses for their defense, at least 54 knights were tortured en masse, burned at the stake, and their order was disbanded by Pope Clement V (c. 12601314).

Perhaps because of such large numbers of Cathars having been executed at Montsegur and other cities in the Albi region of southern France, along with reports of the mass burning of the Knights Templar, exaggerated accounts of mass executions of witches passed into the literature of the witch craze in Europe and remained there for centuries. For example, there are many reference books that document the burning of several hundred witches in Toulouse between 1320 and 1350. In one single terrible day during that time, according to the old texts, 400 women were burned at the stake. Historians have since determined that such mass executions of witches at Toulouse never occurred. Such claims are exaggerations or fictions.

The old records also reveal that the witch-hunters in France were not as gender biased as their counterparts in other European nations. Of the 1,300 witches whose appeals were heard by the French parliament, just over half were men. Also, contrary to popular supposition, in countries such as France, where the Catholic Church was firmly entrenched, the inquisitorial church courts were much more lenient than the civil courts in handing out death sentences to accused witches. Overall, in such Catholic nations as France, Italy, and Spain, the church courts executed far fewer people than the local community-based courts or the national courts. According to some statistics, in the period from 1550 to 1682, omitting the numbers of Cathars and Knights Templar executed, France sentenced approximately 1,500 accused witches to death.

Delving Deeper

"case study: the european witch-hunts, c. 14501750." gendercide watch. [online] 25 february 2002.

russell, jeffrey burton. witchcraft in the middle ages. ithaca, n.y.: cornell university press, 1972.

trevor-roper, h. r. the european witch-craze. new york: harper & row, 1967.

summers, montague. the history of witchcraft. new york: university books, 1956.


From the perspecive of the papacy, it seemed that witchcraft had become particularly virulent in Germany, and in 1484, Pope Innocent VIII (14321492) became so distressed with conditions in that country that he issued the papal bull Summis Desiderantes Affectibus. As an additional antidote to demonism, the pope authorized two Dominican inquisitors Henrich Institoris (also known as Kramer) (14301505) and Jacob Sprenger (14361495) to prepare a kind of guide book for those witchhunters who sought to battle Satan in the Rhineland. Their collaborative work, Malleus Maleficarum, "A Hammer for Witches" (1486), soon became the official handbook for those who conducted witchcraft trials throughout nearly all of Europe. While some members of the laity, the civil courts, and even the clergy had begun to question the actual power of witches, Malleus Maleficarum strongly refuted those arguments that suggested that the reality of the hellish works of those individuals who claimed an alliance with Satan existed only in troubled human minds.

According to Malleus, those angels who fell from heaven were intent upon destroying the human raceand anyone who believed otherwise believed contrary to the true faith. Therefore, any person who had consorted with demons and who had become witches must recant their evil ways or die.

The country that gave birth to the Protestant Reformation was also the center of the witchcraft trials in Europe, condemning to the stake 48 percent of all those who were accused of consorting with demons, perhaps as many as 26,000 victims. Oddly enough, although much political and religious restructuring was occurring in Germany, the country was not tolerant toward divergent ideas and beliefs. In southwestern Germany alone, more than 3,000 witches were executed between 1560 and 1680. Perhaps the reasons for such heavy persecution of suspected witches lay in the distrust that the warring Christian factionsthe Roman Catholics and the newly emerging Protestant sectshad toward one another, and their religious zeal prompted them to accuse a variety of scapegoats as servants of Satan.

In 1630, Prince-Bishop Johann Georg II Fuchs von Dornheim, the infamous Hexenbischof (Witch Bishop), constructed a special torture chamber which he decorated with appropriate passages from scripture. He burned at least 600 heretics and witches, including a fellow bishop he suspected of being too lenient.

While the Protestant states in Germany abandoned the persecution of witches a generation before those states under Roman Catholic dominance, the uncompromising nature of the Lutheran and Calvinist doctrines contributed to the continuation of the witchcraft trials until around 1660. The witchcraft trials in Germany ended in 1684. Of the approximately 26,000 accused witches condemned to death from around 1550 to 1684, 82 percent were women.

Delving Deeper

"case study: the european witch-hunts, c. 1450 1750." gendercide watch. [online] 25 february 2002.

russell, jeffrey burton. witchcraft in the middle ages. ithaca, n.y.: cornell university press, 1972.

trevor-roper, h. r. the european witch-craze. new york: harper & row, 1967.

summers, montague. the history of witchcraft. new york: university books, 1956.

Salem, Massachusetts

The Salem, Massachusetts, witchcraft trials of 1692 provide a classic example of what scholars mean when they refer to the "witch craze" or "witch hysteria" that swept through Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Because of the accusations of a small circle of prepubescent girls, an entire community became crazed and caught up in the fear that many of their neighbors were serving Satan in secret. The witch hysteria in Salem village resulted in the deaths of 24 men and women, who were hanged, were crushed to death, or died in prison.

The reign of terror that seized the village of Salem in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692 remains perhaps the single most celebrated of all witch hunts. Playwright Arthur Miller's (1915 ) moving stage treatment of the nightmare at Salem, The Crucible (1953), receives periodic revivals on Broadway, and in 1996 Miller wrote the screenplay for the motion picture version, starring Winona Ryder, Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Scofield, and Joan Allen. In her study of the witchcraft trials The Devil in Massachusetts (1961), Marion L. Starkey made the following observation: "No definitive history of the Salem witchcraft trials has ever been written or is likely to be, for it would take a lifetime and would be encyclopedic in dimension."

The madness began innocently enough in the home of the Rev. Samuel Parris when his slave Tituba began telling stories of voodoo and restless spirits to his nine-year-old daughter Betty and her cousin Abigail Williams, 11. While it is certain that the Puritan preacher would have either scolded or beaten Tituba for filling the girls' heads with such spooky tales, Abigail and Betty cherished these secret times with the slave woman and kept quiet about the nature of their conversation. Soon the exciting storytelling sessions in the Parris household were attracting older girls, such as 16-year-old Mary Walcott and 18-year-old Susanna Sheldon, who wanted Tituba to tell their fortunes and predict their future husbands, as well as tell them ghost stories. Although Rev. Parris and the other preachers fulminated from the pulpits about the dangers of seeking occult knowledge, the girls of Salem ignored such warnings in favor of having a thrilling pastime that could help them through a long, cold winter.

Then came the fateful afternoon when Ann Putnam, a fragile, highly strung 12-year-old, joined the circle in the company of the Putnams' maid, 19-year-old Mercy Lewis. Ann was much more widely read than the other girls and was blessed with a quick wit, a high intelligence, and a lively imagination. She soon became Tituba's most avid and apt pupil. Together with her literate mother, Ann had read far more than the other girls in the circle, and she was quite familiar with the imagery in the Book of Revelation with its dragons, horned beasts, devils, and damnation. It seems that while part of Ann's psyche was thrilled with the forbidden knowledge Tituba shared with them, another aspect was conflicted with guilt that they were flirting with devilish enchantment.

Undoubtedly most of the other girls were also conflicted with conscience and the fear of discovery. As the days passed, little Betty seemed distracted from her chores, subject to sudden fits of weeping, often noted to be staring blankly at the wall. Shortly thereafter, Abigail went far beyond weeping and blank stares. She got down on all fours and began barking like a dog or braying like a donkey. Mary Walcott and Susanna Sheldon fell into convulsions. Ann Putnam and the family maid, Mercy Lewis, also began to suffer seizures. Something evil seemed to have come to Salem.

About four years previously in the north end of Boston, four children in the John Godwin family had fallen into such fits, babbling blasphemies, ignoring the prayers of the clergy. It took the famous preacher Cotton Mather (16631728) to quiet the work of an alleged witch, an Irish washerwoman named Glover, and restore the children to normalcy. The memories of this horrid event, including the hanging of Witch Glover, were much alive in the minds of the Salem clergy when they began to ask the girls who it was who was tormenting them.

To no one's surprise, Tituba was the first name from the possessed childrens' lips. Nor did anyone doubt the naming of Sarah Good, considered by the townsfolk to be a bit of a tramp with a foul-smelling pipe, who had been suspected of spreading smallpox through witchcraft. But when the children named Sarah Osburne a witch, the village was shocked. Osburne was a property owner, who lived in one of the most substantial homes in Salem. Nevertheless, warrants were issued for all three women.

And from such a dramatic beginning, the list of names of the devil's disciples who were tormenting the girls grew steadily longer. The wealthy merchant Philip English; Goodwife Proctor, the wife of successful farmer and tavern keeper, John Proctor; Martha Cory, the wife of another prosperous farmer, Giles Cory. Sarah Good's four-year-old daughter, Dorcas, was also put in chains as an accused witch. Two magistrates, John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin, were sent out from the General Court of Massachusetts Colony to hear testimony that described tales of talking animals, dark shapes, red cats, and a tall man, who was undoubtedly the devil himself.

When 71-year-old Rebecca Nurse was arrested for witchcraft against her neighbors, the townsfolk realized that if she could be named as a witch, no one was safe from such accusations. Nurse was considered a veritable saint by the village, a woman noted for her piety and simplicity of heart. Although the jury initially acquitted her, the judge ordered the jury to reconsider and she was found guilty. She was hanged on Gallows Hill on July 19, 1692.

Several hundred people in and around Salem were accused of witchcraft, even the wife of Massachusetts governor William Phips. Such an absurdity provoked Phips into taking a stand against any further imprisonments and he forbade any more executions for witchcraft in Salem. Because of the governor's actions, the nearly 150 men and women who were still chained to prison walls were set free and many who had been convicted of witchcraft were pardoned.

In 1711, the Massachusetts legislature passed a general amnesty that exonerated all but six of the accused witches. In 1957, the state legislature passed a resolution exonerating Ann Pudeator, who had been hanged. Finally, on November 1, 2001, acting Massachusetts governor Jane Swift approved a bill that cleared all the accused witches hanged in Salem in 1692 and 1693. The bill exonerated the final five who had not been cleared by the previous amnesty resolutionsSusannah Martin, Bridget Bishop, Alice Parker, Margaret Scott, and Wilmot Redd.

Delving Deeper

hansen, chadwick. witchcraft at salem. new york: new american library, 1970.

noble, christopher. "relatives cheer bill clearing salem witches." [online] l. 4 march 2002.

starkey, marion l. the devil in massachusetts: a modern enquiry into the salem witch trials. garden city, n.y.: dolphin/doubleday, 1961.

"a village possessed: a true story of witchcraft." discovery online. [online] 4 march 2002.


Although torture was forbidden to be used as an instrument to obtain confessions from witches in England, it was allowed in Scotland where half of all those accused of witchcraft from 1537 to 1722 were burned at the stake, a total of 1,350 to 1,739 victimsat least three times as many as were hanged in Englandwith women comprising 86 percent of that number.

The first recorded execution of a witch in Scotland occurred in July 1537 when Janet Douglas, also known as Lady Glamis, was burned at the stake in Edinburgh. Lady Glamis died not because she was the victim of a trial inspired by the witch craze of Europe, but because she had been found guilty of using her abilities as a witch to murder.

In 1583, Englishman Reginald Scot (15381599) wrote The Discovery of Witch-craft, which was his answer to the Malleus Maleficarum (1486) and what he considered the abuses being conducted against accused witches in Scotland, where torture was freely used to wring confessions out of those unfortunate enough to have gone to trial. Scot considered the witch-hunters to be sexually obsessed madmen who took delight in inflicting sadistic tortures on their victims. A person being put to torture could be made to confess to any charge, Scot argued. And if the witches were really so powerful, he questioned why had they not enslaved the human race centuries ago?

Scot's book so infuriated King James VI of Scotland (15661625) that he himself wrote a treatise on the reality of demon worship and the power of witches entitled Demonologie to refute The Discovery of Witchcraft. A few years later, when he ascended the throne of England, one of King James' first official acts was to order the public burning of Scot's book.

The last witch in the whole of the British Isles to be executed was Jenny Horn of Sutherland, Scotland, who was burned at the stake in 1722. Horn had been tried together with her daughter, who, the jury decided, was a victim of her mother's witchcraft, rather than an accomplice.

Delving Deeper

"case study: the european witch-hunts, c. 1450 1750." gendercide watch. [online] 25 february 2002.

notestein, wallace. a history of witchcraft in england. new york: thomas y. crowell, 1968.

russell, jeffrey burton. witchcraft in the middle ages. ithaca, n.y.: cornell university press, 1972.

summers, montague. the history of witchcraft. new york: university books, 1956.

trevor-roper, h. r. the european witch-craze. new york: harper & row, 1967.


In 1478, at the request of King Ferdinand V (14521516) and Queen Isabella I (1451 1504), papal permission was granted to establish the Spanish Inquisition and to maintain it separate from the Inquisition that extended its jurisdiction over all the rest of Europe. The Spanish Inquisition was always more interested in persecuting heretics than those suspected of witchcraft. It has been estimated that of the 5,000 men and women accused of being witches, less than 1 percent were condemned to death. The Spanish Inquisition was concerned with trying the Marranos or conversos, those Jews suspected of insincerely converting to Christianity; the converts from Islam, similarly thought to be insincere in practicing the Christian faith; and, in the 1520s, those individuals who were believed to have converted to Protestantism. The support of Spain's royal house enabled Tomas de Torquemada (1420 1498) to become the single grand inquisitor whose name has become synonymous with the Inquisition's most cruel acts and excesses. Torquemada is known to have ordered the deaths by torture and burning of thousands of heretics and witches.

The Spanish Inquisition seemed to take special delight in the pomp and ceremony of the auto-de-fe, during which hundreds of heretics might be burned at one time. If an auto-de-fe could not be made to coincide with some great festival day, it was at least held on a Sunday so that the populace could make plans to attend the burnings.

The ghastly event began with a procession of the penitents led by Dominican friars. Behind them marched the wretched victims of the Inquisition, barefooted, stumbling, hollow-eyed with the pain and nightmare of their ordeal.

As in Spain, the same lack of concern regarding the practice of the Old Religion and the folk customs of the herbalists and strega (witches) was also the prevailing attitude in Italy, another nation in which the Roman Catholic Church was strong and was not weakened by the Protestant Reformation. The clerical tribunals in either nation levied few death sentences toward witches, but many scholars have estimated that the neighbors had killed many men and women suspected of witchcraft. Some researchers have stated that as many as 25 percent of those executed for witchcraft in those countries were lynched by mobs who carried out the fatal sentences that they felt the Inquisition had failed to deliver.

Delving Deeper

lea, henry charles. the inquisition of the middle ages. new york: citadel press, 1963.

netanyahu, b. the origins of the inquisition. new york: random house, 1995.

russell, jeffrey burton. witchcraft in the middle ages. ithaca, n.y.: cornell university press, 1972.

swain, john. the history of torture. new york: award books, 1969.

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WITCHCRAFT. Despite a generation of excellent research, the history of witchcraft remains bedeviled by a host of misperceptions. Ordinary readers often assume that the major witch-hunts occurred in the Middle Ages, that they were conducted by the Catholic Church, and that they reflected the prescientific notions and sexual fantasies of fanatics and neurotics. Elsewhere one can read that huge chain reaction witch trials constituted a "women's holocaust" accounting for millions of deaths, and that the witch-hunters especially targeted midwives and female healers. All of these conclusions are both wrong and misleading. The great age of witchcraft trials came after 1430, and primarily after 1570. The prosecuting magistrates were almost always secular officials, imbued with the best thinking of prominent theologians, philosophers, and even scientists. The numbers of those executed have often been exaggerated by a factor of one or two hundred. Men made up perhaps a quarter of those executed, and there is little evidence that midwives or healers were singled out for suspicion anywhere. But historical prejudices are hard to uproot.


Depending on one's definition, various histories of witchcraft are defensible. It was once common, for example, to understand the crime of witchcraft as consisting essentially of having a pact with the devil, an agreement in which one exchanged one's eternal soul for monstrous powers. Such a crime of diabolism had not existed in the ancient world and only slowly emerged from the medieval campaign against magic and heresy, especially against medieval heretics such as the Cathars and Waldensians, groups who challenged both Catholic doctrines and papal jurisdiction. By the late fourteenth century, however, canon lawyers, prominent inquisitors, learned academics, and several popes came to agree that by means of a contract with the devil, whether explicit or only implicit, a magician might work genuine harm in this world. These theorists also gradually worked out a composite view of all the different sorts of crimes and activities their heresy involved. It was increasingly believed that witch-heretics flew off to a "sabbath" where they renounced their Christian faith and baptism, worshipped the devil, danced together, and enjoyed a cannibalistic feast, devouring children whom they had killed while using their fat or other body parts to make loathsome potions. They were also thought to receive instruction in working harmful magic by which they might destroy their neighbors' crops, interfere with the fertility of their cattle, and with the sex lives of those around them. Most luridly, witches were thought to have sexual relations with the devil or with lesser demons. During the fifteenth century large numbers of heretical "witches" or sorcerers began to be discovered, and increasingly they were women.

Another definition of witchcraft emphasizes the continuity of magical practices that witches had used in the West ever since classical times and the similarities between such practices and those found all around the world. On such an understanding, witchcraft is the belief in and use of unusual, secret, or even supernatural forces in order to force or promote specific desired ends. The ancient Greeks had believed in such magic but had not seen it as much of a daily threat. They originally thought that "magic" (mageia) was the strange, foreign religious practice of Persian priests (the magi) and of beggars or other dishonorable Greeks. Magic seemed both alien and disreputable. In Greek literature, the figure of the witch included characters such as Circe and Medea, women who used destructive magic to express their anger, lust, and frustration, but magic does not seem to have been a prominent fear among the Greeks. With the ancient Romans, however, harmful magic (maleficium) was forbidden in the earliest set of laws (the Twelve Tables, 451 B. C.E.) and was punished with increasing severity. The Roman historian Livy (History 39.41.5 and 40.43.2f) recounts episodes when apparently thousands of persons were executed by jittery judicial officials, and, in the late first century C.E., the Romans began to crack down on fraudulent magicae vanitates ('worthless magic'), practices that included healing, divination, and astrology. Thus, this understanding of witchcraft did not require a devil or a pact but insisted on the dangers lurking in the hidden practices of lustful and vengeful witches.

A third notion of witchcraft may be found in the injunctions of the Old Testament, in which the authors of Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Kings, for example, forbade necromancy and divination, practices that competed with the rituals of the Levites and sacrificial priests while also challenging God's sovereignty over the dead and the future. From this point of view, witchcraft represented not diabolism or a physical danger but an abomination, not a conspiracy in league with the devil but impiety, a denial of God's omnipotent control over blessings, punishments, and history (and hence the future as well); such witchcraft constituted an attempt to gain knowledge or advantages that were for God alone. Over time the Israelites intensified their prohibitions against magic, sorcery, divination, and consulting the dead (necromancy), which all hinted at popular polytheism during the exilic and post-exilic period.

All of these notions of witchcraft blended together in various proportions during the late Middle Ages and early modern periods. Some jurists and demonologists were more concerned about a supposed Satanic conspiracy, whose goal seemed to be the destruction of humankind and Christianity. Others remained convinced that witches were primarily a physical danger to their neighbors. Still others were inspired by the image of idolatrous or irreligious magicians who did not constitute a physical danger to anyone and were not members of some hideous conspiracy, but were committed to "heathenish practices" and to foretelling the future by means of astrology, numerology, or other illicit means. In the seventeenth century some writers began to think that the basic crime of witchcraft consisted in being antisocial, regardless of any actual harm done or religious error.


In the early Middle Ages, these components had not yet blended to any extent, and so one finds approaches to the crime of witchcraft concentrating on the old Roman or Germanic fear of harmful magic, while churchmen felt free to express deep skepticism about other elements of witchcraft. In perhaps the most important early medieval text, the Canon Episcopi (c. 910; "Bishops," a title taken from the first word of this admonition), Regino of Prüm condemned maleficium ('wrongdoing') and sortilegium (harmful magic and 'fortune-telling') harshly in his first paragraph, but also went on to express deep doubts about the stories told of women who supposedly went out at night to ride on the backs of beasts with the goddess Diana. Such persons were dreaming or hallucinating, he thought, and any Christian who believed these tales was guilty of conceding too much power to a pagan goddess. This canon found a prominent place in Gratian's Decretum (1140; Resolution), the most important medieval codification of canon law. From then on, all commentators had to concede that anyone who thought he or she flew might well be deluded.

Following the notion of witchcraft as diabolical heresy, one can trace the rise to prominence of an ecclesiastically flavored fear of a new and growing sect of witches. In the early fourteenth century, Pope John XXII (reigned 13161334), for example, repeatedly condemned his enemies for using charms, wax figures, and incantations in their efforts to kill him. In a couple of papal bulls aimed at combating these threats, Pope John widened the understanding of heresy to claim that sorcery involved heresy and a pact with the devil. It was once thought that his reign also witnessed the beginnings of large-scale witchcraft trials with hundreds of executions in southern France, but research in the mid-1970s established that the sources purportedly describing these trials are in fact nineteenth-century forgeries. Consequently, historians over the past twenty-five years have relocated the beginnings of major witch-hunts to the fifteenth century, and especially to the 1430s.


The earliest trials seem to have sprung up around Lake Geneva, to the east in the Valais and Vaud, to the north in Fribourg, Neuchâtel, and Basel, and to the southeast in Leventina (Ticino) and Valle d'Aosta (Italy). During that decade, several authors elaborated the notion of the witches' sabbath and expressed a sharpened sense of the dangers of a witches' conspiracy. For example, the Dominican Johannes Nider (c. 13801438) wrote extensively in favor of church reform and against witchcraft. Although he maintained a skeptical attitude toward the flight of witches, he helped propagate the view that witches assembled for dancing, feasting, and sexual orgies and for murdering babies and eating their flesh. Gradually the notion took hold that witches gathered regularly at meetings called sabbaths or synagogues, terms that make the parallel with Jewish assemblies obvious. Frequently, however, these newly detected witches were seen as analogous to medieval heretics, especially to the Cathars and Waldensians. One treatise (c. 1450) described the "heresies" of the witches under the title Errores Gazariorum (The errors of the Cathars, referring to the dualist heretics), while many texts referred to fifteenth-century witches as Vaudois (Waldensians, another prominent medieval heresy). Although the concept of witchcraft drew on ideas of how medieval Jews and heretics were organized, there is no credible evidence that the European witchcraft trials were actually directed at Jews or surviving pockets of heresy or paganism.


By the late fifteenth century many ecclesiastical writers had concluded that witchcraft was a fairly new heresy with its origins in the 1380s. In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII (reigned 14841492) issued a papal bull, Summis desiderantes affectibus, reporting the wide extent of the threat and authorizing two Dominicans, Jacob Sprenger (c. 14361495) and Heinrich Kramer (for centuries called Institoris [Latin for 'merchant']; c. 14301505) as inquisitors to root out the heretics, especially in southern Germany and in the alpine regions of Tyrol. Secular magistrates were to cease obstructing their efforts and offer their assistance. Despite the bull, Kramer continued to have trouble prosecuting witches, partly because of continued secular and ecclesiastical resistance to his haughty and brutal methods. In the diocese of Constance, Kramer seems to have over-seen the conviction and execution of at least forty-eight women, but at Ravensburg he secured the conviction of only two, while many other suspects were released. In 1485, Bishop Georg II Golser of Bressanone quashed Kramer's investigations at Innsbruck and exiled Kramer, noting that he seemed credulous, unethical, and perhaps crazy in his use of torture and in his wild imaginings of what witches did.

While licking his wounds, Kramer composed what is perhaps the most famous treatise on witchcraft, the Malleus Maleficarum (late 1486 or early 1487; The hammer of witches), in an effort to justify his fear that witchcraft was gaining ground against Christendom and that lustful women were naturally attracted or seduced into a life of devil worship, demonic sex, and harmful magic. Historians have often thought that the more distinguished Cologne theologian and coinquisitor, Jacob Sprenger, was the coauthor of this book, but the evidence for this collaboration is thin. It is worth noting that Kramer's Malleus never embodied accepted Catholic doctrine and that Kramer himself, after being banned from Innsbruck, was rusticated to the mission fields of Bohemia, where he died in obscurity in 1505.

In the Malleus Kramer laid out both the new theological understanding of witchcraft and the harsh inquisitorial methods by which one could force suspects to confess and to implicate others in their heresy-crime. Kramer also pleaded successfully for the intervention of secular officials in the prosecution of witchcraft, and, indeed, after 1500 most of the trials north of the Mediterranean were run by secular magistrates and according to secular laws. The vast majority of witchcraft executions came at the hands of ordinary secular magistrates who enforced secular laws and did not follow the prescriptions or share the peculiar phobias of the Malleus.


Those who define witchcraft as a sort of heresy have often argued that by the end of the Middle Ages the construction of the crime was complete and that the great witch-hunts that followed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were only the automatic result of this late medieval construction. On this view, common among certain medievalists, the "great witch craze" merely combined this fantastic crime with the supposedly relentless procedures of the Inquisition. Those who have emphasized the nature of witchcraft as harmful magic, however, have thought that the emphasis on heresy and inquisition seriously underestimates the fear of witchcraft among humble villagers, who were always more concerned about their crops, herds, and families than any supposed deviations in belief, and point to the slow adoption of witchcraft statutes by the civil authorities of northern Europe. Emperor Charles V's (ruled 15191556) imperial penal code (Constitutio Criminalis Carolina, 1532; The criminal code of the Emperor Charles), valid for the whole Holy Roman Empire, described the crime in these words: "When someone harms people or brings them trouble by witchcraft, one should punish them with death, and one should use the punishment of death by fire. When, however, someone uses witchcraft and yet does no one any harm with it, that person should be punished otherwise, according to the custom of the case" (Article 109). There was no mention of pacts with the devil, no sabbath, cannibalism, flight, or heresy. This secular code was obviously most concerned with maleficium, 'harmful magic'.

A similar emphasis is visible in the English statute of 1563, which threatened the death penalty for any witchcraft, enchantment, charming, or sorcery if it resulted in the death of a human being; but if these dark arts were less successful (if the victim was maimed or if animals were killed), the witch was to be punished with only a year's imprisonment. Reduced penalties were introduced for the lesser crimes of using magic to find lost or stolen goods, or to incite someone to illicit love. Other secular states also continued to consider witchcraft as first and foremost an attack on others by magical, supernatural means; it was only in the seventeenth century that some of these northern European states finally adopted a fully diabolized understanding of witchcraft, one that made it a capital crime to "consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed, or reward any evil and wicked spirit to or for any intent or purpose," as the English statute of 1604 put it. Just as most secular states in northern Europe continued to place maleficium at the heart of witchcraft accusations, so too most jurisdictions under an ecclesiastical law (for example, the Mediterranean regions of Italy, Spain, and Portugal) persisted in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in seeing witchcraft mainly as a spiritual offense. But that did not mean that the inquisitorial regimes were fiercer. Rather, it meant that throughout southern Europe the scrutiny of witchcraft rumors, accusations, and confessions was more intense, and executions for the crime of witchcraft correspondingly scarce.


The wave of recent research into witchcraft trials across Europe has underscored dramatic variations from time to time and from place to place. No region was ever subject to a hundred years of terror; the worst witch-hunts came in waves or spasms, starting in the 1560s and 1570s in southern Germany and in Lorraine, rising again in the 1590s, again in the 1610s and late 1620s, and coming to an end in the 1660s. Across the Holy Roman Empire, the largest persecutions occurred in smaller territories, especially those under the secular jurisdiction of a prelate, an imperial abbot, or some other ecclesiastical administrator. The bishoprics and archbishoprics of Trier, Mainz, Cologne, Augsburg, Würzburg, Bamberg, and Eichstätt were among the fiercest in all of Europe, while the Duchy of Lorraine was perhaps the worst secular territory. Together they accounted for about 10,000 executions.

It was not only Catholic territories that proved to be zealous prosecutors of witchcraft. The Swiss territory of Vaud (under the general control of Bern) conducted perhaps the most extensive witchcraft trials in any Protestant land (perhaps 2,000 executed in all), but the reformed courts of Scotland probably executed 1,000 witches as well. Lutheran Mecklenburg, a land of splintered jurisdictions and widespread noble autonomy, may well have executed 2,000 of the approximately 3,700 persons tried there for witchcraft. In these large persecutions, village accusations of witchcraft usually proliferated in the wake of some climatic disaster, a late frost or a cold, rainy summer that ruined crops, as was common in Germany in 1626, "the year with no summer."

Magistrates responded to local pressures demanding punishment for the witches thought responsible for these disasters; by the seventeenth century some magistrates were ready to interpret such crop failures and the resulting famine as the consequence of a satanic conspiracy. Thus, village suspicions were reinforced by elite fears. In general, however, it appears that larger secular territories with better-developed appeals courts were able to contain the panic of witchcraft more effectively. The Electoral Palatinate, for example, never carried out witch-hunts of any magnitude, and Bavaria after the 1590s also displayed an increasing skepticism. The Parlement of Paris, the appeals court responsible for a huge jurisdiction that took in most of northern France, became increasingly skeptical from the 1580s onward and, after 1624, made the prosecution of witchcraft almost impossible. After a high point in much of Central Europe in the 1620s, another wave of witchcraft trials erupted in the 1660s from Germany north to Sweden, but then became rare except in Poland, where trials continued until about 1725. By then, witchcraft trials were long over elsewhere. It was long supposed that the last German execution for witchcraft occurred in 1775 in Kempten, but it is now known that the suspect there, though condemned, was not actually executed. In 1782 the Protestant canton of Uri executed a woman as a witch, and a few Polish trials resulted in executions even after that.

Witchcraft remained a crime mainly prosecuted in Catholic and Protestant Europe. The thoroughly developed notion of the pact with the devil was never introduced into the lands of Eastern Orthodoxy, so there were basically few trials (and no massive chain-reaction trials) in Russia. Even in Catholic Poland it appears that earlier accounts of huge witchcraft trials are seriously exaggerated. Suspicions of magic and a variety of other popular spiritual beliefs remained common among the Russian peasantry, however, right down to the twentieth century. Altogether, for all of Europe and over a period of about 300 years, scholars now estimate that perhaps 40,000 to 50,000 people were executed for the crime of witchcraft, a large number to be sure, but small compared to estimates that suggest nine million executions, a number for which there is no basis.

Variations in the severity of witch-hunts and punishments imposed on those accused of the crime-heresy of witchcraft seem to have depended on whether local convictions could be appealed to a distant (and usually more skeptical) court. Where local courts could act autonomously, local excesses were difficult to moderate. It may even be that the term witch-hunt is misleading because, in many of the worst cases, magistrates were not actively hunting anyone but were, instead, responding to accusations that bubbled up from neighborhood suspicions. In a surprising number of cases, the original accusations were launched by village women against one or more other women suspected, sometimes for decades, of causing local harm.


The third definition of witchcraft as impiety surfaced in early modern Europe among magistrates who reacted in horror at the "superstition" of common villagers whose impious attitudes, magical practices, illicit charms, and devotion to local magical healers or shamanlike prophets seemed to prove their adherence to irreligion and witchcraft. Such "superstitious" peasants seemed to deny God's omnipotence, omniscience, and sovereignty over the future and over all blessings and troubles. From this point of view, witchcraft accusations seem connected to efforts of churchmen and magistrates to enforce severe reforms of parish and devotional life. This pattern has been found in Friuli, north of Venice, among villagers who confessed that some of their neighbors regularly went forth "in the spirit" at night to combat the witches who threatened their fields.

Another study has examined the similar case of an alpine horse wrangler who confessed that he traveled with the "phantoms of the night" to learn the secrets of life and death and to gain healing powers. Pastors and priests, however, complained that their parishioners were too quick to blame their pains on witchcraft instead of recognizing the ways that God tested and punished them for their deviation from the devotion expected of them. So the common notion that ordinary people were "superstitious" did not automatically lead to charges of witchcraft among them. Instead, it often happened that elite judges sitting in provincial or national capitals disdained to take seriously accusations or convictions at the village level.


Much recent research has concentrated on the sociology of the victims of witchcraft trials. The old notion that midwives and popular healers were singled out for repression has faded in the light of evidence that most of those convicted were more often women and men who failed in their neighborly obligations. The fantasies and tensions that led some women to accuse other women of witchcraft, for example, have been examined. In the German lands and in Britain about three-quarters of the executed were women, but elsewhere the proportion of men could be higher. In northern France men and women seem to have been executed in about equal numbers, while in Iceland and Finland men made up the majority of convictions. It was once held that women were the targets of misogynistic (and supposedly celibate) inquisitors, but it has become clear that most magistrates responded to pressures for witch trials from below and that the Mediterranean lands of the Inquisition (together with Ireland) were among the safest places to suffer local suspicions. There is also little evidence that those suspected of witchcraft were mentally ill or "hysterical." Many of those convicted may, however, have seemed like "bad neighbors," quarrelsome or dangerous, isolated and suspected of harboring vengeful feelings toward fellow villagers.


There was never a time when "everyone believed in witchcraft." Even at the height of witchcraft trials, some people expressed doubts about the crime itself, about details (for example, whether witches could really fly to the sabbath), or about judicial procedures (whether torture could reliably force suspects to confess the truth). Johann Weyer (Wier; 15151588), personal physician to the Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, reacted to the renewal of witchcraft trials by publishing De Praestigiis Daemonum (1563; On the deceits of demons), which questioned whether the crime of witchcraft was even possible. Although Weyer conceded large powers to the devil, in his view magic could never be effective (and therefore maleficium could never harm anyone); no one could really have a binding pact with the devil, and so confessions of guilt suggested that the suspected witch (usually an old woman) was actually melancholy (mad). In 1584 Reginald Scot (1538?1599), a Kentish gentleman, published his Discoverie of Witchcraft, an even more radical rejection of witchcraft that questioned even the power of demons to produce wonders or harm of any sort. During the seventeenth century these sorts of skepticism were reinforced by a growing procedural skepticism of the sort expressed anonymously by Frederick Spee, S.J. (15911635), in his Cautio Criminalis (1631; A warning concerning criminal cases). Spee movingly criticized the brutal employment of torture, the reliance on perjured testimony, and twisted interpretations of the law, so that in his view no one once accused could expect to escape conviction. Doubts like these finally made an impression all across northern Europe, so that the secular courts there became as skeptical as the Roman and Spanish Inquisitions had been ever since the mid-sixteenth century. Only after witchcraft trials had almost died away did a more fundamental skepticism spread, a philosophical or theological doubt that spirits of any sort could have any physical effects in this world. Here we may point to the example of Balthasar Bekker (16341698), the Dutch reformed theologian, whose Betoverde Weereld (1691; The world bewitched) did not challenge the existence of demons but tried to show that they could not affect human affairs or the natural world. In his view the doctrine of demons had crept into Catholic Christianity from the pagans and needed to be thoroughly reformed. Christian Thomasius (16551728), a celebrated jurist of the University of Halle, took a similar position in De Crimine Magiae (1701; Regarding the crime of magic).

It is noteworthy that witchcraft remained controversial, at least among theologians, well after the crime of witchcraft was essentially no longer pursued. The Netherlands had ceased prosecuting this crime around 1600 and the Parlement of Paris had made witchcraft hard to prove by the early seventeenth century, but it was not until 1682 that King Louis XIV (ruled 16431715) prohibited witchcraft trials in France, while England did not abolish the crime until 1736, and Austria and Hungary waited until 1755 and 1768, respectively, for this step. Even after these legal reforms were imposed, certain theologians and many villagers continued to believe in magic and to fear the powers of witchcraft.

See also Astrology ; Charles V (Holy Roman Empire) ; Crime and Punishment ; Folk Tales and Fairy Tales ; Inquisition ; Magic ; Midwives ; Popular Culture ; Religious Piety ; Thomasius, Christian ; Women .


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H. C. Erik Midelfort

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Since the Middle Ages, witchcraft, the "Old Religion," or Wicca, the "ancient craft of the wise," all of which are different names for the same nature-based religion, has been unjustly, and for the most part purposely, interwoven with Satanism until, in popular thought, the two comprise a tapestry of confusion and misidentification. Wicca, in its contemporary expression, has evolved into what its followers term "neo-paganism," a concept reviewed in another section. The Old Religion, that which in the Middle Ages came to be known as witchcraft, is thought to have had its genesis in the later Paleolithic period, a time when early humans faced the elements and their environment with little more than their hands and a few crude tools of bone and stone to aid them in the struggle to survive. Like the other creatures around them, Stone Age humans had to adapt themselves constantly to changes in the weather, climate, and food supply. Having greater powers of perception, humankind's responses to these changes involved more than an instinctual change of habits or location. The human species could also wonder about the whys and wherefores of these things, and because of the remarkable facility of human imagination, these early men and women could ponder how these things might change for the better or worse in the future. As consciousness of humans increased, their world became more wonderful and more terrifying.

Primitive humans were primarily hunters. They needed the meat obtained from their prey, and they needed the animal skins for clothing. From the teeth and bones of the slaughtered animals, they fashioned simple tools and weapons. When the hunting was bad, they knew that their own existence was threatened. Why was the hunt successful at times and not at others? Perhaps there was a spirit who decided these things. If so, perhaps that spirit could be persuaded to control the hunt in favor of the human hunter.

In his classic work The Golden Bough (1890), Sir James George Frazer points out two factors influencing the nature of primitive religion:

  1. the older concept of a "view of nature as a series of events occurring in an invariable order without the intervention of personal agency"; and
  2. the later development that the "world is to a great extent worked by supernatural agents, that is, by personal beings acting on impulses and motives."

From the first concept arose the earliest rites of primitive religion consisting of sympathetic magic, which is based on the belief that something that resembles something else is able to become or attract that which it resembles, or a given cause always produces a certain effect. An example of such rites is the shaman's lighting of the ceremonial fire each morning to ensure the sun's rising. If the shaman lights his fire each morning, then the god who lights the great fire in the heavens must see and follow suit.

By a similar process Stone Age humans sought to ensure the success of the hunt. In Witchcraft from the Inside (1997), Raymond Buckland writes:

One man would represent the God and supervise the magick. As a God of Hunting, he was represented as being the animal being hunted. His representative, or priest, would therefore dress in an animal skin and wear a headdress of horns.

This God of the Hunt, then, is the Horned God pictured on the wall of the Caverne des Trois in southern France. At Le Tuc d'Audoubert, near the Caverne des Trois, archeologists found the clay figure of a bison. The figure shows a number of marks where spears were thrust into it during a ritual of sympathetic magic performed to ensure a successful hunt. According to Buckland: "A model of the animal to be hunted was made . . . and under the priest's direction, was attacked by the men of the tribe. Successful in 'killing' the clay animal, the men could thus go about after the real thing confident that the hunt would go exactly as acted before the God."

It is interesting to note the association of horns with divinity, a condition that finds expression in numerous strange and seemingly unassociated places. It is not difficult to associate the horned headdresses worn by the shamans of various tribal societies with the concept of a God of the Hunt. The headpieces of many ancient rulers, including the pharaohs of Egypt, include horns either of realistic or stylized design. Although the religion of the biblical Israelites was represented as distinctly antipagan, their sacrifices were offered on horned altars. The two bronze altars in Solomon's (10th century b.c.e.) temple were equipped with horns, as was the altar at the shrine of the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem before Solomon. Most curious of all, however, is Michaelangelo's (14751564) famous statue of Moses (14th13th century b.c.e.), which depicts him with horns, thereby causing his head and face to bear a remarkable resemblance to Cerrnunos, as the Celts named the Horned God.

Because of the importance of human and animal fertility, the Horned God was soon joined by a goddess, whose purpose it was to ensure the success of all reproductive activities. She was also the goddess who oversaw the birth of human and animal progeny. At a later date, when primitive religious thought had evolved to the point of belief in some form of continuation after death, the goddess oversaw human and animal death as well.

With the advent of agriculture, the goddess was called upon to extend her powers to ensure fertility of the crops. From this point on, the figure of the goddess began to overshadow that of the Horned God. A population that did not have to keep on the move increased rapidly, and soon a portion of the human tribes began to move out of the Tigris-Euphrates valley, the so-called cradle of civilization, and spread northward to what is now Europe and Asia. To the west, the fertile valley of the Nile proved an attractive site to agricultural peoples. And as humankind moved, their gods moved with them.

The population of medieval Europe had descended from the central Asian plateau. Centuries ago, they had strained against the barriers that the Roman legions had set against them until they had finally broken through and flooded the continent. Christianity and "civilized" ways were unknown to them at first, and they brought their own gods, customs, and rituals into the land. At the dissolution of the Roman Empire, the civilizing force in Europe became the Roman Catholic Church, and even though the ecclesiastical institution made great inroads into the pagan culture, it could not completely wash away the old rituals and nature worship.

Surviving the Roman Empire socially in the Middle Ages was the oppressive feudal system. Once-proud warriors were reduced to the role of serf farmers, and although they resented such a docile status, they were forced by necessity to accept it. Partially because of the frustrations of the common people and partially because of the tenacity of long-conditioned customs, the celebration of nature worship and various adaptations of the ancient mystery religions came to be practiced in secret. On those occasions when such seasonal nature celebrations were witnessed by members of the Christian clergy, the gatherings were condemned as expressions of witchcraft and were named "black sabbats," to distinguish the ceremonies as the complete opposite of the true and holy Sabbath days. The Horned God was deemed to be Satan, and the goddess believed to be Diana, goddess of the moon and the hunt.

For the serfs, the observance of the old nature worship was an expression of their conscious or unconscious yen to throw off the yoke of feudalism. The rulers had imposed the Christian God and the Christian ethic. The nobility and high church officials realized that such celebrations could only lead eventually to a rebellious and uncontrollable populace. The popularity of the pagan celebrations rose to its greatest height in the period of 1200 to the Renaissance. During this period, Europe was devastated and depopulated by famines, the ill-fated Crusades, and the black death.

Raymond Buckland feels that it is the naturalness and simplicity of the Old Religion that continues to hold great appeal for the individual who has become alienated by the pomp and ceremony and exclusivity of orthodox religion, as well as the small size of the "congregation." A coven of witches consists of no more than 12 members, the high priest or high priestess bringing the number up to the traditional 13.

"Witchcraft is very much a religion of participation," Buckland said. "Rather than being a spectator sitting in a pew at the back of a church, you are right there in the middle of things, participating."

It was in their enjoyment of the excitement and vigor of the Old Religion that the peasants could allow themselves the luxury of experiencing pleasure without the interference of the church, which sought to control and repress even human emotions. But it was that same expression of seeing the divine in all of the creator's works that brought the wrath of the church down upon the witches in the terrible form of the Inquisition.

Delving Deeper

Buckland, Raymond. Witchcraft from the Inside. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1995.

Frazer, Sir James George. The New Golden Bough. Edited by Theodor H. Gaster. New York: Criteri on Books, 1959.

Grimassi, Raven. Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 2000.

Michelet, Jules. Satanism and Witchcraft. New York: Citadel Press, 1960.

Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1972.

Seligmann, Kurt. The History of Magic. New York: Pantheon Books, 1948.

Trevor-Roper, H. R. The European Witch-Craze. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.


The concept of certain spirit beings who assist a magician or a witch undoubtedly hearkens back to the totem animal guides that attended the ancient shamans, for the familiars express themselves most often in animal forms. The black cat, for instance, has become synonymous in popular folklore as the traditional companion of the witch. Attendant upon such a sorcerer as the legendary Cornelius Agrippa is the image of the black dog or the dark-haired wolf.

The ancient Greeks called upon the predrii, spirit beings who were ever at hand to provide assistance to the physicians or magicians. In Rome, the seers and soothsayers asked their familiars or magistelli to provide

supernatural assistance in their performance of magic and predictions. In many lands where the Christian missionaries planted their faith, various saints provided an acceptable substitute for the ancient practice of asking favors or help from the witches' familiar. Interestingly, many of the saints of Christendom are identified by an animal symbol, for example, the dog with St. Bernard; the lion with St. Mark; the stag with St. Eustace; and the crow with St. Anthony. However, in those regions where the country folk and rural residents persisted in calling upon their familiars, the church decreed the spirit beings to be demons sent by Satan to undermine the work of the clergy. All those accused of possessing a familiar or relying on it for guidance or assistance were forced to recant such a devilish partnership or be in danger of the torture chamber and the stake. While the much-loved St. Francis of Assisi was often represented symbolically by a wolf, if any of the common folk identified the wolf as their personal totem or guide, such a declaration would be taken as proof that they were witches who had the ability to shapeshift into a werewolf.

Delving Deeper

Grimassi, Raven. Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 2000.

Michelet, Jules. Satanism and Witchcraft. New York: Citadel Press, 1960.

Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1972.

Seligmann, Kurt. The History of Magic. New York: Pantheon Books, 1948.

Walker, Barbara G. The Woman's Dictionary of Sym bols and Sacred Objects. Edison, N.J.: Castle Books, 1988.

The InquisitionThe Time of the Burning

The Inquisition came into existence in 1231 with the Excommunicamus of Pope Gregory IX (c. 11701241), who at first urged local bishops to become more vigorous in ridding Europe of heretics, then lessened their responsibility for determining orthodoxy by establishing inquisitors under the special jurisdiction of the papacy. The office of inquisitor was entrusted primarily to the Franciscans and the Dominicans, because of their reputation for superior knowledge of theology and their declared freedom from worldly ambition. Each tribunal was ordered to include two inquisitors of equal authority, who would be assisted by notaries, police, and counselors. Because they had the power to excommunicate even members of royal houses, the inquisitors were formidable figures with whom to reckon. In 1257, the church officially sanctioned torture as a means of forcing witches, sorcerers, shapeshifters, and other heretics to confess their alliance with Satan.

The Inquisition became a kind of hideous industry. It employed judges, jailers, torturers, exorcists, woodchoppers, and experts to destroy the evil ones who were threatening the ruling powers. "Witch persecutorswere craftsmen with a professional pride," Kurt Seligmann wrote in The History of Magic (1948). "A hangman grew melancholic when a witch resisted him unduly. That was akin to a personal offense. In order to save face he let the accused die under the torture, and thus his honor was not impaired, for the blame for the killing would then rest on the devil.The business became so prosperous that the hangmen's wives arrayed themselves in silk robes.For every witch burned, the hangman received an honorarium. He was not allowed to follow any other profession, therefore he had to make the best of his craft."

It was not long before the torturers had discovered a foolproof method for perpetuating their gory profession. Under torture, nearly any witch could be forced to name a long string of her "fellow witches," thereby turning the trial of a single individual into an ordeal for more than a hundred. One inquisitor boasted: "Give me a bishop, and I would soon have him confessing to being a wizard!" Another declared that the Holy Inquisition was the only alchemy that really worked, for the inquisitors had found the secret of transmuting human blood into gold.

The Jesuit Friedrich von Spee (15911635) became an opponent of the witchcraft trials in 1630 when the wise Duke of Brunswick brought him and a fellow priest into a torture chamber. As the duke and the two fathers, champions of the cause of the Inquisition, stood beside a confessed witch, who was being tortured further for her increased good of soul, the German nobleman asked the priests if, in their consciences, they could say that the Holy Tribunals were doing God's work. When the Jesuits answered loudly in the affirmative, the duke asked the poor woman on the rack to look carefully at his companions. "I suspect them of being witches," he said. With this, he indicated that the wretch be stretched another notch on the rack. At once she began screaming that the two devout fathers were agents of Satan, that she had seen them copulating with succubi and serpents and had dined with them on roasted baby at the last Sabbat.

Later, in an anti-Inquisition work, Father Spree declared: "Often I have thought that the only reason why we are not all wizards is due to the fact that we have not all been tortured. And there is truth in what an inquisitor dared to boast, that if he could reach the Pope, he would make him confess that he was a wizard."

By the late sixteenth century, the power of the Inquisition was beginning to wane. In 1563, Johann Weyer (Weir) (15151588), a critic of the Inquisition, managed to publish De praestigus daemonum in which he argued that while Satan does seek to ensnare and destroy human beings, the charges that accused witches, werewolves, and vampires possessed supernatural powers were false. Such abilities existed only in their minds and imaginations. However, as if to provide an antidote to Weyer's call for a rational approach to dealing with accusations of witchcraft, in 1580 the respected intellectual Jean Bodin, often referred to as the Aristotle of the sixteenth century, wrote De La demonomanie des sorciers, a book that argued that witches truly possessed demonic powers and caused the flames once again to burn high around thousands of heretics' stakes.

With the spread of Protestantism through Europe, Pope Paul III (14681549) established the Congregation of the Inquisition (also known as the Roman Inquisition and the Holy Office) in 1542 which consisted of six cardinals, including the reformer Gian Pietro Cardinal Carafa (14751559). Although their powers extended to the whole church, the Holy Office was less concerned about heresies and false beliefs of church members than they were with misstatements of orthodoxy in the academic writings of its theologians. When Carafa became Pope Paul IV in 1555, he approved the first Index of Forbidden Books (1559) and vigorously sought out any academics who were prompting any thought that offended church doctrine or favored Protestantism.

Although organized witchcraft trials continued to be held throughout Europe and even the American colonies until the late seventeenth century, they were most often civil affairs and the Inquisition had little part in such ordeals. However, the Holy Office continued to serve as the instrument by which the papal government regulated church order and doctrine, and it did try and condemn Galileo (15641642) in 1633. In 1965, Pope Paul VI (18971978) reorganized the Holy Office and renamed it the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

For many years and in dozens of books and articles on witches and Wicca, the number of innocent people executed for the practice of witchcraft during the four centuries of active persecution has been estimated as high as nine million. In 1999, Jenny Gibbons released the results of her research in the autumn issue of PanGaia in which she verified that overall, approximately 75 percent to 80 percent of those accused of witchcraft were women, but to date (circa 1999) an examination of the official trial records of the witchcraft trials indicate that less than 15,000 definite executions occurred in all of Europe and America combined. The period of the heaviest persecutions of witches occurred during the 100 years between 1550 and 1650, Gibbons reported, and the total number of men and women accused of witchcraft who were actually hanged or burned probably did not exceed 40,000.

Wiccan author and scholar Margot Adler has noted that the source of the oft-quoted nine million witches put to death was first used by a German historian in the late eighteenth century who took the number of people killed in a witch hunt in his own German state and multiplied by the number of years various penal statutes existed, then reconfigured the number to correspond to the population of Europe. "It serves no end to perpetuate the miscalculation," Adler commented. "It's time to put away the exaggerated numbers forever."

Delving Deeper

Adler, Margot. "A Time for Truth: Wiccans Struggle with Information that Revises Their History." beliefnet. [Online]

Gibbons, Jenny. "A New Look at the Great European Witch Hunt" (excerpted from "The Great European Witch Hunt," published in the Autumn 1999 issue of PanGaia ). beliefnet [Online]

Lea, Henry Charles. The Inquisition of the Middle Ages. New York: Citadel Press, 1963.

Netanyahu, B. The Origins of the Inquisition. New York: Random House, 1995.

Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1972.

Seligmann, Kurt. The History of Magic. New York: Pantheon Books, 1948.

Trevor-Roper, H. R. The European Witch-Craze. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.


The Sabbat is a day of ascendancy for witches. In the European countrysides during the Middle Ages, the eight festival observances took on immense importance as thousands of peasants, common people, and members of the lesser nobility attended the seasonal celebrations. The Sabbats mark the passage of the year as it moves through its seasons: Samhain begins the year for those who follow the ways of witchcraft, and it occurs near October 31. Yule marks the Winter Solstice and is celebrated near December 21, the longest, darkest night of the year. Candlemas, observed on February 2, is the festival of the Goddess Brigid. The Spring Equinox happens around March 21 and is a powerful time of magic. Beltane, May 1, celebrates love and oneness. The Summer Solstice, occurring around June 21, is also a time of power and strength of the deities of nature. August 1 recognizes Lammas, a time when fruit ripens and there are signs that harvest is near. The Fall Equinox, near or on September 21, celebrates a balance between light and dark, night and day.

In the Middle Ages, the Christian influence, so visible during the day, seemed to vanish at night as great groups of people gathered around a statue of the Horned God and began professing their allegiance to the great deities of nature. To staunch Christians, this horned image was an obscene representation of Satan, a black, grotesque figure that was fiendishly lit by the roaring fire in front of it. In the flickering light, the torso of the figure appeared to be human while the head, hands, and feet were shaped like those of a goat and covered with coarse, black hair. The altar beneath the image of the Horned God was constructed of stones, and the ceremony performed was intricate.

Although there was plenty of food and beer, many scholars of witchcraft believe that the high priests and priestesses took advantage of the entranced state of most of the worshippers and spiked the drinks with belladonna or other drugs. The crowd was then easily whipped into an intoxicated frenzy, which tended to free the inhibitions of the celebrants. At the peak of the collective emotions, the crowd acted as a single person and began almost automatically to dance the hypnotic witches' round. As the dance continued, the cathartic influence of the entire celebration magnified the energy of each individual until all of them forgot their own personality in expression of worship of the Horned God and the Goddess.

The Sabbat dance, or, as it is commonly known, the witches' round, was performed with the dancers moving in a back-to-back position with their hands clasped and their heads turned so that they might see each other. A wild dance such as this, which was essentially circular in movement, would need little help from the drugged drinks to bring about a condition of vertigo in the most hearty of dancers. The celebration lasted the entire night, and the crowd did not disperse until the crowing of the cock the following morning.

Reports of regular celebrations of the various Sabbats came from all over Europe. An estimated 25,000 attended such rituals in the countrysides of southern France and around the Black Forest region of Germany. As rumors of even larger gatherings spread throughout the land, the nobility and the churchmen decided to squelch such expressions out of existence with the use of the hideous machinery of the Inquisition. Even the most innocent amusements of the serfs were taken away. In the face of such large-scale persecutions, the mass meeting celebrations of the Sabbat were made impossible. But even though great pressure was brought to bear on such outward manifestations of the rituals, the Sabbats were still performed in modified versions in the private fields, orchards, and cellars of the peasants.

Delving Deeper

Buckland, Raymond. Witchcraft from the Inside. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1995.

Grimassi, Raven. Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 2000.

Michelet, Jules. Satanism and Witchcraft. New York: Citadel Press, 1960.

Murray, Margaret. The God of the Witches. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1960.

Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1972.

Seligmann, Kurt. The History of Magic. New York: Pantheon Books, 1948.

Trevor-Roper, H. R. The European Witch-Craze. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.

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The word witchcraft is used in many different ways. The word witch is derived from Old English wicca (masc., "wizard") and wicce (fem., "witch"). The term wiccan ("witchcraft") referred to human acts intended to influence nature, usually through the use of power unavailable to all human beings. This use of the word witchcraft is synonymous with the more general word magic. The acts associated with witchcraft were sometimes called spells (Old English "talk, tale"). The person could conduct these acts for his or her benefit, or for others who did not have access to the necessary power. In contemporary academic work and in popular culture, however, it is still generally assumed that the influence or change resulting from the act is harmful. With these negative associations, witchcraft is also used for diabolism, acts performed with the assistance of the devil. Other acts, those that attempt to influence nature in a beneficial way, are usually not considered. Witchcraft also refers to ideas and practices believed to influence nature that emerged in the twentieth century, largely in Europe and North America, sometimes referred to as neo-paganism. This use of witchcraft is similar to the one derived from the Old English wiccan.

Witchcraft is the term most commonly used in the social science literature, and the practices it refers to can be found in all societies. Over the years there has been some debate about the similarities and differences between the practices of witchcraft and sorcery, and in the social sciences there are several traditions. Studies conducted in Asia tend to use the term sorcery for the practices referred to by magic, while studies in South America use shamanism in a similar way. Studies in Africa use both sorcery and witchcraft, and the use of both terms usually assumes that the magical acts are intended to be harmful.

In the twentieth century, there were debates about whether different terms should be applied to rituals that were conducted with and without the assistance of spirits. There were also discussions about distinguishing between practitioners whose power was innate and those who learned the knowledge and skills from existing practitioners. In the social sciences, it is generally assumed that both witchcraft and sorcery can be used interchangeably, but it is important for the scholar to explain the particular way each term is being used, as well as its relationship to local terms.

The Social and Political History of Witchcraft in Europe

The ancient Greeks made distinctions among forms of magic, although they differ from the categories found in contemporary thought. The Greeks considered all magic to be performed with the assistance of spirit entities called diamones ("demons") that could be either harmful or helpful. During the Hellenistic period, a new belief emerged that developed the notion that evil spirits were led by Satan. Christians then began to divide the diamones into good angels and harmful demons. People involved in magic were thought to use the power of demons. During the Renaissance, this idea expanded into a full-fledged belief in diabolical witchcraft. The idea of the devil in Christianity overshadowed all other ideas concerning magic, and the fear of witchcraft took a central place in the religious imagination.

During the period of the European witch craze (14501700), many beliefs and practices rooted in paganism and folklore came to be associated with influences from the devil. The idea of diabolical witchcraft also came to be applied to medieval heretics, who were imagined to be involved in a pact with witches and with Satan himself. In Spain and its colonies, the Inquisition, which provided a legal forum for persecuting those identified as witches and heretics, further collapsed the concepts of magic and diabolical witchcraft. Gradually, any form of magic came to be viewed in Europe as diabolical witchcraft.

During the witch craze, patterns in accusation show that the accused generally had a low social status, already had been faulted for other transgressions, and exhibited difficult personality traits. Many were practitioners of medicine, and a disproportionately large number were women, as discussed below. Although there were no witch hunts in Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many colonial societies developed new versions of witchcraft laws that were used to stigmatize the religious ideas and practices of colonized peoples.

The Functions of Witchcraft

In the 1940s and 1950s sociologists and anthropologists explored the many positive functions of witchcraft and illustrated them with detailed studies. As E. E. Evans-Pritchard (19021973) observed in his classic study of the belief in witches in an African society, the Azande, witchcraft can be understood as an explanation for unfortunate events. That explanation enabled people to maintain a sense of control over their lives and feel that they understood their world. Understandings about witchcraft could also help to define values and moral standards in a society.

The ideas that a society creates about witches can be seen to support norms and values in that society, and, when analyzed along with a structural model of the society, can also provide insights into the organization of the culture and society. Ideas about the negative characteristics of the witch can be a way to guide behavior, as functionalist anthropologists argued in a series of studies showing that the belief in witchcraft served as a social control mechanism. In his work on the Navajo, Clyde Kluckholn found that the fear of becoming the victim of witchcraft encouraged them to cooperate, share resources, and minimize public displays of anger. The socially permitted form of aggression toward the witch allowed other hostilities to be displaced onto an individual, a useful outlet in situations where in-group hostilities could threaten the survival of the group or damage people's abilities to act collectively.

The central problem with studies that assumed a cohesive function for witchcraft was that, like other functional analyses, the theory could not be proved or falsified. Some sociologists and anthropologists such as Max Marwick were more interested in analyzing the social basis of witchcraft accusations and the life conditions that placed particular strain on these relationships. Against the dominant functionalist trend, Robert Murphy proposed that beliefs about witchcraft and accusations could have disruptive effects. Working with the Mundurucú in Brazil, he found that witchcraft accusations, combined with a rubber economic boom, created group divisions and family migration, which eventually supported a more dispersed settlement pattern. From her comparative analysis of African Studies, Mary Douglas (1963) came to a similar conclusion.

It has been observed that people in relatively marginal positions in society might be able to use witchcraft, or the threat of witchcraft, as a form of social power. The relatively weak could then influence people with more power or wealth to redistribute it and minimize some of the inequalities in the society. In his study of the Maka in Cameroon, Peter Geschiere shows that witchcraft can work both to promote accumulation and leveling.

Symbolic and Ideological Aspects of Witchcraft

Largely through the influence of Claude Lévi-Strauss's structuralist approach, anthropologists have placed great emphasis on the position of witches in symbolic systems. In ethnographic studies, it has often been observed that witches are associated with the left hand and with wild or nondomestic realms, and are placed in opposition to the moral standards of a society. Actors' understandings of witchcraft are extremely important, although most anthropologists are cautious in interpreting these exegeses, placing them within more comprehensive analyses that also examine symbolic meanings more generally, as well as their relationship to the social, political, and economic processes in the society. This approach is best shown in the work of Bruce Knauft in New Guinea.

Scholarship has also explored the role of witchcraft beliefs in diverting people's attention from economic and political explanations for untoward events. This kind of argument, similar to Karl Marx's (18181883) understanding of ideology, claims that witchcraft as a form of explanation functions to maintain the existing sociopolitical structure of a society. According to George Bond, witchcraft explanations in Muyombe, Zambia, work to obfuscate the changing labor and property relationships among villagers. While their participation in accusations emphasizes their common membership in the community, it deemphasizes their increasingly unequal economic status.

Witchcraft and Gender Relations

Scholarly works from many different societies and time periods have shown that witch-finding rituals, popularly called witch hunts, are used by more powerful segments of a society to persecute people who are opponents or who present a threat to established power. Christina Larner shows that in sixteenth-and seventeenth-century England the church and state entered new forms of cooperation and identification that especially targeted women as witches. Her explanation is that men identified themselves as the proper professional group to offer healing services, and women were persecuted because their healing traditions competed with this new system.

It is important to understand that the disproportionate number of women targeted by European and American witchcraft accusations should not be taken to mean that this focus is a universal. In some societies, men are more commonly accused of witchcraft and represent that society's ideal witch. Diane Ciekawy (1999) shows that among Mijikenda in Kenya witchcraft accusations are primarily directed toward men. In her analysis of the witchcraft accusation process, women collect evidence and shape ideas about culpability in the homestead, thereby wielding a great deal of power. The work of Rosalind Shaw with Temne women in Sierra Leone illustrates the ways that women are active agents in diviner consultations. She shows how women can select from diviner consultations the explanations for their problems that they most favor. These chosen explanations can resist patriarchal explanations that disadvantage them or create less favorable power relations.

Witchcraft: Questions of Translation and Meaning

Scholars continue to debate the question of how well scholarly concepts like witchcraft convey the meanings of local terms, and how much a term like witchcraft can reduce the diversity and complexity of ideas and actions to which it is applied. Regarding the history of scholarship around the terms magic, sorcery, and witchcraft, we see that, although magic can be indigenously conceived as having both harmful and helpful potentials, the latter can be deemphasized by scholars who are more interested in its harmful potential. While these questions are not entirely newboth Victor Turner and Malcolm Crick encouraged anthropologists to use local terms and their specific meanings as much as possible in their workcurrent scholarship is more sensitive to the possibility of misrepresenting the cultures it attempts to describe. In view of the political history of witch hunts in Europe, and the ways non-Christian religious ideas and practices were demonized, it is possible to ask if a similar process continues in the structure of contemporary academic discourse.

Some scholars regard witchcraft as a discourse of power that requires knowledge about the historical and ethnographic conditions that shape understandings about it. This might entail a more careful analysis of the semantic range of terms for magic and harmful magic, with an attempt to separate local discourses from wider regional or national ones. Ciekawy (1998) does this in her analysis of the application of the Witchcraft Act in colonial and postcolonial coastal Kenya. She describes different words that Mijikenda people use for harmful magic: utsai is a Kimijikenda term, the kiSwahili words are uchawi and ulozi, and some people use witchcraft. Mijikenda employ these terms in different contexts. She concludes that, for conceptual and analytical purposes, the terms must be distinguished because utsai refers to a discourse on harmful magic that is created and operates within local social and political settings largely under the control of Mijikenda who use them, while witchcraft is best understood as a technology of power that emerged under European colonialism, supported largely through discourses of mission Christianity and colonial law and administration.

Witchcraft as a Discourse of Power

Jeanne Favret-Saada's study of witchcraft in the Bocage of western France examines the power of words used by people to talk about witchcraft. She distinguishes this approach to witchcraft as power from its more conventional use in anthropology as knowledge or information, pointing out that in the Bocage there is no neutral position that a person can have when it concerns such socially and politically powerful speech. She also questions the way academics have viewed witchcraft as the backward and untrue beliefs of people who do not use academic forms of reasoning. This is consistent with the general approach used to study many forms of magic offered by Arens and Karp. Rather than use the words magic and witchcraft, they advocate the use of the terms transformational capacity and power.

The Modernity of Witchcraft

Contemporary scholarly work indicates that the study of witchcraft is as relevant today as it has been in the past. Ideas about witchcraft address new circumstances and are very much a part of people's understanding of how their lives are connected to events and processes both near and far. It is common for witchcraft discourses to relate to the countryside, town, state, and world. Few current studies see witchcraft only as a social construction; it is also understood to be a concept that meaningfully provides people with a representation of the complexity of the order in which they live, including power and inequality, individual and collective interests, and resources and their allocation. Witchcraft addresses issues of globalization and transformations within the state, and continues to explain events and the mechanics of their integration into daily life. It is also important to remember that the constructions of witchcraft can be powerful realities, and have the ability to maintain or transform social relationships.

See also Anthropology ; Astrology: Overview ; Demonology ; Evil ; Gender Studies: Anthropology ; Heresy and Apostasy ; Magic ; Miracles ; Nature ; Superstition ; Witchcraft, African Studies of .


Arens, W., and Ivan Karp. Creativity of Power: Cosmology and Action in African Societies. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.

Bond, George. "Ancestors and Protestants: Religious Coexistence in the Social Field of a Zambian Community." American Ethnologist 14, no. 8 (1986): 5572.

Boyer, Paul S., and Stephen Nissenbaum. Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974.

Caro Baroja, Julio. The World of the Witches. Translated by O. N. V. Glendinning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964.

Ciekawy, Diane. "Witchcraft and Statecraft: Five Technologies of Power in Colonial and Postcolonial Coastal Kenya." African Studies Review 41, no. 3 (1998): 119141.

. "Women's 'Work' and the Construction of Witchcraft Accusation in Coastal Kenya." Women's Studies International Forum 22, no. 2 (1999): 225235.

Cohn, Norman R. C. Europe's Inner Demons: The Demonization of Christians in Medieval Christendom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Crick, Malcolm. Explorations in Language and Meaning: Towards a Semantic Anthropology. New York: Wiley, 1976.

Demos, John. Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Evans-Pritchard, E. E. Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande. Oxford: Clarendon, 1937.

Favret-Saada, Jeanne. Deadly Words: Witchcraft in the Bocage. Translated by Catherine Cullen. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Geschiere, Peter. The Modernity of Witchcraft: Politics and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997.

Kluckholn, Clyde. Navaho Witchcraft. Boston: Beacon, 1962. Originally published in 1944.

Knauft, Bruce M. Good Company and Violence: Sorcery and Social Action in a Lowland New Guinea Society. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

Larner, Christina. Witchcraft and Religion: The Politics of Popular Belief. Oxford: Blackwell, 1984.

Macfarlane, Alan. Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A Regional and Comparative Study. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970.

Mair, Lucy P. Witchcraft. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969.

Marwick, Max. Sorcery in Its Social Setting. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1965.

Middleton, John. Lugbara Religion: Ritual and Authority among an East African People. London: Oxford University Press, 1960.

Murphy, Robert F. Mundurucú Religion. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1958.

Russell, Jeffrey B. A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics, and Pagans. London: Thames and Hudson, 1980.

Shaw, Rosalind. "Gender and the Structuring of Reality in Temne Divination: An Interactive Study." Africa 53, no. 3 (1985): 286303.

Trevor-Roper, Hugh R. The European Witch-Craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, and Other Essays. New York: Harper and Row, 1969.

Turner, Victor. The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1967.

Diane Ciekawy

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witchcraft can be roughly defined as the power of a person to do harm or influence nature through occult means. It has been believed in by most known cultures. Indeed, the fact that belief in witchcraft and magic has largely been rejected in post Enlightenment Europe and North America could be seen as one of the distinguishing features of the cultures of those continents in modern times.

In its historical dimension, witchcraft is most familiar in the light of the period of the witch persecutions in western and central Europe, between 1450 and 1750. Gaps in records preclude precision, but the best current estimates suggest that some 40 000 people, perhaps 80% of them women, were executed for witchcraft between these dates. (The claim that there were nine million witch executions is now rejected as a wild over-estimate.) Witchcraft as a historical phenomenon continues to attract wide interest, and has also attracted a high degree of serious scholarly attention.

This interest and attention has created a plethora of approaches to and interpretations of witchcraft, but it is only very recently that these have overtly addressed issues related to the history of the body. Certainly, there has been a degree of interest in the medical aspects of witchcraft. Physicians were frequently called in to attend the suspected victims of bewitchment, and a number of them wrote tracts on the subject. Perhaps the most famous was Johann Weyer, court physician to the Duke of Cleves, who in 1563 published De Praestigiis Daemonum, a tract which, while not denying the existence of witchcraft, argued that most cases of supposed witchcraft were, in fact, the outcome of natural causes or of trickery. More recently, writers within the women's movement of the 1970s argued that the witch-persecutions of the late medieval and early modern periods were the outcome of an emergent male-dominated medical profession attacking female healers in general or, more particularly, midwives. This interpretation has been discredited, but the broader issue of the interface between medical practice and witchcraft remains largely unexplored.

Perhaps the key to placing witchcraft within the history of the body will be provided by the investigation of two sets of problems. The first of these is the question of the source of the power of the witch and where it was thought to reside; the second is the rather better documented phenomenon of the physical sufferings supposedly undergone by victims of witchcraft and, more particularly, of witchcraft-induced demonic possession.

Certainly, the research carried out by anthropologists on witchcraft has provided ample evidence of beliefs which locate the power to bewitch in the physical body of the witch. Perhaps the fullest description of this phenomenon came with a famous early study, E. E. Evans-Pritchard's analysis, based on three periods of fieldwork carried out between 1926 and 1930, on witchcraft, magic, and oracles among the Azande, a people living in the Sudan. The Azande thought, as did many other peoples in western and central Africa, that witchcraft existed physically as a substance in the bodies of witches. The exact details of this substance and its location varied, but it was most commonly held that it took the form of an oval brackish swelling or ‘bad’ that was joined to the edge of the liver of the witch. Thus proof that a person was a witch might take the form of a public autopsy of the suspect's body after death, performed in the presence of the deceased's relatives and, blood-brothers, and important members of the local community.

This type of evidence is less overt in historical materials, and at present much of the thinking on this range of issues remains speculative. It is clear that witchcraft was in some ways conceived of as a form of power which ran between the body of the witch and her victim, and thus notions about witchcraft in this period were connected with ideas about the body, and especially the female body. The medical theory of the day, with its attachment to the importance of humours, made it easy to see the body as a type of vessel in which there might be forces which could get out of hand, were the humoural balance to be upset.

Perhaps these forces were at their most unruly when the witch changed her shape, as many cultures believed was possible. Many early accounts of witchcraft touch on this (and there is the connected issue of lycanthropy, the form of witchcraft in which humans were supposed to assume the form and nature of wolves). It was a recurrent theme when, in the nineteenth century, folklorists collected tales of witchcraft. In England, in particular, it was still held at that time that witches were able to change themselves into hares. Other witchcraft beliefs demonstrate the importance of the body of the witch. The counter measures aimed at combating witchcraft often involved sympathetic magic that was aimed at hurting the witch physically. Perhaps the most striking example of this was the witch cake. This was typically made of some sort of flour (and sometimes other substances) mixed with the urine of the person supposedly suffering from witchcraft, and thrown onto a fire. The idea was that the process would cause unbearable pain in the urinary system of the witch, who would reveal her identity by coming to destroy the source of her discomfort. It was also widely held that the witch's victim would gain relief by scratching the witch on the face and drawing blood.

The body of the witch was meant to carry the witch's mark. This normally took the form of an excrescence or area of skin that was insensible to pain, or a supernumerary teat from which the witch's familiar spirit, which normally took an animal form, was thought to suck blood. Thus the body of the witch might be subjected to penetration by bodkins or needles as the insensible spot was sought, or to searches for the teat, which was generally expected to be located on the suspected woman's genitals or anus.

If the body of the witch showed peculiar manifestations, so too, on the evidence of some of the better documented cases, did the body of the witch's supposed victim. We have numerous descriptions of the sufferings allegedly caused by bewitchment, descriptions that, for the most part, await analysis by modern doctors or psychiatrists. These descriptions are especially rich, and the symptoms they record especially puzzling for the modern reader, when contemporaries thought the problem involved the possession of the body of the sufferer by demons sent into them by the witch. Many modern readers will be familiar with such celebrated incidents as the possession of a whole convent of young nuns at Loudun in France in the 1630s, or the crucial role played by a group of supposedly possessed young girls in the witch-scare at Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. But these are merely two well-known examples of a phenomenon which was widespread in Europe in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. In England, for example, the possession of several children at Warboys in Huntingdonshire, which resulted in the execution of three witches in 1592, created a model of possession through witchcraft that survived for at least another century. The possessed demonstrated clear symptoms: convulsions, contortions, trances, vomiting of foreign bodies (notably pins), speaking with the voice of the possessing demons, and becoming unnaturally strong or unnaturally heavy.

Perhaps the deepest analysis of such possessions has been carried out by the historian Lyndal Roper, on sixteenth-century materials relating to the German city of Augsburg. Here the crucial issue was the changes in attitudes which the Reformation had created towards the relationship between the flesh and the spirit, with both Catholics and Protestants developing rival theologies of the body. Protestantism weakened the links between the physical and the divine, and therefore forced a revision of the theological understanding of the body. The exorcism of people thought to be possessed by demons, frequently at the instigation of the witch, therefore became an area of dispute between the two sides in the local religious struggle. The fact that most of the supposedly possessed were women added another dimension: the possessed women, as they contorted in their beds as a result of the attentions of male demons, bore strong resemblance to women lost in lust. Analysis of such cases, therefore, introduces medical, theological, and wider cultural attitudes towards the body through the inherently dramatic (and usually public) phenomena of possession and exorcism.

J. A. Sharpe


Roper, L. (1994). Oedipus and the Devil: witchcraft, sexuality and religion in early modern Europe. Routledge, London and New York.

See also possession; witch doctor; witch's tit.

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WITCHCRAFT. No general agreement seems to have been reached in the United States on what witchcraft is, or was, or might be.

When the Puritans arrived in New England in the early seventeenth century, they soon saw evidence of witchcraft. Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop discerned it in the behavior of Anne Hutchinson in the 1630s. Hutchinson was deeply spiritual, highly intellectual, and openly critical of some clergymen's interpretations of religious doctrine. Her outspokenness and her charismatic appeal to other early New England settlers so disconcerted Winthrop and some of the colony's most influential ministers that they tried her as a heretic and banished her from the colony. At the time neither Winthrop nor his clerical allies explicitly said that her crime was witchcraft, though they called one of her female followers, Jane Hawkins, a witch and insinuated that Hutchinson and another of her allies, Mary Dyer, gave birth to demons. Only later, when he wrote his history of New England in the 1640s, did Winthrop speak openly about Hutchinson's witchcraft. Some people thought her a witch, he said, because she was so successful in drawing support from her neighbors for her heretical religious beliefs.

When Winthrop talked further about Hawkins, he linked her heresies to her medical knowledge and also denounced Margaret Jones for her medical practice and divination skills. Not all healers or prescient women or challengers of official theology were labeled witches, nor were these the only recurrent themes in the suspicions voiced. Still, when we consider the hundreds of accusations lodged over the course of the seventeenth century, especially in light of ministerial writings on the topic, the meanings of witchcraft for New England's early colonists begin to emerge.

New Englanders defined witchcraft as the use of supernatural power, usually but not always to harm. They believed that some human beings possessed extraordinary abilities that were darkly unnatural. Ann Hibbens drew suspicion in 1656 because she possessed knowledge that ordinary people lacked, in her case an awareness that two neighbors some distance away were speaking of her. George Burroughs, one of the few men and the only minister to be executed as a witch in New England, was accused of unusual strength—he could carry a full barrel of molasses with just two fingers of one hand. More commonly, accused witches were said to abuse their power, to kill rather than heal an ailing child, to obstruct ordinary domestic processes such as the making of butter or beer, or to invisibly attack the cattle or crops upon which their neighbors' prosperity rested. Katherine Harrison was known to spin more yarn than any other woman, and that was used against her in court in the 1660s, but a man's tale of how she hindered him from completing a garment he was weaving probably carried more weight with the jury that declared her a witch. Indeed, the motive that underlay the supposed act of witchcraft was part of how the crime was defined. If the deployment of superhuman

power itself was understood as witchcraft, more often accusers emphasized its angry, malicious, and vengeful use. Thus Eunice Cole stood accused of many acts, from unseemly speeches to consulting evil spirits, but the records that survive of her court appearances from 1656 to 1680 stress the viciousness of her character, motives, and personal attacks.

If witchcraft gained its everyday meanings through accusations and trials in local contexts, Puritans also understood witchcraft as a relationship between a human being and the devil. Because they insisted on finding clear evidence of a witch's alliance with Satan, ministers fleshed out this meaning in discussions of the nature, physical evidence, and purported benefits of the pact between the two, the danger of such a relationship to New England's spiritual mission, and the effects on those who resisted Satan's insatiable desire for more witches to serve him. Many young women lent invaluable support to Puritan definitions of witchcraft when they acknowledged the excruciating pain they felt (which the ministers told them they would feel) when they held out against Satan's attempts to lure them into witches' ranks.

To these two definitions of witchcraft must be added a third, New Englanders' implicit understanding of what kinds of people were likely to align themselves with Satan and do their neighbors harm. If historians of witchcraft at the turn of the twenty-first century generally accept that popular and elite conceptions of witchcraft coexisted in the seventeenth century and frequently overlapped, consensus falls apart over the more subtle meanings conveyed in the patterns visible in the lives of accusers and accused. For some, accused witches were the angry, malicious, and vengeful people their neighbors said they were, and they attempted to harm their neighbors through image magic, curses, and spells. For these scholars, witchcraft was a social reality, a set of practices that identified genuine witches. For other historians, the lack of evidence for such practices in most witchcraft records and widespread economic, religious, and social patterns linking accusers and the accused suggest that New England witch-craft is best understood as an expression of social and cultural anxieties among accusers rather than the malice of the accused. From this perspective, religion, psychology, and gender provide better analytical tools for deciphering the meanings of witchcraft than the biases of accusers.

However varied their interpretations, for the most part historians reject definitions of witchcraft as superstition, mental illness, and lies. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Salem outbreak of 1692 is recognized as merely one—if by far the most deadly—witchcraft event in the American colonies. Studies of New England are heavily influenced by recent attempts to understand Western witchcraft traditions in the contexts of early modern belief systems and world religions more generally. As scholars turn to anthropology, women's studies, and most recently, literary and visual culture studies for analytical tools and interdisciplinary frameworks, witchcraft history looks less like a narrative of the exceptional and more like a window into comparative social and cultural transformation.

American witchcraft history has also begun to incorporate the past three centuries. Although the trials came to an end in New England soon after the Salem outbreak and witchcraft was declared a superstition, belief persisted through the eighteenth century and, for a few, even longer. Mainstream Protestant ministers debated the existence of witches and witchcraft among themselves long after such discussion was no longer acceptable in public discourse; Christian fundamentalist churches continue to keep the fear of witchcraft alive in sermons and boycotts. Artists, poets, and writers of fiction picked up the threads where ministers and magistrates left off, creating children's stories and entertainment for adults that kept as much as it changed the image of the witch. Advertisers, too, found her useful in selling their wares, from lingerie to liqueurs to Halloween costumes. Witches drew followers as well as exploiters in the nineteenth century and, by the late twentieth century, in particular with the emergence of feminist neo-pagan movements, witches and witchcraft had been reclaimed as multifaceted symbols of resistance, emancipation, and social and spiritual rebirth.


Butler, Jon. "Magic, Astrology and the Early American Religious Heritage." American Historical Review 84 (1979): 317–346.

Demos, John Putnam. Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Karlsen, Carol F. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England. New York: Norton, 1987.

Norton, Mary Beth. In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692. New York: Knopf, 2002.

Salomonsen, Jone. Enchanted Feminism: Ritual, Gender and Divinity among the Reclaiming Witches of San Francisco. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.

Carol F.Karlsen

See alsoPuritans and Puritanism ; Salem Witch Trials andvol. 9:Evidence Used Against Witches .

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magic, witchcraft, and sorcery

magic, witchcraft, and sorcery The art of performing charms, spells, and rituals, to seek to control events or govern certain natural or supernatural forces. Magic can be good, as in love magic or the canoe magic of the Trobriand Islanders before a hazardous voyage. It can also be malevolent in the sense of witchcraft or sorcery. Sorcery implies magic where powers are intentionally used for a harmful purpose, often involving artificial means. Witchcraft implies the possession of a supernatural power through a pact with evil spirits; this power may be exerted involuntarily. Magic, witchcraft, and sorcery generally function at the level of the individual, and often in opposition to organized religions. Magical beliefs deal with the individual crises and acts of fate which religious morality cannot explain.

Initial attempts to explain magical beliefs foundered on nineteenth-century scientism and simplistic psychological theories. For Lucien Léevy-Bruhl (Primitive Mentality, 1922), magic was a form of ‘pre-logical thought’, which was incommensurable with and antithetical to Western scientific thought. In Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough (1900) an evolutionary typology postulated a developmental progression from magic to religion to science. Bronislaw Malinowski (Magic, Science and Religion and Other Essays, 1948) shared many of the prejudices of earlier approaches towards magic and explained it as an essentially meaningless emotional response to the unknown and otherwise uncontrollable. Magic thus served a psychological function only when technical knowledge was inadequate.

Later anthropological approaches have seen magic as containing a symbolic logic and meaning, and have sought to place it into a context of the cosmology and social relations of the people concerned. This approach derives fundamentally from E. E. Evans-Pritchard's classic study of Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande (1937). This was one of the first attempts to study in detail the beliefs and practices relating to magic, witchcraft, and sorcery. The Azande of Southern Sudan invoke witchcraft to explain nearly any misfortune that could befall a person. All deaths are seen to be caused by witchcraft. This explanatory framework does not posit witchcraft as a cause of misfortune. The Azande know that misfortunes are part of life: that houses are eaten by termites and fall down, that people become ill if they drink bad water, and so on. However, witchcraft ideas explain why a misfortune happens to a particular person at a particular time; that is, they answer the vital question ‘Why me? Why now?’ (‘Why did the termites destroy my house, rather than another, and why did it collapse when I was inside, rather than at another time?’)

Among the Azande, witchcraft is the domain only of commoners, who use internal psychic powers to do harm. Witchcraft is a physical property, located in the intestines, which allows a witch to go out at night and harm other people. Good magic is seen to be moral, and uses spells, medicines, and herbs as means for fighting witchcraft. Bad magic, or sorcery, is performed only by the Azande nobility, and is seen to be more deadly than witchcraft. Unlike witchcraft, the apparatus of sorcery is external to people, involving spells, rites, and medicines. If a misfortune is significant, a diviner is called in to determine who is the witch causing the malaise, and to convince that person to repent and remove the spell. Accusations tend to occur in disputes where a person is not likely to get retribution through the chief's court. Evans-Pritchard showed how such accusations are related to the points of social tension within Azande social organization. In general, other anthropologists have followed this approach, arguing that witchcraft beliefs are functional to maintaining the order of society by resolving tensions, aggression, and envy. For example, they may function as a levelling mechanism, with individuals who amass too much power or wealth often being accused of acquiring these by means of witchcraft. However, other researchers have argued that witchcraft beliefs generate tensions, as well as helping to resolve them.

Some analysts have located their study of witchcraft within the context of colonialism. Clyde Kluckhohn (Navajo Witchcraft, 1944) argued that Navajo witchcraft ideas served to channel tensions and aggressions created by the larger White society. In Moon, Sun and Witches (1987), Irene Silverblatt argued that female witches formed an integral part of an anti-colonial movement in the Andes.

Ideas about magic and witchcraft have sparked off a lengthy, acrimonious, and unresolved debate about the rationality or otherwise of non-Western peoples, a debate that has grown to engage philosophers and sociologists as well as anthropologists (see, for example, B. R. Wilson ( ed.) , Rationality, 1970
). Evans-Pritchard insisted that the Azande have two distinct models of apprehending the world, one mystical and the other mundane, or empirical. These are invoked at different levels of explanation: witchcraft is invoked to explain why tragedy befalls people; how the events themselves occur is explained in a prosaic way which Europeans think to be empirically true. The Azande, according to Evans-Pritchard, are logical but wrong. In opposition to this view, relativists such as Peter Winch (The Idea of a Social Science, 1958) have argued that each society constructs its own notions of reality and rationality, and all are equally valid. Anthropologists, therefore, should not judge alien beliefs like witchcraft on the basis of a Western discourse of science. Many of these issues are discussed, and their sociological implications made clear, in Max G. Marwick 's ‘How Real is the Charmed Circle in African and Western Thought?’, Africa (1973)

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witchcraft. Belief in witchcraft, the capacity to do evil or good through occult means, has been present in most human societies. Scattered references to witchcraft practices survive from all parts of the British Isles from an early date, and become more numerous when medieval sources are considered.

It was, however, the 16th cent. which saw important changes in both England and Scotland. Educated opinion in both countries was affected by a new demonological theory which reinvented the witch as a member of a conspiracy against Christendom. For the populace, conversely, witchcraft meant either maleficium, the doing of harm by witchcraft, or seeking medical advice or other services from the ‘good’ witch, most often referred to in England as a cunning man or woman. The new demonological thinking allowed a harder official line against witches. An English Act of 1542 had been repealed, but 1563 saw the passing of legislation against witchcraft in both England and Scotland.

Loss of most relevant trial records makes the English situation immediately after 1563 unclear. In the south-east (notably in Essex), trials and executions for witchcraft rose steadily, peaking in the late Elizabethan period, and were declining by the 1630s. In other areas the peak came in the Interregnum. Most English prosecutions were brought against individual witches, the only large-scale panic coming in East Anglia in 1645–7. This was associated with the ‘Witch-Finder General’, Matthew Hopkins, and involved accusations against 250 witches, of whom perhaps 100 were executed. Trials declined after the Restoration, with the last known execution for witchcraft coming in Devon in 1685, and the last trial in 1712. It seems unlikely that more than 500 people were executed for witchcraft in England. Many others, most of them cunning folk, were tried but suffered lesser penalties.

In Scotland, a different pattern emerged. There were few trials before 1591, but in that year mass prosecutions, followed by numerous executions, occurred. Accusations revolved around an alleged satanic plot against James VI, and the experience moved him to write a tract against witches, the Daemonologie. Other mass persecutions came in 1597, 1629, 1649, and most ferociously in 1661–2. Although peasant concerns over maleficium remained important, the most consistent influence behind the mass trials was the aggressive Calvinism of the Scottish kirk. Accusations were concentrated in the Lowlands, where the kirk's Christianizing campaign was most intense. Witchcraft beliefs doubtlessly flourished in the Highlands, but the encouragement to prosecute witches was lacking there. Moreover, the Scottish legal system, unlike the English, permitted the torturing of suspects in criminal investigations. Overall, perhaps 1,000 people were executed for witchcraft in Scotland.

The statutes against witches in both countries were repealed in 1736. Over the second half of the 17th cent. scepticism among the educated, never entirely absent, had become stronger. The reasons for this are not entirely clear. The notion that it was somehow related to new scientific ideas is unconvincing when subjected to close scrutiny. A more useful clue lies in the scepticism which leading judges in both Scotland and England showed when trying witches. The difficulty of proving witchcraft provoked a more general questioning, while there was also a powerful cultural shift. Many educated people, while unable to deny the theoretical possibility of witchcraft, felt uncomfortable with what they increasingly regarded as something symptomatic not of a satanic sect, but of popular superstitions.

Belief in witchcraft was retained among the populace at large, and when folklorists began to collect materials in the 19th cent. they found witchcraft beliefs flourishing everywhere from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands. By the 20th cent., better communications, mass schooling, and the decline of those ‘face-to-face’ communities where witchcraft suspicions operated eroded such beliefs. At the same time, interest in the occult was renewed among educated urban dwellers, and there are currently many people who consider themselves to be witches, and as such to be adherents to a pre-Christian religion. They have little historical basis for such opinions.

J. A. Sharpe

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Russian witchcraft is best seen as a remnant of East Slavic, pre-Christian, pagan practices, elements of which survived into modern times. The earliest written record that mentions witchcraft dates to 1024 and appears in a chronicle describing the execution of sorcerers in Suzdal. Literary sources continued to speak of sorcery in later centuries and, in most cases, were connected to allegations of witchcraft causing inclement weather, droughts, crop failure, and other phenomena that resulted in famine and pestilence.

During the Kievan era (roughly 900 to 1240) the most common form of popular (extralegal) witch trial appears to have been ordeal by cold water and execution by burning at the stake. As early as the second half of the eleventh century, however, Rus princes granted the Church official authority over witchcraft trials. Contrary to the Byzantine canonical practice of executing suspected witches, the Rus princes established relatively nominal monetary penalties for practicing sorcery. Despite this, unofficial persecutions of sorcerers continued to take place on occasion.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Muscovy saw a marked increase in the preoccupation with witchcraft. With the 1551 Stoglav Council headed by Ivan IV (15331584), the Muscovite government and church took an active interest in battling witchcraft. The council recommended that the state impose the death penalty for sorcerers, and that the church excommunicate such offenders. Ivan IV's Decree of 1552, while disregarding the recommendation of imposing the death penalty, transferred witch trials to state jurisdiction, thereby transforming witchcraft into a civil offence. This formed the background for the use of allegations of criminal witchcraft for political purposes. During the reign of Ivan IV, and more so through the subsequent Time of Troubles, the Muscovite ruling elite invoked charges of witchcraft to persecute their political enemies, both at court and outside of Moscow.

Witchcraft trials saw their heyday during the seventeenth century, when the death penalty came to be systematically applied to the guilty. However, the Muscovite witch hunts were much smaller in scale than those that were occurring in contemporary communities of Western Europe. Although the tsars sent directives to the provinces to fight sorcery until 1682, the orders were not systematic and organized, nor were the persecutions. This, in large part, is because of the deep-rooted dvoeverie (dualfaith, the holding of conflicting belief systems) among most Russians, including the ruling elite, who had ambivalent views toward remnants of pagan practices. Also, unlike in the West, where much of the "witch craze" was directed against women, the Muscovite "witch scare" charged a proportional number of men (warlocks) with sorcery. This was probably connected to the occupation of the accusedunlike in the West, Muscovy men often acted as herbalists and village healers, which were professions commonly associated with witchcraft.

During the reign of Catherine II (17621796), the death penalty for witchcraft was abolished and the crime lowered to the level of fraud. In 1775 she transferred cases dealing with witchcraft to courts handling such affairs as popular superstition, juvenile crimes, and the criminally insane. Sorcery, however, persisted among the East Slavic peasants into the nineteenth century, in large part because of their continued use of charms, spells, potions, and herbs in folk medicine.

See also: ivan iv; kievan rus; time of troubles


Zguta, Russell. (1977). "Witchcraft Trials in Seventeenth-Century Russia." The American Historical Review 82 (5):11871207.

Zguta, Russell. (1978). "Witchcraft and Medicine in Pre-Petrine Russia." The Russian Review 37 (4):438448.

Roman K. Kovalev

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witchcraft, a form of sorcery, or the magical manipulation of nature for self-aggrandizement, or for the benefit or harm of a client. This manipulation often involves the use of spirit-helpers, or familiars.

Public uses of magic are generally considered beneficial; sorcery, on the other hand, is commonly practiced in private and is usually considered malevolent. Nevertheless, accusations of sorcery are frequently public and explicit. Anthropologists have observed that in societies that lack formal political processes, sorcery accusations are often an indication of other social and economic tensions and conflicts. They have analyzed the killing of accused sorcerers as a form of control through which antisocial people are eliminated and social cohesion is reinforced. Anthropologists distinguish sorcerers, who acquire their powers through study and initiation, from witches, who inherit their powers. In some cultures, especially European, however, the two terms are used interchangeably.

European diabolical witchcraft was a form of sorcery that appealed to pre-Christian symbolism and was associated by Church leaders with heresy. The origins of witchcraft in Europe are found in the pre-Christian, pagan cults such as the Teutonic nature cults; Roman religion; and the speculations of the Gnostics (see Gnosticism), the Zoroastrians, and the Manicheans. These religions and philosophies believed in a power of evil and a power of good within the universe. Later, among certain sects, the worship of good was repudiated as false and misleading.

Religious persecution of supposed witches commenced early in the 14th cent. Trials, convictions, and executions became common throughout Europe and reached a peak during the 16th and 17th cent. Under the authority of the Spanish Inquisition, as many as 100 persons were burned as witches in a single day. The auto-da-fé, as this mass burning was called, took on the qualities of a carnival, where one could buy souvenirs, rosaries, holy images, and food. Suspicion also fell on many who were interested in scientific experimentation. The colonies of North America shared in this fanaticism, particularly in Salem, Mass., where in 1692, 20 persons were executed as witches. (The state exonerated all the accused men and women in 1711.)

Early students of European diabolical witchcraft viewed it alternately as an invention of elites who used accusations of sorcery as an excuse to persecute people for material gain, or as a survival of pre-Christian folk religion. Scholars today seek to interpret it not as a single phenomenon but rather as a complex pattern of beliefs and practices that have been used in different ways at different times. Thus, during the Hundred Year Wars, Catholics and Protestants accused each other of witchcraft.

In the 20th cent. in the West there has been a revival of witchcraft known as Wicca, or neopaganism. This form of witchcraft has nothing to do with sorcery, and is instead based on a reverence for nature, the worship of a fertility goddess, a restrained hedonism, and group magic aimed at healing. It rejects a belief in Satan as a product of Christian doctrine that is incompatible with paganism.

See also shaman.


See J. B. Russell, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (1972); P. Boyer and S. Nissenbaum, Salem Possessed (1974); J. P. Demos, Entertaining Satan (1982); C. Larner, Witchcraft and Religion (1984); S. C. Lehmann and J. E. Myers, Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion (1985); R. E. Guiley, The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft (1989); R. Briggs, Witches and Neighbors (1996); L. W. Carlson, A Fever in Salem (1999); M. B. Norton, In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (2002); L. Roper, The Witch in the Western Imagination (2012).

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Devon, Witchcraft in

Devon, Witchcraft in

Belief in witchcraft persisted into relatively modern times in Devonshire, England, as shown in a curious case heard in Crediton County Court during the nineteenth century when a young woman alleged that she was given a potion in a grocer's shop, and that as a result either of the draught or of the incantation delivered while she was in the shop, she was getting thin-ner every day.

Only those who have lived long in Devon can recall the widespread belief that still existed early in the twentieth century in remote corners of the county of the power of the evil eye and of the credence given to all kinds of weird superstitions. Witches were believed to be able to exercise a malign influence even after death unless they were buried with their toes pointing downward. Also in the twentieth century, a woman suspected of being a witch was buried in this way within 20 miles of Tiverton.

In no part of the country was witchcraft given more credence than in the Culm Valley. There was a local saying that there were enough witches in the valley to roll a hogshead of cider up Beacon Hill, at Culmstock, and old people living in the locality were not ashamed to say that they believed in witchcraft.

The witches were considered to be of two kinds"black" and "white." The former professed to have the power to condemn to all kinds of misfortunes those on whom they were asked to cast a spell; the latter claimed that they could remove evil spells and bring good fortune. Visits to witches tended to be kept confidential, but every now and again particulars leaked out.

For example, a late nineteenth century report from the Culmstock district concerns a young girl who went with her mother to a witch to get a spell cast over an errant admirer who was suspected of bestowing his affections on another young lady. The witch professed to be able to bring the young man back to his first love or to condemn him to all kinds of torture, but her price was prohibitive, so the young man was left to marry whom he would.

Farmers were the witches' most reliable clients, and it is a noteworthy fact that they generally contrived to visit "the wise woman" when they were away from home, at market. Farmers used to go to Exeter from many miles around to consult a witch whenever they had misfortune, and it was commonly reported that they could get the same sort of advice in the city.

At many farmhouses, Bibles were kept in the dairies to prevent witches from retarding the butter-making operations. "I'm 'witched' " or "I must have been 'witched,' " were expressions often heard in Devon. Generally speaking, it was animals that were supposed to sustain the most harm from being "overlooked." Cattle deaths were attributed to the power of evil spirits; and according to many superstitious people, witches had a peculiar power over pigs. A man who believed his pigs had been bewitched was told to take the heart of a pig, stick it full of pins and needles, and roast it over a fire. He did so, believing it would check the mortality among his swine.

For an account of late nineteenth and early twentieth century traditions of witchcraft in Devonshire, see the chapter "White Witches" in Devonshire Characters and Strange Events, by S. Baring-Gould (1908).


Baring-Gould, S. Devonshire Characters and Strange Events. Rev. ed., London: John Lane, 1926.

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In the Middle Ages, any practice of magic outside the realm of Christian doctrine was seen as the work of the Devil and punished as witchcraft. Heretics and witches were routinely tried and tortured in order to force their confessions. A common medieval practice was to bind suspects with ropes and throw them into lakes and rivers. If they floated to the surface, they were considered rejected by the water and thus guilty as charged. If they remained submerged or drowned, they were declared innocent of witchcraft. Those found guilty were burned at the stake by civil authorities working at the behest of religious courts and inquisitions.

During the sixteenth century, the persecution of witches reached its peak in Europe. The Renaissance wave of witch trials began with a bull issued by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484, which acknowledged the presence of witchcraft, contrary to previous church doctrine. According to the church, witches regularly consorted with the devil and conspired to undermine

church authority. The pope commissioned two German monks, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, to prepare a report on witchcraft. The result was Malleus Maleficarum, or The Hammer of Witches, which helped its readers learn to recognize the tell-tale signs and marks of a witch, described the sexual perversions, murders, spell-casting, and other wrongdoing, and demanded that Christians actively search out and destroy witches.

At the church's prompting, witches were rounded up by the hundreds and burned publicly. The witch hysteria was especially strong in Germany and Switzerland, even as the Protestant Reformation was splitting these regions into two hostile religious factions. In France, a member of the court of King Charles IX announced that ten thousand witches were at his command, which set off a rampant anti-witch hysteria in which thousands of people were accused by friends and family.

In Scotland, a witch panic was set off by King James VI (later King James I of England, the first of the Stuart dynasty). Having traveled to Denmark to marry his bride Princess Anne of Denmark, James and his party were beset by a furious storm. The captain of his ship blamed the storm on witchcraft, to which several Danish women willingly confessed. Back in Scotland, James authorized the torture of suspected witches. Several dozen suspects were burned at the stake before the persecutions died down at the end of the 1500s. Nevertheless, witchcraft remained a capital offense in Scotland until 1735.

See Also: Catholicism; James I

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702. Witchcraft (See also Enchantment, Sorcery.)

  1. Alcina Circelike spellmaker; defeated by good magic. [Br. Opera: Handel, Alcina, Westerman, 5455]
  2. Baba Yaga cannibalistic crone; stone-breasted companion of devil. [Russ. Folklore: Leach, 100]
  3. Brocken Harz peak; rendezvous for the Sabbat on Walpurgis Night. [Ger. Folklore: Leach, 165]
  4. Broom Hilda witch as cigar-smoking, love-starved crone. [Comics: Horn, 134]
  5. Circe turns Odysseuss men into animals. [Gk. Myth.: Odyssey ]
  6. Cutty Sark witch who pulls off the tail of Tam OShanters mare before it has fully escaped from her power. [Scot. Poetry: Benét, 242]
  7. Esmerelda gypsy trains a goat to dance to her tambourine, is convicted of sorcery. [Fr. Lit.: Victor Hugo The Hunchback of Notre Dame ]
  8. Hecate mysterious goddess of Hades; associated with sorcery. [Gk. Myth.: Howe, 115]
  9. Kundry sorceress; ugly messenger of the Grail castle. [Ger. Legend: Parzival ; Ger. Opera: Parsifal ]
  10. Morgan le Fay sorceress of Arthurian legend. [Medieval Romance: Brewer Dictionary, 620]
  11. Pamphile applies ointment to change into eagle. [Rom. Lit.: The Golden Ass ]
  12. Rosemarys baby through witchcraft, child born with horns and tail. [Am. Lit.: Rosemarys Baby ]
  13. Salem, Massachusetts locale of frenzied assault on supposed witches (1692). [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 442; Am. Lit.: The Crucible ]
  14. Samantha good witch married to a mortal. [TV: Bewitched in Terrace, I, 9495]
  15. Walpurgis Night traditional German witches sabbath. [Ger. Folklore: NCE, 2918]
  16. Weird Sisters demon-women; predict Macbeths fate. [Br. Lit.: Macbeth ]
  17. Wicked Witch of the West uses her powers to upset the plans of Dorothy and her friends. [Am. Lit. and Cin.: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz ]
  18. Witch of Endor conjures up Samuel for distressed Saul. [O.T.: I Samuel 28:325]
  19. Witches Hammer manual for recognizing telltale marks of witches (15th century). [Eur. Hist.: Brewer Note-Book, 952]

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Witchcraft (from wicca). The belief that human affairs and features of the environment can be ordered, controlled, and changed by skilled practitioners whose powers are usually believed to be innate. Witchcraft is closely associated with magic, but its techniques are derived from within or given by a supernatural agent, rather than (as often with magic) learnt. The belief that the agent was the devil led to ferocious persecution of witches in medieval Christian Europe. Although witchcraft thus has had, in the past, a strongly negative connotation, it has been reassessed more recently in increasingly positive terms, in two main ways. First, anthropologists have described its positive role in small-scale societies, in healing, reducing hostilities and social tensions, reinforcing social order, supplying plausible meanings to inexplicable events, providing surrogate action in crises (e.g. the evil eye). Second, the increasing emancipation of women from the control of men in religions has led to a reevaluation of the role of women as witches (since women have always far outnumbered men as witches), and to the postulation that ‘witchcraft’ represents an unbroken religious tradition which men opposed because it empowered women. This tradition is often known as Wicca (or Wicce, from the Old English, the root of which means ‘to bend’ or ‘shape’), but it is embedded in a wider neo-Paganism. According to Starhawk, a leader of the recovery of Wicca, ‘Followers of Wicca seek their inspiration in pre-Christian sources, European folklore, and mythology. They consider themselves priests and priestesses of an ancient European shamanistic nature religion that worships a goddess who is related to the ancient Mother Goddess in her three aspects of Maiden, Mother and Crone.’

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Witches and Wizards

Witches and Wizards

Witches and wizards are people thought to possess magical powers or to command supernatural forces. They appear in the myths and folktales of many cultures. The word witch usually refers to a female, though male witches exist in some traditions. Men who possess the powers associated with witchcraft are often known as wizards or warlocks.

Bad or Good? In many myths and legends, witches are evil, dishonest, or dangerous. Some cultures do not consider them fully human. If not evil by nature, witches may be possessed by demons or wicked spirits determined to harm humans. Yet ordinary men and women may learn magic for the purpose of hurting others. Such people are sometimes called sorcerers and sorceresses rather than wizards and witches. African tradition distinguishes between good magicians, or medicine men, and bad magicians, or sorcerers. Both types are distinct from the nonhuman witch.

During the Middle Ages in Europe, the belief in witches was widespread. Witches were said to be worshipers of the Devil. Thousands of women and some men were tortured and executed after being accused of witchcraft. The English who settled in North America brought along a fear of witches. A witch hunt in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 resulted in the execution of 19 people. Even today, accusations of witchcraft can lead to violence in some parts of the world.

supernatural related to forces beyond the normal world; magical or miraculous

Not all witches and wizards are evil. Some myths and folktales feature good spirits or magicians who help people. These are said to practice "white magic" rather than the "black magic" of the evil witches and wizards. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the modern children's book that became a famous movie, features both kinds of witches. It is easy to tell them apartthe wicked witch is an old, cackling hag dressed in black; the good witch is a beautiful, soft-spoken woman dressed like a princess.

The magicians that appear in myths and folktales, however, are not always clearly labeled. They may be unpredictable and of uncertain characterneither completely good nor completely evil. Their treatment of humans may depend on how they are treated. Often people meet old women, not realizing that they are dealing with witches. In such cases, the witch may reward kindness and punish rudeness.

Legendary Witches and Wizards. Witches take many forms. The traditional image in European and American folklore is that of a wrinkled old woman, perhaps wearing a black robe and a cone-shaped hat. These witches communicate with evil spirits called familiars, which often take the form of a black cat. According to legend, Japanese witches have owls as familiars, and African witches have monkeys.

Related Entries

Other entries related to witches and wizards are listed at the end of this article.

Flight is often associated with witchcraft. In American folktales, witches usually travel through the night skies on enchanted

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

broomsticks. In some parts of Africa, witches are said to fly on bats. African witches often take the form of animals and eat human flesh. In the mythology of some cultures, witches can change into animals to prey upon their victims.

The tradition of witchcraft is ancient. The book of Samuel in the Old Testament of the Bible contains an account of a sorceress called the Witch of Endor. Saul, the first king of Israel, banished magicians from his kingdom but finally asked for advice from the Witch of Endor, who had "a familiar spirit." Assured that she would not be punished for practicing magic, the witch called up the spirit of Samuel, a dead prophet of the Israelites. The spirit predicted Saul's defeat in the battle that was to take place the next day.

In the Odyssey *, an epic of ancient Greece, the hero Odysseus* and his men met a witch named Circe. The daughter of a god and an ocean nymph, Circe had the power to turn people into animals and monsters. Her island home was populated with lions, bears, and wolveshumans who had been transformed by her magic. Although she turned some of Odysseus's men into pigs, the hero used a special herb that protected him from her magic.

Witchcraft and magic played an important role in the Arthurian legends* of Britain. Merlin, a powerful wizard, guided and influenced King Arthur throughout his life. A witch named Morgan Le Fay also appeared in the legends and took care of Arthur after he was wounded in battle.

Slavic folklore of eastern Europe and western Russia has a witch called Baba Yaga, a thin old woman whose nickname means bony legs. Baba Yaga lives alone in a hut deep in the forest. The hut stands on the legs of a chicken and is surrounded by a fence decorated with skulls. Visitors who wish to enter must recite a magic formula. Although Baba Yaga sometimes helps the hero or heroine of a story, she is generally a dangerous figure who must be outwitted.

One Baba Yaga story concerns a prince named Ivan, who needed a very fast horse to rescue his wife from the clutches of a monster. Ivan learned that Baba Yaga had some special horses and asked her for the use of one. The witch said that he must first guard her horses for three nights. She was sure that Ivan would fail at the task because she ordered the horses to gallop away each night. However, Ivan had shown kindness to various animals and insects, and they gathered the horses together for him. Finally Ivan seized one of the horses and rode off to save his wife. Baba Yaga chased him, but he outran her.

Witches and sorcerers occur frequently in Native American myths. Unlike shamans and healers, they are fearsome and destructive beings. The Navajo of the American Southwest have stories about the adilgashii, witches who travel at night in the skins of coyotes or other animals and who use poison made from the ground-up bones of babies to harm the living. In English, the adilgashii are called skinwalkers.

A Wizard's Education

Stories about witches and wizards continue to fascinate the public and to inspire writers. In addition to providing an otherworldly atmosphere, such stories often reveal truths about ordinary human existence. In the series of modern fantasy books about Harry Potter, the Scottish writer J. Κ. Rowling describes an entire society involved with magic. The reader follows Harry, an ordinary boy, as he studies at the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. Between adventures laced with dragons, magic potions, and flying broomsticks, Rowling shows how Harry learns about values such as friendship, loyalty, and courage.

epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style

nymph minor goddess of nature, usually represented as young and beautiful

shaman person thought to possess spiritual and healing powers

The Tlingit of the Pacific Northwest believe that a man with an unfaithful wife becomes a witch by drinking from a dead shaman's skull. This first witch then creates other witches, both male and female. They acquire dark powers by lurking in graveyards and handling the dead. In a theme repeated in stories from many cultures, the Tlingit witches make dolls out of the hair, clothing, or food of those they want to harm. By placing these dolls in graves to rot with corpses, the witches cause their victims to become sick. A witch can reverse the spell and cure the victim by rinsing the doll in salt water.

See also Circe ; Devils and Demons ; Merlin ; Monsters ; Morgan Le Fay.

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witchcraft Exercise of supernatural occult powers, usually due to some inherent power rather than to an acquired skill, such as sorcery. In Europe, it originated in pagan cults and in mystical philosophies such as Gnosticism, which believed in the potency of both good and evil in the universe. In some societies, the belief in spirits is associated with attempts to control them through witchcraft for harmful or beneficial ends.

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witch·er·y / ˈwichərē/ • n. the practice of magic: warding off evil spirits and acts of witchery. ∎  compelling power exercised by beauty, eloquence, or other attractive or fascinating qualities.

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Witchcraft Digest: Voice of the Old Religion

Witchcraft Digest: Voice of the Old Religion

A short-lived supplement to the WICA Newsletter. It was edited by Leo Louis Martello and published by Witchcraft International Craft Association in New York City in the 1970s. Only a few issued appeared.

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witches witches' sabbath a supposed annual midnight meeting of witches with the Devil; belief in the occurrence of such meetings fuelled the persecution of witchcraft in the 16th and 17th centuries.

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witch·craft / ˈwichˌkraft/ • n. the practice of magic, esp. black magic; the use of spells and the invocation of spirits.See also Wicca.

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witchcraft •Taft •abaft, aft, craft, daft, draft, draught, engraft, graft, haft, kraft, raft, shaft, understaffed, unstaffed, waft •backdraft • handcraft • aircraft •stagecraft • spacecraft • statecraft •needlecraft • priestcraft • witchcraft •kingcraft • handicraft • woodcraft •Wollstonecraft • bushcraft •watercraft • hovercraft • crankshaft •camshaft • layshaft • driveshaft •turboshaft • countershaft •bereft, cleft, deft, eft, heft, klepht, left, reft, theft, weft •adrift, drift, gift, grift, lift, rift, shift, shrift, sift, squiffed, swift, thrift, uplift •airlift, chairlift, stairlift •facelift • skilift • shoplift • Festschrift •spendthrift • spindrift • snowdrift •makeshift • downshift • upshift •aloft, croft, loft, oft, soft, toft •hayloft • Ashcroft • Cockcroft •undercroft • Lowestoft •tuft, unstuffed •Delft

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witcherybeery, bleary, cheery, dearie, dreary, Dun Laoghaire, eerie, eyrie (US aerie), Kashmiri, leery, peri, praemunire, query, smeary, teary, theory, weary •Deirdre • incendiary • intermediary •subsidiary •auxiliary, ciliary, domiciliary •apiary • topiary • farriery • furriery •justiciary •bestiary, vestiary •breviary • aviary • hosiery •diary, enquiry, expiry, fiery, friary, inquiry, miry, priory, spiry, wiry •podiatry, psychiatry •dowry, floury, flowery, loury, showery, towery •brewery • jewellery (US jewelry) •curie, de jure, fioriture, fury, houri, Jewry, jury, Manipuri, Missouri, moory, Newry, tandoori, Urey •statuary • actuary • sanctuary •obituary • sumptuary • voluptuary •January • electuary • ossuary •mortuary •Bradbury, Cadbury •blackberry, hackberry •cranberry • waxberry •Barbary, barberry •Shaftesbury • raspberry •bayberry, blaeberry •Avebury • Aylesbury • Sainsbury •bilberry, tilbury •bribery •corroboree, jobbery, robbery, slobbery, snobbery •dogberry • Roddenberry • Fosbury •strawberry • Salisbury •crowberry, snowberry •chokeberry •Rosebery, Shrewsbury •blueberry, dewberry •Dewsbury • Bloomsbury • gooseberry •blubbery, rubbery, shrubbery •Sudbury • mulberry • huckleberry •Bunbury • husbandry • loganberry •Canterbury • Glastonbury •Burberry, turbary •hatchery • archery •lechery, treachery •stitchery, witchery •debauchery • butchery • camaraderie •cindery, tindery •industry • dromedary • lapidary •spidery • bindery • doddery •quandary • powdery • boundary •bouldery • embroidery •prudery, rudery •do-goodery • shuddery • thundery •prebendary • legendary • secondary •amphorae • wafery •midwifery, periphery •infantry • housewifery • spoofery •puffery • sulphury (US sulfury) •Calgary •beggary, Gregory •vagary •piggery, priggery, whiggery •brigandry • bigotry • allegory •vinegary • category • subcategory •hoggery, toggery •pettifoggery • demagoguery •roguery • sugary •buggery, skulduggery, snuggery, thuggery •Hungary • humbuggery •ironmongery • lingerie • treasury •usury • menagerie • pageantry •Marjorie • kedgeree • gingery •imagery • orangery • savagery •forgery • soldiery • drudgery •perjury, surgery •microsurgery •hackery, quackery, Thackeray, Zachary •mountebankery • knick-knackery •gimcrackery • peccary • grotesquerie •bakery, fakery, jacquerie •chickaree, chicory, hickory, Terpsichore, trickery •whiskery • apothecary •crockery, mockery, rockery •falconry • jiggery-pokery •cookery, crookery, rookery •brusquerie •puckery, succory •cuckoldry •calorie, gallery, Malory, salary, Valerie •saddlery • balladry • gallantry •kilocalorie • diablerie • chandlery •harlotry • celery • pedlary •exemplary •helotry, zealotry •nailery, raillery •Tuileries •ancillary, artillery, capillary, codicillary, distillery, fibrillary, fritillary, Hilary, maxillary, pillory •mamillary • tutelary • corollary •bardolatry, hagiolatry, iconolatry, idolatry •cajolery, drollery •foolery, tomfoolery •constabulary, vocabulary •scapulary • capitulary • formulary •scullery • jugglery • cutlery •chancellery • epistolary • burglary •mammary • fragmentary •passementerie • flimflammery •armory, armoury, gendarmerie •almonry •emery, memory •creamery • shimmery • primary •rosemary • yeomanry •parfumerie, perfumery •flummery, Montgomery, mummery, summary, summery •gossamery • customary • infirmary •cannery, granary, tannery •canonry •antennary, bimillenary, millenary, venery •tenantry • chicanery •beanery, bicentenary, catenary, centenary, deanery, greenery, machinery, plenary, scenery, senary, septenary •disciplinary, interdisciplinary •hymnary • missionary •ordinary, subordinary •valetudinary • imaginary • millinery •culinary • seminary • preliminary •luminary • urinary • veterinary •mercenary • sanguinary •binary, finery, pinery, quinary, vinery, winery •Connery • Conakry • ornery • joinery •buffoonery, poltroonery, sublunary, superlunary •gunnery, nunnery •consuetudinary • visionary •exclusionary • legionary • pulmonary •coronary • reactionary • expansionary •concessionary, confessionary, discretionary •confectionery, insurrectionary, lectionary •deflationary, inflationary, probationary, stationary, stationery •expeditionary, petitionary, prohibitionary, traditionary, transitionary •dictionary • cautionary •ablutionary, counter-revolutionary, devolutionary, elocutionary, evolutionary, revolutionary, substitutionary •functionary •diversionary, reversionary •fernery, quaternary, ternary •peppery • extempore • weaponry •apery, drapery, japery, napery, papery, vapoury (US vapory) •frippery, slippery •coppery, foppery •popery • dupery • trumpery •February • heraldry • knight-errantry •arbitrary • registrary • library •contrary • horary • supernumerary •itinerary • honorary • funerary •contemporary, extemporary, temporary •literary • brasserie • chancery •accessory, intercessory, pessary, possessory, tesserae •dispensary, incensory, ostensory, sensory, suspensory •tracery •pâtisserie, rotisserie •emissary • dimissory •commissary, promissory •janissary • necessary • derisory •glossary • responsory • sorcery •grocery • greengrocery •delusory, illusory •compulsory • vavasory • adversary •anniversary, bursary, cursory, mercery, nursery •haberdashery •evidentiary, penitentiary, plenipotentiary, residentiary •beneficiary, fishery, judiciary •noshery • gaucherie • fiduciary •luxury • tertiary •battery, cattery, chattery, flattery, tattery •factory, manufactory, olfactory, phylactery, refractory, satisfactory •artery, martyry, Tartary •mastery, plastery •directory, ex-directory, interjectory, rectory, refectory, trajectory •peremptory •alimentary, complementary, complimentary, documentary, elementary, parliamentary, rudimentary, sedimentary, supplementary, testamentary •investigatory •adulatory, aleatory, approbatory, celebratory, clarificatory, classificatory, commendatory, congratulatory, consecratory, denigratory, elevatory, gyratory, incantatory, incubatory, intimidatory, modificatory, participatory, placatory, pulsatory, purificatory, reificatory, revelatory, rotatory •natatory • elucidatory • castigatory •mitigatory • justificatory •imprecatory • equivocatory •flagellatory • execratory • innovatory •eatery, excretory •glittery, jittery, skittery, twittery •benedictory, contradictory, maledictory, valedictory, victory •printery, splintery •consistory, history, mystery •presbytery •inhibitory, prohibitory •hereditary • auditory • budgetary •military, paramilitary •solitary • cemetery • limitary •vomitory • dormitory • fumitory •interplanetary, planetary, sanitary •primogenitary • dignitary •admonitory, monitory •unitary • monetary • territory •secretary • undersecretary •plebiscitary • repository • baptistery •transitory •depositary, depository, expository, suppository •niterie •Godwottery, lottery, pottery, tottery •bottomry • watery • psaltery •coterie, notary, protonotary, rotary, votary •upholstery •bijouterie, charcuterie, circumlocutory •persecutory • statutory • salutary •executory •contributory, retributory, tributary •interlocutory •buttery, fluttery •introductory • adultery • effrontery •perfunctory • blustery • mediatory •retaliatory • conciliatory • expiatory •denunciatory, renunciatory •appreciatory, depreciatory •initiatory, propitiatory •dietary, proprietary •extenuatory •mandatary, mandatory •predatory • sedentary • laudatory •prefatory • offertory • negatory •obligatory •derogatory, interrogatory, supererogatory •nugatory •expurgatory, objurgatory, purgatory •precatory •explicatory, indicatory, vindicatory •confiscatory, piscatory •dedicatory • judicatory •qualificatory • pacificatory •supplicatory •communicatory, excommunicatory •masticatory • prognosticatory •invocatory • obfuscatory •revocatory • charlatanry •depilatory, dilatory, oscillatory •assimilatory • consolatory •voluntary • emasculatory •ejaculatory •ambulatory, circumambulatory, perambulatory •regulatory •articulatory, gesticulatory •manipulatory • copulatory •expostulatory • circulatory •amatory, declamatory, defamatory, exclamatory, inflammatory, proclamatory •crematory • segmentary •lachrymatory •commentary, promontory •informatory, reformatory •momentary •affirmatory, confirmatory •explanatory • damnatory •condemnatory •cosignatory, signatory •combinatory •discriminatory, eliminatory, incriminatory, recriminatory •comminatory • exterminatory •hallucinatory • procrastinatory •monastery • repertory •emancipatory • anticipatory •exculpatory, inculpatory •declaratory, preparatory •respiratory • perspiratory •vibratory •migratory, transmigratory •exploratory, laboratory, oratory •inauguratory • adjuratory •corroboratory • reverberatory •refrigeratory • compensatory •desultory • dysentery •exhortatory, hortatory •salutatory • gustatory • lavatory •inventory •conservatory, observatory •improvisatory •accusatory, excusatory •lathery •feathery, heathery, leathery •dithery, slithery •carvery •reverie, severy •Avery, bravery, knavery, quavery, Savery, savory, savoury, slavery, wavery •thievery •livery, quivery, shivery •silvery •ivory, salivary •ovary •discovery, recovery •servery • equerry • reliquary •antiquary • cassowary • stipendiary •colliery • pecuniary • chinoiserie •misery • wizardry • citizenry •advisory, provisory, revisory, supervisory •causerie, rosary

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