Last modified on February 23, 2023, at 18:38


A witch is someone who practices witchcraft. The name can be used for either male or female practitioners, but adherents are overwhelmingly women. More than a million in the United States practice some form of witchcraft, and the numbers are increasing.[1] The Bible contains multiple references to witches, such as 1Samuel28 :3-25 .


Witchcraft is a loose group of beliefs, practices, or rituals that can be variously adopted by almost anyone of any faith. Witchcraft isn't strictly a religion, but it is generally practiced by people with religious beliefs. Witchcraft does not have any staple beliefs but instead consists of many different beliefs drawn from different sources. The practices of natural medicine, folk medicine, spiritual healing, divination, and shamanism can be applied under the umbrella term of witchcraft. More modern practices, such as the practice of alternative medicine, as well as New Age healing techniques such as Crystal healing, herbalism, Reiki, and aromatherapy, technically fall under the witchcraft umbrella. Some practices,such as certain herbal remedies, go far back into human history, although it is virtually impossible to distinguish the exact lineage of those practices considered witchcraft.

Witching hour

In New Zealand English, midnight is the "witching hour", the time when witches are supposedly active.[2]

The Difference Between Wicca and Witchcraft

Wicca can be technically considered a witchcraft tradition. However, because Wicca is more codified and has more defined traditions and practices as well as a large adherent population, Wicca is generally considered its own belief system.


In Europe—both Catholic and Protestant areas—from 1350 to 1650 several hundred thousand witches were executed—often by burning—after legal proceedings. One-quarter of those executed for witchcraft were men. In Exodus 22:18 the Old Testament specifically bans witchcraft under penalty of death. A famous British case was the Pendle Witch trials of 1612 AD.

Many of those executed were targeted less for spiritual reasons and more for earthly concerns; the accuser and the administrator of punishment often shared the spoils when the belongings and wealth of a person executed for witchcraft. The hysteria also gave a perfect opportunity for people to get rid of people they disliked for personal reasons or people who didn't fit the idea the community had of an ideal member.

Colonial America

The most famous episode was the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 in Massachusetts, in which 19 accused witches were hanged and one man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death with stones. No one was burned.

Salem was typical in that the belief in witches was widespread in colonial America. In Virginia, supernatural beliefs played a major role in interpreting the unknown and establishing social order. The supernatural world of the early settlers was comprised of belief in benevolent and demonic forces, divine judgment, omens, magic, witchcraft, combat with the devil, and other ideas transported from England. This complex supernatural world functioned to explain the unknown, sanction colonization, justify racial discrimination and acts of violence against Native Americans, control the colonists, and defend against internal and external enemies.[3]


In 19th century romanticism, witches and the occult became popular figures of novels and fairy-tales. Most of the times they were of evil and dangerous character, but there are also examples of benevolent character. At about the same time they became popular carnival figures.

Native Americans

Most Native American tribes believed in witchcraft and practiced magic. Some Native American tribes have converted to Christianity, but the old witchcraft traditions of a number of tribes are still practiced and kept alive today.

Atheistic witchcraft

Individuals who subscribe to atheism sometimes practice witchcraft and magic.[4][5] An organization dedicated to the public acceptance of witchcraft known as The Realm of White Magic states that this is possible because "witchcraft is a lifestyle choice not a spiritual belief system."[6] In the past, witchcraft was often viewed as a precursor of atheism.[7][8] However, some who subscribe to atheism have often stood in opposition to the practice of witchcraft.[9]

Modern Usage

The term witchhunt deontes a political crusade against a particular group.

Witchcraft remains prevalent in Africa as well as Haiti. People throughout African countries live in great fear and paranoia about witchcraft and its effects. People are often attacked or even killed because their neighbors suspect them of being witches.

See also

Further reading

Colonial America

  • Boyer, Paul, and Stephen Nissenbaum. Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft (1974)
  • Breslaw, Elaine G., ed. Witches of the Atlantic World: A Historical Reader and Primary Sourcebook (2000). 561 pp.
  • Demos, John. Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England (1982)
  • Godbeer, Richard. The Devil's Dominion: Magic and Religion in Early New England. (1992). 253 pp.
  • Hall, David D. "Witchcraft and the Limits of Interpretation," New England Quarterly 1985 58(2): 253-281. in JSTOR


  • Ankarloo, Bengt and Henningsen, Gustav, eds. Early Modern European Witchcraft. Centres and Peripheries. (1990). 477 pp.
  • Barstow, Anne Llewellyn. Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts. (1994). 255 pp.
  • Ben-Yehuda, Nachman. "The European Witch Craze of the 14th to 17th Centuries: A Sociologist's Perspective," American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 86, No. 1 (Jul., 1980), pp. 1–31 in JSTOR
  • Breslaw, Elaine G., ed. Witches of the Atlantic World: A Historical Reader and Primary Sourcebook (2000). 561 pp.
  • Levack, Brian P. The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe. (1987). 267 pp.
  • Macfarlane, Alan. Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England (1970)
  • Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971) in Britain and Europe
  • Williams, Gerhild Scholz. Defining Dominion: The Discourses of Magic and Witchcraft in Early Modern France and Germany. (1995). 234 pp.

Witchcraft today

  • Ashforth, Adam. "Witchcraft, Violence, and Democracy in the New South Africa," Cahiers d'Études Africaines, Vol. 38, in JSTOR
  • Ciekawy, Diane, and Peter Geschiere. "Containing Witchcraft: Conflicting Scenarios in Postcolonial Africa," African Studies Review, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Dec., 1998), pp. 1–14 in JSTOR
  • Lewis, James R., ed. Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft (1996). 423 pp.
  • Reis, Elizabeth, ed. Spellbound: Women and Witchcraft in America (1998). 282pp. on Wicca


  2. The New Zealand Oxford Dictionary. 
  3. Edward L. Bond, "Source of Knowledge, Source of Power: the Supernatural World of English Virginia, 1607-1624," Virginia Magazine of History and Biographywicc 2000 108(2): 105-138. 0042-6636
  4. Judika Illes. Weiser Field Guide to Witches. Weiser Books. Retrieved on 13 November 2010. “Non-Wiccan witches may belong to any spiritual or religious tradition or none—agnostic or atheist witches are typically considered non-Wiccan.” 
  5. Raymond Buckland. Wicca for Life: The Way of the Craft - From Birth to Summerland. Citadel Press. Retrieved on 13 November 2010. “You can even be an atheist and do magic. Magic is a practice and, in itself, does not involve any connection with deity.” 
  6. Witchcraft, Wicca and/or Paganism. The Realm of White Magic. Retrieved on 13 November 2010. “Witchcraft is a lifestyle choice not a spiritual belief system (even an atheist can be a witch).”
  7. John Locke, Toleration and Early Enlightenment Culture (Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History). Cambridge University Press. Retrieved on 13 November 2010. “At other points, the association of atheism, heresies, idolatry and witchcraft was stated by Bacon in the Advancement of Learning in ways that simultaneously differentiated and yet assimilated them.” 
  8. Renaissance Magic and the Return of the Golden Age: The Occult Tradition and Marlowe, Jonson, and Shakespeare. University of Nebraska Press. Retrieved on 13 November 2010. “Of central importance for the present study is the fact that Marlowe was in contact with several of the most advanced and open-minded scientists and philosophers in Europe, and he was intensely and no doubt uncomfortably aware that among the tools used to suppress freedom of inquiry were accusations of atheism and witchcraft.” 
  9. Atheism and Secularity: Issues, concepts, and definitions. ABC-CLIO. Retrieved on 13 November 2010. “In the Hyderabad State, the belief in witchcraft and sorcery is still deeply entrenched in the minds of the people. In 1983, leaders in the district administration in Medak invited the Atheist Centre to help dispel such superstitions.” 

External links