Tag Archives: witch craze

What Is Witchcraft?

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines witchcraft as:

The human exercise of alleged supernatural powers for antisocial, evil purposes (so-called black magic). A female held to have such powers may be called a witch or sorceress, the male counterpart being named wizard, sorcerer, or warlock. Belief in witchcraft survives in modern technologically developed cultures and remains a potent factor in most nonliterate societies.

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines witchcraft in the following way:

a. an act or instance of employing sorcery especially with malevolent intent: a magical rite or technique; b. the exercise of supernatural powers: alleged intercourse with the devil or with a familiar.

and the Colliers Encyclopedia states:

Witchcraft may be defined for general purposes as the use of supposed supernatural power for antisocial ends. In primitive societies where magic is an accepted part of religious ritual, the witch is the unauthorized, and especially the malevolent, practitioner.

Notice that these works refer to witchcraft as the use of sorcery and supernatural power for malevolent intent. Witchcraft of this type exists in nearly every cultural setting. This judgment isn’t merely the conclusion of “Christian culture.” Historian Jeffrey B. Russell, who is not at all hostile toward modern Neopaganism, states:

Folk tales, like dreams, express the concerns of the unconscious in symbols; the meaning of the figure of the witch, like the meaning of any symbol, varies with the story. Usually, however, she represents an elemental natural force possessing enormous and unexpected powers against which a natural person is unable to prepare or defend himself, a force not necessarily evil, but so alien and remote from the world of mankind as to constitute a threat to the social ethical, and even physical order of the cosmos. This manner of portraying the witch is very ancient and probably archetypal. This witch is neither a simple sorceress, nor a demonolater, nor a pagan. She is a hostile presence from another world. The gut terror inspired by this archetypal witch helps to explain the excesses of hatred and fear that welled up during the witch craze.

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