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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 magicmagic,
in religion and superstition, the practice of manipulating and controlling the course of nature by preternatural means. Magic is based upon the belief that the universe is populated by unseen forces or spirits that permeate all things.
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 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 GnosticismGnosticism
, dualistic religious and philosophical movement of the late Hellenistic and early Christian eras. The term designates a wide assortment of sects, numerous by the 2d cent. A.D.
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), 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, most notably 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 was 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 shamanshaman
, religious practitioner in various, generally small-scale societies who is believed to be able to diagnose, cure, and sometimes cause illness because of a special relationship with, or control over, spirits.
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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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/

Witchcraft (1916) (movie)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A silent black and white movie from 1916, this is actually the winning scenario of a photoplay contest promoted by Columbia University and the Lasky Company. It was written by New Jersey physician R. Ralston Reed. The story is set in the New England colonies in Puritan times. An old man named Makepeace Struble, played by Paul Weigel, lusts after a young girl named Suzette (Fannie Ward). He threatens to accuse her mother of witchcraft if Suzette won't marry him. Despite her love for a young soldier (Jack Dean), Suzette does marry him. Makepeace becomes mean and abusive to the point where Suzette tells him she wishes he were dead. Shortly after, the old man does die and Suzette finds herself on trial for witchcraft. Her soldier lover then sets out to save her by having such witchcraft trials outlawed.

Witchcraft (1964) (movie)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A 1964 movie from Twentieth Century-Fox, directed by Don Sharp. It stars Lon Chaney Jr., Victor Brooks, and Diane Clare. The movie is set in an old English village where a man is trying to dig up an old cemetery. The graves contain the charred bodies of witches burned at the stake 300 years before (even though England did not burn its witches!). The man who looks after the cemetery is referred to as a warlock and attempts to stop the digger but is unable. As the graves of the witches are disturbed, the spirits of the deceased rise up and begin to wreak vengence on the family of the man who has disturbed them.

Witchcraft (1988) (movie)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A 1988 Italian movie directed by Robert Spera, it stars Anat Barzilai, Mary Shelly, Lee Kisman, Deborah Scott, and Gary Sloan. The story is a close copy of Rosemary's Baby. Grace, a new mother, and her husband John move into an old mansion owned by her mother-in-law. Grace quickly realizes that her husband and motherin-law are reincarnated witches who wish to use the newborn child in their Satanic rites. Happily, the mother has clairvoyant gifts which let her see something of the past lives of the two and help her stay one step ahead of them, although at one point she is abducted and almost sacrificed.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from Conspiracies and Secret Societies. It is a summary of a conspiracy theory, not a statement of fact.
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An engraving of Emperor Constantine having a vision of the cross. He converted to Christianity, the first Roman emperor to do so.


Evolving from a worship of nature, the ancient craft of the wise was transformed by Satan into an army of demonically inspired witches devoted to the capture of human souls and the destruction of the church.

For centuries, witchcraft, the “Old Religion,” the “ancient craft of the wise,” a nature-based religion, has been interwoven in the popular mind with Satanism, the worship of the devil. Witchcraft, magic, and sorcery arose when early humans began to believe that there was supernatural power in a charm, a spell, or a ritual to work good or evil. Most scholars agree that this primitive animism—imitating of the animal of the hunt through preparatory dance, snatching a bit of an enemy’s hair to be used in a charm against him, invoking spirits to do one’s will—began in Paleolithic times, at least fifty thousand years ago.

According to Raymond Buckland’s Witchcraft from the Inside, “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. 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 Horned God of the Hunt is pictured on the wall of the Caverne des Trois in southern France, painted by an inspired artist circa 18,000 B.C.E. At Le Tuc d’Audoubert, near the Caverne des Trois, archaeologists 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.

It is interesting to note the association of horns with divinity and consider 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 of either realistic or stylized design. The sacrifices of the Israelites were offered on horned altars. The two bronze altars in Solomon’s temple were equipped with horns, as was the altar at the shrine of the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem before Solomon. Michelangelo’s famous statue of Moses 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. 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.

By the historic period, the great civilizations of Egypt, Babylonia, and Persia had fully developed magical systems with entire hierarchies of sorcerers, priests, seers, and magi. Greece and Rome supported both a state religion of gods and goddesses and a loosely structured priestcraft. In addition, the mystery schools in Greece and Rome were popular among aristocrats and commoners alike and kept alive the mystical impulse in both cultures. While magic had attainted the status of a religion in the urban areas, the pagans, the people of the countryside, relied upon their witches and their herbalists. A number of historians agree that certain of the mystery school traditions and the gatherings of witches for their Great Sabbats in the forests of Europe were very similar in structure.

When Constantine the Great (c. 288–337) legally sanctioned Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, the influence of the Christian clergy grew rapidly. The Ecumenical Council of Laodicea in 364 issued a canon that forbade Christian priests to practice magic, astrology, or mathematics. By 525, with the influence of Christianity growing ever stronger, the Council of Oxia prohibited the parishioners from consulting sorcerers, diviners, or any kind of seer. The Council of Tours in 613 ordered all priests to teach their congregations that magical practices were ineffective methods for improving the health of humans and animals and were not to be employed as means of bettering one’s lot in life. A canon passed by the Council of Constantinople in 625 prescribed excommunication for a period of six years for anyone found practicing divination or consulting with a diviner. With each subsequent church council issuing stronger canons and edicts against magic and sorcery, those who dared to continue practicing the occult arts were forced to go underground.

Although the church had issued many canons forbidding the practice of magic, it had taken little action against the common folk practicing witchcraft. Organized persecution of witches was unknown until Abbot Regino of Prum’s Canon Episcopi in 906 C.E. condemned as heretical any belief in witchcraft or the power of sorcerers. A burning at the stake for heresy may have taken place in about the year 1000 in Ravenna, but the first clearly recorded burning for witchcraft occurred at Orléans in 1022, followed by others at Monforte in 1028. Executions for heresy were sporadic and few until 1197, when Pedro of Aragon ordered the burning of those who had relapsed in their promises to repent of their sins of doubt. In 1198 Pope Innocent III declared such individuals as traitors against Christ and condemned them to death by burning.

Fully organized church punishment of those who practiced witchcraft remained virtually nonexistent until exaggerated claims of the powers of the Cathar sect reached the ears of the papacy. It was said that the Cathars were practicing foul sorceries, blasphemous heresies, and black magic. What was worse, they appeared to prospering in their cities in southern France.

In 1208 Innocent III ordered the only crusade ever launched against fellow Christians by attacking the Cathars. The besieged sect somehow managed to hold out against the armies massed against them until Montségur, their final stronghold, fell in 1246. Hundreds of the survivors were burned at the stake as witches, for in 1233 the church had established the Holy Inquisition to stamp out heresy, sorcery, and witchcraft. And before he died in 1216, Innocent III had enacted a papal bull that allowed a judge to try a suspected witch or heretic even when there was no accuser and granted the inquisitor power to be both judge and prosecutor.

The population of medieval Europe had descended from the central Asian plateau, and they had brought their own gods, goddess, and religions with them. Centuries before, they had strained against the barriers that the Roman legions set against them until they finally broke through and flooded the continent. 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 remove 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. For the serfs, the pagans (which originally meant simply “country folk”), observance of the old nature worship was an expression of their wish to throw off the yoke of feudalism. The Christian God and the Christian ethic had been foisted upon them by the rulers of the land that their forefathers had conquered. 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 Mother Church.

The Sabbat is a day of ascendancy for witches. In the European countryside 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 and 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 the 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.

Although there was plenty of food and beer at the Sabbats, 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 in order to free the inhibitions of the celebrants. 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 even the heartiest 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 countryside of southern France and around the Black Forest region of Germany. The popularity of the pagan celebrations rose to its greatest height in the period from roughly 1200 to the Renaissance. The nobility and high church officials realized that such celebrations could only lead eventually to a rebellious and uncontrollable populace, and thus was born the Holy Inquisition.

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 large black cats. Although 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. Those 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 fifty-four knights were tortured en masse and burned at the stake, and their order was disbanded by Pope Clement V.

The first major witch hunt in Europe occurred in Switzerland in 1427; and in 1428, in Valais, there was a mass burning of a hundred witches. From about 1450 to 1750, some forty thousand to sixty thousand individuals were tried as witches and condemned to death in central Europe. As many as three-quarters of the victims were women.

In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued the papal bull Summis Desiderantes Affectibus and authorized two trusted Dominican inquisitors, Heinrich Institoris (Kramer) and Jacob Sprenger, to squelch the power of Satan in the Rhineland. In 1486 Sprenger and Kramer published their Malleus Maleficarum, the “Hammer for Witches,” which quickly became the official handbook of professional witch hunters. The work strongly refuted all claims that the works of demons exist only in troubled human minds. The Bible clearly tells how certain angels fell from heaven and sought to bewitch and seduce humans, and Sprenger and Kramer issued a strict warning that to believe otherwise was to believe contrary to the truth faith. Therefore, any persons who consorted with demons and became witches must recant their evil ways or be put to death.

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 proceedings. About forty 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, Switzerland—not 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 and the church itself had very 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. In 1965 Pope Paul VI reorganized the Holy Office and renamed it the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Various texts and various historians have claimed that the number of innocent people executed for the practice of witchcraft during the four centuries of active persecution was as high as 9 million. In 1999 Jenny Gibbons published the results of her research indicating that overall, approximately 75 percent to 80 percent of those accused of witchcraft were women, but that the total number of men and women who were actually hanged or burned for the “crime” probably did not exceed forty thousand.

Author and scholar Margot Adler has discovered that the source of the oft-quoted 9 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 that figure by the number of years various penal statues existed, then reconfigured the number to correspond to the population of Europe.

Conspiracies and Secret Societies, Second Edition © 2013 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



sorcery, magic, enchantment; according to folk belief, the mysterious ability of certain persons to cause or to deliver fromi various kinds of harm, to inflict or remove damage.

Belief in witchcraft has existed in backward, as well as developed, peoples; it reflects superstitious fear and powerlessness in the face of diseases, natural calamities, and so on. Belief in witchcraft has been preserved even where Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and other complex religions prevail, partially becoming interwoven with them. In medieval Europe the prevalent view, instilled by the Christian church, was that witchcraft was an activity of the devil, with whom sorcerers and witches had concluded a pact by selling him their souls. Clerical and secular powers cruelly persecuted all those suspected of witchcraft.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


See also Enchantment, Sorcery.
Circelike spellmaker; defeated by good magic. [Br. Opera: Handel, Alcina, Westerman, 54–55]
Baba Yaga
cannibalistic crone; stone-breasted companion of devil. [Russ. Folklore: Leach, 100]
Brocken Harz
peak; rendezvous for the Sabbat on Walpurgis Night. [Ger. Folklore: Leach, 165]
Broom Hilda
witch as cigar-smoking, love-starved crone. [Comics: Horn, 134]
turns Odysseus’s men into animals. [Gk. Myth.: Odyssey]
Cutty Sark
witch who pulls off the tail of Tam O’Shanter’s mare before it has fully escaped from her power. [Scot. Poetry: Benét, 242]
gypsy trains a goat to dance to her tambourine, is convicted of sorcery. [Fr. Lit.: Victor Hugo The Hunchback of Notre Dame]
mysterious goddess of Hades; associated with sorcery. [Gk. Myth.: Howe, 115]
sorceress; ugly messenger of the Grail castle. [Ger. Legend: Parzival; Ger. Opera: Parsifal]
Morgan le Fay
sorceress of Arthurian legend. [Medieval Romance: Brewer Dictionary, 620]
applies ointment to change into eagle. [Rom. Lit.: The Golden Ass]
Rosemary’s baby
through witchcraft, child born with horns and tail. [Am. Lit.: Rosemary’s Baby]
Salem, Massachusetts
locale of frenzied assault on supposed witches (1692). [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 442; Am. Lit.: The Crucible]
good witch married to a mortal. [TV: “Bewitched” in Terrace, I, 94–95]
Walpurgis Night
traditional German witches’ sabbath. [Ger. Folklore: NCE, 2918]
Weird Sisters
demon-women; predict Macbeth’s fate. [Br. Lit.: Macbeth]
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]
Witch of Endor
conjures up Samuel for distressed Saul. [O.T.: I Samuel 28:3–25]
Witches’ Hammer
manual for recognizing telltale marks of witches (15th century). [Eur. Hist.: Brewer Note-Book, 952]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. the art or power of bringing magical or preternatural power to bear or the act or practice of attempting to do so
2. the influence of magic or sorcery
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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Those who believe in the practice of witchcraft or sorcery are the ordinary folks of the island, but government people, academicians, the medical profession and the priests of the Catholic Church do not believe in it.
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Women, and men, who were accused of witchcraft were firmly embedded in their communities, which is why they were targeted.
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The family believed the death was caused by witchcraft as the woman had no illness.
Larry Younquoi, has announced the preparation of a bill called 'Witchcraft Bill,' that he says when passed, will do away with witch activities in Liberia and punish those involved in it.