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Witchcraft is a term used to describe the practices of witches, and popular beliefs about the practices of witches. European Christians in the medieval era, some conservative Christians today, Neopagans and many African religions (past and present) believe that witchcraft can produce effects that are beyond the natural powers of man. In other words, they believe that witchcraft is genuine magic. However, the way they characterize it differs widely.

Modern science has found no evidence to support the claims witchcraft makes about the world or its own efficacy. Witchcraft as practiced by some Neopagans is, however, very similar to and supported by the findings of psychology. This is, however, a minority practice and not what is usually meant by the term Witchcraft.

Table of contents
1 Witchcraft in the Bible
2 Jewish views of witchcraft
3 see also Christian views on witchcraft
4 Witchcraft and the paranormal
5 African Witchcraft
6 Neopagan Witchcraft

Ancient middle-eastern and near-eastern beliefs

The belief in witchcraft and its practice seem to have been widespread in the past. Both in ancient Egypt and in Babylonia it played a conspicuous part, as existing records plainly show. It will be sufficient to quote a short section from the Code of Hammurabi (about 2000 B.C.). It is there prescribed,

If a man has laid a charge of witchcraft and has not justified it, he upon whom the witchcraft is laid shall go to the holy river; he shall plunge into the holy river and if the holy river overcome him, he who accused him shall take to himself his house.

Witchcraft in the Bible

Witchcraft in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament)

In the Bible references to witchcraft are frequent, and the strong condemnations of such practices which we read there do not seem to be based so much upon the supposition of fraud as upon the "abomination" of the magic in itself. (See Deuteronomy 18:11-12; Exodus 22:18, "wizards thou shalt not suffer to live" - A.V. "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live".) The whole narrative of Saul's visit to the witch of En Dor (I Kings 28) implies the reality of the witch's evocation of the shade of Samuel; and from Leviticus 20:27: "A man or woman in whom there is a pythonical or divining spirit, dying let them die: they shall stone them: Their blood be upon them", we should naturally infer that the divining spirit was not a mere imposture.

Witchcraft in the New Testament

The prohibitions of sorcery in the New Testament leave the same impression (Galatians 5:20, compared with Apocalypse 21:8; 22:15; and Acts 8:9; 13:6). Supposing that the belief in witchcraft were an idle superstition, it would be strange that the suggestion should nowhere be made that the evil of these practices only lay in the pretending to the possession of powers which did not really exist.

Jewish views of witchcraft

Almost all modern day Jews view the practice of witchcraft as idolatry, a serious theological offense in Judaism. Jews believe that the practices associated with witchcraft and magic are in vain, as such magic and supernatural forces don't actually exist. The only supernatural belief Jews still maintain is the belief in God. It should be noted that a small number of Orthodox Jews who study Kabbalah (Jewish esoteric mysticism) do believe in magic; their practices use terminology that varies greatly from witchcraft, but the basic ideas (using supernatural forces to effect results in the physical world) are identical. Most Jews find such ideas ludicrous; since The Enlightenment most Jewish people have abandoned a belief in the Kabbalah.

see also Christian views on witchcraft

Witches have often been imagined to have the power to fly on broomsticks or distaffs. This mural of a naked pagan sexuality/fertility goddess on a distaff suggests that the connection may have originally been a sexual one (sticks and staffs have long been common masturbation devices, orgasm is achieved by rubbing them between the legs against the clitoris). From Jones, Prudence and Pennick, Nigel: A history of pagan Europe.

Witchcraft and the paranormal

It is not easy to draw a clear distinction between magic and witchcraft. Both are concerned with the producing of effects beyond the natural powers of man by agencies other than the Divine (occultism). But in witchcraft, as commonly understood, there is involved the idea of a diabolical pact or at least an appeal to the intervention of the spirits of evil. In such cases this supernatural aid is usually invoked either to compass the death of some obnoxious person, or to awaken the passion of love in those who are the objects of desire, or to call up the dead, or to bring calamity or impotence upon enemies, rivals, and fancied oppressors. This is not an exhaustive enumeration, but these represent some of the principal purposes that witchcraft has been made to serve at nearly all periods of the world's history.

In the traditional European belief, not only of the dark ages[?], but of post-Reformation times, the witches or wizards addicted to such practices entered into a compact with Satan, adjured Christ and the sacraments, observed "the witches' sabbath" - performing infernal rites which often took the shape of a parody of the Mass or the offices of the Church - paid Divine honour to the Prince of Darkness, and in return received from him preternatural powers, such as those of riding through the air on a broomstick, assuming different shapes at will, and tormenting their chosen victims, while an imp or "familiar spirit" was placed at their disposal, able and willing to perform any service that might be needed to further their nefarious purposes.

Another belief is that those who practice witchcraft are being vague and deceptive. This view holds that while those who practice witchcraft may have the intention of helping people, in the end they are working against the will of God. Both "good" and "bad" witchcraft are condemned. In addition, one who practices witchcraft need not necessarily contact any supernatural beings. They may simply be using moods, lighting, and manipulating the situation to give the appearance of contact with the dead. They may even use ventriloquism to make it seem as if a being has entered a room. An example cited is the biblical story of the witch of En Dor (I Samuel 28) who, when she was successful in bringing up Samuel from the dead, screamed out in surprise and fear. Some use this passage to imply that the witch did not really expect a being to appear and was shocked and afraid when a being did appear. The conclusion is that in the past she had simply faked the appearances.

African Witchcraft

Africans have a wider range of views, some believing the same things that Christians do, while others believeing that witchcraft may be value-neutral, or perhaps even used for good. The African practice led to the term witch doctor[?]. The African practice led to several related religious in the Americas. See Voudun, Obeah[?], Candomble[?], Santeria.

(Need to also discuss Obeah, Candomble, Voudun in more detail)

Neopagan Witchcraft

Neopagans believe that witchcraft exists as a way of doing good, and eschew any evil usages (See the Wiccan Rede and the Rule of Three). Their belief is sometimes very similar to the belief of Christians in prayer, that the Divine will acknowledge and grant answers to a ritual given in a Deity's name. More often, however, modern neopagans believe that the power of witchcraft comes about primarily in the way it acts upon the person, not due to any divine intervention. Many neopagans, however, believe that witchcraft is a way of working directly with Divine forces.

Many neopagans believe that people are comprised of three selves. The three selves are the Talking Self (the conscious mind), the Younger Self (the unconscious mind) and the Higher Self (the Soul, also called the Divine Self). It is believed that the unconscious (Younger Self) is not capable of speaking or of understanding speech, but understands and responds to symbolism.

Therefore, to many Neopagans the power of a ritual is in the way its symbolism speaks to the Younger Self. Psychology has shown that beliefs have an effect on one's perception of reality, such as the placebo effect. Some neopagans believe that witchcraft is a way of tapping into those forces.

People who call themselves Neopagans are more likely to take this view. People who go by the term Wiccan are more likely to believe in divine action. Also, not all people who practice witchcraft consider themselves Wiccan or Neopagan, and vice versa.

See also Witchhunts, seid.

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