Practices believed to use supernatural powers / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Witchcraft, as most commonly understood in both historical and present-day communities, is the use of alleged supernatural powers of magic. A witch (from Old English wicce f. / wicca m.) is a practitioner of witchcraft. Traditionally, "witchcraft" means the use of magic or supernatural powers to inflict harm or misfortune on others, and this remains the most common and widespread meaning.[1]:ix[2] According to Encyclopedia Britannica, "Witchcraft thus defined exists more in the imagination of contemporaries than in any objective reality. Yet this stereotype has a long history and has constituted for many cultures a viable explanation of evil in the world."[3] The belief in witchcraft has been found in a great number of societies worldwide. Anthropologists have applied the English term "witchcraft" to similar beliefs in occult practices in many different cultures, and societies that have adopted the English language have often internalised the term.[4][2][5]

In medieval and early modern Europe, where belief in witchcraft traces back to classical antiquity, accused witches were usually women who were believed to have used black magic (maleficium) against their own community, and often to have communed with evil beings, though British anthropologist Jean La Fontaine notes that the "stereotype of evil appears not to have been closely connected to the actions of real people except when it was mobilised against the current enemies of the Church."[6] Usually, accusations of witchcraft were made by their neighbors and followed from social tensions. It was thought witchcraft could be thwarted by protective magic or counter-magic, which could be provided by the 'cunning folk' or 'wise people'. Suspected witches were also intimidated, banished, attacked or killed. Often they would be formally prosecuted and punished, if found guilty or simply believed to be guilty. European witch-hunts and witch trials in the early modern period led to tens of thousands of executions. While magical healers and midwives were sometimes accused of witchcraft themselves,[7]:7–13[2]:519[8][9] they made up a minority of those accused. European belief in witchcraft gradually dwindled during and after the Age of Enlightenment.

Many indigenous belief systems that include the concept of witchcraft likewise define witches as malevolent, and seek healers and medicine people for protection against witchcraft.[10][11] Some African and Melanesian peoples believe witches are driven by an evil spirit or substance inside them. Modern witch-hunting takes place in parts of Africa and Asia. Some indigenous groups view witchcraft in other ways, including as a method of preserving cultural knowledge.[12][13][14]:381–409[15][verification needed]

Today, followers of certain types of modern paganism self-identify as witches and use the term witchcraft for their beliefs and practices.[16][17][18] Other neo-pagans avoid the term due to its negative connotations.[19]