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What is Witchcraft: An Attempt to Define the Witch and Her Craft

Updated on September 26, 2015
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Perceptions

With the neo-paganism movement, witchcraft has typically been associated with Wicca and witch is generally the term for one (usually a female) who follows the Wiccan path.

Looking back through history however, witchcraft has had many different meanings and the majority of them have not been favorable.

Witchcraft also has many different meanings among individuals. Everyone has a different definition and everyone believes they can define witchcraft perfectly but these definitions are based on their personal perception of witchcraft. These perceptions are typically based on the person’s religion or belief system and are not unbiased.

Yet witches and witchcraft remain a controversial and popular topic. In fact, you could say that our society throughout history has been obsessed with witchcraft. But why?

The only way to understand the obsession is to take a look at history and try to determine why witchcraft captured our attention in the first place.

Source
Reiki charged spell candles.
Reiki charged spell candles. | Source

History

For eons humans have been fascinated with the ability to effect change on their lives. Magic has been used to accomplish this goal since prehistoric times.

Shamanism can be traced back 30,000 years or more through paintings on cave walls. The earliest societies used shamans as the mediator between spiritual beings and the people.

They were the practitioners of spiritual communication and divination who could use their powers for good, or to inflict harm, which was a large part of early human existence. It seems we have always been fascinated by what may happen to us in the future and the possibility of an afterlife.

Much of what we know about the spiritualities of past societies such as those thriving in the Stone Age or Neolithic age comes from the sites where the dead were prepared for burial. The meticulous way the dead were cared for reflects the ideology and evolution of the society.

The mortuary rituals of these ancient societies are directly related to their social structuring. This is blatantly evident in the Egyptian culture. Mummification was a very tedious and scrupulous undertaking lasting about 70 days. The bodies of the deceased were adorned with flowers, amulets and herbs among other things to protect the soul on its journey.

In later Dynasties, the bodies were eviscerated, and the organs wrapped and placed in canopic jars. Egyptians believed the ba, best translated as the “soul,” could only survive in the afterlife if the body and organs remained preserved.

The soul could only travel to the afterlife if it weighted less than the feather of Maat. This is another example of fascination with the future and the soul’s journey to the afterlife.

A statue of Maat that can be kept on an altar or other spiritual area.
A statue of Maat that can be kept on an altar or other spiritual area. | Source
Incense typically represents the element of air in pagan rituals.
Incense typically represents the element of air in pagan rituals. | Source
Source

Since witchcraft uses spells and magick, it is assumed witches can manipulate the future, which both fascinates and intimidates us. We tend to fear that which we do not understand, and witchcraft has fallen victim to this fear numerous times throughout the ages.

Just about all societies throughout history have believed in some form of witchcraft. In Europe, practicing witchcraft was a crime during the early modern period (between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries) with witch-hunts advancing into colonial America around the seventeenth century.

Many societies believed witches to be shape-shifting temptresses who participated in orgies and were in service to the devil.

Other beliefs held images of witches as old, ugly hags with the ability to shape shift and fly around the world on broomsticks. These beliefs were fostered by the early Christian church, which was preoccupied by its fear of witchcraft, using it as the main reason for common misfortune.

Interestingly, magical amulets were used to prevent or cure the malevolence of witches. Objects such as holed stones, plants or roots were used for this purpose.

Catholic prayers were used as a remedy for curses or bewitching leading to the belief that the language of Christianity or Catholicism was synonymous with magical power. This magical power could also be used to excise demons that caused fevers or other diseases in their unsuspecting victims.

Healers were typically witches, sorcerers or old wives all of which were able to create some type of magical transformation to heal from, protect against or cause harm. This is the origin of the term “old wives tale.”

Old wives would distribute medicinal herbs, or other cures, to patients along with magical lore, or “tales,” to produce what we would call the “placebo effect.” These are the same people most likely to be accused of witchcraft because of their magical and medicinal knowledge.

With this brief look at history, it's easy to see where the fascination with the power of witchcraft came from and why there is a fear of its “evil” nature. However, we have yet to stumble on the actual definition of witchcraft, because it does not exist.

The term witchcraft means something different to everyone, so a definitive meaning is impossible to pin down. Those of us practicing witchcraft must come up with our own definition of what it means to us, and why we practice it.

© Copyright 2012 - 2015 by Melissa "Daughter of Maat" Flagg ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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    • Radical Rog profile image

      Peter Rogers 5 years ago from Plymouth

      Of course they also saw to the spiritual health of the village as well.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Interesting, thank you for sharing!!

    • Radical Rog profile image

      Peter Rogers 5 years ago from Plymouth

      The word witch comes from ‘wiché (feminine) and ‘wichá (masculine) giving the modern interpretation of wise woman or wise man, more correctly, he/she who knows.

      These were the village healers, an important requirement for any healthy settlement. Strangely enough, rising persecution by early Church missionaries corresponds with the rise of plague and other infectious diseases. Perhaps this is because the 'witch' used to 'know' and the sick used to be isolated in a 'sick house' outside the village compound, which all stopped when these missionaries began their persecution.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @loladusk, thank you so much for your comment! :D It made me blush lol

      @tillsontitan I agree! I think there needs to be a healthy respect for all religions and beliefs. The only way for us to grow as humans is to learn and understand other people's perceptions. Religion is just another way to perceive life and what it's about. Thank you so much for your insightful comment!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      While I am a Christian, a Catholic Christian, I appreciate other people's rights to their own beliefs. I especially liked your quote "... I think all religions are just one way of walking a path and everyone has the right to choose their own path." I'm not sure if the Pope would agree with me, but I believe what's in your heart is what guides you! My guidance is my belief in my religion and my God, yours is a different path.

      I have always been fascinated with witches and do have a friend who is a wicca (I always thought it was wican).

      Voted up and interesting.

    • Loladusk profile image

      Loladusk 5 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC Canada

      Refreshing, I do enjoy your work, and can relate very well..voted up :)

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      You're right, I 'm going to update this hub, thanks for the ideas!

    • nasake profile image

      nasake 5 years ago from England

      unfortunately, we all seem to forget that there are witches out there that do tarnish our reputation. Not everybody that practices witchcraft do so for the same reasons, and we need to remember that other religions practice too. For an example, the Masons are christian witches that perform their witchcraft with the aim of power and wealth... and of course satanism, that perform witchcraft mainly for harm. Telling of these small sects within the "misconceptions" part of your hub will further strengthen our defence, refer to the bad so that the good can be noticed.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Personally, I believe a witch is anyone who practices earth-based spirituality. Goes with the flow, as it were, of the cycles of Mother Earth. Organized religion in childhood never "did it" for me. There was no place in it for those like myself who happened to be psychic and weren't ashamed of this "gift". I searched for years for an alternative belief system. It was finally introduced to me in a book called simply "Druids", about pre-Roman Britain where people routinely relayed messages to one another "on the wind" (by telepathy). A bit more research brought me to Wicca and paganism.

      Thank you for an enlightening explanation of a belief system that has nothing whatsoever to do with devil worship. In true witchcraft, there is no such animal.

    • nasake profile image

      nasake 5 years ago from England

      Nice hub! I have done something very similar, "All you ever need to know about magic." I'm not sure if it will offer you much as of course you are a ten year practitioner as i am but it might act as ten minutes of enjoyment :P

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Exactly, personally I think all religions are just one way of walking a path and everyone has the right to choose their own path. Great comment thank you!

    • lucybell21 profile image

      Bonny OBrien 5 years ago from Troy, N.Y.

      Who is to say what religion is right or wrong? We all have our beliefs. I think if I have read right before, the Cristans took prayers and what not from the pagans. They were said to be evil, because they were different. Witches are all about nature and the earth, and not hurting anyone, and what are called spells are basically a prayer, only asking help from the universe, and it's energies. Humm this is an awesome subject, and so much debate on it as well.

    • nityanandagaurang profile image

      nityanandagaurang 5 years ago

      very interesting hub

    • Dale Hyde profile image

      Dale Hyde 5 years ago from Tropical Paradise on Planet X

      You are most welcome, and I will be looking forward to your follow up hub, Daughter Of Maat.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Thank you so much Dale!

    • Dale Hyde profile image

      Dale Hyde 5 years ago from Tropical Paradise on Planet X

      Yet another outstanding spiritual hub that is well done! The misconceptions given to Witchcraft by the various forms of media are really so far off base! Voted up, interesting and useful! Blessings!

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Very eloquently put! I believe that applies to all pagan spirituality.

    • learnlovelive profile image

      learnlovelive 5 years ago from U.S.

      holistic and altruistic - the wiccan seeks to bridge the gap tween man and natural forces beyond scientific dissemination.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      I agree, and I'd like to try to change that association. My next hub will discuss the beliefs of witches and hopefully that will help to dispel some of the negative connotations. But, unfortunately, I don't believe witchcraft will ever be fully accepted in my lifetime! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    • hecate-horus profile image

      hecate-horus 5 years ago from Rowland Woods

      Interesting hub. Unfortunately, to most, witchcraft is associated and defined negatively. To me, it's means "heart, home and soul". Thanks for sharing, voted up!