Witchcraft, in historical, anthropological, religious, and mythological contexts, is the alleged use of supernatural or magical powers. A witch (from Old English wicca masculine, wicce feminine) is a practitioner of witchcraft. Historically, it was widely believed in early modern Christian Europe that witches were in league with the Devil and used their powers to harm people and property. Particularly, since the mid-20th century, “bad” and “good” witchcraft are sometimes distinguished, the latter often involving healing. The concept of witchcraft as harmful is normally treated as a cultural ideology, a means of explaining human misfortune by blaming it either on a supernatural entity or a known person in the community.

Beliefs in witchcraft, and resulting witch-hunts, are both found in many cultures worldwide, today mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa (e.g., in the witch smellers in Bantu culture), and historically notably in Early Modern Europe of the 14th to 18th century, where witchcraft came to be seen as a vast diabolical conspiracy against Christianity, and accusations of witchcraft led to large-scale witch-hunts, especially in Germanic Europe.

The “witch-cult hypothesis”, a controversial theory that European witchcraft was a suppressed pagan religion, was popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. Since the mid-20th century, Witchcraft has become the self-designation of a branch of neopaganism, especially in the Wicca tradition following Gerald Gardner, who claimed a religious tradition of Witchcraft with pre-Christian roots.

 

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