Hans Baldung Grien, Witches, woodcut, 1508. Mu...
Hans Baldung Grien, Witches, woodcut, 1508. Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain was meant to evoke a witches’ sabbath. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From his study of African witchcraft, the anthropologist E. E. Evans Pritchard distinguished witchcraft from sorcery: Witches are physically born as such while a person may become a sorcerer later in life.

Both are traditionally associated with evil.

In legend witches use magical spells and potions to work their malice. Legends also tell of good “white witches,” as found in shamanism or fairy tales. In Africa, the original meaning of the witch doctor was “one who cures the illness caused by a witch.”

In 1326 Pope John XXII responded to Dominican pressure by proclaiming witchcraft a heresy. European witch hysteria became so pronounced in the 14th century that mass witch trials began in 1397 in Lucerne.

In 1486 two Dominican monks wrote the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches or Witches Hammer). The book was a grisly, perverse manual on how to identify and force confessions out of suspected witches, who in most cases were deemed guilty before arrest. Statistics reveal that in Essex of Southwest England 91% of the 271 accused of sorcery from 1560 – 1680 were women.

The Church could legally claim the land and economic holdings of convicted witches. Some believe that in convicting so-called witches, perverse clergy were more interested in worldly than spiritual gain. Most of the condemned were vulnerable women and therefore scapegoats—the poor, the single and those deemed unattractive or different. Accordingly, Carl Jung says the persecution of witches in Europe and North America was a mass projection of the shadow.

UPN took great advantage promoting the network...
UPN took great advantage promoting the network switch by teasing fans of Buffy’s resurrection from The WB’s series finale. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, witchcraft has become a complicated phenomenon. Many recognize witchcraft as an alternative religion. Aspiring women witches join covens and many practice what they believe is white magic.

A variety of commercial occult products has grown alongside the modern practice of witchcraft.

The idea of the ethically ambiguous witch has also been popularized and, to some extent, normalized through film and TV productions, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In the TV version of Buffy, the character Willow uses witchcraft for the good but becomes consumed by her quest for magical power and eventually allows evil to dominate her. Although many religious fundamentalists might deplore such an apparently ‘evil’ program, the TV series closes with Willow regaining her humility (and humanity) by allowing love to reenter her life.

Related Posts » Ancestor Cults, Archetypal Image, Glamour, Haensel and Gretel, Latin, C. S. Lewis, Macbeth, Madness, Neo-Paganism, Odyssey, Psychosis, Scholarship, Barbara G. Walker

Of interest:

John Paul II revived the Inquisition» http://jp2m.blogspot.com/2006/11/john-paul-ii-revived-inquisition.html



  1. […] study of African witchcraft, the anthropologist E. E. Evans Pritchard distinguished witchcraft frohttps://earthpages.wordpress.com/2008/07/22/witch/Wicca – by William SchnoebelenWilliam Schnoebelen thought wicca was a harmless nature-worshipping […]


    • I think it was a complex of factors. Projection, hypocrisy, greed, and evil. IMO the human mind is quite impressionable. And we’re probably born with a handbag of biases, even before they’re culturally reinforced or learned. I don’t think the situation is all that different today. Brainwashed people are all around. And try talking sense to them and you get the same kind of intransigence. Until, of course, all the dirt comes out in the headlines. Then they might think… “hey, now I see what that guy (or gal) was talking about.”


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