Witchcraft, in various historical, anthropological, religious and mythological contexts, is the use of certain kinds of alleged supernatural or magical powers. A witch is a practitioner of witchcraft, and may be male or female. While mythological witches are often supernatural creatures, historically many people were also accused of witchcraft, or claimed to be witches. Witchcraft still exists in a number of belief systems, with many modern practitioners.

The term "witchcraft" can have positive or negative connotations depending on cultural context; for instance, in post-Christian European cultures it has historically been associated with evil and the Devil, while most modern witches see it as beneficent and morally positive.

In mythological contexts, witches are most often female, the male equivalent being a wizard, sorcerer, warlock or magician. In a modern Wiccan or Neopagan context women and men are "witches" equally, the term "warlock" being reserved for those who have betrayed their fellows.

Practices and beliefs that have been termed "witchcraft" do not constitute a single identifiable religion, since they are found in a wide variety of cultures, both present and historical; however these beliefs do generally involve religious elements dealing with spirits or deities, the afterlife, magic and ritual. Witchcraft is generally characterised by its use of magic.

Sometimes witchcraft is used to refer, broadly, to the practice of indigenous magic, and has a connotation similar to shamanism. Depending on the values of the community, witchcraft in this sense may be regarded with varying degrees of respect or suspicion, or with ambivalence, being neither intrinsically good nor evil. Members of some religions have applied the term witchcraft in a pejorative sense to refer to all magical or ritual practices other than those sanctioned by their own doctrines - although this has become less common, at least in the Western world.

According to some religious doctrines, all forms of magic are labelled witchcraft, and are either proscribed or treated as superstitious. Such religions consider their own ritual practices to be not at all magical, but rather simply variations of prayer.

"Witchcraft" is also used to refer, narrowly, to the practice of magic in an exclusively inimical sense. If the community accepts magical practice in general, then there is typically a clear separation between witches (in this sense) and the terms used to describe legitimate practitioners. This use of the term is most often found in accusations against individuals who are suspected of causing harm in the community by way of supernatural means. Belief in witches of this sort has been common among most of the indigenous populations of the world, including Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. On occasion such accusations have led to witch hunts.

Under the monotheistic religions of the Levant (primarily Christianity, and Islam), witchcraft came to be associated with heresy, rising to a fever pitch among the Catholics, Protestants, and secular leadership of the European Late Medieval/Early Modern period. Throughout this time, the concept of witchcraft came increasingly to be interpreted as a form of Devil worship. Accusations of witchcraft were frequently combined with other charges of heresy against such groups as the Cathars and Waldensians.

In the modern Western world, witchcraft accusations have often accompanied the Satanic Ritual Abuse hysteria. Such accusations are a counterpart to blood libel of various kinds, which may be found throughout history across the globe.

Practices to which the witchcraft label have historically been applied are those which influence another person's body or property against his or her will, or which are believed, by the person doing the labelling, to undermine the social or religious order. Some modern commentators, especially neopagan ones, consider the malefic nature of witchcraft to be a Christian projection.

The concept of a magic-worker influencing another person's body or property against his or her will was clearly present in many cultures, as there are traditions in both folk magic and religious magic that have the purpose of countering malicious magic or identifying malicious magic users. Many examples can be found in ancient texts, such as those from Egypt and Babylonia. Where malicious magic is believed to have the power to influence the body or possessions, malicious magic users can become a credible cause for disease, sickness in animals, bad luck, sudden death, impotence and other such misfortunes. Witchcraft of a more benign and socially acceptable sort may then be employed to turn the malevolence aside, or identify the supposed evil-doer so that punishment may be carried out. The folk magic used to identify or protect against malicious magic users is often indistinguishable from that used by the witches themeslves.

There has also existed in popular belief the concept of white witches and white witchcraft, which is strictly benevolent. Some neopagan witches identify with this concept, and profess strong ethical codes that prevent them from attempting magic on someone without that person having requested it or at least given permission.

Where belief in malicious magic practices exists they are typically forbidden by law as well as hated and feared by the general populace, while beneficial witchcraft is tolerated or even accepted wholesale by the people - even if the orthodox establishment objects to it.

Probably the most obvious characteristic of a witch is the ability to cast magic spells. Spells can be cast by many methods, including meditation, burning of candles, chanting or reciting incantations, performing physical rituals and making herbal, oil or incense preparations. Spells can also be attached to physical objects.

Sometimes quite simple and mundane actions can constitute the physical casting of a spell, and it is a common belief amongst modern witches that the intention behind the actions is at least as important as the actions themselves. Methods are many and differ from witch to witch.

Strictly speaking, "Necromancy" is the practice of conjuring the spirits of the dead for divination or prophecy - although the term has also been applied to raising the dead for other purposes. The Biblical 'Witch' of Endor is supposed to have performed it (1 Sam. 28), and it is among the witchcraft practices condemned by Ælfric of Eynsham:

"Yet fares witches to where roads meet, and to heathen burials with their phantom craft and call to them the devil, and he comes to them in the dead man's likeness, as if he from death arises, but she cannot cause that to happen, the dead to arise through her wizardry."[1]

In Wicca, Samhain or Halloween is held to be the time when the veil between the living world and the Other World is at its thinnest, and this is a common time to attempt contact with those who have passed on.

The Museum of Witchcraft..
The Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall, houses the world's largest collection of witchcraft related artefacts and regalia. The museum has been located in Boscastle for over forty years and is amongst Cornwall's most popular museums..

The origin of the word witch predates the Anglo-Saxon period. Etymologically, the word has been derived from an Old English masculine noun wicca, the feminine being wicce. The word ‘wicker’ in old German also stood for a soothsayer. A soothsayer is a fortune-teller or psychic.

In routine usage, a witch is a feminine noun for wizard or sorcerer, but the former has different functional connotations from its masculine counterpart. While a wizard or a sorcerer may have some element of manipulativeness in their craft, a witch, though a practitioner of witchcraft, is far from being a crafty person. A witch is essentially a very noble and deeply religious person whose purity of heart combined with spiritual and meditation practices bestow her with a deeply religious and mysterious aura. A witch does not act with any ulterior motives, not to mention any machinations in her pursuits. A witch is a very compassionate person, gifted with supernatural powers and works for the alleviation of pain and suffering of her fellow human beings and brings them the much needed solace and succor.

A highly misunderstood, deeply suspected, much maligned and doggedly hounded person especially during the middle ages, a witch has regained lost ground and has acquired a respectable position in the society. Colloquially, the term witch, applied most often to a female, also includes male practitioners of witchcraft, especially Wicca. Witches believe in certain ethical codes and strictly adhere to them.

A witch performs her craft using many rituals such as worshiping alone or in covens in the alter room. She lights candles, incense, chants incantations and worships her deities or goddesses. She meditates while staring into the candle flames and in the course of meditation, she feels her spirit leaving her body and enters into trance. A witch gets lost in the awesome power of the Fire with her mind dancing with the flames of the candles. Insightful images deluge her head and become a permanent part of her psyche.

A witch derives her strength from Paganism, which is influenced by ancient, primarily pre-Christian and sometimes pre-Judaic religion. A witch has deep faith in the elements of Nature such as earth, fire, nature, air, and water. Fire cleanses and has an aura that transports her into the astral world and enables her to view this world with psychic clarity. Water purifies.connects with the Goddess herself. The air is an all-enveloping blanket of gods. It wraps around the witch and lifts her to the divine immenseness and freedom of the skies. The spirit of the witch gets united with the air and floats freely in the sky. The witch achieves this uplifted state through meditation, perseverance and sometimes she is blissfully born with these talents.

A witch is just as ordinary looking person as any one in your neighborhood. She can be a housewife with kids doing her daily domestic chores. She too has her share of emotions, but they function more at a macro level than at personal. So if she is feeling sad, the sadness is not just due to some personal vested interest, but it is born out of the suffering of the world around her. Another difference between a witch and an ordinary woman is that a witch can commune with her goddess. The commune is just meant to bare her soul reaching a complete state of oneness. A witch may even cry before the alter of her goddess whenever she feels a spiritual vacuum and wants to replenish it with godliness.

A witch performs her craft using many rituals such as worshiping alone or in covens in the alter room. She lights candles, incense, chants incantations and worships her deities or goddesses. She meditates while staring into the candle flames and in the course of meditation, she feels her spirit leaving her body and enters into trance. A witch gets lost in the awesome power of the Fire with her mind dancing with the flames of the candles. Insightful images deluge her head and become a permanent part of her psyche.

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