Belief in witches and magic dates from ancient times and was once widespread throughout the world. Some religions, such as the shamanism of Central Asia, accept the use of magic. In these religions, witches are honored members of society and are usually male. Most religions, however, do not accept the use of magic. Their attitude towards witches, who are usually portrayed as female, has varied from polite coolness to outright persecution. The most terrible persecution of witches, when tens of thousands of women were executed, took place in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.
During the Middle Ages, most villages had a wise woman, usually a widow or spinster. These women provided herbal cures for everyday ailments. Some of them encouraged villagers to buy magic charms and spells. The Church generally tolerated village wise women; because it believed that any magic they did seem to perform was actually done by God. The intents of this paper are to: (1) understand what witchcraft really is; (2) know how witchcraft has started and: (3) how do people tortured witches in ancient times. II. Background A. What is witchcraft?
Witchcraft is the practice of magic by a person known as a witch. When used for evil purpose this magic is called black magic, or sorcery; when used for good purposes, it is called white magic. Persons who practice witchcraft believe (or pretend to believe) that they have supernatural powers. At one time the term witch was applied to both men and women, but eventually the name came to be used almost exclusively for women. In Great Britain and the United States, a male witch is usually called a warlock, sometimes a sorcerer or wizard (Alderman, 234-239).
The most common concept of a witch is that of a woman who exercises supernatural power through the aid of the devil or evil spirits. She has the power to cast harmful spells (or hexes) on persons, who are then said to be bewitched. Such persons may go into convulsions, be afflicted with boils or a dread disease, or suffer some other harm. She also has the ability to fly, to disclose future events or hidden matters, to transform herself and to conjure (summon up by incantation) any object she wishes. Each witch is thought to belong to a coven, a band of 13 witches (Witchcraft, 376-379).
III. Discussion A. How it was started? The belief in witchcraft is both ancient and widespread. The ancient Egyptians believed in witches. Witchcraft was practiced in Israel although forbidden by Hebrew law. Witchcraft also existed among the ancient Romans, despite laws against it. A. 1 European Persecution The Church’s attitude began to change in the early 15th century. Scholars supported by the Catholic Church decided that all this witchcraft was the work of the Devil, and so those who performed magic, such as wise women, must be the servants of the Devil.
They must therefore be saved from themselves and from letting the Devil do his work. Witches must be found out and burnt to cleanse their sins. The first witches were burned in Switzerland in the 1420s. The religious upheavals of the Reformation made the position of Europe’s wise women much, much worse. Large-scale persecutions began in Germany in the 1560s and soon spread to most of Europe. The pattern of persecution was similar in most countries. Informers would identify suspected witches, who were then tortured and interrogated. Those who survived were usually burned alive at the stake (Guiley, 567-568).