What Do You Know About Witchcraft?

WITCHCRAFT! What does that word bring to your mind?

To many, it is the stuff of superstition and fantasy, not to be taken seriously. To them, witchcraft lives only in the realm of the imagination​—old hags dressed in hooded cloaks who add bats’ wings to a bubbling caldron, turn people into frogs, and soar through the night sky on broomsticks as they cackle maliciously.

To others, witchcraft is no laughing matter. Some investigators say that more than half the world’s population believe that witches are real and can influence the lives of others. Millions believe that witchcraft is evil, dangerous, and to be greatly feared. For example, a book about African religion states: “Belief in the function and dangers of bad magic, sorcery and witchcraft is deeply rooted in African life . . . Witches and sorcerers are the most hated people in their community. Even to this day there are places and occasions when they are beaten to death by the rest of the people.”

In Western lands, however, witchcraft has donned a new mask of respectability. Books, television, and movies have done much to reduce the fear of witchcraft. Observes entertainment analyst David Davis: “Suddenly, witches are younger and cuter, definitely cuter. Hollywood is good at picking up on trends. . . . By making the witches cuter and more huggable, they can appeal to a larger audience, including women and younger kids.” Hollywood knows how to turn any trend into a paying proposition.

Some say that witchcraft has become one of the fastest growing spiritual movements in the United States. Throughout the developed world, an increasing number of people, inspired by feminist movements and disenchanted with mainstream religions, seek spiritual fulfillment in various forms of witchcraft. In fact, so numerous are the forms of witchcraft that people disagree even on the meaning of the word “witch.” However, professed witches often identify with Wicca​—defined in one dictionary as “a pagan nature religion having its roots in pre-Christian western Europe and undergoing a 20th-century revival.” * Consequently, many also refer to themselves as pagans or neopagans.

 Throughout history, witches have been hated, persecuted, tortured, even slain. Little wonder that modern practitioners of witchcraft are eager to improve their image. In one survey, dozens of witches were asked what message they most wanted to express to the public. Their answer, summarized by researcher Margot Adler, was: “We are not evil. We do not worship the Devil. We don’t harm or seduce people. We are not dangerous. We are ordinary people like you. We have families, jobs, hopes, and dreams. We are not a cult. We are not weird. . . . You don’t have to be afraid of us. . . . We are much more similar to you than you think.”

Increasingly, that message has been accepted. But does this mean that there is no reason to be concerned about the practice of witchcraft? Let us consider that question in the following article.

[Footnote]

^ par. 6 The English word “witchcraft” comes from the Old English “wicce” and “wicca,” referring to female and male practitioners respectively.