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Witchcraft, in historical, anthropological, religious, and mythological contexts, is the use of alleged supernatural or magical powers or spells. 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. 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. Since the mid-20th century "bad" and "good" witchcraft are increasingly distinguished, the latter often involving healing.

Beliefs in witchcraft, and resulting witch-hunts, existed in many cultures worldwide and still exist in some today, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa (e.g. the witch smellers in Bantu culture). Historically these beliefs were notable 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 designation of a branch of neopaganism, specifically those Wicca traditions following Gerald Gardner, who claimed a religious tradition of Witchcraft with pre-Christian roots.





Last updated June 2014