witchcraft and sorcery


witchcraft and sorcery

Use of alleged supernatural powers, usually to control people or events. Sorcery is sometimes distinguished from witchcraft in that sorcery may be practiced by anyone with the appropriate knowledge, using charms, spells, or potions, whereas witchcraft is considered to result from inherent mystical power and to be practiced by invisible means. Modern witches, however, claim that their craft is learned, and therefore another distinction between witchcraft and sorcery is that sorcery is always used with evil intent. Controversies over witchcraft and sorcery have been especially prevalent in close-knit communities experiencing decline or misfortune and embroiled in petty social conflict and scapegoating. In ancient Greece, witchcraft was mentioned as early as Homer (see Circe). The best-known sorceress in Classical times was the legendary Medea. The Roman Horace describes two witches in his Satires. The Bible contains several references to witches, notably the Witch of Endor consulted by Saul (1 Samuel 28). The early Church Fathers held that witchcraft was a delusion and denounced its practice. In the Middle Ages, witchcraft was believed to involve demonic possession. It was also associated with heresy and so came within the scope of the Inquisition. In the witch-hunts of the 16th–17th centuries, European courts frequently regarded witches and sorcerers alike as candidates for burning. Although estimates of the number killed vary widely, it is likely that between 40,000 and 60,000 people were executed and many more were tortured and imprisoned during the witch-hunts. In the 20th century the modern witchcraft movement, Wicca, was established and promoted respect for nature and a pantheistic worldview. Belief in witchcraft is apparent in traditional societies throughout the world. The Navajo protect themselves against witches with sand or pollen paintings, and in African societies people seek aid from medical doctors and witch doctors, the former for treatment of the “external” causes of the illness and the latter for the “internal”. See also magic; Salem witch trials.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
For the full entry on witchcraft and sorcery, visit Britannica.com.

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