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Witchcraft - The Social And Political History Of Witchcraft In Europe, The Functions Of Witchcraft, Symbolic And Ideological Aspects Of Witchcraft

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Well-being to Jan Ɓukasiewicz Biography

The word witchcraft is used in many different ways. The word witch is derived from Old English wicca (masc., "wizard") and wicce (fem., "witch"). The term wiccan ("witchcraft") referred to human acts intended to influence nature, usually through the use of power unavailable to all human beings. This use of the word witchcraft is synonymous with the more general word magic. The acts associated with witchcraft were sometimes called spells (Old English "talk, tale"). The person could conduct these acts for his or her benefit, or for others who did not have access to the necessary power. In contemporary academic work and in popular culture, however, it is still generally assumed that the influence or change resulting from the act is harmful. With these negative associations, witchcraft is also used for diabolism, acts performed with the assistance of the devil. Other acts, those that attempt to influence nature in a beneficial way, are usually not considered. Witchcraft also refers to ideas and practices believed to influence nature that emerged in the twentieth century, largely in Europe and North America, sometimes referred to as neo-paganism. This use of witchcraft is similar to the one derived from the Old English wiccan.

Witchcraft is the term most commonly used in the social science literature, and the practices it refers to can be found in all societies. Over the years there has been some debate about the similarities and differences between the practices of witchcraft and sorcery, and in the social sciences there are several traditions. Studies conducted in Asia tend to use the term sorcery for the practices referred to by magic, while studies in South America use shamanism in a similar way. Studies in Africa use both sorcery and witchcraft, and the use of both terms usually assumes that the magical acts are intended to be harmful.

In the twentieth century, there were debates about whether different terms should be applied to rituals that were conducted with and without the assistance of spirits. There were also discussions about distinguishing between practitioners whose power was innate and those who learned the knowledge and skills from existing practitioners. In the social sciences, it is generally assumed that both witchcraft and sorcery can be used interchangeably, but it is important for the scholar to explain the particular way each term is being used, as well as its relationship to local terms.

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