Book: Witchcraft In History Of The English Speaking Peoples by Alan MacfarlaneWitchcraft, in various historical, anthropological, religious and mythological contexts, is the alleged use of supernatural or magical powers, usually to inflict harm or damage upon members of a community or their property. Other uses of the term distinguish between bad witchcraft and good witchcraft, with the latter often involving healing, perhaps remedying bad witchcraft. The concept of witchcraft 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. A witch (from Old English wicce f. / wicca m.) is a practitioner of witchcraft.
Beliefs in witchcraft, and resulting witch-hunts, are found in many cultures worldwide, today mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa (e.g. in the witch smellers in Bantu culture), and historically notably 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 early 20th centuries. Since the mid-20th century, Witchcraft has become the self-designation of a branch of neopaganism, especially in the Wicca tradition following Gerald Gardner, who claimed a religious tradition of Witchcraft with pre-Christian roots.
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