The term Witchcraft is used by many different people and the
perceptions of the term change depending on portion of society which
utilizes the term. The following is a breakdown of the three different
approaches to the term Witchcraft as it is found within anthropology,
stereotypical modern Western society, and as a distinct religion.
In 1937, an anthropologist by the name of E. E. Evans-Pritchard published his
book, "Witchcraft, oracles, and Magic Among the Azande," wherein he translated the
African Zande word mangu into the English word witchcraft. By doing
this, Evans-Pritchard set the anthropological definition for witchcraft. The Azande
believed that mangu was a psychic emanation of a magical substance that
was thought to harm health and property by non-physical means. In this capacity,
the term mangu was associated with sorcery and malignant magic.
This definition of witchcraft continued in the field of anthropology. In 1944,
Clyde Kluckholm wrote in his book, "Navaho Witchcraft," that the witch was an
imaginary person that the Navaho people felt "was proper to fear and hate." Manica
Wilson, in 1952, wrote that the Nyakusa of Africa associated witchcraft with an
obsession with food, whereas the Pondo associated it with sexual obsession. From
this anthropological definition of witchcraft, it would appear as though the
definitions of witchcraft manifested as a form of social control.
The accusation of witchcraft, such as is displayed in the European medieval
period, is manifested as a form of social control. The stereotypical witch
consequently created out of these accusations is usually portrayed within Western
society as being in league with the Christian Devil, or practicing magic. These
concepts twist the duality of the harvest Maiden and Hag of Europe into an old
woman with warts, and a beautiful young woman who tries to suck the life essence
from a man and make him sexually impotent.
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, we encounter a period of time
which can be witnessed a "witch-craze" wherein there are organizations which are
maintained for the exclusive purpose of carrying out questionings, trials, and
executions of heretics and witches. Such organizations included the Inquisition and
the Vehmgericht. However, most of those who are accused of the charge of witchcraft
at this point in time were often the result of politics. Many of the accused were
often women, with the exception of those in Iceland where the typical witch was
stereotypically a male.
In the British Isles, witches were though to converse with the faeries and
sometimes to even be faeries themselves. When a closer look is taken at this
folkloric view, it can easily be understood as the faeries are actually the
Sidhe, or ancestor spirits.
The term Witchcraft has also been used to refer to those people who
continued to practice the native religions of Europe after the advent
of Christianity. As
Catholicism became the dominate religion, these people chose to retain
religious beliefs and traditions, and continued to pass them down from
generation to generation through their families.