Witchcraft would always involve different practices depending on where in the world it was being used. In many countries in Africa and Asia it was believed that witches would use their ability to manipulate the supernatural in order to harm others, make them do something against their will or obstruct them in some other way. This evil witchcraft was blamed whenever there was illness or death of either humans or animals, lack of success in business, bad luck and even impotence.
Good always conquers evil and those that were affected by ‘black’ magic would seek the help of ‘white’ witches to counteract these maladies. Normally the rituals used were identical but the intentions determined the difference between dark and white magic, which was always widely accepted.
In Europe, prejudices (mainly associated with Christianity) labelled witchcraft the worship of the devil, and witches were all viewed as evil and beneath the rest of society. The terms sorcery and dark magic were given to any practices which involved rituals or the belief in more than one god. Instead of being acknowledged as the use of natural forces to fulfil desires, the common misconception was that witchcraft was used mainly to bring misfortune unto neighbours and enemies.
Rumours that were spread about the practitioners of the craft included the fact that they were able to fly, tame wolves, make themselves invisible in order to carry out horrible acts against others and cause people to die just by looking at them (the evil eye). Pope Innocent VIII deemed witchcraft heresy in the 16th century and their persecution escalated. Large numbers were then hanged, burned at the stake and drowned (to prove their innocence they were supposed to be able to survive being held under water). By 1750 over 200,000 witches had been killed in Western Europe only.
During the 18th century, however, the fear of witchcraft began to subside and the educated began to view the practice as the superstitious beliefs of peasants. Pagan, originally meaning country-dweller, became the term used for anybody who believed in more than one god and witches continued to be termed creatures of Satan. Despite these stigmas and persecution witchcraft has survived and is once again widespread in European society.
Wicca is one of the most popular religions in which rituals are a major part of worship. Many modern witchcraft practitioners don’t do so as part of any religion, and have just reconnected with nature and using its forces. There are still ‘evil’ spells that are performed, but many witches live by the belief that the spirits will not assist in harming another person, unless they deserve it. In this way their actions are not wrong, but justified.