Cultural Studies Paper

Witchcraft

 Witchcraft is the belief and practice of magical skills and powers by an individual or a group of people. It can be traced to the earliest forms of human civilization when humans created norms of social order, religions and philosophies. Witchcraft is a complex practice that borders on culture, religion, spirituality and nature (Buckland, 2002). A lot of information on witchcraft is contained in religious texts such as the Bible. In this Christian text, it is portrayed as an evil instrument that has a close association with the devil (Hoyt, 1989). Meanwhile, for centuries, different views regarding witchcraft have been widely expressed in European, American, and African contexts.

In Europe, views on witchcraft have been expressed as far back as during the Middle Ages. During this era, it evolved as a combination of various concepts, including magic, healing, nature, sorcery and Christianity. The open persecution of witches using fire was a common phenomenon in ancient Greece and Italy (Burr, 1914). Christianization then changed the image of witchcraft which now started being viewed as superstition. In other parts of Europe, witchcraft took the form of medicinal practices and folk healing using herbs and nature products. In modern pop culture, the archetypical European image of witchcraft has been that of humor-filled concept of a rough-haired individual holding a broom. Meanwhile, the history of witchcraft in Europe is full of extricate details especially its manifestation between the 15th and 18th centuries.

Meanwhile, many people have resorted to religious interpretations of witchcraft throughout history. This situation was evident at a time when Christianity was at its peak during the so-called period of Christendom. This era represents the beliefs of the global Christian community in the medieval and early modern age when the religion held sway as a powerful entity dominating pagan and Muslim communities. During this time, moral panic led to the hunting down and persecution of many people accused of evil witchery practices. This persecution of witches continued and peaked during the European religious wars fought between 1550 and 1630.

In Great Britain, witchcraft trials were regulated and minimized following the enactment of the Witchcraft Act in parliament in 1735. It banned the persecution and proclamation of people as witches or persons with magical powers. However, there were many accounts of convictions made even after the passing of this law, with the main targets being people claiming to possess magical powers and ability to communicate with spirits. Similar laws were enacted throughout Europe and their implementation extended to all British colonies. This development marked a radical shift in views regarding witchery in Europe characterized by its conceptualization as a deeply superstitious idea.

In America, witchcraft takes on a more modern and contemporary form that has been shaped by both religious and cultural views (Moura, 2003). It is normally described using the term “Wicca”, which is the closest point at which witchcraft has been identified with religion (Chamberlain, 2014). Wicca is a modern pagan and witchcraft religion said to be the fastest growing religion in the United States (Frew, 2012). The religion has implemented modern forms of recruitment and training such as online schools offering Wicca training and even focusing on mysterious witchcraft practices. Surprisingly, this modern practice is as ancient as Christianity and can be traced back to the Bible. In this way, one can understand the deep penetration of Wiccan practices various in cultural practices such as Halloween which is a crucial American festival. The growing interest and popularity of Wiccan and occult practices can be seen in the mainstream media through shows portraying concepts that are widely associated with witchcraft such as white magic, black magic, vampires, werewolves, zombies.

One of the most historic events in the American witchcraft scene was the Salem witch trials between February 1692 and May 1693 in Massachusetts. They were a series of court hearings, prosecutions and sentences for accused witches. In the end, fourteen people were convicted of the crime and executed. The trials was propagated by extreme panic, hysteria, religious extremism, isolation and false assumptions. They were also influenced by European cultural views on witchcraft. Consequently, white magic which was associated with good results in agriculture and farming had gradually been transformed into a darker and more mysterious form of witchcraft.

Massachusetts, then known as Salem village was riddled with political turmoil, property disagreements and religious divisions (Pavlac, 2009). European immigration into Northern America led to a mixed combination of people from different cultures and religions. Salem experienced a huge gap between the two dominant religions present: Christianity and Puritanism. Settling in Massachusetts came with well-known economic advantages. These groups therefore attempted to create an essence of religious and political superiority in this area, which had been experiencing rumors of witchcraft long before the trials. There was an increase in local publications in the press that promoted this rumors and provided supposed evidence. Some locals began to experience bizarre symptoms that were difficult to explain as well as portraying peculiar behavioral patterns. This situation heightened the witchcraft rumors and several witchcraft suspects were subsequently identified, including Sarah Osborne, Sarah Good and Tituba (Pavlac, 2009).

Historians relate the accusations to a well-known, deep family feud that was going on between the Putman and Porter families, leading to deep divisions in the village. Over the period, many more suspected witches were arrested and tried in vigorous and invasive trials. Those found guilty were executed by hanging at different periods. Although several suspects confessed to being witches, many of those convicted maintained their innocence. Most of the affected families followed up on the matter for years in order to seek compensation and to clear their names. Over three hundred years later, families of victims still hold memorials in remembrance of those executed (Pavlac, 2009). There have been growing medical theories on the symptoms the victims of the witchcraft experienced. Modern literature and popular culture through its enactment of the period have furthered an in-depth understanding of the trials. Meanwhile, the development influenced religious practice not just in Salem but also across America. However, these Salem trials significantly marked the end of an era characterized by rampant witch-hunting and the start of a new one governed by legislation on witchcraft.

In Africa, the concept of witchcraft has also attracted immense attention. Violent witch-hunts have also affected the content in recent times, leading to execution of people accused of being witches. Witchcraft on the continent is centered on traditional beliefs and cultural views. It is associated with negative outcomes such as misfortune, death, illnesses and disasters. Witches are often persecuted following accusations of causing these undesirable events. Many communities do not associate it with religion due to the accompanying evil connotations. The witch-hunts occurring in Africa may be said to resemble the ones that were being propagated in Europe mainly due to Christian extremism and religious puritanism.

Meanwhile, Christianity and Islam remain the most dominant religions in Africa despite the existence of numerous ethnic groups each holding established views regarding witchcraft. The two religions exist alongside numerous denominations operating in a cultural environment that has furthered the persistence and open manifestation of witchcraft-related superstitions. This problem has angered many religious extremists who closely associate witchery with evil powers, thereby promoting the condemnation of suspected witches.

Based on this discussion, it is evident that all forms of witchcraft, both ancient and modern, follow a system of cosmic energy, nature, life forces and the channeling of magical powers. According to Hoyt (1989), this energy-oriented approach is in close relation with the scientific theory on atomicity and vibrations. In Hoyt’s view, these vibrations and their movements are identified through a system of energy movement during which magic from the witch is shared among other witches or with the targeted person. In essence, those who practice witchcraft may be said to hold firm beliefs in inter-connectedness of mystic energies, karma and universal balance of mysterious forces.

The complexity of the witchcraft phenomenon and its interconnectedness with religion and social consciousness creates uncertainty especially in the wake of the recent rise of the Wiccan movement. It remains unclear whether people are joining it as a religion or as a spiritual movement whose has been spurred by recent media attention on the subject. More people are partaking in the practice especially due to the growing availability of more resources particularly regarding witchery knowledge and training. Evidently, witchcraft may be said to be at different stages of conceptualization and development in different places in the world. Consequently, it has become difficult to accurately predict its growth and development patterns both as a sociocultural practice and as a religious belief. Pop culture has undoubtedly led to the growing prominence of witchery, like in the case of the Wiccan religion. Meanwhile, laws that protect against persecution of witches should be amended to address current trends in the practice of witchcraft especially in America and Arica.

References

Buckland, R. (2002). Buckland’s complete book of witchcraft. Woodbury, NY: Llewellyn Publications.

Burr, G. (1914). Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648-1706. New York, NY: Barnes and Noble.

Chamberlain, L. (2014). Wicca for Beginners: A guide to Wiccan Beleifs, rituals, magic and witchcraft. London: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform.

Frew, D. (2012). Wicca, Indigenous Traditions and interfaith movement. The Interfaith Observer.

Hoyt, C. (1989). Witchcraft. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Moura, A. (2003). Grimoire for the Green Witch: Acomplete book of shadows. Woodbury, NY: Llewellyn publication.

Pavlac, B. (2009). Witch Hunts in the western world: Persecution and punishment from the inquisition through Salem trials. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

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