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Historically, witchcraft has denoted maleficia, or harmful magic. Accusing someone of being a witch was an accusation of them harming the community or someone within the community in some way. This could entail anything from making someone ill to causing miscarriages, from blighting crops to enchanting a desired lover.

The witch may or may not be understood to get her powers from Satan or demons, in which case it could also be called diabolism.

Historically, benevolent workers of magic were referred to by a variety of other terms and were accepted and even respected members of their communities.

In the 20th century, witchcraft started to take on a more generic and ethically neutral meaning. People started speaking of good witches and bad witches, with "witch" simply denoting a worker of magic, particularly practical magic. Witchcraft is one of several forms of modern magic. Witchcraft tends to focus on emotion over strict ritual. It also tends to use everyday items and is often practical in nature. It borrows from folk magic - that is, the magic of common people throughout history - much more extensively than from ceremonial magic, although there can certainly be some overlap.

Confusion Over the Term

Ironically, this generic use of the word has caused some people to believe that all magic is malevolent and evil and that Christian culture has always been specifically against it, when in truth the picture is much, much more complicated. Culture has certainly always been against maleficia and has commonly called it witchcraft, and that condemnation is sometimes extended to those who practice witchcraft in a modern sense, without any maleficia.

Is witchcraft religious?

Historically, no. In the 20th century some people started describing certain religious practices as witchcraft, due entirely to bad scholarship that made it as far as the Encyclopaedia Britannica. In the early 20th century, it was suggested that the European witch trials were actually targeting a widespread, secret pagan religion.

The theory didn't match up with actual historical facts, but it took some time for it to be recognized because few academics thought the witch trials were worthy of academic study until the 1960s. At that point, it became obvious that evidence had been edited and vast quantities of contradictory evidence flat out ignored.

In addition, it was based on assumptions that simply were not true, such as the Church reaching its greatest strength at the time of trials, when in fact the Church's authority had been waning for centuries at that point.

Religious Witchcraft Today

With corrections to understandings of witchcraft history, many followers of "religious witchcraft" found other terms in which to describe their religious beliefs. Many simply described their beliefs as "pagan." Others turned to specific pagan religions, such as Wicca, which had formerly been considered religious witchcraft and is still called such by some.
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