The origins of witchcraft, and what those origins eventually evolved into, are a part of our history that is often overlooked. One would be able to observe how the opinions that were formed in the Ancient Middle East gave roots to how the World would eventually look at inexplicable events. Witchcraft slowly spread across the globe, and in this piece we will examine it’s journey from Europe to America. Interestingly, people’s views and feelings on the subject of magic and occult as well as and how the belief in witchcraft was practiced varied widely in different regions. This shows that a cultural influence from different parts of the World certainly shifted the history of witchcraft.
The world of witchcraft, the occult and magic has at its very roots references and allusions in ancient and biblical texts. From the texts of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia to the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Quran, almost all of these texts denounced the practice and wrote of different ways that those practicing should be punished. Verses such as Deuteronomy 18:11-12 and Exodus 22:18, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" provided scriptural justification for Christian Witch Hunters. Judaism states clearly that Jews should not try to learn the ways of witches, with passages such as Deuteronomy 18:9-10, which states “When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, one that useth divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or one that consulteth a ghost or a familiar spirit, or a necromancer.” Islam also condemns Witchcraft, and the Quran includes a prayer to stave off black magic; “Say: I seek refuge with the Lord of the Dawn From the mischief of created things; From the mischief of Darkness as it overspreads; From the mischief of those who practice secret arts; And from the mischief of the envious one as he practices envy.” (Quran 113:1–5.)
Before Christianity reached Ireland, the people living there were druids. The gods that they worshipped, and what they believed that those gods could We must keep in mind that the Celtics had been taught to fear the Christianity coming from other parts of Europe. They would not have found it scary, since they had been worshipping something similar to what they were now being told to fear and hate for centuries, but something that they would agree was wrong.
Although there was awareness to witchcraft, there was little literature on the topic due to availability and how far away Ireland was from the rest of the World. The Reformation locked in the way Ireland would look at witchcraft. The two dominant religions, at the time, in Ireland were Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The two religions disliked witchcraft fairly evenly, so there was no affect in that sense, but the constant wars and disorder that came as a result of the Reformation gave Ireland’s witchcraft no more time to further develop.
During the mediaeval period there was a widespread belief in magic across Christian Europe. The mediaeval roman catholic church, which dominated most of Europe during this time, divided magic into two forms: Naturalistic and Demonic. Naturalistic magic was seen as acceptable. It was basically taking note of powers in nature that were created by god. Demonic magic, otherwise called witchcraft, was seen as unacceptable and consisted of casting spells upon others, herbal torture and speaking with the devil.
There were also many other different perspectives on witchcraft during the Middle Ages in Europe. Almost all of them involved the belief that the devil was real and had the power to have physical relations with humans. This is where the idea of “signing a deal with the devil” was developed. Witches were believed to help the devil enforce these contracts and in return they would receive certain powers. Those accused of witchcraft allegedly participated in acts of sorcery, cannibalism and orgies during meetings known as “Witches’ Sabbaths”.
Witch trials in Europe originated in southeastern France during the 14th century before spreading through central Europe. The earliest documented trial was in 1324. The peak of the witch trials was between 1580 and 1630 and the last known trial occurred in 1782.
In comparison to England, the colonies were culturally behind in the witchcraft phenomenon. While by the 1560’s witchcraft had become a serious issue in England, it wasn’t until the 1640’s that it became an apparent problem in New England. The first hanging in the colonies was recorded in 1647 in Connecticut. Some of the most popular and well-documents events happened in Salem, Massachusetts around 1692. During this time, there was a large amount of civil and bureaucratic stress in Salem that influenced people to make accusations that they believed were actually true. New England was also prepared to believe in witchcraft due to legal and intellectual precedents of England. The exact cause of these incidents has been questioned for centuries and while there isn’t one specific cause there are several contributing factors that helped fuel the fire of the trials.
The village was inevitably split into two sides consisting of people on the West side, who were primarily farmers and wanted to separate from Salem town and were followers of Rev. Samuel Parris. The other half, were people on the East side who were largely influenced by the wealth of the ports of Salem. These people wanted to remain a part of Salem town and were opposed to Rev. Parris due to his greedy nature. The people from the west side were mainly the accusers and the people on the east side were the accused. The whole ordeal started with two young girls who were dabbling in fortune telling and became unsettled by their results and began exhibiting abnormal behavior of unusual postures, thrashing about, and muttering sayings. The village physician ruled them to be bewitched. The girls would later identify three women to be the culprits of their bewitchment and from there the accusations multiplied. By the end of the trials more than 200 people were accused and placed in jail and twenty were executed. These trials in Salem had the most significant impact on the way that Colonial America viewed witchcraft.
The religious context as well as the three sets of cultures examined are presented in the group’s display piece. A world map is presented on a piece of tea-stained paper, its edges burnt to show its age and the long journey it has taken.
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Kevin Cannon, Angela Cummings, Dillon Lane, Ashley Murphy