History Through the Ages: The Role of Witchcraft and Magic

Witchcraft and witch hunt took a place mainly in seventeenth century, but supposedly the witch hunts started in the Middle East centuries before the seventeenth century. I think it's an important subject because many people were accused and then executed for witchcraft. The worst thing about it is, that the most, if not all of them, were innocent. For me it's very interesting, because it sounds like fantasy to me and I will probably never understand it. Especially the devil's pact, methods and punishing of witchcraft.

Valerie Flint's definition of magic is 'the exercise of a preternatural control over nature by human beings, with the assistance of forces more powerful than they.' In the Near and Middle East magic left a mark on the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the God is described as 'condemning divination and sorcery.' Most of the Catholics and Protestants agreed on existence of witchcraft. An old lore says, that witchcraft is 'sexual lusts of demons known as incubi and succubi' and the witches were being transported through the air by demons. So people thought, that all witches signed a compact with the devil, who was considered as the opponent of God. This is why people feared them and executed them. The Old and New Testament also refers to devil's creatures, such as fallen angels, dragons or Beelzebub.

In the ancient Near East, all kinds of magic, such as white magic, helpful magic, witchcraft or black magic were practiced. Those who practiced any type of magic were usually using an item, such as amulet to 'control the supernatural world for specific purposes.' White magic was related to medicine and was used to protect people from the evil demons or any kind of harm. Witchcraft was only for selfish purpose of the witch or their clients, usually to hurt somehow people, they didn't like. Witchcraft was strictly prohibited by law and had to be practiced in secret. Many sources describe white magic as a magic used to combat witchcraft or black magic by using 'Counterspells' designed only to fight against witchcraft. Although, their specializations were different, people who practiced white magic were using similar methods. Several laws banned the witchcraft in the ancient Near East, for example the law established by the Babylonian king says, that witchcraft and even 'false accusations of witchcraft were punishable by death.' The accused person would be tied and thrown into a river or lake and if they survived, they were considered a witch and then executed, but if they drowned, they were considered innocent and free of all accusations.

There was a countless amount of cases, when people accused their neighbors from making them sick or causing their cattle to die. People were possessed and every misfortune led to accusations others. The accusations were usually raised against women, the ratio was better than four to one. According to historians, in Europe, practicing devil worship and magic had existed for centuries, but most of them insist that it was all only 'pure fantasy'. In the fifteenth century, many more men were being accused. After it became 'more closely identified with women,' men, that were related by blood or married to the witches were once in a while accused. 'Inquisitorial procedure' enabled the court to confess a person on the basis of rumor. It was up to the judges to decide, if the person is guilty or innocent. The only strict requirement were two eyewitnesses or a confession, that was often achieved by torturing. Executions for witchcraft were most common in regions, where the belief in the devil and practicing devil's worship was strong and where 'political authority' was weaker than normally. The most prosecutions were supposedly in the area of Germany, France, Swiss or Scotland. Although in other countries witch-hunting was much less intense, every country in Europe during the Renaissance experienced at least one big witch-hunt.

The Crucible was based on the Salem witchcraft, that took a place in 1692, in Massachusetts colony. About two hundred people were accused of witchcraft, most of them were women. Nineteen of them were hanged and one was executed by pressing. It all started, after Reverend Pariss' slave Tituba entertained his daughters and few other girls from the village with 'fortune-telling.' Later, both Pariss' daughters, Betty and Abigail started making weird noises and 'began falling into trances.' People decided that they were bewitched and the girls accused Tituba and another two women that normally didn't attend church and in the end, Tituba was forced to confess to the crime and ended up being hanged together with the other two women. During the spring of 1962, people in the village were accusing one another from witchcraft because of all kinds of misfortunes. After Bridget Bishop was convicted and hanged only on base of spectral evidence, 'several religious leaders pointed out that spectral evidence was unreliable.' Since then, every accusation based on spectral evidence was discounted. After a while, people had started to realize, that probably all of them were innocent and the Massachusetts legislature paid to the families of victims as a compensation for the unauthorized accusations and executions.

Magic and Witchcraft played a role in our history for centuries. Although most of people practicing magic were considered bad or possessed by the devil, there were also people practicing white magic and trying to help people instead of harming them. However, most or all of them were actually not practicing any kind of magic and everything was just a 'pure fantasy' and all the people, that were accused were most likely innocent. That's why I think this topic is important. So many people were executed, but there was no proof, they purposely harmed or hurt people. Perhaps, the main problem wasn't witchcraft, but people themselves and thousands of people were executed only because of people's envy and selfishness. This topic relates to The Crucible because it's all about witchcraft and bad qualities of humans, but in the end I still don't and never will believe, that all human beings are sinners by nature. 

07 July 2022
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