The history of Witchcraft can be traced back as far
as the Paleolithic period some 40,000 years ago. Archeologists have
discovered cave paintings from this period that depict witchcraft in
it's basic form. Our ancient ancestors would not have considered
themselves witches but they were using practices associated with
Witchcraft has evolved since that time and was
much more commonly referred to as such beginning before medieval times.
The practice of witchcraft was fundamental to many cultures of this
period and was widely practiced in Europe where it is most often
referenced. The emergence of Christianity as the main religion of the
period would bring untold misery to those practicing witchcraft.
so called witches of this time, who for the most part were healers
using basic herbs to treat their villages, were persecuted as a result
of edicts from Pope John XXII in 1320. The history of witchcraft was
mainly peaceful until this time as witches were not directly sought out
by the inquisition, but this edict authorized the inquisition to
prosecute sorcerers as well.
Estimates of those killed during
this period range from 40,000 to 100,000, a large number of which were
brutally slain out of revenge or jealousy more than for actually
practicing witchcraft. Burning at the stake was the original method of
execution but this later changed to hanging in many regions as it was
less barbaric. Witchcraft would be practiced in secrecy for centuries
as a result if this treatment.
Modern day practices are broadly
referred to as neopaganism, although this term does not accurately
represent the many varieties followed in modern times. Traditional
witchcraft as a way of life with very limited direct structure is
probably the most common but there are more regimented religious forms
of witchcraft. Wicca is perhaps the most well known of these and is
very much a religion involving witchcraft.
During the history of
witchcraft no overarching principles were laid down that governed all
covens or witches, which led to each coven practicing the arts in their
own way as directed by their individual leadership. Solo practice is
also wide spread and unique, again following the persons own beliefs.
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