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Each culture has its own particular body of concepts dealing with magic, religion, benevolent and harmful spirits, and ritual; and these ideas do not find obvious equivalents in other cultures.
Sometimes witchcraft is used to refer, broadly, to the practice of magic, and has a connotation similar to sorcery. Depending on the values of the community, witchcraft in this sense may be regarded with varying degrees of suspicion and hostility, or with ambivalence, being neither intrinsically good nor evil. Members of some religions have applied the term witchcraft in a pejorative sense to refer to all magical or ritual practices other than those sanctioned by their own doctrines, though this has become less common, at least in the Western world. According to some religious doctrines, all forms of magic are labeled witchcraft, and are either proscribed or treated as superstitious. Such religions consider their own ritual practices to be not at all magical, but rather simply variations of prayer.
Witchcraft is also used to refer, narrowly, to the practice of magic in an exclusively inimical sense. If the community accepts magical practice in general, then there is typically a clear separation between witches (in this sense) and the terms used to describe legitimate practitioners. This use of the term is most often found in accusations against individuals who are suspected of causing harm in the community by way of supernatural means. Belief in witches of this sort has been common among most of the indigenous populations of the world, including Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. On occasion such accusations have led to witch hunts.
Under the monotheistic religions of the Levant (primarily Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), witchcraft came to be associated with heresy, rising to a fever pitch among the Catholics, Protestants, and secular leadership of the European Late Medieval/Early Modern period. Throughout this time, the concept of witchcraft came increasingly to be interpreted as a form of Devil worship. Accusations of witchcraft were frequently combined with other charges of heresy against such groups as the Cathars and Waldensians.
In the modern Western world, witchcraft accusations have often accompanied the Satanic Ritual Abuse hysteria. Such accusations are a counterpart to blood libel of various kinds, which may be found throughout history across the globe.
Recently, witchcraft has begun to take on a distinctly positive connotation among Wiccans and other Neopagans as the ritual element of their religious beliefs.
A great deal of confusion and conflict has arisen from attempts by one group or another to canonize their particular definition of the term.
The characterization of the witch in Europe is not derived from a single source. Popular neopagan beliefs suggest that witches were female or male shamans who were made into malicious figures by Christian propaganda. This is an oversimplification and presumes that a recognizable folklore figure must derive from a single historical precedent (a female or male, maligned magick-worker). The familiar witch of folklore and popular superstition is a combination of numerous influences.
The characterization of the witch, rather than being a caricature of a Pagan priestess or priest, developed over time.  The advent of Christianity suggests that potential Christians, comfortable with the use of magic as part of their daily lives, expected Christian clergy to work magick of a form superior to the old Pagan way. While Christianity competed with Pagan religion, this concern was paramount, only lessening in importance once Christianity was the dominant religion in most of Europe. In place of the old Pagan magick methodology, the Church placed a Christian methodology involving saints and divine relics — a short step from the old Pagan techniques of numerous deities, amulets and talismans.
Traditional European witchcraft beliefs, such as those typified in the confessions of the Pendle Witches, commonly involve a diabolical pact or at least an appeal to the intervention of the spirits of evil . The witches or wizards addicted to such practices were alleged to reject Jesus and the sacraments, observe "the witches' sabbath" (performing infernal rites which often parodied the Mass or other sacraments of the Church), pay Divine honour to the Prince of Darkness, and, in return, receive from him preternatural powers.
The Catholic Church and European society was not always obsessed with hunting witches and blaming them for bad occurrences. Saint Boniface declared in the eighth century that belief in the existence of witches is unchristian. The emperor Charlemagne decreed that the burning of supposed witches was a pagan custom that would be punished by the death penalty. In 820 the Bishop of Lyon and others repudiated the belief that witches could make bad weather, fly in the night, and change their shape. This denial was accepted into Church law until it was reversed in later centuries as the witch-craze gained force. Other rulers such as King Coloman of Hungary declared that witch-hunts should cease because witches do not exist.
The Church did not invent the idea of witchcraft as a potentially harmful force whose practitioners should be put to death. This idea is commonplace in pre-Christian religions and is a logical consequence of belief in magic. According to the scholar Max Dashu, the concept of medieval witch contained many of its elements even before the emergence of Christianity. These can be found in Bacchanalias, especially in the time when they were led by priestess Paculla Annia (188-186).
In England, the provision of this curative magic was the job of a witch doctor, also known as a cunning man, white witch, or wiseman. The term "witch doctor" was in use in England before it came to be associated with Africa. Toad doctors were also credited with the ability to undo witchcraft. (Other folk magicians had their own purviews. Girdle-measurers specialised in diagnosing ailments caused by fairies, while magical cures for more mundane ailments, such as burns or toothache, could be had from charmers.)
"In the north of England, the superstition lingers to an almost inconceivable extent. Lancashire abounds with witch-doctors, a set of quacks, who pretend to cure diseases inflicted by the devil... The witch-doctor alluded to is better known by the name of the cunning man, and has a large practice in the counties of Lincoln and Nottingham."
Source: Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
Such "cunning-folk" did not refer to themselves as witches and objected to the accusation that they were such. Records from the Middle Ages, however, make it appear that it was, quite often, not entirely clear to the populace whether a given practitioner of magic was a witch or one of the cunning-folk. In addition, it appears that much of the populace was willing to approach either of these groups for healing magic and divination. When a person was known to be a witch, the populace would still seek to employ their healing skills; however, as was not the case with cunning-folk, members of the general population would also hire witches to curse their enemies. The important distinction is that there are records of the populace reporting alleged witches to the authorities as such, whereas cunning folk were not so incriminated; they were more commonly prosecuted for accusing the innocent or defrauding people of money.
The long-term result of this amalgamation of distinct types of magic-worker into one is the considerable present-day confusion as to what witches actually did, whether they harmed or healed, what role (if any) they had in the community, whether they can be identified with the "witches" of other cultures and even whether they existed as anything other than a projection. Present-day beliefs about the witches of history attribute to them elements of the folklore witch, the charmer, the cunning man or wise woman, the diviner and the astrologer.