Witchcraft refers to the use of certain occult and spiritual practices to seek the assistance of the supernatural powers in resolving the problems whose solutions can not be achieved through the known rational means. The process involves reciting prayers and performing rituals in a certain specific format or craft. Prayers and rituals when performed with utmost sincerity and faith do quite often fructify into the desired results. Since there is no reasonable explanation for the manifestation of the result, they are termed miracles or magic. Witchcraft is therefore considered synonymous with magic.
Witchcraft has existed since man was born and he had to struggle for his survival against the unpredictable and unmanageable forces of nature such as famines, rains, floods, epidemics or some other occurrences at personal level which could not be easily explained. Witchcraft had all the more reason to exist in the medieval times when human knowledge was still at a rudimentary stage and there appeared no other solution to day-to-day problems that confused and befuddled the people of those times.
In their desperation to seek the desired results, some times the practitioners of the witchcraft went out of the way of prayers and resorted to certain extreme practices and rituals such as the use of blood and so on or invoking evil spirits for help. Moreover witchcraft, like every other branch of knowledge, was manipulated and misused by vested interests. A few such cases here and there gained wide spread notoriety and provided the ecclesiastic powers, which commanded influence in formulating the secular policies of the kings and rulers of those times, an excuse to brand the witches or wizards as agents of the evil or Satanic powers. Now Satan is considered the greatest enemy of the Church and therefore God. Consequently any person who was suspected to be indulging in witchcraft was hounded out and persecuted with the punishment of death through hanging or burning at stake.
Persons accused of practicing the witchcraft were labeled as heretics. Once caught, the victim was coerced into confessing his crime through inhuman tortures and was either hanged or burnt alive during the inquisition. The law against the witchcraft was further exploited by the vested interests to score personal vendetta or to snatch the property or land of victims. Some influential persons in the society, in collusion with the priests, would manage to arouse suspicions against their targets as being witches or wizards. They victims were arrested, made to confess and killed.
Witches were generally portrayed as ugly old hags so as to make them the target of dislike and hatred, but the matter of fact is that they were and still are quite normal men and women and in some case witches were and are quite pretty and presentable ladies.
The witches used scrolls for witchcraft in those times. Some of them survive even today. Besides the spells, the witches also used some herbs and animal parts to make potions to cure some diseases and heal the wounds. Potions were brewed in cauldrons in order to combine them properly. Cauldrons were often made of wood, but other materials such as stones were also used. These potions, though denigrated as superstitious, were quite efficacious in those times as they are equally efficacious now.
A widely used tool of witchcraft was a broom. The use of broom can be traced to the peasants, both men and women, who used them to fertilize their crops. They would, then, ride on the top of them as horses.
In some cases, the priests were genuinely concerned about the souls of the ‘witches’ and burnt them alive for their salvation. The case of Joan of Arc, who was later canonized as Saint Joan is one of the most glittering examples of such acts of papal fanaticism. She was branded as a heretic or a witch and burnt alive on stake.
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