1. Meaning and Use of the Words
2. Biblical Usage
3. Common Elements in Witchcraft and Ancient Oriental Magic
4. Rise, Spread and Persecution of Witchcraft
1. Meaning and Use of the Words:
The word "witch" seems to denote etymologically "one that knows." it is historically both masculine and feminine; indeed the Anglo-Saxon form wicca, to which the English word is to be traced, is masculine alone. "Wizard" is given as masculine for witch, but it has in reality no connection with it. Wright (English Dialect Dictionary, VII, 521) says he never heard an uneducated person speak of wizard. When this word is used by the people it denotes, he says, a person who undoes the work of a witch. Shakespeare often uses "witch" of a male (compare Cymbeline, I, 6, l. 166: "He is .... a witch"). In Wycliff’s translation of
2. Biblical Usage:
Since the ideas we attach to "witch" and "witchcraft" were unknown in Bible times, the words have no right place in our English Bible, and this has been recognized to some extent but not completely by the Revisers of 1884. The word "witch" occurs twice in the King James Version, namely, (1) in
The phrase "the witch of Endor" occurs frequently in literature, and especially in common parlance, but it is not found in the English Bible. The expression has come from the heading and summary of the King James Version, both often so misleading. In
The word "witchcraft" occurs thrice in the King James Version in
See DIVINATION, sec. VII, 1.
The phrase "used witchcraft" (of Manasseh,
The plural "witchcrafts" (in the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American)) stands for the Hebrew noun just noticed (keshaphim) in
The verb "bewitch" occurs in
3. Common Elements in Witchcraft and Ancient Oriental Magic:
The first two sections of the Code of Hammurabi are as follows: "1. If a man has laid a curse (kispu = keshaphim) upon (another) man and it is not justified, he that laid the curse shall be put to death. 2. If a man has put a spell upon (another) man and it is not justified, he upon whom the spell is laid shall go to the holy river; into the holy river shall he plunge. If the holy river overcome him (and he is drowned), the man who put the spell upon him shall take possession of his house. If the holy river declares him innocent and he remains unharmed the man who laid the spell shall be put to death. He that plunged into the river shall take possession of the house of him who laid the spell upon him." Not a word is said here of a female that weaves a spell, but probably the word "man" in the Babylonian is to be taken as including male and female (so Canon C. H. W. Johns in a private letter, dated December 22, 1912).
4. Rise, Spread, and Persecution of Witchcraft:
In the early and especially in the medieval church, the conception of the Devil occupied a very important place, and human beings were thought to be under his dominion until he was exorcised in baptism. It is to this belief that we owe the rise and spread of infant baptism. The unbaptized were thought to be Devil-possessed. The belief in the existence of women magicians had come down from hoary antiquity. It was but a short step to ascribe the evil those women performed to the Devil and his hosts. Then it was natural to think that the Devil would not grant such extraordinary powers without some quid pro quo; hence, the witch (or wizard) was supposed to have sold her (or his) soul to the Devil, a proceeding that would delight the heart of the great enemy of good always on the alert to hinder the salvation of men; compare the Faust legend. For the conditions believed to be imposed by the Devil upon all who would be in league with him see A. Lehmann, Aberglaube und Zauberei2 (1908), 110 ff.
This idea of a covenant with the Devil is wholly absent from the early heathen conception of magic; nor do we in the latter read of meetings at night between the magicians and the demons with whom they dealt, such as took place on the Witches’ Sabbath. The witches were believed to have sexual commerce with devils and to be capable only of inflicting evil, both thoughts alien to oriental and therefore to Biblical magic.
The history and persecution and execution of women, generally ignorant and innocent, supposed to have been guilty of witchcraft, do not fall within the scope of this article, but may be perused in innumerable works: see "Literature" below. In Europe alone, not to mention America (Salem, etc.), Sprenger says that over nine million suspected witches were put to death on the flimsiest evidence; even if this estimate be too high the actual number must have been enormous. The present writer in his booklet, The Survival of the Evangelical Faith ("Essays for the Times," 1909), gives a brief account of the defense of the reality of witch power by nearly all the Christian theologians of the 17th century and by most of those living in the early 18th century (see pp. 23 ff). See also MAGIC, and The Expositor T, IX, 157 ff.
In addition to the literature cited under articles DIVINATION and MAGIC (which see), the following worlds may be mentioned (the books on witchcraft proper are simply innumerable): Reginald Scot, The Discovery of Witchcraft (aimed at preventing the persecution of witches, 1584; republished London, 1886); reply to the last work by James I of England: Daemonologie, 1597; Casaubon, On Credulity and Incredulity .... A Treatise Proving Spirits, Witches and Supernatural Operations, 1668; Joseph Glanrill, Saducismus Triumphatus: Full and Plain Evidences concerning Witches and Apparitions (the last two books are by theologians who class with "atheists"--a vague word in those times for unbelief--all such as doubt the power of witches and deny the power of devils upon human life). For the history of witchcraft and its persecutions see howard Williams, The Superstitions of Witchcraft, 1865, and (brief but interesting and compact) Charles Mackay, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions (2 volumes, 1851, 101-91). See also Sir W. Scott, Demonology and Witchcraft, 1830; W. R. Halliday, Greek Divination: A Study of its Methods and Principles, London, Macmillan (important); and article by the present writer in The Expositor, January, 1914, on "The Words Witch and Witchcraft in history and in Literature." For a full account of the witch craze and persecution at Salem, near Boston, U.S.A., see The Wonders of the Invisible World by Cotton Mather, D. D., with a further account by increase Mather, D. D., and compare Demon Possession by J. L. Nevins, 303-10.
T. Witton Davies