Witchcraft Today - Harris 1 Witchcraft Halloween Costume or...

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Harris 1 Witchcraft: Halloween Costume or Religious Affiliation? “A witch can be defined as any ugly and repulsive old woman . -- Ambrose Bierce Brittney Harris Dr . Thompson Religions of the West MWF 1:00-1:50 Fall 2007
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Harris 2 Witchcraft: Halloween Costume or Religious Affiliation? In the United States, it is not uncommon for children to ring doorbells on Halloween dressed as ninja turtles, pirates, angels, or even witches. Children sporting the idea of witchcraft are rarely criticized on this one night per year; however, if a child, or anyone, were to associate themselves with the practices of witchcraft on any other given day, chances are, reactions would be different. Though witchcraft was very controversial in the past, its current practice tends to be more culturally accepted. Articles such as the “Witchcraft Documents,” written by Mark A. Kishlansky and Susan Lindsey Lively in 1999, illustrate just how much witches were feared within society and the consequences for being associated as such. Witchcraft can be defined as the use of certain kinds of alleged supernatural or magical powers. While mythological witches are often supernatural creatures, historically many people have been accused of witchcraft, or have claimed to be witches. The term “witchcraft” can have positive or negative meanings depending on the cultural context. (“Witchcraft”). The practice of witchcraft can be traced back to the beginning of humans first banning together in groups. Prehistoric art depicts magical rites to ensure successful hunting. Western beliefs about witchcraft grew out of mythologies and folklore from their ancestors, especially within Greece and Rome. Roman law even made distinctions between “good” magic and “bad” magic; with harmful magic being punishable by law. Witchcraft was practiced regularly until the spread of Christianity. It was then, that witchcraft started to be associated with Devil worship (Guiley). Starting in Europe in the 8 th century C.E., witchcraft became associated with heresy, or the rejection of the teachings of the church. Religious leaders of the Christian church, intimidated
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Harris 3 by the refusal to accept its practices, began sentencing heretics by burning them to death beginning in about the 1000’s (Guiley). The Inquisition, beginning in about 1230, was an attempt by the church to seek out and punish those who refused to conform to Christian practices and to force them to change their beliefs (Guiley). Hysteria over witchcraft affected the lives of many Europeans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. More than 100,000 people were prosecuted throughout Europe on charges of witchcraft. As more and more people were brought to trial, the level of fear escalated to extreme levels. People either feared witches or feared being accused of practicing it. Common people, or the poor or those without property, were more likely to be accused of witchcraft. Of those accused of witchcraft, 75 percent were women; often single, widowed, or over fifty years of age. Milkmaids, peasant women, and servant girls were among some of the targeted females
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