Sunday, May 30, 2010

Do you believe in witchcraft?

Painting: ‘Examination of a Witch’ inspired by the Salem Witch Trials, painted by T. H. Matteson, an American painter, known for the use of historical, patriotic and religious themes in his works.

The notorious ‘Salem Witch Trials’ were a series of legal hearings to prosecute people accused of witchcraft in Essex, Suffolk, and Middlesex counties of colonial Massachusetts (now in USA), between February 1692 and May 1693. The episode has been highlighted in political rhetoric, literature and popular culture as a cautionary tale about the dangers of religious extremism, superstitions, false accusations, lapses in due legal process, and even as governmental intrusion on individual liberties.

The ‘Salem Witch Trials' of 1692 were conducted in a many places such as Salem Village, Ipswich, Andover and Salem Town. The most publicized trials were conducted by the Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692 in Salem Town. Over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned, with many more accused of witchcraft but not pursued by the authorities. Five of the accused died in prison and all twenty-six people who went to trial before this court were convicted.

The four sessions of the Superior Court of Judicature in 1693, held in Salem Village, but also in Ipswich, Boston and Charlestown, produced only three convictions in the 31 witchcraft trials it conducted. The two courts convicted 29 people of the capital felony of witchcraft. 19 of the accused - 14 women and 5 men - were hanged, and a man, Giles Corey, who refused to enter a plea, was crushed to death under heavy stones in an attempt to force him to do so.

Belief in witchcraft, witch hunts and persecutions of alleged witches can be found in many cultures, almost in all countries in one form or the other. While it is reportedly the worst in Sub-Saharan Africa, witch craft practices and opposition to such practices are still rampant in Europe, many Asian countries and in the Americas. In Europe of 14th to 18th centuries, witchcraft was allegedly seen as ‘a vast diabolical conspiracy against Christianity, and accusations of witchcraft led to large-scale witch-hunts, especially in Germanic Europe.’

In 19th and 20th centuries, a controversial theory speculated that European witchcraft was a suppressed pagan religion. Since the middle of the 20th century, witchcraft has become the self-designation of a branch of neo-paganism, especially in the Wicca tradition.

By simple definition, a witch (old English: Wicce/ Wicca) is a practitioner of witchcraft. Witchcraft is the use of supernatural or magical powers; the use of such powers in order to inflict harm or damage upon members of a community or their property. Reference can also be found about good witchcraft practiced to heal someone from bad witchcraft. Witchcraft is often linked to cultural ideologies, as means of explaining human misfortune by blaming it either on a supernatural entity or a known person in the community.

The cause of the symptoms of those who claimed affliction by witchcraft continues to be a subject of scientific interest. Medical and psychological explanations for the reported effects of witchcraft have been explored by researchers, and most conclusions find the cause in normal afflictions not associated with witchcraft. But some modern academics are less inclined to believe that the cause for the behavior was biological, exploring instead motivations of jealousy, spite and a need for attention to explain behavior they contend was simply acting.

Many practitioners of witchcraft are also found to use methods such as magic, sleight of hand, mesmerism/hypnotism/animal magnetism, and even chemicals and drugs etc., and some of them are also reported to pose as spiritual healers, swamis, babas, or spiritual masters because of the hatred people have now developed against witchcraft. There are also hundreds of cases of lynching/killings of witchcraft practitioners in the villages of Indian states of Bihar, West Bengal, etc., with the maximum killings reported from Chhattisgarh.

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