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Witchcraft is a term used to describe the practices of of witches. European Christians in the medieval era, some conservative Christians today, Neopagans and many African religions (past and present) believe that witchcraft can produce effects that are beyond the natural powers of man. In other words, they believe that witchcraft is genuine magic. However, the way they characterize it differs widely.

Modern science has found no evidence that any form of magical witchcraft actually exists. Witchcraft as practiced by some Neopagans is, however, very similar to and supported by the findings of psychology. This is, however, a minority practice and not what is usually meant by the term Witchcraft.

Christian Belief in Witchcraft

Most Christians who believe in witchcraft at all believe that it derives its power from forces of evil - by a special pact or by an appeal to those forces, such as the devil. With a few exceptions such as Santeria, Christians do not practice witchcraft.

(Does Santeria consider itself Christian?)

Jewish views of witchcraft

Almost all modern day Jews view the practice of witchcraft as idolatry, a serious theological offense in Judaism. Jews believe that the practices associated with witchcraft and magic are in vain, as such magic and supernatural forces don't actually exist. The only supernatural belief Jews still maintain is the belief in God. It should be noted that a small number of Orthodox Jews who study Kabbalah (Jewish esoteric mysticism) do believe in magic; their practices use terminology that varies greatly from witchcraft, but the basic ideas (using supernatural forces to effect results in the physical world) are identical. Most Jews find such ideas ludicrous; since The Enlightenment most Jewish people have abondoned a belief in the Kabbalah.

African Witchcraft

Africans have a wider range of views, some believing the same things that Christians do, while others believeing that witchcraft may be value-neutral, or perhaps even used for good. The African practice led to the term {[witch doctor]].

The African practice led to several related religious in the Americas. See Voudun, Obeah, Candomble.

(Need to also discuss Obeah, Candomble, Voudun in more detail)

Neopagan Witchcraft

Neopagans believe that witchcraft exists as a way of doing good, and eschew any evil usages (See the Wiccan Rede and the Rule of Three). Their belief is sometimes very similar to the belief of Christians in prayer, that the Divine will acknowledge and grant answers to a ritual given in a Deity's name. More often, however, modern neopagans believe that the power of witchcraft comes about primarily in the way it acts upon the person, not due to any divine intervention. Many neopagans, however, believe that witchcraft is a way of working directly with Divine forces.

Many neopagans believe that people are comprised of three selves. The three selves are the Talking Self (the conscious mind), the Younger Self (the unconscious mind) and the Higher Self (the Soul, also called the Divine Self). It is believed that the unconscious (Younger Self) is not capable of speaking or of understanding speech, but understands and responds to symbolism.

To many Neopagans, therefore the power of a ritual is in the way its symbolism speaks to Younger Self. Psychology has shown that beliefs have an effect on reality in ways science does not yet understand, such as the placebo effect. Some neopagans believe that witchcraft is a way of tapping into those forces.

People who call themselves Neopagans are more likely to take this view. People who go by the term Wiccan are more likely to believe in divine action. Also, not all people who practice witchcraft consider themselves Wiccan or Neopagan, and vice versa.

See also Witchhunts.