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Are all witches equal?

Six types of Witchcraft

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Topics in this essay:


Details of six types of witchcraft:

Evil sorcery in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)


Poisoners in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)


Gothic Satanism during the Renaissance in western Europe




Religious Satanism


Sorcery and magic in fantasy novels

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Evil sorcery in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament):

English versions of the Bible sometimes translate the Hebrew word m'khashepah or m'khaseph in the Hebrew Scriptures as Witch or Wizard. For example:

Exodus 22:18: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." (KJV)


Deuteronomy 18:10-11: "There shall not be found among you anyone ....that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer." (KJV)

The Hebrew words M'khashepah and m'khaseph means an evil sorceress or sorcerer; a person who uses spoken spells in secret to harm or kill other people. They were greatly feared by the ancient Israelites because they believed that there was no protective measures that a person could take against such curses.

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Poisoners in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament):

Galatians 5:19-20 includes a list of "acts of the sinful nature", or "works of the flesh. One of these is, in the original Greek, "pharmakia." The English word "pharmacy" is derived from it. "Pharmakia" is the practice of preparing poisonous potions in secret, to harm or kill other people. This is often mistranslated as witchcraft in some English versions of the Bible. Other versions translate it as: sorcery, magic, magical arts, spiritism, and "participate in demonic activities." 

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Gothic Satanism during the Renaissance:

In western Europe, during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the Roman Catholic church taught that evil individuals, mostly women, sold their soul to the Devil, worshiped Satan and devoted their lives to harming others. They were said to worship Diana and other Gods and Goddesses. They were evil Witches who kidnapped babies, killed and ate their victims, were in league with demons, flew through the air, met in the middle of the night, caused male impotence and infertility, caused male genitals to disappear, etc. These beliefs became generally accepted by western Europeans at the time. Hundreds of thousands of individuals were condemned as "Witches." Tens of thousands were convicted of worshiping Satan and were executed during what are now called the burning times. They were executed by hanging in most Protestant jurisdictions, and were burned alive at the stake in most Catholic countries. Contrary to public opinion, most of the accused were tried and executed by civil courts, not by the Catholic Inquisition. The terror left such a mark on Christianity that many people still think that Gothic Satanists exist today. This belief had a temporary resurgence in the 1980s and early 1990s in the form of the Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) panic. 

These witches probably never existed, except in people's minds and nightmares. There are rumors of a Gothic Satanic group in France a few centuries ago; but it is uncertain whether they were a fable or a real group. Belief in evil witches who commit the above mentioned atrocities -- and more -- continues in sub-Saharan Africa and in parts of Asia today.

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Wicca is recently-created religion, partly based on the concepts, deities, symbols and seasonal days of celebration of the ancient Celtic people. Some Wiccans also refer to themselves as Witches, Pagans or Neopagans. Both men and women who follow the religion are typically called Witches; the term Wizard is not used. The two laws that govern Wiccan behavior are:

The Wiccan Rede: "An it harm none, do what you wilt" i.e. Wiccans are free to do whatever they want to, as long as it harms nobody, including themselves. 


The Threefold Law: Any evil that one does will return three times over; so too with any good that one accomplishes.

The Rede and the Law obviously motivate Witches/Wiccans to avoid doing evil. "Witches" in the Bible and the "Witches" within Wicca are, in fact, totally opposite in belief and practice. They are also unrelated to the Gothic Satanism hoax created by the Christian church in the late Middle Ages. Wiccans do not believe in Satan; their pantheons of deities do not include an all-evil supernatural being. They are unrelated to imaginary witchcraft of children's literature; Wiccans very definitely live in the real world, not an alternative universe.

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Religious Satanism:

Modern-day Satanists recognize Satan, either as a deity or as a life principle. Followers are usually serious adults, although a few are mature teenagers. Three main traditions exist: the Church of Satan, the Temple of Set and the Church of Satanic Liberation. One source estimated that there were 10 to 20 thousand members of the Church of Satan in the U.S. during the late 1970's. Their membership has probably declined since that time.

It is important to realize that the Satan that they recognize is almost completely unrelated to the quasi-deity of Gothic Satanism during the Renaissance or with the Conservative Christian concept of Satan today. The Satanists' view of Satan is pre-Christian, and derived from a Pagan image of power, virility, sexuality and sensuality. To most Satanists, Satan is a force of nature, not a living quasi-deity. Their Satan has nothing to do with Hell, demons, pitchforks, sadistic torture, profound evil, and Satanic Ritual Abuse. Unlike Wiccans, Satanists feel free to harm their enemies. We are not aware of any Satanist who has been convicted of a crime related to his religion or rituals. 

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Sorcery and magic in fantasy novels:

Imaginary witchcraft often appears science fantasy and children's novels. The environment is in a type of alternative universe in which normal physical laws do not apply. Magic takes over. For example, the staircases and other structures in the Hogwarts School building in the Harry Potter books do not obey the laws of physics; they are constantly being rearranged by magic. In this magical world, people can fly through the air on broomsticks. They can change their shape from human to an animal. Dementors can attack people and suck their soul out of their body, leaving them joyless. The "soul suckers" and others can be defeated by waving a wand and reciting a spell. This form of wizardry/witchcraft is also seen in a delightful passage in the movie Fantasia in which Mickey Mouse plays the role of a sorcerer's apprentice. He experiments with a magical spell without permission, and gets into a lot of trouble by creating thousands of water-carrying brooms. Evil and good Witches inhabit the world of children's nursery rhymes, cartoons, and movies -- from Cinderella to the Wizard of Oz. As author Rowling says: "My wizarding world is a world of the imagination. I think it's a moral world....I don't believe in the kind of magic that appears in my books." 2

Her books are unrelated to the "Witchcraft" of the Bible, with the exception of the malicious "wizard" Lord Voldemort. His behavior closely fits that of the Hebrew word m'khaseph -- an evil sorcerer. He is consistently described throughout the book series as a profoundly evil force to be despised and fought against. 


Her book does describe Harry and his friends using some methods of divination which might have some vague similarities to techniques that some Wiccans also use to foretell the future. However, divination is not an integral part of the Wiccan religion; it is merely an activity which some Wiccans engage in. And, of course, most people who attempt to foretell the future are not Wiccans. Divination takes many benign forms in North America, including consulting one's horoscope, the casting of runes, reading tarot cards, interpreting tea leaves, or the observing of a groundhog's shadow to decide whether Spring will be delayed.


The Harry Potter books teach a positive system of morality:

They are totally non-racist. When Harry is selecting a girl to take to a dance, he tries to get a date with a number of students. From their names, we can infer that one is East Indian and one is African. Harry is Caucasian.


They are quite non-sexist. The male and female students interact as equals; the boys do not adopt a position of superiority over the girls. In the first book, Harry relies heavily on the logical ability of a female student to solve a puzzle.


They are moral: right always ultimately triumphs over might; good wins over evil; love over hate.


Rowling's characters exhibit strong loyalty to family and friends. A visitor to this web site wrote:

"Even though the various main characters have fallings out they don't engage in petty vengeance or malicious gossip. They eventually apologize and reconcile. Also, though Harry's uncle treats him badly, he is not totally evil. We see that he and his wife are motivated by fear and jealousy (and a reluctant acknowledgment that magic is a real and powerful force which must be respected) and we can maybe have some sympathy for them. ... No matter how bad the treatment, it is clear Harry must stay with them as the protection of blood family outweighs all other considerations."

The "witchcraft" seen in fiction is quite different from the religion of "Witchcraft" (commonly called Wicca) in the real world. For example:

Lindy Beam of Focus on the Family, commented on the Harry Potter books: "Harry’s magic is of an entirely different nature from real-world witchcraft." Beam quotes Chuck Colson, a popular conservative Christian author: "Harry and his friends cast spells, read crystal balls, and turn themselves into animals—but they don't make contact with a supernatural world.3


Beam also quoted Wren Walker, a Wiccan from Clearwater, Fla., who co-founded the Witches Voice, a popular source for information on Wicca and other Pagan traditions. Walker states that the Harry Potter book could never be an instructional piece for real-life witchcraft. Walker said: "Spells tend to be more like prayers for most Wiccans and witches that practice it in the religious sense...We don’t use ‘abracadabra.’ If somebody wanted to pick up the book and do the things in it, it wouldn’t be Witchcraft." 3

Confusion reigns when people try to link together two of these unrelated forms of witchcraft. This most often happens when:

Some conservative Christians link together Bible Witchcraft, Gothic Satanism, Wicca, and the imaginary witchcraft of the Harry Potter books as a single, forbidden entity. As described above, the witchcraft of the Bible and of Wicca are exact opposites in many ways. Gothic Satanism and imaginary witchcraft do not exist.


Teenage students confuse imaginary witchcraft of the Potter books with Wicca and want to learn spells that they can use to change their environment.

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  1. Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups" Department of the Army, 1978-APR. The section on Satanism is available on line at:
  2. Lindy Beam, "Exploring Harry Potter's world," Focus on the Family, at: 

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Copyright © 2000 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JUL-7
Latest update: 2007-JUL-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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