Witchcraft, which may be defined as the usage of a variety of supernatural or magical powers to influence objects and people, either for good or bad purposes, is a practice that has been in existence for hundreds of years throughout the world, in places such as South America, Europe, and Africa. Witchcraft has mostly been seen in the past as something that is on the dark side, with the most familiar variation of it being the witchcraft of Europe in medieval times, in which witches used spells and incantations to do things like make people get sick or commit crimes. Witches have also sometimes been seen as good, such as in the case of European “white witches” who used their powers to reverse the effects of an evil spell, or witch doctors who cure diseases. But at least until recently revulsion and fear have been the main attitude society has had towards witchcraft, with one result being that thousands of people have been killed in witch hunts.
The amount of people believing that witches and witchcraft are real, in the sense of believing that the spells, incantations, potions and other things that witches use really do have magical powers, has gone through an interesting change over the years. With the belief being widespread among the population up until the nineteenth century, then declining steadily in the developed world as the prestige of science rose while still being widespread in undeveloped countries. But then rising again recently in developed countries with the emergence of New Age philosophies and greater respect for indigenous religious practices.
There is a big division today with regard to how modern day witches and witchcraft are viewed, with a negative view of it as an evil force still prevalent in the third World. However in the developed world it is portrayed in a positive light in the media, such as with portrayals of benevolent Caribbean voodoo practitioners and Native American shamans. A somewhat romanticized version of it is practiced by middle class people, as with the neopagan Wiccans. On the other hand it is still viewed in the Third World largely as an evil force, in the Third World there are still witch hunts to this day; cases of witch killing have been reported in countries such as Ghana, Tanzania, and Uganda, and in February 2003 alone, it was reported that fifteen suspected witches had been killed. Both of these views of witchcraft have in common the belief that witches have real powers, and my personal opinion is that this belief is both incorrect, with no real scientific evidence to back it up, and harmful, because this belief encourages fear.