The term witchcraft (and witch) is a controversial one with a complicated history. Used with entirely different contexts, and within entirely different cultural references, it can take on distinct and often contradictory meanings. Each culture has its own particular body of concepts dealing with magic, religion, benevolent and harmful spirits, and ritual; and these ideas do not find obvious equivalents in other cultures.

Witches in modern culture[]

Only a few people today believe in the existence of people matching the medieval European stereotype of witches. However, since the emergence of Wicca in the 1940s, an increasing number of people have begun to call themselves witches. While most of western culture continues to assign negative connotations to the word, Wiccans do not consider it a derogatory term, nor do they associate it with Satanism – in fact, many Wiccans wish to claim the term "witch" and assign positive meanings to it.

Distinguishing witchcraft from other forms of magic[]

Among certain sub-groups of the modern occult world, witchcraft is typically distinguished from ceremonial magic, folk magic and religious magic. Many self-identified witches (especially Wiccans) are likely to be refering to folk magic when use the term "witchcraft".

Folk magic is not identical to witchcraft, but the two are very similar, in so far as that their methods are held to have power in their own right, whether or not they involve the invocation of deities, spirits, or other beings. In this way they differ from both prayer and religious magic, which depend upon the power and consent of a deity or deities, rather than the ritual elements themselves.

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