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Witchcraft: noun; Religious practice involving magic and affinity with nature, usually within a pagan tradition.

The ancient meaning of the word “witch” was “one who knows.” Historically, it was both masculine and feminine. The Anglo-Saxon form wicca, to which the English word can be traced, is masculine. In current usage, the word usually refers to a woman who has formed a compact with Satan or other evil spirits. With their help, she is supposedly able to cause all sorts of harm. The term “witchcraft” refers to the arts and practices of such women.

The words “witch” and “witchcraft” were unknown in Biblical times (BCE). There was no mention of them in the original texts from which the Bible was assembled. They were added in later revisions. The KJV has only two references to witches, and three to witchcraft. The most famous is in Exodus 22:18: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” The atrocities committed by devoutly religious people obeying that command were explained by Steven Weinberg when he told a New York Times interviewer in 1999, “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things.  But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

I have to quibble a bit with Weinberg’s statement. How do we determine if a person is good or evil? By their actions, of course. So how can a good person do evil? It would be more accurate to say that people who might not otherwise be inclined to do evil can be influenced by their religious belief to do evil. Of course, nonreligious people do bad stuff too. Believers have no monopoly on evil. There is a difference, though. The true believers who murdered those witches didn’t think their actions were evil. They were just following the instructions written by God in their holy book. I think most nonbelievers know damn well when they are doing bad stuff.

Belief in religion is like belief in witchcraft. There is no evidence that either one of them is anything but a figment in the imagination of the believer. It is not surprising, though, that religious believers would think that witches are real. They already have the predisposition to believe in fantasies.



Bert Bigelow is a trained engineer who pursued a career in software design. Now retired, he enjoys writing short essays on many subjects but mainly focuses on politics and religion and the intersection...