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1. The practice of occult arts by witches, or wizards, who perform their work with the aid of the devil. The Scriptures oppose witchcraft (Lv 20:27; Dt 18:10–12; 1 Sm 28; Gl 5:20; Acts 8:9–11; 13:8; 19:19).

2. In the early Christian ch. witchcraft of every kind was forbidden, either on the ground of the emptiness of the practice or that of its positive godlessness and commerce with the devil. In the ch. of the early Middle Ages special rules of penance were made for women convicted of witchcraft. But at the beginning of the 13th c., when the Inquisition* was introduced, the use of magic and witchcraft was everywhere suspected and immediately branded as a desertion of God for the service of evil spirits. In 1231 a bull of Pope Gregory IX invoked the use of civil punishment against every form of heresy connected with sorcery. Toward the end of the 15th c. the provisions which brought witches under the power of the Inquisition were enlarged, so that trials for witchcraft became very common.

3. After the Reformation the crime of witchcraft was again the subject of legal enactments, also under the influence of the ch. Thus Elector August of Saxony supported a decree against sorcery, making it a capital offense. An epidemic of witch prosecution that had broken out in Ger. at the end of the 15th c. spread into Fr., It., Sp., the Neth., and Eng. and continued through the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The number of its unfortunate victims, mems. of both the Cath. and Prot. chs., is estimated at many thousands. Some of the tortures and ordeals resorted to in the examination of persons suspected of witchcraft were almost of a diabolical nature.

4. In Am. the first witchcraft persecution broke out 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, the occasion being some meetings in the family of a minister by the name of Parrish. A company of girls had been in the habit of meeting a West Indian slave in order to study the “black art.” Suddenly they allegedly began to act mysteriously, bark like dogs, and scream at things unseen. An old Indian servant was accused of bewitching them. A special court was formed to try the accused, as a result of which the jails filled rapidly, many persons being found guilty and condemned to death.

L. Kittredge, Witchcraft in Old and New England, (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1929); H. C. Lea, Materials Toward a History of Witchcraft (Philadelphia, 1939), 3 vols..

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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