Monday, April 11, 2011

Ancient Widespread Witch Persecution

Ancient Mesopotamia wasn’t the only area where witchcraft was both prevalent and opposed to. There were many areas throughout Africa, Europe and Asia where witchcraft found its way into society and in the process got a (excuse the slang) bad rep. Most religions at this time were very opposed to the notions of witchcraft (well what they presumed were the practices and purposes anyways) and thus anyone caught using magic, witchcraft or any other type of sorcery were persecuted.

Perhaps the greatest examples of persecution were the Ancient Romans. Now there have been stories of the Roman Empire persecuting anyone and everyone they could get their hands on. I mean even the Judea-Christian bible talks about Christians and Jews being persecuted for their beliefs. So it’s safe to say the Romans didn’t really like anyone who was different (which is the basis to most witch-hunts).

In Ancient Rome it was strictly against their religious practices to engage in any type of “other-worldly” activities (which in itself is a question of what that really entails). This included any use of magic such as sorcery or witchcraft. They had very strict rules concerning this and if anyone was caught doing any spells or practicing any kind of magic they were arrested. The people were also taught to keep a vigilant eye out for anyone breaking these rules. If one saw someone practicing and didn’t report them they were held to the same laws as those practicing. It was thought that they were enabling them if they didn’t report them. The punishment for either crimes involved arrest, then extensive torture and lastly execution (

On the other spectrum there were ancients that actually embraced witchcraft and it became part of their everyday life. Ancient Egypt was one such place. There witches were considered wise and would help their “clients” by using their knowledge of magic to contort the cosmos to alter events and such. They used various tools to do this including amulets, special formulas, amulets and figures (

Another area where witches had clients that they tended to was Ancient Greece. These people were considered to be part of a lower form of magic called mageia which was close to sorcery. These people were the ones who claimed to have knowledge and powers to help their clients and harm their clients’ enemies by performing rites or supplying certain formulas ( The reason I say claimed is because many were fakes that were looking for quick money (which one could relate to the fake palm readers and phone psychics of modern days).

The other form of magic was of a much higher caliber and was even considered by many to be whole religion within itself. It was called Theurgy and was thought to be a very high and powerful form of magic, superior to mageia and many other magic practices at these times in history all around the world (

So it is easy to see that the ideas of witchcraft were spread all around the world at this time (well where we have records of them). Not all of them were persecuted at this time in history since in many places the notions of the “supernatural,” witchcraft and sorcery was accepted. Though like any other period in time we did have the tyrants like the Romans who pioneered mass witch-hunts.


Image of the painting of the Greek witch Erichtho at the British Museum.


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