The history of Witchcraft can be traced back as far as the Paleolithic period some 40,000 years ago. Archeologists have discovered cave paintings from this period that depict witchcraft in it's basic form. Our ancient ancestors would not have considered themselves witches but they were using practices associated with witchcraft today.
Witchcraft has evolved since that time and was much more commonly referred to as such beginning before medieval times. The practice of witchcraft was fundamental to many cultures of this period and was widely practiced in Europe where it is most often referenced. The emergence of Christianity as the main religion of the period would bring untold misery to those practicing witchcraft.
Many so called witches of this time, who for the most part were healers using basic herbs to treat their villages, were persecuted as a result of edicts from Pope John XXII in 1320. The history of witchcraft was mainly peaceful until this time as witches were not directly sought out by the inquisition, but this edict authorized the inquisition to prosecute sorcerers as well.
Estimates of those killed during this period range from 40,000 to 100,000, a large number of which were brutally slain out of revenge or jealousy more than for actually practicing witchcraft. Burning at the stake was the original method of execution but this later changed to hanging in many regions as it was less barbaric. Witchcraft would be practiced in secrecy for centuries as a result if this treatment.
Modern day practices are broadly referred to as neopaganism, although this term does not accurately represent the many varieties followed in modern times. Traditional witchcraft as a way of life with very limited direct structure is probably the most common but there are more regimented religious forms of witchcraft. Wicca is perhaps the most well known of these and is very much a religion involving witchcraft.
During the history of witchcraft no overarching principles were laid down that governed all covens or witches, which led to each coven practicing the arts in their own way as directed by their individual leadership. Solo practice is also wide spread and unique, again following the persons own beliefs.
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