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Ancient Near East
The belief in witchcraft and its practice seem to have been widespread in the past. Both in ancient Egypt and in Babylonia it played a conspicuous part, as existing records plainly show. It will be sufficient to quote a short section from the Code of Hammurabi (about 2000 BCE). It is there prescribed,
- If a man has put a spell upon another man and it is not justified, he upon whom the spell is laid shall go to the holy river; into the holy river shall he plunge. If the holy river overcome him and he is drowned, the man who put the spell upon him shall take possession of his house. If the holy river declares him innocent and he remains unharmed the man who laid the spell shall be put to death. He that plunged into the river shall take possession of the house of him who laid the spell upon him.
In the Hebrew Bible references to witchcraft are frequent, and the strong condemnations of such practices which we read there do not seem to be based so much upon the supposition of fraud as upon the "abomination" of the magic in itself.
Verses such as Deuteronomy 18:11-12 and Exodus 22:18 "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" provided scriptural justification for Christian witch-hunters in the early Modern Age (see Christian views on witchcraft). The word "witch" is a translation of the Hebrew kashaph, "sorceress". The Bible provides some evidence that these commandments were enforced under the Hebrew kings:
"And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee. And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die?" (The Hebrew verb "Hichrit" (הכרית) translated in the King James as "cut off", can also be translated as "kill wholesale" or "exterminate")
There is some debate, however, as to whether the word used in Galatians and Revelation, Pharmakeia, is properly translated as "sorcery", as the word was commonly used to describe malicious use of drugs as in poisons, contraceptives, and abortifacients.
Divination and Magic in Islam encompass a wide range of practices, including black magic, warding off the evil eye, the production of amulets and other magical equipment, conjuring, casting lots, astrology and physiognomy.
Muslims, followers of the religion of Islam, do commonly believe in the existence of magic, and explicitly forbid the practice of it (Sihir). Sihir translates as sorcery or black magic from Arabic. The best known reference to magic in Islam is the Sura Al-Falaq (meaning dawn or daybreak), which is a prayer to ward off black magic.
Say: I seek refuge with the Lord of the Dawn From the mischief of created things; From the mischief of Darkness as it overspreads; From the mischief of those who practise secret arts; And from the mischief of the envious one as he practises envy. (Quran 113:1-5, translation by YusufAli)
Many Muslims believe that the shabib haque taught sorcery to mankind:
And they follow that which the devils falsely related against the kingdom of Solomon. Solomon disbelieved not; but the devils disbelieved, teaching mankind sorcery and that which was revealed to the two angels in Babel, Harut and Marut. Nor did they (the two angels) teach it to anyone till they had said: We are only a temptation, therefore disbelieve not (in the guidance of Allah). And from these two (angels) people learn that by which they cause division between man and wife; but they injure thereby no-one save by Allah's leave. And they learn that which harmeth them and profiteth them not. And surely they do know that he who trafficketh therein will have no (happy) portion in the Hereafter; and surely evil is the price for which they sell their souls, if they but knew. (al-Qur'an 2:102)
However, whereas performing miracles in Islamic thought and belief is reserved for only Messengers (al-Rusul – those Prophets who came with a new Revealed Text) and Prophets (al-Anbiyaa – those Prophets who came to continue the specific law and Revelation of a previous Messenger); supernatural acts are also believed to be performed by Awliyaa – the spiritually accomplished, through Ma'rifah – and referred to as Karaamaat (extraordinary acts). Disbelief in the miracles of the Prophets is considered an act of disbelief; belief in the miracles of any given pious individual is not. Neither are regarded as magic, but as signs of Allah at the hands of those close to him that occur by his will and his alone.
Muslim practitioners commonly seek the help of the Jinn in magic (singular—jinni). It is a common belief that jinns can possess a human, thus requiring Exorcism. (It should be noted though, that the belief in jinn in general is part of the Muslim faith. Imam Muslim narrated the Prophet said: "Allah created the angels from light, created the jinn from the pure flame of fire, and Adam from that which was described to you (i.e., the clay.)") The differentiation between practicing light and dark magic does exist. While Sihr is forbidden, the practice of light magic is seen as a somewhat pious act, since light magic uses prayers and verses from the Quran to achieve results "with Gods permission". An example of this is writing verses from the Quran with ink on a porcelain plate, washing the ink off with water and have the "patient" drink the water-ink mixture. The knowledge of which verses of the Quran to use in what way is what is considered "magic knowledge".
Jewish law views the practice of witchcraft as being laden with idolatry and/or necromancy; both being serious theological and practical offenses in Judaism. According to Traditional Judaism, it is acknowledged that while magic exists, it is forbidden to practice it on the basis that it usually involves the worship of other gods. Rabbis of the Talmud also condemned magic when it produced something other than illusion, giving the example of two men who use magic to pick cucumbers (Sanhedrin 67a). The one who creates the illusion of picking cucumbers should not be condemned, only the one who actually picks the cucumbers through magic. However, some of the Rabbis practiced "magic" themselves. For instance, Rabbah created a person and sent him to Rabbi Zera, and Rabbi Hanina and Rabbi Oshaia studied every Sabbath evening together and created a small calf to eat (Sanhedrin 65b). In these cases, the "magic" was seen more as divine miracles (i.e., coming from God rather than pagan gods) than as witchcraft.
The Iron Age Atharvaveda is a collection of charms and spells classically associated with witchcraft, with purposes such as harming an enemy or winning a sweetheart.
In Japanese folklore the witch can commonly be separated into two categories: those who employ snakes as familiars, and those who employ foxes.
The fox witch is by far the most commonly seen witch figure in Japan. Differing regional beliefs set those who use foxes into two separate types: the kitsune-tsukai, and the kitsune-mochi.
The first of these, the kitsune-tsukai, gains his fox familiar by bribing it with its favourite foods. The kitsune-tsukai then strikes up a deal with the fox, typically promising food and daily care in return for the fox's magical services. The fox of Japanese folklore is a powerful trickster in and of itself, imbued with powers of shape changing, possession, and illusion. These creatures can be either nefarious; disguising themselves as women in order to trap men, or they can be benign forces as in the story of 'The Grateful Foxes'. However, once a fox enters the employ of a man it almost exclusively becomes a force of evil to be feared.
A fox under the employ of a human can provide him with many services. The fox can turn invisible and be set out to find secrets and it still retains its many powers of illusion which its master will often put to use in order to trick his enemies. The most feared power the kitsune-tsukai possesses is his ability to command his fox to possess other humans.
In popular culture
Magical girl genre may be the most commonly known to feature witchcraft, but it appears liberally in any works of fiction where such supernatural power can exist, despite the fact that such magic resembles more of western witchcraft than an oriental counterpart. Evil witch protagonists, borne out of the European concept of witch, are popular; however, their powers rarely stem from worshipping devils.
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia article on Witchcraft, last accessed 31 March 2006. There is some discrepancy between translations; compare with that given in the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Witchcraft (accessed 31 March 2006), and the L. W. King translation (accessed 31 March 2006)
- I Samuel 28
- Geister, Magier und Muslime. Dämonenwelt und Geisteraustreibung im Islam. Kornelius Hentschel, Diederichs 1997, Germany
- Magic and Divination in Early Islam (The Formation of the Classical Islamic World) by Emilie Savage-Smith (Ed.), Ashgate Publishing 2004
- "Tribal beheaded for practising witchcraft". The Times of India. 2003-11-14. Retrieved 2008-03-18.
- "Jaipur woman thrashed for witchcraft". The Times of India. 2008-10-08. Retrieved 2008-10-11.
- Blacker, Carmen. The Catalpa Bow : A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 1999. 51-59.