White witch

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For other uses, see White Witch (disambiguation).

White witch and good witch are qualifying terms in English used to distinguish practitioners of folk magic for benevolent purposes (i.e. white magic) from practitioners of malevolent witchcraft or black magic.[1] Related terms are "cunning-folk", "witch doctor", and the French devins-guérisseurs, "seer-healers".


During the witch trials of Early Modern Europe, many practitioners of folk magic that did not see themselves as witches, but as healers or seers, were convicted of witchcraft (Éva Pócs' "sorcerer witches"): many English "witches" convicted of consorting with demons seem to have been cunning folk whose fairy familiars had been demonised,[2][3] and over half the accused witches in Hungary seem to have been healers.[4]

Some of the healers and diviners historically accused of witchcraft have considered themselves mediators between the mundane and spiritual worlds, roughly equivalent to shamans.[5] Such people described their contacts with fairies, spirits, or the dead, often involving out-of-body experiences and travelling through the realms of an "other-world".[6] Beliefs of this nature are implied in the folklore of much of Europe, and were explicitly described by accused witches in central and southern Europe. Repeated themes include participation in processions of the dead or large feasts, often presided over by a female divinity who teaches magic and gives prophecies; and participation in battles against evil spirits, "vampires", or "witches" to win fertility and prosperity for the community.[6]

Popular culture[edit]

  • Sir Walter Scott spoke of a "white witch" in his novel Kenilworth (1821) He quoted "You must know that some two or three years past there came to these parts one who called himself Doctor Doboobie, although it may be he never wrote even Magister Artium, save in right of his hungry belly. Or it may be, that if he had any degrees, they were of the devil’s giving; for he was what the vulgar call a white witch, a cunning man, and such like."
  • In Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, the mother of Hansel and Gretel named Adrianna is the great white witch until she was killed by an angry mob that was incited by the evil witch Muriel which explains why Hansel and Gretel are immune to spells and curses. Also in the movie, the character Mina turns out to be a white witch.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "There were a number of interchangeable terms for these practitioners, 'white', 'good', or 'unbinding' witches, blessers, wizards, sorcerers, however 'cunning-man' and 'wise-man' were the most frequent." Macfarlane 1970 p. 130; also Appendix 2.
  2. ^ Emma Wilby 2005 p. 123; See also Alan Macfarlane 1970 p. 127 who notes how 'white witches' could later be accused as 'black witches'.
  3. ^ Monter () Witchcraft in France and Switzerland. Ch. 7: "White versus Black Witchcraft"
  4. ^ Pócs 1999, p. 12
  5. ^ As defined by Mircea Eliade in Shamanism, Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, Bollingen Series LXXVI, Pantheon Books, NY NY 1964, pp.3-7.
  6. ^ a b Ginzburg (1990) Part 2, Ch. 1.
  • Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971), p. 534.
  • Ryan Stark, Rhetoric, Science, and Magic in Seventeenth-Century England (2009), 123-27.