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Ancient Near East
The belief in magic 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 BC).
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 Tanakh, 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 belief in the magic in itself.
Verses such as Book of Deuteronomy 18:11-12 and Book of Exodus 22:18 "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" provided scriptural justification for Christian witch-hunters in the early modern period. The word "witch" is a translation of the Hebrew כָּשַׁף kashaf, "sorcerer". The Hebrew 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 הכרית, translated in the King James Version as "cut off", can also be translated as "kill wholesale" or "exterminate".
The New Testament condemns the practice as an abomination, just as the Old Testament had (Epistle to the Galatians 5:20, compared with the Book of Revelation 21:8; 22:15; and Acts of the Apostles 8:9; 13:6).
There is some debate, however, as to whether the word used in Galatians and Revelation, Koinē Greek: φαρμακεία pharmakeía, is properly translated as "sorcery", as the word was commonly used to describe the malicious use of drugs.
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, evocation, cleromancy, astrology and physiognomy.
Muslims, followers of the religion of Islam, do commonly believe in the existence of magic and black magic (sihr), and explicitly forbid the practice of it. Sihr is the word for "black magic" in Arabic. The best known reference to magic in Islam is in surah al-Falaq, 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 a person taught black magic 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 or good magic in Islamic thought is from Messengers (al-Rusul – those who came with a new revealed text) and Prophets (al-anbiya – those who came to continue the specific law and Revelation of a previous Messenger); supernatural acts are also believed to be performed by awliya – the spiritually accomplished, through ma'rifa – and referred to as karamat "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. (The belief in jinn in general is part of the Muslim faith. Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj narrated the Prophet said: "Allah created the angels from light, created the jann from the pure flame of fire, and Adam from that which was described to you (i.e., the clay.)")
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 Jewish sources, 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.
Belief in the supernatural is strong in certain parts of India, and lynchings for witchcraft are reported in the press from time to time. According to the Indian National Crime Records Bureau, at least 2100 suspected witches (known as dayan) were murdered between 2000 and 2012. It is believed that an average of over 150 women per year are killed accused of being witches, concentrated across central India. Murder is commonly carried out by means of being burned, hacked or bludgeoned to death, often preceded by ritual humiliation, such as being stripped naked, smeared with filth and forced to eat excrement. For those accused of witchcraft who are not murdered, nearly all suffer permanent ostracism or banishment and their families face social stigma.
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, 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 antagonists, borne out of the European concept of witch, are popular; however, their powers rarely stem from worshipping devils.
Attempting to influence others through spells in Joseon was widely censured by the royal court. On discovering that Consort Hwi-bin Kim had used witchcraft on the crown prince, Sejong the Great described her as a "sorcerer" or "evil monster" (hanja: 妖邪) and had her thrown out of the palace.
Philippine witches are the users of black magic and related practices from the Philippines. They include a variety of different kinds of people with differing occupations and cultural connotations which depend on the ethnic group they are associated with. They are completely different from the Western notion of what a witch is, as each ethnic group has their own definition and practices attributed to witches. The curses and other magics of witches are often blocked, countered, cured, or lifted by Philippine shamans associated with the indigenous Philippine folk religions.
Witchcraft is a feature of traditional mythology in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan documented since the 16th century. It is believed that once a human dies their soul is owned by the witch that murdered them.
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia ], 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 Archived 16 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine (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
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- "Jaipur woman thrashed for witchcraft". The Times of India. 8 October 2008. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 11 October 2008.
- "Witches are still hunted in India—and blinded and beaten and killed". The Economist. 19 October 2017.
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- Blacker, Carmen. The Catalpa Bow : A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 1999. 51-59.
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