Yet, to me, to urge in defense of those who in thes eventeenth century—in New England or elsewhere—hung women as witches that the belief in witchcraft is universal seems a juggling with words. That belief which in the seventeenth century caused women to be done to death was never universal—in place or time. Let us define our terms. To assert or to deny anything whatever of witchcraft without a definition is to talking the air: the word has had widely different meanings. When we affirm the universality of witchcraft or of the belief in it, it is in a sense which neither the etymology nor the history of that word suffices to explain. Only by analogy has its meaning gained so wide an application; and, unless I err as to what the anthropologists teach us, it is only in a sense that would make it inclusive ofboth religion and magic that witchcraft can be demonstrated universal. If, however, we discriminate between religion and magic, understanding by magic the art of winning supernatural aid, not by submission or persuasion, but by human cleverness or lore, and if then witchcraft be identified with magic, as is often done, we shall still, I fear, have fallen short of an excuse for its repression. But if, as is most common of all, we make witchcraft to mean "black magic" alone—and this is clearly what Professor Kittredge does, since he counts malificum, harm to others, its essence—wecome up against a difficulty not less grave. For to the devotees of a religion not only the users of black magic, nay not only all the users of magic, be it black or white, seem to employ illicit aid against their fellows; but, so fierce is the struggle for existence, the users of a rival religion are almost sure to be confused with these. And if the. religion be monotheistic and claim monopoly, then presto all other gods and all other worships are branded with the stigma. Now, from almost or quite the first, this was precisely the attitude of Christianity towards witchcraft and all other faiths.

 

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New Englands Place In The History Of Witchcraft - J Burr

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