Witchcraft has roots in almost every culture around the world, but for our purposes, we’ll stick to its history in the United States.
Hugh and Mary Parsons were the first to be publicly accused of witchcraft in the United States in 1645. The husband and wife actually accused each other – and though Hugh was found innocent, Mary was acquitted of witchcraft but sentenced to hang for the death of her child. (However, she died in prison before she could be hanged.)
Salem Witch Trials
Before the infamous Salem Witch Trials, nearly 300 people (mostly women) had been accused of witchcraft in North America, with more than 30 of them being hanged for the crime.
Between 1692-1693, 20 people (again, mostly women) were executed as a result of the Salem Witch Trials — a series of hearings and prosecutions in colonial Massachusetts. (Despite the moniker of the “Salem Witch Trials,” many of the court cases happened in other towns throughout the region.)
Historians most often point to a case of several young girls in Salem Village, accusing other women in the town of cursing them with magic. Many of the women accused in this first case (Betty Parris, Abigail Williams, 12-year-old Ann Putnam, Jr., and Elizabeth Hubbard were Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba) were seen as outcasts to the villagers.
Others soon accused of witchcraft were those who publicly questioned the girls’ stories.
Much of the evidence used to convict the “witches” in these trials was based only on the testimony of the accusers — who claimed to see an apparition of the witch who was afflicting them.
Today, contemporary witchcraft is most often associated with Wicca, a modern pagan religion — though magic is not really an official part of the practice of Wicca. (In fact, most Wiccans “believe magic to be a law of nature, as yet misunderstood or disregarded by contemporary science.”
… As such they do not view it as being supernatural, but being a part of the “super powers that reside in the natural” according to Leo Martello. Some Wiccans believe that magic is simply making full use of the five senses that achieve surprising results, whilst other Wiccans do not claim to know how magic works, merely believing that it does because they have observed it to be so.
One element of Wicca that should be of particular interest to fans of of the Spellcaster series is the notion of a Book of Shadows:
Gerald Gardner [who first introduced Wicca to the public in 1954] used a book containing many different texts in his covens, known as the Book of Shadows (among other names), which he would frequently add to and adapt.
… the Book contained instructions for how to perform rituals and spells, as well as religious poetry and chants.
The use of the pentagram is common for Wiccans – though should not be confused with the inverted pentagram, which is a symbol of the Church of Satan. In Wicca, the pentagram is actually most often used as a representation of the five elements.
For the comments: What do you know about real-life witchcraft, or witches in other cultures?