The Changing Definition of “Witch” Over Time

The below article by Prof Hutton discusses why it’s important to acknowledge the different meanings of “witch” & “witchcraft” over time as well as comparing what these words meant traditionally to ordinary people vs some members of the elite.

As I’m sure many are aware, healers, charmers & other folk magic practitioners were not considered to be witches by society at large, though some members of the elite tried to label them as such – or sometimes as “white witches” – in order to try to categorise all magical practice as evil, not just malevolent or diabolic.

It’s important to note that this elite view never caught on with the general public – even in Scotland where the legal penalty, unusually, was the same, very few folk magic practitioners were accused. (It’s also important to note that even this broader use of the term by some of the elite is still a far cry from the romanticised Victorian “white witch” & later modern, reclaimed, catch-all versions of the word “witch” in general).

This article is mainly from an English point of view – though Lowland Scotland is also mentioned – so please have a read of the article from Gaol Naofa outlining the history of the word “witch” from a Gaelic point of view too in the previous post.

💻 Read Ronald’s 2018 paper here. (⭐️ I’ve been informed that some people have had issues with the hyperlink on certain devices, so here’s the full address too in case anyone needs to copy & paste: https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/181447773/project_muse_707716.pdf)

(📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel)

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