How Witches Shifted from Daily Healers to Heretics and Dangerous Women Under Christian Rule (Marion Gibson, January 22, 2024, LitHub)

In early history, magic was considered to be a power innate in healers, shamans, and religious leaders across multiple cultures. It allowed them to go beyond natural abilities, to change the world in inexplicable ways. Communities would have several such magical workers, combining medical and priestly roles.

There was no clear line between their magical healing and harming, since good and bad magic were two aspects of the same force. On Monday a user of magic might bless you, on Thursday they might curse you—that was just how things were. If you felt a magically gifted person was using that force to do harm, you might vilify them as a “witch”—a user of evil magic—and you might hold a local trial and mandate repentance. You might banish or kill the witch if their crimes were unacceptable.

But witchcraft accusations would not spread widely, and, on the whole, you would not begin to believe all magic was evil. Some societies were concerned about this possibility—the ancient Greeks and Romans feared magic was inherently ungodly—but most retained a blurry notion that magic could be a force for good.

This changed in Europe during the medieval period, when a new theological science was established: the study of devils or demons, appropriately called “demonology.” By the 1400s, the Christian clergymen who developed demonology had convincingly claimed a unique insight into the workings of the cosmos and God’s will. Now, demonologists argued, witchcraft was not just good magic gone bad; it was envisioned as a career committed to wickedness, setting itself against the church.