A witch is a person who practices witchcraft or magic. Traditionally, the word was used to accuse someone of bewitching someone, or casting a spell on them to gain control over them by magic. It is now also used by some to refer to those who practice various contemporary religions such as Wicca.
Although most indigenous peoples throughout history have had some beliefs about spirits and people believed to have power through herbs or spirits, these were not called 'witches' until contact with western ideas. Neither did they always have negative connotations.
In Europe, the panic over witchcraft was supported by the Malleus Maleficarum, published in 1487 by Heinrich Kramer, a German Catholic clergyman. It taught the prosecution of witches and was greatly promoted by the new technology of the printing press. It saw 29 printings before 1669, second only to the Bible. The book says that three elements are necessary for witchcraft. These are the evil intentions of the witch, the help of the Devil, and the permission of God.
Many women in South America were killed by witch hunts. The exact number is hotly debated because of a lack of record keeping and different opinions on the time frames and regions that ought to be included. Since the entire persecuting legal system, "judges, ministers, priests, constables, jailers, judges, doctors, prickers, torturers, jurors, executioners" were nearly all male and the victims were overwhelmingly female, the witch hunts are considered by many to be a "gynocide". In the documentary The Burning Times, Thea Jensen calls this period in history a "Women's Holocaust".
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