What is a Fear of Witchcraft?

Historical Ignorance or Modern Phobia?

Wicca religion practitioners. Scott Olson / GettyImages

Wiccaphobia, or fear of witchcraft, was once a societal norm throughout much of Christian Europe and the United States. The period from the 14th century Inquisition through the witch trials of the 17th century was known as the "Burning Times," in which witchcraft was a capital offense tried through the courts.

Today, pagans and witches have religious freedom in most countries, but fears remain. Modern Wiccaphobia may have a connection to xenophobia, or fear of those who are different, as well as religious concerns.

Wiccaphobia in History

The Burning Times began with the 1487 release of the Malleus Maleficarum or Witches' Hammer. The book detailed how to convict and kill a witch and was popular in Europe through the late 17th century.

Fear of witches also carried over to the English colonies in North America, where witchcraft was considered a capital offense. The most famous witch hunts occurred in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, but a trial in Virginia brought the mass hysteria to light.

In 1706, Grace Sherwood faced charges of witchcraft in Williamsburg, Virginia. Her trial, held at the dawn of the Age of Reason, brought to light the conflict between science and superstition. Witnesses testified that Grace caused ghosts to attack people, but the court was unconvinced by what it termed "spectral evidence." Shortly after the trial, spectral evidence was officially banned from trials.

What Caused the Burning Times?

Witchcraft fever could be seen as a sort of mass hysteria.

A deep misunderstanding of the nature of earth religions, coupled with plagues, droughts, and other hardships, likely led to the hysteria.

As scientists began to make sense of the world around them, and education among the average population improved, the situation died down.

Wiccaphobia Treatment

During treatment your therapist may want to explore the root of your fear and ask you questions, such as:

  • Does your church teach that witchcraft is a sin, as many Evangelical Christian churches do?
  • Are you afraid that you might be a witch, and if so, why?
  • Do you believe that witches have the power to cause harm?

If your fear is religious in nature, your therapist may want you to undergo spiritual counseling with your chosen religious leader in addition to or instead of traditional therapy.

Xenophobia

Some modern witchcraft fears have roots in xenophobia or the fear of those who are different. If you lived in a small town, you may never have encountered someone who practices Wicca or another pagan religion. You may be afraid of their customs and practices or, more likely, the customs and practices that you assume they follow based on depictions in popular culture.

Combating Wiccaphobia

Although the earth-based religions are generally benign, they have been negatively depicted for more than 1,000 years. Wiccaphobia is generally complex, and may not be easy to treat. Successfully overcoming a deep-rooted fear of witchcraft requires an honest exploration of your own religious and philosophical background, personality, and childhood experiences.

Look for an open-minded therapist who is willing to delve into your past and seek assistance from religious leaders. Research both ancient and modern-day earth-based religions, talk to those who practice those faiths and try to remain open minded. Although you may never become fully comfortable with the practices of witchcraft, over time you can learn to overcome your fear.

Sources:

Grace Sherwood: The Witch of Pungo

Religious Tolerance.org: Satanic Ritual Abuse

Loftus, Elizabeth. "The Reality of Repressed Memories." American Psychologist. 1993. Vol. 48, pp. 518-537.

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