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An Anthropological Perspective


H. Sidky

Religion: An Anthropological Perspective provides a critical view of religion focusing upon important but overlooked topics such as religion, cognition, and prehistory; science, rationality, and religion; altered states of consciousness, entheogens and religious experience; religion and the paranormal; magic and divination; religion and ecology; fundamentalism; and religion and violence. In addition, this book offers a unique and concise coverage of traditional topics of the anthropology of religion such as shamanism and witchcraft (past and present), ritual, myth, religious symbols, and revitalization movements. A vast range of findings from ethnography, ethnology, cultural anthropology, archaeology, prehistory, history, and cognitive science are brought to bear on the subject. Written in clear jargon-free prose, this book provides an accessible and comprehensive yet critical view of the anthropology of religion both for graduate and undergraduate students and general audiences. Its scope and critical scientific orientation sets Religion: An Anthropological Perspective apart from all other treatments of the subject.
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Chapter Six: Witchcraft: Evil in Human Form


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Witchcraft: Evil in Human Form

A witch is an individual who is believed to possess innate powers to cause harm to persons and property by supernatural means. Witchcraft is part of religion because it involves unseen forces. The terms witchcraft and sorcery are sometimes taken to mean the same thing. Both refer to acts of harmful magic. However, some anthropologists make a distinction between the two. Sorcery is basically the use of harmful or black magic. Anyone who knows the correct spells and formulae can perform acts of sorcery or function as a sorcerer. The sorcerer employs spells, rituals, medicines and manipulates objects to achieve his goals. He can work on his own behalf, deliberately harming enemies, or on the behalf of clients who are afflicted by the sorcery or witchcraft of others. To what extent people practice sorcery is difficult to determine. However, the belief in sorcery, i.e., that others are causing us harm through evil magic, is real enough and affects human behavior. In this respect, sorcery and witchcraft are similar in nature. Both function to explain misfortunes through scapegoating and the patterns of accusation arising from suspicions that one has been attacked by sorcery or witchcraft are in some cases similar.

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