Sometimes witchcraft is used to refer, broadly, to the practice of magick, and has a connotation similar to shamanism for some people. Depending on the values of the community, witchcraft in this sense may be regarded with varying degrees of respect or suspicion, or with ambivalence, being neither intrinsically good nor evil.

Members of some religions have applied the term witchcraft in a pejorative sense to refer to all magickal or ritual practices other than those sanctioned by their own doctrines - although this has become less common, at least in the Western world. According to some religious doctrines, all forms of magick are labelled witchcraft, and are either proscribed or treated as superstitious. Such religions consider their own ritual practices to be not at all magickal, but rather simply variations of prayer.

"Witchcraft" is also used to refer, narrowly, to the practice of magick in an exclusively inimical sense. If the community accepts magickal practice in general, then there is typically a clear separation between witches (in this sense) and the terms used to describe legitimate practitioners. This use of the term is most often found in accusations against individuals who are suspected of causing harm in the community by way of supernatural means. Belief in witches of this sort has been common among most of the indigenous populations of the world, including Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. On occasion such accusations have led to witch hunts.

Under the monotheistic religions of the Levant (primarily Christianity, and Islam), witchcraft came to be associated with heresy, rising to a fever pitch among the Catholics, Protestants, and secular leadership of the European Late Medieval/Early Modern period. Throughout this time, the concept of witchcraft came increasingly to be interpreted as a form of Devil worship. Accusations of witchcraft were frequently combined with other charges of heresy against such groups as the Cathars and Waldensians.

In the modern Western world, witchcraft accusations have often accompanied the Satanic Ritual Abuse hysteria. Such accusations are a counterpart to blood libel of various kinds, which may be found throughout history across the globe.

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