Maybe you've read all of the Harry Potter books and watched every episode of Charmed or Bewitched, so you think you know what witches are all about. Modern witches don't exactly fit most of the TV and movie characters you've seen, however.

Are they good? Are they evil? Do they cast spells to cause bad things to happen?

The true definition of a witch, as well as the history of witches in general, is widely debated. Many texts describe witchcraft as pacts with the Devil in exchange for powers to do evil and harm others. While this may have some truth in certain sects, for most modern-day witches it is quite far from their actual beliefs and practices.

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In this article, we'll delve into the mysterious and hidden world of the modern witch, muddle through some of the witch's disputed history, find out why Halloween is a big night for them and take a peek into some of their rituals.

Belief in magic and witchcraft has been around since the beginning of time. Early man paid tribute to the gods and goddesses that ruled his world and brought healthy crops and mild winters. The idea of magic came about when things weren't so good: It grew from the chaos that accompanied bad weather, sickness and shortages of food. When times were bad, shamans, medicine people, witches and other types of sorcerers would cast spells and perform rituals to harness the power of the gods. Harnessing this power had mixed results: Witches, who were primarily women, were originally seen as wise healers who could both nurture and destroy; this belief in their power, however, eventually led to fear, and this often forced witches to live as outcasts. In the next section, we'll learn about the persecution of witches.