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Historians of European witchcraft have found the anthropological definition difficult to apply to European and British witchcraft, where witches could equally use (or be accused of using) physical techniques, as well as some who really had attempted to cause harm by thought alone.

Historically the witchcraft label has been applied to practices people believe influence the mind, body, or property of others against their will—or practices that the person doing the labeling believes undermine social or religious order.

HIV/AIDS are two examples of often-lethal infectious disease epidemics whose medical care and containment has been severely hampered by regional beliefs in witchcraft.

Other severe medical conditions whose treatment is hampered in this way include tuberculosis, leprosy, epilepsy and the common severe bacterial Buruli ulcer.

The Western mainstream Christian view is far from the only societal perspective about witchcraft.

Many cultures worldwide continue to have widespread practices and cultural beliefs that are loosely translated into English as "witchcraft", although the English translation masks a very great diversity in their forms, magical beliefs, practices, and place in their societies.

Some practitioners are simply mentioned in passing." There has also existed in popular belief the concept of white witches and white witchcraft, which is strictly benevolent.

Many neopagan witches strongly identify with this concept, and profess ethical codes that prevent them from performing magic on a person without their request.

Malicious magic users can become a credible cause for disease, sickness in animals, bad luck, sudden death, impotence and other such misfortunes.Witchcraft of a more benign and socially acceptable sort may then be employed to turn the malevolence aside, or identify the supposed evil-doer so that punishment may be carried out.The folk magic used to identify or protect against malicious magic users is often indistinguishable from that used by the witches themselves.Historically, the predominant concept of witchcraft in the Western world derives from Old Testament laws against witchcraft, and entered the mainstream when belief in witchcraft gained Church approval in the Early Modern Period.It posits a theosophical conflict between good and evil, where witchcraft was generally evil and often associated with the Devil and Devil worship.

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