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The practise of witchcraft is of great interest to anthropologists because it is a concept that pervades many societies The most influential study is Evans Pritchards Witchcraft Oracles and Magic among the Azande and ever since this work was published anthropologists have debated about definitions of witchcraft reasons why it exists in so many societies and whether it should be regarded as rational or irrational Historians often concentrated on the absurdity of witchcraft and attempted to analyse how these irrational beliefs could have persisted for so long in the West However anthropologists are interested in understanding witchcraft in the context of the culture under study and its significance to the society as a whole In considering the rationality of witchcraft beliefs I will first attempt to define and differentiate between different types of systems then attempt to account for their existence and explain how they form part of their cultures of origin before finally questioning whether the concept of rationality should be applied in their analysis In order to discuss witchcraft it is important to distinguish between a range of similar and easily confusable terms Since Evans-Pritchard anthropologists have tended to distinguish between witchcraft and sorcery The former is hereditary innate involuntary trait and it may be possible to discover its presence through an autopsy A witch exercises his power through psychic means requiring no physical tools and this may even be exercised involuntarily Sorcery on the other hand requires medicines and spells and may be learnt by anyone who is inclined However although this distinction is applicable to the Azande of the Sudan its relevance to other African societies is disputed and in modern English usage the terms are often used interchangeably Hendry 1999 cites Middleton 1963 who suggested the term wizardry to cover all mystical activities and Lewis who groups witchcraft sorcery and spirit possession under the umbrella term mystical attack A further concept to distinguish is the neo-paganist movement
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