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In anthropological terminology, witches differ from sorcerers in that they don't use physical tools or actions to curse; their maleficium is perceived as extending from some intangible inner quality, and one may be unaware of being a witch, or may have been convinced of his/her nature by the suggestion of others.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.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.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.

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Strictly speaking, "necromancy" is the practice of conjuring the spirits of the dead for divination or prophecy – although the term has also been applied to raising the dead for other purposes. 28), and it is among the witchcraft practices condemned by Ælfric of Eynsham: Witches still go to cross-roads and to heathen burials with their delusive magic and call to the devil; and he comes to them in the likeness of the man that is buried there, as if he arise from death.

Beliefs related to witchcraft and magic in these cultures were at times influenced by the prevailing Western concepts.