From the earliest ages religions, true and false, claimed divine aid, and their production of effects by other than natural causes was considered by all except avowed unbelievers to be lawful. The supernatural is occult; but the latter word is used only to apply to the illegitimate, and to the imaginary sciences of the middle ages. As the terms at first employed were descriptive, rather than definitive, they came naturally to be used promiscuously, one word sometimes standing for everything preternatural exclusive of religion, and at others for a single form of such action. In an English book dating from the middle of the sixteenth century most of these ancient terms are included in a single sentence: "Besides the art magyck, sortilege, physnomye, palmestrye, alcumye, necromancye, chiromancy, geomancy, and witchery, that was taught there also." (Bale, "English Votaries.")

Magic, applied by the Greeks to the hereditary caste of priests in Persia, still stands in the East for an incongruous collection of superstitious beliefs and rites, having nothing in common except the claim of abnormal origin and effects. Astrology, divination, demonology, soothsaying, sorcery, witchcraft, necromancy, enchantment, and many other systems are sometimes included in magic, but each term is also employed separately to stand for the whole mass of confused beliefs which, outside of the sphere of recognized religion, attempt to surpass the limitations of nature. For this reason the title of a work on this subject seldom indicates its scope.

But witchcraft has been restricted by usage and civil and ecclesiastical law until it signifies a voluntary compact between the devil, the party of the first part, and a human being, male or female, wizard or witch, the party of the second part, that he, the devil, will perform whatever the person may request. The essential element in witchcraft as an offense against religion and civil law is the voluntary nature of the compact. Possession by the devil against the will, or without the consent of the subject, belongs to a radically distinct idea. The sixth chapter of Lord Coke's " Third Institute" concisely defines a witch in these words: "A witch is a person which hath conference with the devil, to consult with him to do some act." English laws in 1665 define witchcraft as " Covenant with a familiar spirit, to be punished with death".