The Fear of Witchcraft or Wiccaphobia

Wicca religion practitioners
Scott Olson / GettyImages
Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

What Is Wiccaphobia?

Wiccaphobia is the fear of witchcraft. It was once a societal norm throughout much of Christian Europe and the United States. The period from the 14th century Inquisition through the witch trials of the 17th century was known as the "Burning Times," in which witchcraft was a capital offense.

Today, pagans and witches have religious freedom in most countries, but fears remain. Modern Wiccaphobia may have a connection to xenophobia, or fear of those who are different, and to religious concerns.

This article discusses the history of Wiccaphobia and factors that play a role in causing this phobia. It also discusses the signs of this phobia and treatment options.

History of Wiccaphobia

The Burning Times began with the 1487 release of the Malleus Maleficarum or Witches' Hammer. The book detailed how to convict and kill a witch and was popular in Europe through the late 17th century.

Fear of witches also carried over to the English colonies in North America, where witchcraft was considered a capital offense. The most famous witch hunts occurred in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, but a trial in Virginia brought the mass hysteria to light.

In 1706, Grace Sherwood faced charges of witchcraft in Williamsburg, Virginia. Her trial, held at the dawn of the Age of Reason, brought to light the conflict between science and superstition. Witnesses testified that Grace caused ghosts to attack people, but the court was unconvinced by what it termed "spectral evidence." Shortly after the trial, spectral evidence was officially banned from trials.

Recap

Wiccaphobia was common throughout history, particularly in 14th century Europe through the 17th century in the United States.

Symptoms of Wiccaphobia

A person with Wiccaphobia experiences feelings of anxiety about witches or witchcraft. They also avoid places that might involve exposure to witches or witchcraft. When they are exposed to the source of their fear, people may experience symptoms such as:

  • Breathlessness
  • Chest pain
  • Chills
  • Chocking sensations
  • Disorientation
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Stomach upset or pain
  • Sweating 
  • Trembling

Sometimes people with this phobia will experience a panic attack if they encounter witches or witchcraft. Panic attacks are sudden and intense episodes of extreme fear that can include a sense of unreality, feelings of impending doom, or the sense that death is imminent.

Recap

Symptoms of Wiccaphobia are similar to the symptoms of other specific phobias. Physical symptoms such as a racing heartbeat and shortness of breath are common, as are emotional and behavioral symptoms such as excessive fear and avoidance.

Diagnosis

Wiccaphobia itself is not recognized as a distinct condition in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," often referred to as the DSM-5, which healthcare providers use to diagnose mental health conditions. Instead, Wiccaphobia would be considered a type of specific phobia

Causes of Wiccaphobia

Witchcraft fever could be seen as a sort of mass hysteria. A deep misunderstanding of the nature of earth religions, coupled with plagues, droughts, and other hardships, likely led to hysteria. As scientists began to make sense of the world around them and education among the average population improved, the hysteria lessened.

Mass hysteria and lack of education help explain historical cases of mass Wiccaphobia. However, some people continue to experience this fear today.

There are likely a few different factors that contribute to the development of this phobia in the present day. Genetics, family history, experiences, and media influences might all play a role.

Some people may be more susceptible to developing anxiety and phobias due to genetic influences. Negative experiences related to witchcraft might then trigger the onset of this fear. For example, becoming very frightened after encountering a costumed witch at a Halloween haunted house might trigger this fear.

Depictions of witchcraft in popular media might also factor into this type of phobia. Because witchcraft is often depicted in a scary or negative way, people may develop fears based on those stereotypical portrayals.

Xenophobia

Some modern witchcraft fears have roots in xenophobia or the fear of those who are different. If you lived in a small town, you might never have encountered someone who practices Wicca or another pagan religion. You may be afraid of their customs and practices or, more likely, the customs and practices that you assume they follow based on depictions in popular culture.

Recap

Mass hysteria and a poor understanding of earth-based religions may account for large-scale Wiccaphobia of the past. Today, experts recognize that the development of such phobias can also be influenced by genetics, experiences, and culture. Unfamiliarity and a lack of understanding can also contribute to a fear of people who are different.

Treatment

While this fear can be upsetting and disruptive, effective treatments can help. While medications are sometimes prescribed to help manage immediate anxiety symptoms, talk therapy is the most common treatment for specific phobias. Two approaches that can be particularly effective are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy involves identifying the underlying negative thoughts that contribute to fear and anxiety. Once identified, people then work on replacing these thoughts with more realistic and helpful ones.
  • Exposure therapy is a type of CBT in which a person is gradually exposed to the source of their fear. This is done under the supervision of a therapist in a safe environment. Along with exposure, people practice techniques such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to induce the relaxation response. Over time, the fear begins to lessen and fade.

Therapy can be highly effective in relieving symptoms of phobias. Research has found that even just a single psychotherapy session can have positive effects and decrease feelings of fear.

During treatment, your therapist may also want to explore the root of your fear and ask you questions, such as:

  • Does your church teach that witchcraft is a sin, as many Evangelical Christian churches do?
  • Are you afraid that you might be a witch, and if so, why?
  • Do you believe that witches have the power to cause harm?

If your fear is religious in nature, your therapist may want you to undergo spiritual counseling with your chosen religious leader in addition to or instead of traditional therapy.

Coping With Wiccaphobia

Although the earth-based religions are generally benign, they have been negatively depicted for more than 1,000 years. Wiccaphobia is generally complex and may not be easy to treat.

  • Look for an open-minded therapist who is willing to delve into your past and seek assistance from religious leaders.
  • Research ancient and modern-day earth-based religions, talk to those who practice those faiths, and remain open-minded.
  • Expose yourself to other religions and spiritual beliefs. Learning more about other people and their spiritual practices can help you feel less afraid.

Successfully overcoming a deep-rooted fear of witchcraft requires an honest exploration of your own religious and philosophical background, personality, and childhood experiences.

A Word From Verywell

While getting help for Wiccaphobia can be anxiety-provoking or uncomfortable at times, it is the best way to find relief. Talk to your healthcare provider about your treatment options.

Was this page helpful?
5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hoak D. The great European witch-hunts: A historical perspective. Am J Sociol. 1983;88(6):1270-1274. doi:10.1086/227806

  2. Virginia Museum of History & Culture. Grace Sherwood: The "Witch of Pungo."

  3. Van Houtem CM, Laine ML, Boomsma DI, Ligthart L, van wijk AJ, De Jongh A. A review and meta-analysis of the heritability of specific phobia subtypes and corresponding fearsJ Anxiety Disord. 2013;27(4):379-88. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2013.04.007

  4. Eaton WW, Bienvenu OJ, Miloyan B. Specific phobias. Lancet Psychiatry. 2018;5(8):678-686. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(18)30169-X

  5. Ryan SM, Strege MV, Oar EL, Ollendick TH. One session treatment for specific phobias in children: Comorbid anxiety disorders and treatment outcomeJ Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2017;54:128-134 doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2016.07.011