Trying to define the origin of witchcraft, is like trying to find the exact origin of religion. It can’t be done. The concept of magick and ritual has been around since the dawn of time and it cannot be dated or measured.
That said, we can still learn a little bit from the earliest uses of witchcraft even though we can’t pinpoint any specifics.
The origin of witchcraft should not be confused with the origins of Wicca. Two very different things they are. Wicca has more or less created by Gerald Gardner in the 1950s and it is a complete religious system that does include witchcraft. Needless to say, witchcraft has been around a lot longer than that.
Though today we can practice the art of magick without becoming spiritual about it, it’s almost certain that the first forms of magick were used in close connection to the growing ideas of Gods that ruled over the world. Appealing to the spirits in matters of fertility, the hunt, crops and other day-to-day issues of survival was simply part of life.
Varying tribes and cultures approached this in their own ways, often involving rituals to appease the Gods. This was the beginning of witchcraft. Over the centuries, the specific practices grew and developed across the world to create countless religions and magickal cultures.
For the longest time, this kind of magick was perfectly normal and acceptable. But as Christianity took hold around the world, all kinds of “Pagan” practices were marked as being Satanic and eradicated. The most famous examples are the Salem witchcraft trials, held in the mid 1600s, where dozens of people were accused and tried for witchcraft. Many were hanged for their supposed crimes.
These types of trials took place all across Europe and North America, and turned a positive magickal skill into something negative. At least in the public eye. Even with the benign origin of witchcraft, it still has the unfortunately association with the devil. Hopefully today’s modern witches can change some minds about that.