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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 June 2007, 11:15 GMT 12:15 UK
Norway hosts witchcraft experts
By Mike Lanchin
BBC News

Witchcraft (file pic)
Pro-witchcraft groups say discrimination is still widespread
More than 60 experts on witchcraft from across the world are gathering in a tiny Arctic town in northern Norway.

For three days in Vardo they will have discussions, lectures and the odd film show on ancient and modern sorcery.

The International Midnight Sun Witchcraft Conference is organised by Scandinavian and US universities.

Organisers say persecution is a thing of the past in Europe, but in parts of Africa and Asia men, women and children are still accused of witchcraft.

As in the past, experts say, victims are often singled out by their communities and made scapegoats for outbreaks of disease, bad weather or other misfortunes.

As well as touching on these issues, the Norwegian conference will also discuss Shamanism - a practice that centres on communication with the spiritual world, mostly through animal spirits.

Some experts claim that Shamanism predates all other organised religions.

But beyond the scholars and believers attending this week's conference, witchcraft has recently gained a new and rather younger circle of enthusiasts, following the publication of the best-selling Harry Potter books - and films - one of which has its worldwide premiere today.

During a 17th-Century witch-hunt in Vardo, about 80 women were burnt at the stake.

Reports from the time indicated they were accused of meeting with the devil at the nearby "witch mountain".

During the 16th and 17th centuries it is estimated that up to 50,000 people were executed for alleged sorcery across Europe.

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