The wide distribution of the practice of witch-hunts in geographically and culturally separated societies (Europe, Africa, India, New Guinea) since the 1960s has triggered interest in the anthropological background of this behaviour. The belief in magic and divination, and attempts to use magic to influence personal well-being (to increase life, win love, etc.) are human cultural universals.
Belief in witchcraft has been shown to have similarities in societies throughout the world. It presents a framework to explain the occurrence of otherwise random misfortunes such as sickness or death, and the witch sorcerer provides an image of evil. Reports on indigenous practices in the Americas, Asia and Africa collected during the early modern age of exploration have been taken to suggest that not just the belief in witchcraft but also the periodic outbreak of witch-hunts are a human cultural universal.
One study finds that witchcraft beliefs are associated with antisocial attitudes: lower levels of trust, charitable giving and group participation. Another study finds that income shocks (caused by extreme rainfall) lead to a large increase in the murder of "witches" in Tanzania.
Punishment for malevolent sorcery is addressed in the earliest law codes which were preserved; in both ancient Egypt and Babylonia, where it played a conspicuous part. The Code of Hammurabi (18th century BCE short chronology) prescribes that
If a man has put a spell upon another man and it is not yet justified, he upon whom the spell is laid shall go to the holy river; into the holy river shall he plunge. If the holy river overcome him and he is drowned, the man who put the spell upon him shall take possession of his house. If the holy river declares him innocent and he remains unharmed the man who laid the spell shall be put to death. He that plunged into the river shall take possession of the house of him who laid the spell upon him.