Since antiquity it has been thought witches, sorcerers and magicians could possess the ability to cast negative spells out of revenge, spite or malice.

During the medieval witch-hunting mania maleficia, which implied a pact with the Devil, was generally used to explain any natural disaster, accident, illness, or personal misfortune. Also it was believed witches just had to think of causing trouble for others to have it occur.

In its narrowest definition maleficia meant damage to crops and illness or death to animals. In its broadest sense it could include anything which resulted in causing a negative impact upon a person. These negative impacts included loss of love, storms, insanity, disease, bad luck, financial problems, lice infestations and even death. Anything which went wrong was blamed on witches, during the age of witch mania, to increase convictions.

The so-called witch, or a wise-woman, was fair game to be convicted of maleficia. If a woman administered a remedy to heal a patient and the patient got worse, she was guilty of maleficia. If a hailstorm destroyed crops, or a cow dried up, or a horse went lame, surely someone was guilty of maleficia. Disease was a prime suspect of being the result of maleficia, this was especially true if a priest administered the last sacrament and the patient broke out in a sweat.

Witches were believed to be able to bring on maleficia through a variety of ways including: incantations, powders, potions, ointments, herbs, effigies stuck with thorns and nails, or the hand of glory;

Maleficia was thought to be combatted by charms, powders and potions made from certain herbs such as sage or christianwort, and incantations.

The belief in and the practice of malefic magic still presently exists, especially in tribal societies and rural areas steeped in folk magic. Many cultures believe in the use of amulets and charms as protection against general evil, but specific curses can only be removed by specific remedies, usually administered by another witch or sorcerer.