Trying to identify the beginning of witchcraft, is like trying to find the exact origin of religion. It just cannot be done. The notion of magick and ritual has been close at hand since the dawn of time and it can not be dated or measured.
That said, we can still understand a small amount from the oldest uses of witchcraft although we cannot really pinpoint any specifics.
The origin of witchcraft should never be confused with the beginnings of Wicca. Two very distinct things they are. Wicca has essentially developed by Gerald Gardner in the 1950s and it is a total religious system that does include witchcraft. It goes without saying, witchcraft has been around much longer.
Though today we can perform the art of magick without becoming spiritual about it, it’s almost certain that the first sorts of magick were used in close relationship to the growing ideas of Gods that ruled over the world. Entreating the spirits in issues of fertility, the hunt, crops and other day-to-day issues of survival was just part of life.
Varying tribes and cultures handled this in their own ways, typically involving rituals to placate the Gods. This was the beginning of witchcraft. Over the centuries, certain practices grew and cultivated across the world to create a great number of religions and magickal cultures.
For the longest time, this kind of magick was completely normal and appropriate. But as Christianity took hold around the world, all kinds of “Pagan” habits were chronicled as being Satanic and purged. The most recognized example is the Salem witchcraft trials, held in the mid-1600s, where dozens of individuals were accused and tried for witchcraft. Many were hanged for their supposed crimes.
These forms of trials happened 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 lamentable association with the devil. With any luck, today’s modern witches can transform some minds about that.