Endor, Witch of

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Endor, Witch of

The Witch of Endor, one of the most important characters in Western occult history, was a figure who briefly appeared in the Jewish Bible (the Christian Old Testament) in 1 Samuel 28. She was what in Hebrew was called an "ob." According to the story, Saul was about to fight his climactic battle with his traditional enemies, the Philistines. It was common prior to battle for him, the first king of the Jewish tribes, to seek supernatural guidance. Previously, he had several sources available to him, the most important being the seer Samuel. He could also consult dreams, cast lots, or refer to the mysterious stones worn on the high priest's breastplate called the Urim and Thummin. However, Samuel was dead and Saul had been cut off from Yahweh, the Hebrew deity, because of his disobedience. In his desperation, Saul turned to the "ob," a practitioner of one of the neighboring religions who had occult powers. He asked the woman to bring up the spirit of Samuel, his deceased seer advisor, who appeared and affirmed what Saul already knew, that it was the end. The next day Saul lost the battle. His sons were killed and he committed suicide.

The modern question is, who or what was the "ob." The "ob" was what today would be described as a psychic or medium. More importantly, the "ob" was represented in the Pagan religions of all the lands that surrounded Israel, and of the nations that had formerly imprisoned her (Exod. 7:11). Saul, in his early attempts to consolidate his own power as the king of a Jewish kingdom, had banished all of the obs from the land. This was in keeping with the laws that obs should not be allowed among the Jews (Lev. 20:27; Exod. 22:18). In the Middle Ages, the biblical ob was identified with the new idea of a witch and witches, formerly the practitioners of the European Pagan religions, who were redefined as Sataniststhat is, as Christians who had turned their back on Jesus Christ and now worshiped the Christian anti-god, Satan. The myth of Satanism, most clearly stated in a book, The Witches Hammer, written by two Dominican priests, became an excuse for the church (through the Inquisition) and various governments to persecute a wide range of people who were accused of practicing what were termed the black arts. At the time of the Protestant Reformation the myth of Satanism passed into Protestantism and at times Protestant countries persecuted people as witches in a manner far more extreme than Roman Catholics.

The issue of the ob arose acutely at the beginning of the seventeenth century in England. Under Elizabeth's lengthy rule, Anglicanism had been established as the dominant religion. However, at the same time there were many Puritans, Protestants who wished to purify the church along what they saw to be more biblical standards, and one of their goals was to have a new translation of the Bible published in English. The problem in this endeavor was Elizabeth's successor, James I, a Roman Catholic. In order to assure themselves that James would approve the publication, they made a number of moves, the most important being the dedication of the new translation to the new king, and it has since been known as the King James Bible.

The Puritan leaders were also aware that King James believed in the existence of witches and greatly feared them. This appears to be the rationale for the translation of "ob" as "witch" in the King James Bible and for the description of her as a woman with a familiar spirit. In popular mythology, all witches had a demon spirit who lived with her, often in the form of a pet animal such as a black cat. James' approval of the Bible, and its subsequent rise to a position of dominance as the Bible translation of choice in the English-speaking world, identified the ancient ob as a Satanist witch in the eyes of many Christians for several centuries. This identification provided a theological foundation for the last round of witch hunts in England and the New England colonies and the popular image of witches in folklore.

The reappraisal of the "ob" became part of modern historical biblical criticism in the twentieth century, and as new translations appeared, the more descriptive term "medium" was used in place of "witch." This term has similar problems in that it tends to identify the ob with modern Spiritualist mediums who work at spirit contact put forth as a demonstration of an individual's conscious survival of death. As there was no belief in such survival in ancient Israel, obs would not have functioned as mediums. They were simply seers working out of a different religious/cultural context.


Brown, Cheryl Anne. No Longer Silent: First Century Jewish Portraits of Biblical Women. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992.

Sutphin, John E., Jr. The Bible and Spirit Communication. Starkville, Miss.: Metamental Missions, 1971.

Wallis, E. W., and M. H. Wallis. Spiritualism and the Bible. London: The Authors, n.d.