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
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Endor, Witch of
religions of all the lands that surrounded Israel, and of the nations
that had formerly imprisoned her (Exod. 711). 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. 2027; Exod. 2218). 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 Satanists—that 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
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 religiouscultural context.
Brown, Cheryl Anne. No Longer Silent First Century Jewish
Portraits of Biblical Women. Louisville, Ky. WestminsterJohn
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.

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