Caroline Dyer Blues. Endor, The Witch of - Witchcraft Hall of Fame

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Caroline Dyer Blues. Endor, The Witch of
Witchcraft Hall of Fame

The biblical shaman popularly known as “the Witch of Endor” appears in the First Book of Samuel, 28:7-25. Although shamans appear elsewhere in the Bible—Saul, her royal client, himself has shamanic power—the Witch of Endor is the only biblical figure explicitly identified in English as a “witch.” She is often used as an example of biblical disapproval of witchcraft, however the text of the Bible itself is, at worst, neutral toward the Witch of Endor.

On ascending the throne, King Saul forbids witchcraft, divination, and shamanism on pain of death. However, when he later runs into scary political turmoil and other licit forms of divination, including his own dreams, fail him, Saul, apparently appreciating that forbidden professionals have merely gone underground, orders his minions to find him a female practitioner.

The minions bring Saul to a woman in Endor who performs necromantic rituals, bringing up the shade of the Prophet Samuel who talks with Saul and informs him that not only will he lose the next pivotal battle with the Philistines, by this time tomorrow Saul and his sons will be with Samuel. The woman of Endor comforts Saul and feeds him—hardly a “wicked witch.”

Whether or not the original text of the Old Testament actually called her a “witch” is subject to debate and subject to one’s definition of witchcraft. “Witch” is an English word; the Hebrew words originally used to identify her are Baalat ob, literally “Mistress of the Ob.” This term frustrated later translators as they were unable to translate “ob.” Different words in different languages are used to identify the profession of the conjuring woman from Endor.

Image The Septuagint (the original Greek translation of the Bible) translates it as engastrimuthos or “belly-speaker”

Image The first Latin translation was “Woman possessing an oracular spirit”

Image The King James English translation uses “witch”

Image More contemporary English translations of the Bible, aware of negative connotations associated with the word “witch” now frequently describe the woman of Endor as a “Mistress of a Talisman” or “Mistress of a Divining Spirit.”

So, what exactly is an ob? Unfortunately, no one is completely sure; Jewish shamanic traditions were almost entirely suppressed. Interpretations are elusive. It seems to have been some sort of container used in divination or necromancy, perhaps a bottle, jug, oil lamp, charm bag, wine or water-skin.

It is believed that the Baalat ob used some sort of ritual vessel, perhaps as a container for the familiar spirit with which one could contact other realms, maybe something like the gourds used to house oracular spirits in many African traditions.