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"NOW SAMUEL WAS DEAD, AND ALL ISRAEL HAD LAMENTED HIM, AND
BURIED HIM IN RAMAH, IN HIS OWN CITY.  AND SAUL HAD PUT AWAY
 THOSE THAT DIVINED BY A GHOST OR A FAMILIAR SPIRIT OUT OF THE LAND"

fIRST SAMUEL 28:3
              
                        

Holy Land Heroines

Witch of En Dor -- an altruistic spirit

The Witch of En Dor was an outlaw.  Her practice of calling up the spirits of the dead, once popular and in great demand, was now banned.  She then must have been frightened when three strangers appeared at her doorstep in the thick of darkness. Not too far off, the Israelites were facing off against the Philistines for a decisive battle over control of the lucrative trade routes running through the Jezreel Valley.
 
When one of the men, bent over to disguise his extraordinary height, asked her to divine up a ghost, whomever he named, she demurred.  She said that Saul, the king of Israel, had exiled everyone engaging in that now illegal activity and that the stranger was trying to ensnare her.  But the stranger swore that "As the Lord lives, there shall be no punishment given to you for this thing."

The stranger (who was Saul) then asked her to bring up Samuel.  (By the way, this bizarre episode is the only scene in the Hebrew Bible where a character is actually summoned up from the netherworld.)

The Jezreel Valley as seen from the Nazareth Precipice

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Jezreel Valley where Saul's men searched for a medium or fortune teller

When the witch saw an old man in a cloak, a god-like figure, rising up from the earth, she shrieked, knowing she had been deceived.  That Saul was the stranger before her.  When she described the figure, Saul realized that the spirit was Samuel and he bowed down in dread with his face to the ground.

The Witch of En Dor raising the spirit of Samuel

William Blake around 1800 | Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The Witch of En Dor raising the spirit of Samuel

Samuel was annoyed and demanded to know why Saul had disturbed his rest.  Saul protested that he had been praying for a sign about the outcome of the battle and had not received a response, not by the prophets, nor by dreams, nor by the Urim.

(The Urim and its counter-part, the Thummim might have been the gemstones worn on the high priest's breastplate and consulted on critical issues facing the nation.  They would give a positive or a negative response to questions posed by the high priest, kind of like a Ouija board.  Some propose that the gemstones on the breastplate would light up in varying patterns or angles, thus revealing the divine will. Saul, however, got no response.)
Samuel then told Saul, "Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me!"
Saul fainted in fright, falling full-length across the ground.
 

A distressed Saul faints when he hears Samuel's prophecy

Martynov 1857 | Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

A distressed Saul faints when he hears Samuel's prophecy

Saul hadn't eaten for twenty four hours. Now here is where the witch (or medium or sorceress or "ghost-wife" as she is alternately called) showed compassion.  She hastened to kill a fatted calf and baked matzos which she brought before Saul and his servants.  The witch encouraged the despairing monarch to eat.  As Rabbi David Wolpe puts it, eating is "the ancient Jewish formula for recovery from distress."
So, what we have here is the outlawed witch of En Dor, defiled by "politically incorrect" or actually religiously incorrect views, is the one who showed mercy to Saul.  The law of Leviticus 19:31 stated very clearly, "Do not turn to mediums or consult familiar spirits or you will be defiled by them." 
Yet, some scholars (including first century AD historian Josephus Flavius) consider the witch of Ein Dor to be the most altruistic character in the entire episode.  She took in a complete stranger and in her human kindness she comforted and nourished the condemned king.  And she served him his last supper.
American humorist Mark Twain admired the witch of En Dor as well.  During his 1867 pilgrimage to the holy land, Mark Twain visited the witch's abode at En Dor.  He wrote that he was shown "a dismal cavern once occupied by the veritable Witch of En Dor.  In this cavern, tradition says, Saul, the king, sat at midnight, and stared and trembled, while the earth shook, the thunders crashed among the hills, and out of the midst of fire and smoke the spirit of the dead prophet rose up…."

Map showing En Dor below Mount Tabor in the Jezreel Valley

Adapted from Bible Mapper by itsGila

Map showing En Dor below Mount Tabor in the Jezreel Valley

But most of all, Mark Twain was mesmerized by the character of the witch.  So much so, that he bought a pipe purported by the Beduin hawker to have once belonged to the witch herself.  Mark Twain described the pipe like this,

"It was the "humbliest" pipe I ever saw -- a dingy, funnel-shaped, red-clay thing, streaked and grimed with oil and tears of tobacco, and with all the different kinds of dirt there are, and thirty percent of them peculiar and indigenous to En Dor and perdition.  And rank?  I never smelt anything like it. It withered a cactus that stood lifting its prickly hands aloft beside the trail.  It even woke up my horse….

I felt that this pipe had belonged to the original Witch of En Dor as soon as I saw it; and as soon as I smelt it, I [just] knew it."

Smart eye-catching Holy Land pouches

Holy Land pouch where the witch of En Dor could have stored her pipe!

As Mark Twain left En Dor smoking the foul-smelling pipe, he realized that all the boys in his party began distancing themselves from him.  Then henceforth, whenever he felt like being alone at the front of the pack, he would waft a few whiffs from the witch's pipe that would send his companions gasping and strangling to the rear…

Unfortunately, that curious relic -- the witch's pipe -- has vanished.

Copyright 2016 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

Traditional sling that killed Goliath

"Traditional" sling that killed Goliath

Although the pipe belonging to the infamous "witch" of En Dor is no longer for sale, you can buy the "traditional" sling that killed Goliath!  Go to Gila's Gift Shop for more info on the traditional slingshot that killed Goliath.  Giants and windows beware!

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The witch of En Dor has been a source of inspiration to both artists and writers.  British novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling was inspired by First Samuel 28:7 ("Behold there is a woman that has a familiar spirit at En Dor") to write a poem titled "En Dor" after the death of a son.  Here are two stanzas:

The road to En-dor is easy to tread
For Mother or yearning Wife.
There, it is sure, we shall meet our Dead
As they were even in life.
Earth has not dreamed of the blessing in store
For desolate hearts on the road to En-dor.

Oh the road to En-dor is the oldest road
And the craziest road of all!
Straight it runs to the Witch's abode,
As it did in the days of Saul,
And nothing has changed of the sorrow in store
For such as go down on the road to En-dor!

 

More Holy Land Heroines

 

Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth

About Veronica!

Holy Land Heroines -- Mary Magdalena

Elizabeth & Mary

Veronica 

Mary Magdalene

 

Abishag David's electric blanket

Femme Fatale Cleopatra

Queen Mother Bathsheba 

Abishag from Shunem

Cleopatra

 


GILA YUDKIN TCHERNIKOVSKI 64A JERUSALEM ISRAEL
gila@itsgila.com

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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin