Ancient mythology and folklore is filled with witches, including the Bible’s Witch of Endor and Russian folklore’s Baba Yaga. These enchantresses are known for their magic and trickery, which is sometimes used for good and sometimes for mischief.
The Witch of Endor
The Christian Bible has an injunction against practicing witchcraft and divination, and that can probably be blamed on the Witch of Endor. In the first Book of Samuel, King Saul of Israel got in some trouble when he sought assistance from the witch and asked her to predict the future. Saul and his sons were about to march into battle against their enemies, the Philistines, and Saul decided it was time to get a bit of supernatural insight as to what was going to happen the next day. Saul started off by asking God for help, but God stayed mum…and so Saul took it upon himself to seek answers elsewhere.
According to the Bible, Saul summoned the witch of Endor, who was a well-known medium in the area. Disguising himself so she wouldn’t know she was in the presence of the king, Saul asked the witch to revive the dead prophet Samuel so that he might tell Saul what was going to happen.
Who was the witch of Endor? Well, like many other biblical figures, no one really knows. Though her identity is lost to myth and legend, she has managed to appear in more contemporary literature. Geoffrey Chaucer makes reference to her in The Canterbury Tales, in the tale spun by the friar to entertain his fellow pilgrims. The Friar tells his listeners:
“Yet tell me,” said the summoner, “if true:
Do you make your new bodies always so
Out of the elements?” The fiend said, “No,
Sometimes it’s only some form of disguise;
Dead bodies we may enter that arise
To speak with all the reason and as well
As to the Endor witch spoke Samuel.”