A Biblical Puzzle: The Witch of Endor

Endor Benjamin West

The Witch of Endor (1 Samuel: 28) is one of the great puzzles of the Old Testament.  She was the medium who summoned the dead prophet Samuel’s spirit at the request of King Saul, and then comforted the king when he received the terrible news of his impending defeat and death.  Yet the one true Wise Women in the scriptures was not originally portrayed as being evil, manipulative, or sinister.

Ironically, Saul had previously driven all the magicians and cunning folk out of Israel.  But when God stopped appearing in his dreams – and the Philistine army was at his door – the desperate king went in search of a medium to help him contact Samuel’s ghost for advice.  During the 11th Century this witch (named Abner) was thought to have been the mother of Saul’s cousin – and therefore his aunt – but this seems unlikely as he commanded a servant to “seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit,” and only then heard about the medium at Endor.  They met and conversed as strangers, the king being in disguise, and she was naturally reluctant to help until he promised her “no punishment” for doing what was legally forbidden.  The witch finally conjured up the dead prophet’s spirit who predicted the end of Saul and his reign. This quickly came to pass.  The Philistines were victorious and Saul, wounded in battle, ended up taking his own life.

This episode is the Bible’s only suggestion that the spirits of the dead can be summoned by magic.  The Witch of Endor, sometimes described as a ventriloquist because other voices spoke through her, appeared to see the dead yet could not hear what they told the person who had summoned them.  She was a genuine medium – not a trickster – described as a kindly character who comforted Saul after the terrible prophecy was revealed.  She even fed him a lavish meal before he left her home.

Then at some time during the Middle Ages this wise woman was turned into a wicked witch.  No longer did she present the ghost of Samuel on demand, but instead conjured up a demon to give the illusion of the dead prophet.  Martin Luther called the apparition the “Devil’s ghost” and Calvin dismissed it as “but a spectre.”  The story then changed from being a worried king’s frantic search for supernatural help, into a morality tale about witchcraft and death.

But the puzzle remains: Was Samuel’s appearance an act of God working through a spiritualist to grant Saul’s request?  Or is this tale an example of Satan’s cunning in bringing about a good king’s defeat and suicide?  What do you think?

Sources:

Wikipedia – “Witch of Endor.”  Accessed on 5/11/2015

Holy Bible, 1 Samuel: 28.

Kit’s Crit: The Other Boleyn Girl (Philippa Gregory)

Gregory

On my first reading of The Other Boleyn Girl in 2001, I was impressed by Philippa Gregory’s bravery in writing against the popular romantic image of the Tudor queen as a much-maligned victim.  I re-read the book again this past week as part of my research into medieval witchcraft, and still maintain this is one of the finest examples of historical fiction in the genre.

Gregory plays the devil’s advocate by posing the question: What if Anne Boleyn really was guilty of the charges brought against her?  She then weaves a plausible explanation of the young woman’s dangerous rise to power, a gamble that ultimately cost her life.  The story is told through the eyes of the other Boleyn girl at court, her sister Mary.  And although British historian David Starkey claims there are only “four known facts” about Mary Boleyn, and that this therefore amounts to “one fact per seventy-five pages,” Gregory does a splendid job of recreating an authentic version of the Tudor court from numerous other sources.  There are, fortunately, many more extant facts regarding Anne and Henry!

Gregory’s Queen Anne is not an endearing character, but then everything said about her comes from the rival sister’s lips – one of the women she ousted from the king’s bed.  Anne is portrayed as ambitious, vain, single-minded, selfish, ruthless, callous, manipulative, and amoral.  Yet she is also intelligent, artistic, fashionable, and fun.  She is not a practicing witch – though she does enchant Henry and all those around her – but when placed in a desperate situation she turns to a local wise woman for help.  As the king is aging and impotent, when Anne needs a son to secure the throne her brother George steps in as a replacement.  And she may or may not have poisoned some of her enemies.

The Other Boleyn Girl strips away the traditional glamor of court, presenting a much more realistic insight into the fragile and perilous lives of the youngsters groomed as bargaining chips by their ambitious families.  It also highlights the differences between those born high and low, and how real happiness lies in the simple pleasures of life.  The characters are engaging and interesting – even as they descend into strange, dark places.  And the psychological explanations offered for Anne Boleyn’s criminal behavior are fascinating, thought-provoking, and plausible –  even if factually untrue.

A five-star read!

Cher’s Dark Lady

DARK LADY – Cher

(John Robert Durrill)

      Marie_Laveau[1]

The fortune queen of New Orleans,
Was brushing her cat in her black limousine.
On the backseat were scratches from
The marks of men whose fortune she had won.
Couldn’t see through the tinted glass,
She said, “Home James,” and he hit the gas.
I followed her to some darkened room,
She took my money, she said “I’ll be with you soon.”

Dark lady laughed and danced and lit the candles one by one,
Danced to her gypsy music until her brew was done.
Dark lady played back magic until the clock struck on the twelve.
She told me more about me than I knew myself.

She dealt two cards, a queen and a three,
And mumbled some words that were so strange to me.
Then she turned up a two-eyed jack,
My eyes saw red but the card still stayed black.
She said, “The man you love is secretly true
To someone else who is very close to you.
My advice is that you leave this place,
Never come back, and forget you ever saw my face!”

Dark lady laughed and danced and lit the candles one by one,
Danced to her gypsy music until her brew was done.
Dark lady played back magic until the clock struck on the twelve.
She told me more about me than I knew myself.

So I ran home and crawled in my bed,
I couldn’t sleep because of all the things she said.
Then I remembered her strange perfume,
And how I smelled it was in my own room!
So I sneaked back and caught her with my man,
Laughing and kissing until they saw the gun in my hand.
The next thing I knew they were dead on the floor,
Dark lady would never turn a card up anymore!

Dark lady laughed and danced and lit the candles one by one,
Danced to her gypsy music until her brew was done.
Dark lady played back magic until the clock struck on the twelve.
She told me more about me than I knew myself!

 

 

 

Olde English Yorkshire Pudding (Lancashire Style!)

 

 

 

Yorkshire_Pudding[1]

Here’s a Lancashire version of Yorkshire Pudding.  It was traditionally cooked in the fat drippings from a roast of beef and makes a delicious addition to Sunday Lunch.

Ingredients:

4oz plain flour

Pinch of salt

2 eggs

1/2 pint cold water

12 teaspoons of meat drippings or cooking oil or 3oz animal fat (lard)

 

Method:

1. Heat the oven to hot – 475 / Gas 9 / 240.

2. Place one teaspoon of the meat dripping (or oil or 1/4oz lard) inside the individual holes of a 12-cup muffin tray and set aside.

3. Sift the flour and salt in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center.  Add the eggs.  Stir.

4. Begin adding the water a little at a time, mixing with a fork to smooth out any lumps until a smooth watery batter forms.

5. Whisk with a fork for 2-5 minutes until the mixture forms large bubbles.  Place in the refrigerator.

6.  Heat the oil or fat in the muffin tray in the hot oven for 3-5 minutes until it is hot and steaming.  Carefully remove from the oven.

7. Whisk the batter again for 3 minutes. Spoon an even amount into each of the twelve holes.  Immediately return to the heat.

8. Cook for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden brown.  Serve immediately.

 

Hints for the perfect pudding!

* Puddings cooked in lard or meat dripping are the tastiest.

* Use only plain flour.

* Mixture made in advance, whisked several times, and stored in the refrigerator produces the best batter.

* Whisk with a fork – not a hand or electric mixer.

* The more air bubbles you whisk in, the more the mixture will rise.

* The oven must be piping hot.

* Do not open oven door at all while cooking.

* Fat must be smoking before the batter is added.

* Best served straight from the oven.

 

 

 

 

Elementary Magic

elements Shutterstock

The four elements are the basic substances that make up life on this planet. They were classified by the Ancient Greeks as Fire, Air, Earth and Water.  This categorization influenced European thought well into the Renaissance period, and still remains important in modern magic and astrology.  For example, the twelve horoscopes are divided into Fire Signs (Aires, Leo, Sagittarius); Earth Signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn); Air Signs (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius); and Water Signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces).

FIRE (Ignis) is plasma matter that can manifest as both hot and dry.  Galen associated it with yellow bile and the choleric body.  It is a positive power – or a destructive influence – depending on how it is used.  Fire is also a transformer that can turn into heat, light, smoke, and ash, and is the energy that brings about change.  Magicians use fire spells to inspire drive and motivation, particularly in the pursuit of passion or ambition.

AIR (Aer) – a gaseous matter – contains both wet and hot properties.  Galen believed it was related to the blood and created the sanguine body.  Air is a detaching element associated with the mind.  For this reason it is used in magic to enhance human intellectual powers and inspire creativity.

EARTH (Terra) is dry and cold, a feminine solid matter.  In Galen’s philosophy it partnered black bile and the melancholic humor.  But Earth is also a binding element, and while it can freeze, liquefy, or dry into other states, it always retains the ability to return to its natural form.  Because it represents the grounded soul, earth spells are used for guilt-free material gain, and personal happiness.

WATER (Aqua) is the cold, wet element that manifests as a liquid matter.  Galen connected water with a phlegmatic  imbalance of the humors.  This substance not only nurtures and sustains all life on the planet but it also contains magnetic properties.  It is a mystical element used by practitioners for communing with divine spirits.

 Aristotle studied the heavens and decided to add a fifth element he named Aether.  His concept of ETHER sounds like stardust – the substance beyond the material world that is heavenly and unchangeable.  Some modern magicians believe this is the stuff from which all magic is made – that spells function by directing the energy in our own bodies to manipulate the flow of Ether as it swirls about the universe.

Perhaps Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock song is right in claiming:

“We are stardust

Billion year old carbon” . . . 

Sources:

Rees, Matthew. “A Metaphysical Theory of Magic” at http://www.sabledrake.com/2000a/metaphysical_magic.htm

“Fire, Water, Air, Earth” at http://www.spiritualknowledge.net

Wikipedia: “Classical Elements” and various Wiccan, Pagan, and Magic websites.

Photo: Shutterstock