Mistress Over the Dead: a look at the “Witch of Endor” and related myths

The subject has come up often lately in various places online of the “Witch of Endor”.  This is said as if it was title, and I read a discussion one place that said, was there’s only one witch in Endor, and was there never a witch there before or after?  The very question implies not understanding the passage, so thought I’d dig into it a bit.  ‘Eyn Do’r, or, technically, b’Eyn Do’r, “in ‘Eyn Do’r”.

First off, in case people are confused, we’re not talking about the moon called Endor in Star Wars.  🙂  This is in 1 Samuel in the Jewish Tanakh and Cristian Old Testament.  Endor is the way it’s typically rendered in English, but it’s two words in the Hebrew text.

Here’s the whole verse, from the Revised Standard Version:

Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at Endor.” ~1 Samuel 28:7 RSV

And the Hebrew:

ז  וַיֹּאמֶר שָׁאוּל לַעֲבָדָיו בַּקְּשׁוּ-לִי אֵשֶׁת בַּעֲלַת-אוֹב, וְאֵלְכָה אֵלֶיהָ וְאֶדְרְשָׁה-בָּהּ; וַיֹּאמְרוּ עֲבָדָיו אֵלָיו הִנֵּה אֵשֶׁת בַּעֲלַת-אוֹב בְּעֵין דּוֹר

The phrase that matters here is:

Behold, there is a medium at Endor.

אֵשֶׁת בַּעֲלַת-אוֹב בְּעֵין דּוֹר

Breaking it down:

אִשָּׁה – ‘ishshah – woman, wife, female

בַּעֲלָה – ba’alah – mistress, female owner, sorceress, necromancer  From בַּעַל:

בַּעַל – ba’al – owner, husband, citizens, inhabitants, rulers, lords, master of <>, lord.  From בָּעַל:

בָּעַל – ba’al – to marry, rule over, possess, own

אוֹב – ‘owb – water skin bottle, necromancer, one who evokes the dead, ghost, spirit of a dead one, practice of necromancy, one that has a familiar spirit.  From אָב:

אָב – ‘ab – father of an individual, God as father of his people, head or founder of a household, group, family, or clan, ancestor, originator of patron of a class, profession, or art, producer, generator, benevolence and protection, term of respect adn honour, ruler or chief.

בְּעֵין דּוֹר – b ‘eyn do’r – in ‘Eyn Do’r

עֵין־דוֹר – ‘Eyn-Do’r – Endor, Fountain of Dor

עַיִן – ‘ayin – eye, spring, fountain

דּוֹר – dowr – period, generation, habitation, dwelling.  From דּוּר:

דּוּר – duwr – to heap up, pile, to dwell, to remain, to delay, to inhabit, to go around.

דּוּר – duwr – ball, circle

My translation:  “There is a woman that is mistress over the dead at the eye of the circle.”

So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments, and went, he and two men with him; and they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit, and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” ~1 Samuel 28:8

ח  וַיִּתְחַפֵּשׂ שָׁאוּל וַיִּלְבַּשׁ בְּגָדִים אֲחֵרִים וַיֵּלֶךְ הוּא וּשְׁנֵי אֲנָשִׁים עִמּוֹ וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה לָיְלָה וַיֹּאמֶר קָסֳמִי-נָא לִי בָּאוֹב וְהַעֲלִי לִי, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-אֹמַר אֵלָיִך

Divine for me by a spirit

קָסֳמִי-נָא לִי בָּאוֹב

קָסַם – qacam – to practice divination, divine.

נָא – na – please, if you please

לִי – li – to, for (first person singular)

בָּאוֹב – conjure up, invoke, in/with + אוֹב (see above)

My translation:  “Please divine by conjuring for me.”

The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the wizards from the land. Why then are you laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?” ~1 Samuel 28:9

ט  וַתֹּאמֶר הָאִשָּׁה אֵלָיו הִנֵּה אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה שָׁאוּל אֲשֶׁר הִכְרִית אֶת-הָאֹבוֹת וְאֶת-הַיִּדְּעֹנִי מִן-הָאָרֶץ וְלָמָה אַתָּה מִתְנַקֵּשׁ בְּנַפְשִׁי לַהֲמִיתֵנִי

cut off the mediums and the wizards from the land

הִכְרִית אֶת-הָאֹבוֹת וְאֶת-הַיִּדְּעֹנִי מִן-הָאָרֶץ

הִכְרִית – hkarath – the + כָּרַת

כָּרַת – karath – to cut, cut off, eliminate, kill, cut a covenant, to hew, to be cut off, to be cut down, to be cut off, to be chewed, to fail, to destroy, to take away, to permit to perish.

אֶת – et – to, with

הָאֹבוֹת – havot – the + אֹבוֹת

אֹבוֹת – avot – plural of אֹב:

אֹב – av – father, male parent, ancestor, forefather, progenitor, originator, prototype

וְאֶת – ‘owb – and + אוֹב (see above)

הַיִּדְּעֹנִי – hyidde’oni – the + יִּדְּעֹנִי

יִּדְּעֹנִי – yidde’oni – a knower, one who has a familiar spirit, soothsayer, necromancer.  From יָדַע:

יָדַע – yada’ – to know, to perceive, to discriminate, to distinguish, to know by experience, to recognise, to consider, to be perceived, to be made known, to be revealed, to cause to know, to be known, to make oneself known, to declare, to reveal oneself.

מִן – men – from

הָאָרֶץ – haarets – the + אָרֶץ

אָרֶץ – erets – country, land, territory, district, earth, ground, soil

My translation:  “removed ancestors and spirit knowers from the ground”

The king said to her, “Have no fear; what do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” ~1 Samuel 28:13

יג  וַיֹּאמֶר לָהּ הַמֶּלֶךְ אַל-תִּירְאִי כִּי מָה רָאִית וַתֹּאמֶר הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-שָׁאוּל אֱלֹהִים רָאִיתִי עֹלִים מִן-הָאָרֶץ

a god coming up out of the earth.

אֱלֹהִים רָאִיתִי עֹלִים מִן-הָאָרֶץ

אֱלֹהִים – ‘elohiym – rulers, judges, divine ones, angels, gods, god/goddess, godlike one, works or special possessions of God, God

רָאִיתִי – raiti first person singular past tense of רָאָה:

רָאָה – raa – to see, to have vision, to observe, to look at

עֹלִים – ‘alim – plural indefinite form of עָלֶה:

עָלֶה – ‘alah – to go up, ascend, climb, meet, visit, follow, depart, retreat, spring up, grow, shoot forth, rise, excel, be superior to, be taken up, be brought up, be taken away, to take oneself away, to be exalted

מִן – men – (see above)

הָאָרֶץ – haarets – (see above)

My translation:  “a godlike one I See, rising up from the ground”

As Saul can’t see the shade, raa here is vision, the Sight, not physical mundane sight.

He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up; and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance. ~1 Samuel 28:14

יד  וַיֹּאמֶר לָהּ מַה-תָּאֳרוֹ, וַתֹּאמֶר אִישׁ זָקֵן עֹלֶה וְהוּא עֹטֶה מְעִיל וַיֵּדַע שָׁאוּל כִּי-שְׁמוּאֵל הוּא, וַיִּקֹּד אַפַּיִם אַרְצָה וַיִּשְׁתָּחוּ

And she said, “An old man is coming up; and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew

וַתֹּאמֶר אִישׁ זָקֵן עֹלֶה וְהוּא עֹטֶה מְעִיל וַיֵּדַע

וַתֹּאמֶר – vatomar – and + תֹּאמֶר

תֹּאמֶר – tomar – third-person singular imperfect of אָמַר:

אָמַר – amar – to say, think, pronounce, intend

אִישׁ – ‘ish – man, husband, adult male

זָקֵן – zaqen – old, elderly, aged

עֹלֶה – ‘alah – (see above)

וְהוּא – vakharash – and + הוּא

הוּא – hi – he, it, he is, it is

עֹטֶה – atah – to wrap, cover, veil, clothe, roll, array, be clad, cover, fill, put on, turn aside

מְעִיל – m’il – robe or coat worn over a tunic by men of rank

וַיֵּדַע – vayeda – and + יֵּדַע (see above)

My translation:  And she pronounced, “And an elderly man rises and he is wrapped in a obe” And he knew

Interesting her is that “knew” is the same “knew” from which “knowers” above is derived.  He knew it was Saul when she spoke in the same way that those who had been removed knew spirits.  Insight, intuition, the beginning of Sight.  His eyes were opened, through her words. The story continues with him and Samuel taking directly.  He appears to now be able to both see and hear him.

Then Saul fell at once full length upon the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel; and there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night. ~1 Samuel 28:20

I won’t worry about the Hebrew here, as it doesn’t reveal anything interesting to the discussion.  I will note that “ground” here, “earth” from which Samuel arose, and “land” from which the ancestral spirits and spirit knowers were removed are all the same word.

In summary, Saul asked for a medium and was told there was a mistress over the dead in the eye of the circle.  He seeks her out, and asks her to divine for him by conjuring a shade.  She is fearful because the king (whom she doesn’t yet know is him) had all ancestral spirits and spirit knowers removed from the land/ground/earth.  He reassures her and she calls forth the one he asks for (ingress).  She sees it is a holy man and gets an inkling what is happened, and tells him what she sees.  He asks what the shade looks like and she describes him, and in that description, he Sees and Hears and has congress with him.  After he is gone (egress), Saul falls to the ground, with no strength left. Afterwards she feeds him so he can renew his strength.

This conjuring brings to mind Odin conjuring the volva in Baldrs Draumar (Baldr’s Dreams).  Henry Adams Bellows’ translation (found at http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe13.htm) puts it thus:

1. Once were the gods | together met,

And the goddesses came | and council held,

And the far-famed ones | the truth would find,

Why baleful dreams | to Baldr had come.

2. Then Othin rose, | the enchanter old,

And the saddle he laid | on Sleipnir’s back;

Thence rode he down | to Niflhel deep,

And the hound he met | that came from hell.

3. Bloody he was | on his breast before,

At the father of magic | he howled from afar;

Forward rode Othin, | the earth resounded

Till the house so high | of Hel he reached.

4. Then Othin rode | to the eastern door,

There, he knew well, | was the wise-woman’s grave;

Magic he spoke | and mighty charms,

Till spell-bound she rose, | and in death she spoke:

5. “What is the man, | to me unknown,

That has made me travel | the troublous road?

I was snowed on with snow, | and smitten with rain,

And drenched with dew; | long was I dead.”

Othin spake:

6. “Vegtam my name, | I am Valtam’s son;

Speak thou of hell, | for of heaven I know:

For whom are the benches | bright with rings,

And the platforms gay | bedecked with gold?”

The Wise-Woman spake:

7. “Here for Baldr | the mead is brewed,

The shining drink, | and a shield lies o’er it;

But their hope is gone | from the mighty gods.

Unwilling I spake, | and now would be still.”

Othin spake:

8. “Wise-woman, cease not! | I seek from thee

All to know | that I fain would ask:

Who shall the bane | of Baldr become,

And steal the life | from Othin’s son?”

The Wise-Woman spake:

9. “Hoth thither bears | the far-famed branch,

He shall the bane | of Baldr become,

And steal the life | from Othin’s son.

Unwilling I spake, | and now would be still.”

Othin spake:

10. “Wise-woman, cease not! | I seek from thee

All to know | that I fain would ask:

Who shall vengeance win | for the evil work,

Or bring to the flames | the slayer of Baldr?”

The Wise-Woman spake:

11. “Rind bears Vali | in Vestrsalir,

And one night old | fights Othin’s son;

His hands he shall wash not, | his hair he shall comb not,

Till the slayer of Baldr | he brings to the flames.

Unwilling I spake, | and now would be still.”

Othin spake:

12. “Wise-woman, cease not! | I seek from thee

All to know | that I fain would ask:

What maidens are they | who then shall weep,

And toss to the sky | the yards of the sails?”

The Wise-Woman spake:

13. “Vegtam thou art not, | as erstwhile I thought;

Othin thou art, | the enchanter old.”

Othin spake:

“No wise-woman art thou, | nor wisdom hast;

Of giants three | the mother art thou.”

The Wise-Woman spake:

14. “Home ride, Othin, | be ever proud;

For no one of men | shall seek me more

Till Loki wanders | loose from his bonds,

And to the last strife | the destroyers come.”

We don’t see the weakness at the end, as it ends with her parting speech.  But there’s a feel to the conjuring much similar, with the spirit rising up from the ground, the spirit none to happy to be called and having a threatening tone.  Neither rose willingly, and neither could resist the call.

There is another tale we have of summoning the dead, that of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey.  Book Eleven says:

At the furthest edge of Ocean’s stream is the land to which all journey when they die. Here their spirits endure a fleshless existence. They can’t even talk unless re-animated with blood.

Accordingly, I did as Circe instructed, bleeding a sacrificed lamb into a pit. Tiresias, the blind prophet who had accompanied us to Troy, was the soul I had to talk to. So I held all the other shades at bay with my sword until he had drunk from the pit.

He gave me warnings about my journey home and told me what I must do to ensure a happy death when my time came. I met the shades of many famous women and heroes, including Achilles, best fighter of the Greeks at Troy

~Mythweb – http://www.mythweb.com/odyssey/Odyssey.pdf

While we don’t have the patterns we saw before, no rising from the ground, no hostility, no weakness afterwards, there is a parallel with Odin’s conjuring.  Odin road to just outside Hel to do the conjuring, the place of the dead.  Likewise Odysseus travels to the land of the dead before using blood to allow the dead to talk.

It is interesting to note that Odysseus’ name comes from ὀδύσσομαι, “to be wroth against” or “hate”, from μισώ.  The beginning of the name brings to mind Óð (as in Óðinn).  Many of Odin’s names bring to mind hate or anger.  While it is unlikely there’s a link between the two tales, it’s interesting to entertain.

FFF,
~Muninn’s Kiss