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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia


In 1 Samuel 28:3-25, it is narrated how Saul, in despair of mind because Yahweh had forsaken him, on the eve of the fatal battle of Gilboa, resorted in disguise to "a woman that had a familiar spirit" ('obh: see DIVINATION; NECROMANCY), at En-dor, and besought the woman to divine for him, and bring him up from the dead whom he should name. On the woman reminding him how Saul had cut off from the land those who practiced these arts-a proof of the existence and operation of the laws against divination, witchcraft, necromancy, etc. (Leviticus 19:31 Deuteronomy 18:9-14)-the king assured her of immunity, and bade her call up Samuel. The incidents that followed have been the subject of much discussion and of varied interpretation. It seems assumed in the narrative that the woman did see an appearance, which the king, on her describing it, recognized to bethat of Samuel.

This, however, need be only the narrator's interpretation of the events. It is not to be credited that the saintly Samuel was actually summoned from his rest by the spells of a professional diviner. Some have thought that Samuel, by God's permission, did indeed appear, as much to the woman's dismay as to the king's; and urge in favor of this the woman's evident surprise and terror at his appearance (1 Samuel 28:12), and the true prophecy of Saul's fate (1 Samuel 28:16-19).

It may conceivably have been so, but the more reasonable view is that the whole transaction was a piece of feigning on the part of the woman. The Septuagint uses the word eggastrimuthos ("a ventriloquist") to describe the woman and those who exercised kindred arts (1 Samuel 28:9). Though pretending ignorance (1 Samuel 28:12), the woman doubtless recognizes Saul from the first. It was she who saw Samuel, and reported his words; the king himself saw and heard nothing. It required no great skill in a practiced diviner to forecast the general issue of the battle about to take place, and the disaster that would overtake Saul and his sons; while if the forecast had proved untrue, the narrative of the witch of En-dor would never have been written. Saul, in fact, was not slain, but killed himself. The incident, therefore, may best be ranked in the same category as the feats of modern mediumship.

James Orr


wich, wich'-kraft:

1. Meaning and Use of the Words

2. Biblical Usage

3. Common Elements in Witchcraft and Ancient Oriental Magic

4. Rise, Spread and Persecution of Witchcraft


1. Meaning and Use of the Words:

The word "witch" seems to denote etymologically "one that knows." it is historically both masculine and feminine; indeed the Anglo-Saxon form wicca, to which the English word is to be traced, is masculine alone. "Wizard" is given as masculine for witch, but it has in reality no connection with it. Wright (English Dialect Dictionary, VII, 521) says he never heard an uneducated person speak of wizard. When this word is used by the people it denotes, he says, a person who undoes the work of a witch. Shakespeare often uses "witch" of a male (compare Cymbeline, I, 6, l. 166: "He is.... a witch"). In Wycliff's translation of Acts 8:9 Simon Magus is called "a witch" ("wicche"). Since the 13th century the word "witch" has come more and more to denote a woman who has formed a compact with the Devil or with evil spirits, by whose aid she is able to cause all sorts of injury to living beings and to things. The term "witchcraft" means in modern English the arts and practices of such women.

2. Biblical Usage:

Since the ideas we attach to "witch" and "witchcraft" were unknown in Bible times, the words have no right place in our English Bible, and this has been recognized to some extent but not completely by the Revisers of 1884. The word "witch" occurs twice in the King James Version, namely, (1) in Exodus 22:18, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch (the Revised Version (British and American) "a sorceress") to live"; (2) in Deuteronomy 18:10, "or a witch" (the Revised Version (British and American) "or a sorcerer"). The Hebrew word is in both cases the participle of the verb (kishsheph), denoting "to practice the magical article." See MAGIC, V, 2. In the first passage, however, the feminine ending (-ah) is attached, but this ending denotes also one of a class and (on the contrary) a collection of units; see Kautzsch, Hebrew Grammar 28, section 122,s,t.

The phrase "the witch of Endor" occurs frequently in literature, and especially in common parlance, but it is not found in the English Bible. The expression has come from the heading and summary of the King James Version, both often so misleading. In 1 Samuel 28, where alone the character is spoken of, English Versions of the Bible translates the Hebrew 'esheth ba`alath 'obh by "a woman that hath a familiar spirit." A literal rendering would be "a woman who is mistress of an 'obh or ghost," i.e. one able to compel the departed spirit to return and to answer certain questions. This woman was therefore a necromancer, a species of diviner (see DIVINATION, IV; ENDOR, WITCH OF; FAMILIAR), and not what the term "witch" imports.

The word "witchcraft" occurs thrice in the King James Version in 1 Samuel 15:23, "the sin of witchcraft" should be as in the Revised Version margin, "the sin of divination," the latter representing the Hebrew word qecem, generally translated "divination".

See DIVINATION, sec. VII, 1.

The phrase "used witchcraft" (of Manasseh, 2 Chronicles 33:16) is properly rendered in the Revised Version (British and American) "practised sorcery," the Hebrew verb (kishsheph) being that whence the participles in Exodus 22:18 and Deuteronomy 18:10, translated in the King James Version "witch," are derived (see above). The word translated in the King James Version "witchcraft" in Galatians 5:20 (pharmakeia) is the ordinary Greek one for "sorcery," and is so rendered in the Revised Version (British and American), though it means literally the act of administering drugs and then of giving magical potions. It naturally comes then to stand for the magician's art, as in the present passage and also in The Wisdom of Solomon 12:4; 18:13; and in the Septuagint of Isaiah 47:9, where it represents the Hebrew noun keshaphim, translated "sorceries"; compare the Hebrew verb kishsheph; see above.

The plural "witchcrafts" (in the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American)) stands for the Hebrew noun just noticed (keshaphim) in 2 Kings 9:22 Micah 5:12 Nahum 3:4, but in all three passages a proper rendering would be "sorceries" or "magical arts." "Witchcrafts" is inaccurate and misleading.

The verb "bewitch" occurs in Acts 8:9, 11 the King James Version (of Simon Magus bewitching the people) and in Galatians 3:1 ("O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?"). In the first context the Greek verb is existemi, which is properly rendered by the Revisers "amazed"; in 3:13 the passive of the same verb is translated "he was amazed" (the King James Version "He wondered"). In Galatians 3:1, the verb is baskaubaino, which is used of a blinding effect of the evil eye and has perhaps an occult reference, but it has nothing whatever to do with "witch" or "witchcraft."

3. Common Elements in Witchcraft and Ancient Oriental Magic:

Though the conceptions conveyed by the English word "witch" and its cognates were unknown to the Hebrews of Bible times, yet the fundamental thought involved in such terms was familiar enough to the ancient Hebrews and to other nations of antiquity (Babylonians, Egyptians, etc.), namely, that there exists a class of persons called by us magicians, sorcerers, etc., who have superhuman power over living creatures including man, and also over Nature and natural objects. This power is of two kinds: (1) cosmic, (2) personal. For an explanation see MAGIC, II. it is in Assyrio-Babylonian literature that we have the completest account of magical doctrine and practice. The words used in that literature for the male and female magician are ashipu and ashiptu, which correspond to the Hebrew mekhashsheph and mekhashshephah in Deuteronomy 18:10 and Exodus 22:18 (see 2, above) and are cognate to 'ashshaph (see Daniel 1:20; Daniel 2:2, 10, etc.), which means a magician (the Revised Version (British and American) "enchanter"). Other Babylonian words are kashshapu and kashshaptu, which in etymology and in sense agree with the Hebrew terms mekhashsheph and mekhashshephah mentioned above. But neither in the Babylonian or Hebrew words is there the peculiar idea of a witch, namely, one who traffics with malicious spirits for malicious ends. indeed the magician was a source of good (male and female) as conceived by the Babylonians, especially the ashipu and ashiptu, to the state and to individuals, as well as of evil, and he was often therefore in the service of the state as the guide of its policy. And the same applies to the magician as the Hebrews regarded him, though the true teachers and leaders in Israel condemned magic and divination of every sort as being radically opposed to the religion of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 18:10 f). Of course, if a Babylonian magician used his art to the injury of others he was punished as other criminals, and in case of the death of the victim he was executed as a murderer. It is, however, noteworthy in its bearing on "witchcraft" that the female magician or sorceress played a larger part in ancient Babylonia than her male counterpart, and the same is true of the Greeks and other ancient people. This arose perhaps from the fact that in primitive times men spent their time in fighting and hunting; the cooking of the food and the healing of the sick, wounded, etc., by magical potions and otherwise, falling to the lot of the woman who stayed at home. In the early history of the Hebrews inspired women played a greater role than in later time; compare Miriam (Exodus 15:20 Numbers 12); Deborah (Judges 5:12); Huldah (2 Kings 22:14). Note also the 'ishshah chakhamah, or "wise woman" of 2 Samuel 14:2;; 20:16.

The first two sections of the Code of Hammurabi are as follows: "1. If a man has laid a curse (kispu = keshaphim) upon (another) man and it is not justified, he that laid the curse shall be put to death. 2. If a man has put a spell upon (another) man and it is not justified, he upon whom the spell is laid shall go to the holy river; into the holy river shall he plunge. If the holy river overcome him (and he is drowned), the man who put the spell upon him shall take possession of his house. If the holy river declares him innocent and he remains unharmed the man who laid the spell shall be put to death. He that plunged into the river shall take possession of the house of him who laid the spell upon him." Not a word is said here of a female that weaves a spell, but probably the word "man" in the Babylonian is to be taken as including male and female (so Canon C. H. W. Johns in a private letter, dated December 22, 1912).

4. Rise, Spread, and Persecution of Witchcraft:

In the early and especially in the medieval church, the conception of the Devil occupied a very important place, and human beings were thought to be under his dominion until he was exorcised in baptism. It is to this belief that we owe the rise and spread of infant baptism. The unbaptized were thought to be Devil-possessed. The belief in the existence of women magicians had come down from hoary antiquity. It was but a short step to ascribe the evil those women performed to the Devil and his hosts. Then it was natural to think that the Devil would not grant such extraordinary powers without some quid pro quo; hence, the witch (or wizard) was supposed to have sold her (or his) soul to the Devil, a proceeding that would delight the heart of the great enemy of good always on the alert to hinder the salvation of men; compare the Faust legend. For the conditions believed to be imposed by the Devil upon all who would be in league with him see A. Lehmann, Aberglaube und Zauberei2 (1908), 110;.

This idea of a covenant with the Devil is wholly absent from the early heathen conception of magic; nor do we in the latter read of meetings at night between the magicians and the demons with whom they dealt, such as took place on the Witches' Sabbath. The witches were believed to have sexual commerce with devils and to be capable only of inflicting evil, both thoughts alien to oriental and therefore to Biblical magic.

The history and persecution and execution of women, generally ignorant and innocent, supposed to have been guilty of witchcraft, do not fall within the scope of this article, but may be perused in innumerable works: see "Literature" below. In Europe alone, not to mention America (Salem, etc.), Sprenger says that over nine million suspected witches were put to death on the flimsiest evidence; even if this estimate be too high the actual number must have been enormous. The present writer in his booklet, The Survival of the Evangelical Faith ("Essays for the Times," 1909), gives a brief account of the defense of the reality of witch power by nearly all the Christian theologians of the 17th century and by most of those living in the early 18th century (see pp. 23;). See also MAGIC, and The Expositor T, IX, 157;.


In addition to the literature cited under articles DIVINATION and MAGIC (which see), the following worlds may be mentioned (the books on witchcraft proper are simply innumerable): Reginald Scot, The Discovery of Witchcraft (aimed at preventing the persecution of witches, 1584; republished London, 1886); reply to the last work by James I of England: Daemonologie, 1597; Casaubon, On Credulity and Incredulity.... A Treatise Proving Spirits, Witches and Supernatural Operations, 1668; Joseph Glanrill, Saducismus Triumphatus: Full and Plain Evidences concerning Witches and Apparitions (the last two books are by theologians who class with "atheists"-a vague word in those times for unbelief-all such as doubt the power of witches and deny the power of devils upon human life). For the history of witchcraft and its persecutions see howard Williams, The Superstitions of Witchcraft, 1865, and (brief but interesting and compact) Charles Mackay, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions (2 volumes, 1851, 101-91). See also Sir W. Scott, Demonology and Witchcraft, 1830; W. R. Halliday, Greek Divination: A Study of its Methods and Principles, London, Macmillan (important); and article by the present writer in The Expositor, January, 1914, on "The Words Witch and Witchcraft in history and in Literature." For a full account of the witch craze and persecution at Salem, near Boston, U.S.A., see The Wonders of the Invisible World by Cotton Mather, D. D., with a further account by increase Mather, D. D., and compare Demon Possession by J. L. Nevins, 303-10.

T. Witton Davies

Strong's Hebrew
3784. kashaph -- to practice sorcery
... sorcerer, use witchcraft. A primitive root; properly, to whisper a spell, ie To
inchant or practise magic -- sorcerer, (use) witch(-craft). 3783, 3784. ...
/hebrew/3784.htm - 6k

No House of any Pretension to be Called a Palace is in the Least ...
... upon them. The people about thought she was a witch, and those who knew
her by sight were careful to avoid offending her. She lived ...
/.../macdonald/at the back of the north wind/chapter 28 no house of.htm

The Psalm Also Predicts the Crucifixion and the Subject of the ...
... And that the souls survive, I have shown [2353] to you from the fact that the
soul of Samuel was called up by the witch, as Saul demanded. ...
/.../chapter cv the psalm also predicts.htm

The Light of God
... Where are all those dark dreams gone which maddened our forefathers into witch-hunting
panics, and which on the Continent created a priestly science of witch ...
/.../kingsley/sermons for the times/sermon xii the light of.htm

The First Kings.
... that day.". [Illustration: Saul and the Witch of Endor.]. God had selected
the first monarch of earth outside of heathenism. In the ...
/.../headley/half hours in bible lands volume 2/the first kings.htm

Prophets and the Prophet
... you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that
useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, 11. ...
/.../maclaren/expositions of holy scripture f/prophets and the prophet.htm

David the Outcast.
... Then he went to a witch by night, and asked her to bring up the spirit of
Samuel. The witch could not bring up Samuel, but the Lord ...
/.../lathbury/childs story of the bible/chapter xxii david the outcast.htm

Letter iv. You Reply to the Conclusion of My Letter: "What have we ...
... incompatible therewith; or who exclaim "Wonderful!" when they hear that Sir Matthew
Hale sent a crazy old woman to the gallows in honour of the Witch of Endor. ...
/.../coleridge/confessions of an inquiring spirit etc/letter iv you reply to.htm

Knox and Queen Mary, 1561
... A "familiar," a witch, of Lady Huntly's predicted that the Queen would never arrive.
"If false, I would she were burned for a witch," adds honest Randolph. ...
/.../lang/john knox and the reformation/chapter xiv knox and queen.htm

The Living Word
... he gave eloquent expression in his great poem, "New Year's Morning." He writes in
the preface that he has "long enough battled with a witch called indifference ...
/.../aaberg/hymns and hymnwriters of denmark/chapter thirteen the living word.htm

Paracelsus {13}
... And the witch-burning inquisitors like Sprenger, Bodin, Delrio, and the rest, believed
as firmly in the magic powers of the poor wretches whom they tortured to ...
/.../kingsley/historical lectures and essays/paracelsus 13.htm

Easton's Bible Dictionary
Occurs only in Exodus 22:18, as the rendering of mekhashshepheh, the feminine form of the word, meaning "enchantress" (R.V., "sorceress"), and in Deuteronomy 18:10, as the rendering of mekhashshepheth, the masculine form of the word, meaning "enchanter."
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
1. (n.) A cone of paper which is placed in a vessel of lard or other fat, and used as a taper.

2. (n.) One who practices the black art, or magic; one regarded as possessing supernatural or magical power by compact with an evil spirit, esp. with the Devil; a sorcerer or sorceress; -- now applied chiefly or only to women, but formerly used of men as well.

3. (n.) An ugly old woman; a hag.

4. (n.) One who exercises more than common power of attraction; a charming or bewitching person; also, one given to mischief; -- said especially of a woman or child.

5. (n.) A certain curve of the third order, described by Maria Agnesi under the name versiera.

6. (n.) The stormy petrel.

7. (v. t.) To bewitch; to fascinate; to enchant.

Witch (2 Occurrences)
... 6. (n.) The stormy petrel. 7. (vt) To bewitch; to fascinate; to enchant. Int. Standard
Bible Encyclopedia. EN-DOR, WITCH OF. ... James Orr. WITCH; WITCHCRAFT. ...
/w/witch.htm - 24k

Witchcraft (8 Occurrences)
... The "witch of En-dor" (1 Samuel 28) was a necromancer, ie, one who feigned to hold
converse with the dead. ... Int. Standard Bible Encyclopedia. WITCH; WITCHCRAFT. ...
/w/witchcraft.htm - 23k

Endor (3 Occurrences)
... To Endor, Saul resorted to consult one reputed to be a witch on the eve of his last
engagement with the Philistines (1 Samuel 28:7). It is identified with the ...
/e/endor.htm - 12k

Charm (5 Occurrences)
... is ascribed to the blessing of Jacob upon them (see further Exodus 12:32 Judges
17:2 2 Samuel 21:3). It is no doubt to be understood that the witch of Endor ...
/c/charm.htm - 14k

Devils (48 Occurrences)
... the instance which requires the most careful treatment, because it holds the key
to all the rest, is the narrative of Saul's visit to the Witch of Endor in 1 ...
/d/devils.htm - 31k

Demons (54 Occurrences)
... the instance which requires the most careful treatment, because it holds the key
to all the rest, is the narrative of Saul's visit to the Witch of Endor in 1 ...
/d/demons.htm - 34k

Communion (8 Occurrences)
... the instance which requires the most careful treatment, because it holds the key
to all the rest, is the narrative of Saul's visit to the Witch of Endor in 1 ...
/c/communion.htm - 30k

With (66342 Occurrences)
... the instance which requires the most careful treatment, because it holds the key
to all the rest, is the narrative of Saul's visit to the Witch of Endor in 1 ...
/w/with.htm - 20k

En-dor (3 Occurrences)
... base of the mountain, the Philistines being on the west. W. Ewing. EN-DOR,
WITCH OF. wich: In 1 Samuel 28:3-25, it is narrated how ...
/e/en-dor.htm - 11k

Magic (12 Occurrences)
... The history of Saul's consulting the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:3-20) gives
no warrant for attributing supernatural power to magicians. ...
/m/magic.htm - 29k

Bible Concordance
Witch (2 Occurrences)

Exodus 22:18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Deuteronomy 18:10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.




Witch and Wizard

Related Terms

Witchcraft (8 Occurrences)

Endor (3 Occurrences)

Charm (5 Occurrences)

Devils (48 Occurrences)

Demons (54 Occurrences)

Communion (8 Occurrences)

With (66342 Occurrences)

En-dor (3 Occurrences)

Magic (12 Occurrences)

Wit (28 Occurrences)

Useth (9 Occurrences)

Observer (3 Occurrences)

Overrun (4 Occurrences)

Wizard (3 Occurrences)

Inquire (95 Occurrences)

Familiar (35 Occurrences)

Fly (33 Occurrences)

Tumbleweed (2 Occurrences)

Magician (5 Occurrences)

Saul (371 Occurrences)

Intercession (12 Occurrences)

Samuel (129 Occurrences)

Alive (166 Occurrences)

Woman (4043 Occurrences)

Books (16 Occurrences)

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