Biblical Witchcraft

By guest author J.M.
Witchcraft is biblical. Well, it’s in the Bible, so depending on how you define “biblical” – witchcraft is “biblical.” Not surprisingly, though, the Bible condemns any form of witchcraft, or any related thing. But what exactly did the people of the ancient Near East (Israel and their neighbors) consider witchcraft?  Well it sure wasn’t the modern cultural version of witches and wizards that we picture today.
 Putting up a picture of Wendy & Casper instead of 
Harry Potter probably gives you a clue as to how old I am.
Witchcraft and related things, as described in the Old Testament, were ways that people tried to find favor with the gods. The gods were finicky. They had to bribe them and cajole them to get things to go their way. Well, that’s how it started. Witchcraft soon developed into a way to control the gods. While they did not use wands, or big black cauldrons, they did use potions, incantations, hymns and prayers. It basically boiled down to bribing the gods and stroking their egos; or pulling their puppet strings. There were also branches of spiritualism that that tried to interact with the dead instead of gods.There is a story about a witch in the Bible, you know her as the Witch of Endor. Only… she wasn’t a witch. If you are not familiar with the story go to 1 Samuel 28 and give it a quick read. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Strange story right? Let’s take a quick look at what’s going on in the story.
First, she wasn’t a witch, she was a person who practiced necromancy, she talked to the dead.
These were usually old women and they are called, “ghost mistresses.”  (Now, now…not that kind of mistress. Get your mind out of the gutter.) Ghost mistresses tried to bribe the dead to come back and visit their old earthly stomping grounds. Ghost mistresses are well known in a variety of ancient near east cultures. In those cultures the dead were thought to live in the underworld – literally under your feet. So if you want to talk to them there’s one thing you’ve got to do…dig a hole! This “witch” didn’t have a cauldron, she had a pit. Ghost mistresses did a variety of things to entreat the dead to come visit. How do you bribe the dead? What does a dead person want? Food, of course! The restaurants in the underworld aren’t exactly 5 star quality. So ghost mistresses placed food in the pit, along with other things meant to entice the dead to take a little vacation.
Whether or not the ghost mistresses were successful is a whole other topic. Basically, I think it’s possible – in a way. I believe there is a spiritual realm and that for ghost mistresses to thrive in the ancient world they had to have some results of some kind. Maybe they were just charlatans or maybe demonic activity brought them some form of results. Both probably happened.
The great thing about the story of the witch of Endor… she freaked out when Samuel actually appeared. Freaked out! Even though a disguised Saul asked her to bring him up from the dead, the lady was extremely shocked. Why? She wasn’t expecting it! So either the lady was a charlatan and didn’t expect anything real to happen, or the real Samuel was so different from what the demonic activity usually showed her that she peed her pants.
“A ghost!!”
So did Samuel really come back as a ghost? I don’t know. But I think it’s great that even though Saul had sinned greatly God had a sense of humor. “Okay, Saul, you want to talk to Samuel. Fine. But you’re going to regret it!” Better yet, imagine what Samuel thought. He was hanging with God in the afterlife when God turns to him and says, “Hey Samuel, are you up for a little field trip?” And people think the Old Testament is boring. Ha!
So witches existed in Bible times. But it was all about manipulating or controlling the gods. And God actually used a “witch” to deliver a message to Saul. But remember, just because God used it does not mean it receives his seal of approval.
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