The Witch of Endor

It seems almost like a Halloween story.

King Saul was so preoccupied with his rival David, that he neglected the growing Philistine threat to Israel. Meanwhile, the Philistines marched with their chariots into the Jezreel Valley (Hebrew:
עמק יזרעאל, Emek Yizrael). The spacious, fertile valley spreads out to the north and east from Mount Carmel. Its largest settlement in modern Israel is the city of Afula (Hebrew: עפולה), also known as the “Capital of the Valley” (בירת העמק)

But to come back to our story, King Saul was now cut off from the northern tribes by the Philistines. When Saul saw the Philistine army he was so afraid that his heart “greatly trembled.” In other words, his heart was gripped with fear. But when he consulted G-d, he didn’t get an answer. The prophet Samuel was dead. No encouraging word would come from the L-rd.

So Saul sought out a medium to foretell him the outcome of his battle with the Philistines. G-d had commanded Saul to expel from Israel all those who told the future by communicating with the dead or with a demonic spirit. However at Endor – between Mount Tabor and the Hill of Moreh – there lived a woman who had escaped the purges.


The Torah explicitlyforbids any kind of attempts to contact the dead or any kind of prayers to the dead. (Devarim 18:9-15) The Torah forbids it because it goes against the ethical and spiritual foundations of the Torah. G-d is not affected by such behavior because G-d cannot be manipulated. 


But Saul disguised himself and traveled under the cover of darkness to Endor to consult a fortune teller. Assuring her that she would not be punished for practicing her forbidden profession, he requested that she bring up Samuel from the dead. The witch carried out Saul’s instructions, but rather than using the tricks of her trade to deceive Saul, she herself was shocked to see an old man appear, whom Saul identified as Samuel!

Some have suggested that the appearance of Samuel was psychological – in the mind of Saul. However, the woman also saw Samuel, and Saul actually talked with Samuel. Some held the view that a demon impersonated Samuel and appeared to Saul. But the message in (1 Samuel 28:16-19) would have hardly come from a demon. Still others concluded that the medium was a fraud and tricked Saul into thinking that he saw Samuel. Yet the medium was surprised herself by Samuel’s appearance and that would not have been the case if it were a contrived trick. – The traditional rabbinical view is that these verses record a genuine appearance of Samuel that G-d Himself brought about.

Samuel reminded Saul that the kingdom had been taken from him because of his disobedience in the Amalekite war, and then predicted Israel’s defeat and the deaths of Saul and his sons at the hands of the Philistines. Samuel never answered Saul’s question, “What should I do?” There was nothing that could be done. Because of his disobedience, his fate was sealed. – Judgment was imminent and certain. All that had been Saul’s as king would soon be lost because of his rebellion and contempt for God’s will. Saul, who appeared to be full of promise as a young man, ended his own life in disgrace. The great failure of Saul as king was his lack of obedience to the will and Word of G-d.

Why did I say this seems almost like a Halloween story?


Because on the surface Halloween appears to be a harmless celebration defined by costumes, candy, pumpkins, and other fun family traditions. But Halloween has a dark side to it.

Some trace the origins of present day “trick-or-treat” to Samhain, which was the supreme night of demonic jubilation. Spirits of the dead would rise out of their graves and wander the countryside, trying to return to the homes where they formerly lived. Frightened villagers tried to appease these wandering spirits by offering them gifts of fruit and nuts. They began the tradition of placing plates of the finest food and bits of treats that the household had to offer on their doorsteps, as gifts, to appease the hunger of the ghostly wanderers. Pumpkins were cut with faces representing demons that were originally intended to frighten away evil spirits.


To witches, Halloween is a festival of the dead, and represents the end and the beginning of the witches year. It marks the beginning of the death and destruction associated with winter. At this time the power of the underworld is unleashed, and spirits are supposedly freed to roam about the earth; it is considered the best time to contact spirits (

Yet we dress our children up as witches, ghosts and sorcerers. Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, ghost tours, costume parties, visiting haunted houses, carving jack-o-lanterns, watching horror movies or reading scary stories. Maybe we should read our children the story of the Witch of Endor instead?




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