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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Witchcrafts

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Witchcraft occurs in ; ; ; ; ; and in the New Testament, ; ; . The precise idea, if any, now associated with the word 'witch,' but, however, devoutly entertained by nearly the whole nation in the time of our translators, is that of a female, who, by the agency of Satan, or rather, of a familiar spirit or gnome appointed by Satan to attend on her, performs operations beyond the powers of humanity, in consequence of her compact with Satan, written in her own blood, by which she resigns herself to him forever. Among other advantages resulting to her from this engagement is the power of transforming herself into any shape she pleases; which was, however, generally that of a hare; transporting herself through the air on a broomstick, sailing 'on the sea in a sieve,' gliding through a keyhole, inflicting diseases, etc. upon mankind or cattle. The belief in the existence of such persons cannot be traced higher than the Middle Ages, and was probably derived from the wild and gloomy mythology of the northern nations, among whom the Fatal Sisters, and other impersonations of destructive agency in a female form, were prominent articles of the popular creed. A very different idea was conveyed by the Hebrew word, which probably denotes a sorceress or magician, who pretended to discover, and even to direct the effects ascribed to the operation of the elements, conjunctions of the stars, the influence of lucky and unlucky days, the power of invisible spirits, and of the inferior deities. Sir Walter Scott well observes, that 'the sorcery or witchcraft of the Old Testament resolves itself into a trafficking with idols and asking counsel of false deities, or, in other words, into idolatry.' Accordingly, sorcery is in Scripture uniformly associated with idolatry (; ; , etc.; ; ). The modern idea of witchcraft, as involving the assistance of Satan, is inconsistent with Scripture, where, as in the instance of Job, Satan is represented as powerless till God gave him a limited commission; and when 'Satan desired to sift Peter as wheat,' no reference is made to the intervention of a witch. Nor do the actual references to magic in Scripture involve its reality. The mischiefs resulting from the pretention, under the theocracy, to an art which involved idolatry, justified the statute which denounced it with death; though instead of the unexampled phrase, 'thou shalt not suffer to live,' Michælis conjectures, 'shall not be' (), which also better suits the parallel, 'There shall not be found among you, etc. a witch' (). Indeed, as 'we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other gods but one' (), we must believe all pretensions to traffic with the one, or ask counsel of the other, to be equally vain. Upon the same principle of suppressing idolatry, however, the prophets of Baal also were destroyed, and not because Baal had any real existence, or because they could avail anything by their invocations. 'The witch of Endor,' as she is commonly but improperly called, belongs to another class of pretenders to supernatural powers [DIVINATION]. She was a necromancer, or one of those persons who pretended to call up the spirits of the dead to converse with the living (see ; ; ). It is related as the last and crowning act of Saul's rebellion against God, that he consulted 'a woman who had a familiar spirit' (), literally 'a mistress of the Ob,'—an act forbidden by the divine law (), which sentenced the pretenders to such a power to death (), and which law Saul himself had recently enforced (; ), because, it is supposed, they had freely predicted his approaching ruin; although after the well-known prophecies of Samuel to that effect, the disasters Saul had already encountered, and the growing influence of David, there 'needed no ghost to come from the grave to tell them this.' Various explanations of this story have been offered. It has been attempted to resolve the whole into imposture and collusion. Saul, who was naturally a weak and excitable man, had become, through a long series of vexations and anxieties, absolutely 'delirious,' as Patrick observes: 'he was afraid and his heart greatly trembled,' says the sacred writer. In this state of mind, and upon the very eve of his last battle, he commissions his own servants to seek him a woman that had a familiar spirit, and, attended by two of them, he comes to her 'by night,' the most favorable time for imposition. He converses with her alone, his two attendants, whether his secret enemies or real friends, being absent, somewhere, yet, however, close at hand. Might not one of these, or someone else, have agreed with the woman to personate Samuel in another room?—for it appears that Saul, though he spoke with, did not see the ghost (): who, it should be observed, told him nothing but what his own attendants could have told him, with the exception of those words, 'tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me' (); to which, however, it is replied, that Saul's death did not occur upon the morrow, and that the word so translated is sufficiently ambiguous, for though it means 'tomorrow' in some passages, it means the future, indefinitely, in others. It is further urged, that her 'crying with a loud voice,' and her telling Saul, at the same time, that she knew him, were the well-timed arts of the sorceress, intended to magnify her pretended skill. Others are of opinion that the story may be accounted for by the theory of ventriloquism. But it is objected against this, or any other hypothesis of collusion, that the sacred writer not only represents the Pythoness as affirming, but also himself affirms, that she saw Samuel, and that Samuel spoke to Saul, nor does he drop the least hint that it was not the real Samuel of whom he was speaking. Others have given a literal interpretation of the story, and have maintained that Samuel actually appeared to Saul. Such also is the view Josephus takes (Antiq. vi. 14. 3-4), where he bestows a labored eulogium upon the woman. It is, however, objected, that the actual appearance of Samuel is inconsistent with all we are taught by revelation concerning the state of the dead; involves the possibility of a spirit or soul assuming a corporeal shape, conversing audibly, etc.; and further, that it is incredible that God would submit the departed souls of his servants to be summoned back to earth, by rites either utterly futile, or else deriving their efficacy from the cooperation of Satan. Others have supposed that the woman induced Satan or some evil spirit to personate Samuel. But this theory, beside other difficulties, attributes nothing less than miraculous power to the devil; for it supposes the apparition of a spiritual and incorporeal being, and that Satan can assume the appearance of anyone he pleases. Others have maintained another interpretation, that the whole account is the narrative of a miracle, a divine representation or impression, partly upon the senses of Saul, and partly upon those of the woman, and intended for the rebuke and punishment of Saul. It is urged that God interposed with a miracle previously to the use of any magical formula, as he did when the king of Moab had recourse to sorceries to overrule the mind of Balaam, so that he was compelled to bless those whom Balak wanted him to curse (Numbers 23).

 

 

 

 

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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Witchcrafts'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/w/witchcrafts.html.

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