The Witch of Endor, 1728
Saul, first King of Israel and Judah, is supposed to have consulted ‘the Witch of Endor‘ the night before the Battle of Gilboa (c.1000 BCE), a battle that went disastrously for him (he looses, has to beg to be killed by his servants and his body is nailed to the wall of Beth-shan by the victorious Philistines).
The interview is mentioned in the First book of Samuel, chapter 28, verses 7 to 25 (see King James version, here). Saul is unable to discern the will of God by “dreams … by Urim, … by prophets” and so he seeks “a woman that hath a familiar spirit”, or “who possesses a talisman” that enables her to call up familiar spirits. Saul asks her to call up Samuel, which she does. Samuel has bad news: “Then Saul fell straightway all along on the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel: and there was no strength in him; for he had eaten no bread all the day, nor all the night”. The witch of Endor suggests Saul eat “a morsel of bread”, Saul refuses; she insists; Saul “arose from the earth, and sat upon the bed”; she kills a calf, makes some bread and Saul “did eat. Then they rose up, and went away that night”. You have heard what happened the next day.
The witch is not named, but according to the rabbinical tradition she was Zephaniah, the mother of Abner (first cousin to Saul and commander-in-chief of his army). By a second tradition she is Sedecla, the daughter of Aod of the priests of Madian (a wizard who ‘shewed unto the people [of Israel] the sun by night’).
Aod performed his wizardry in the time of Deborah, prophetess and the fourth Judge of pre-monarchic Israel in the Old Testament. Deborah was followed Gideon, Abimelech, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, Samson and Eli before Saul ruled; so even if Aod was very old when he fathered his daughter Sedecla, she would have been very, very old by the time Saul consulted her. Think withered old hag. Of course, if the first tradition were true, she would still have been middle-aged, at best, when consulted.
Artists fairly consistently depicted the Witch of Endor as an ugly old hag, at least into the nineteenth-century. For hundreds of years, and in hundreds of paintings, Zephaniah/Sedecla was represented as a bleary-eyed, gap-toothed, withered, hunch-back (as, for example, in this engraving from 1702, detail here). These evil looks may just be a conventional representation of old age but it is more likely that Zephaniah/Sedecla is represented this way because she is a witch. Witches were, by definition, evil; and an evil twisted soul is, of course, reflected in an ugly twisted body. As long as the biblical (and rabbinical for that matter) prohibitions on the practice of witchcraft and necromancy had any weight, witches must be ugly.
Try to keep all this in mind when looking at the following image from 1728.
Here we see Zephaniah/Sedecla as a young and attractive woman. Why the change? The answer to that will have to wait for another post.