The story of the Witch at Endor in the First Book of Samuel (see full scripture reading below) is an interesting example of women’s power and how the patriarchy eventually bows to feminine power – especially when their own life is at stake. Clearly, the gifts of the witch at Endor were previously forbidden by Saul, himself, but when his own “god” could not guide him on military matters, he turned to the only one he thought duly capable – the witch he had previously condemned.
For centuries, if not eons, patriarchal institutions have looked suspect on “women’s gifts.” In cultures where patriarchy held sway, intuitive gifts, mediumship, psychic abilities, clairevoyance, claireaudience, claire-empathy, hands-on-healing, herbal curatives, and even midwifery have at one time or another been labeled “witchcraft” and “sorcery” and have been condemned under the punishment of death. It has been estimated that during the Middle Ages, between 60,000 and 600,000 women and men were executed as “witches” in Western Europe alone. While we no longer “burn witches,” women and men with the aforementioned gifts are hesitant to share their gifts in public, and there is little, if any, formal training or support for those demonstrating these gifts. And again, while we no longer burn witches, “witch burnings” are still happening every day in our so-called enlightened and modern society:
- In 1998, a group of Obstetricians at a hospital in Wisconsin threatened to quit their practice if the Nurse Midwife services were not immediately terminated at their clinic. In spite of data proving their success rate (financially and otherwise), the hospital complied. Five nurse midwives lost their jobs. None of them are currently practicing midwifery and have pursued other fields of medicine.
- In 2003, the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Councils for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue issued a paper condemning the practices and beliefs of the New Age movement, including such practices as mediumship, holistic medicine, yoga and Eastern forms of meditation.
- In 2004, the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin issued a prohibition statement against Reiki, a form of hands-on-healing, calling it “witchcraft and sorcery.”
- In 2008, the United State Council of Catholic Bishops did the same, claiming that Reiki was not consistent with Catholic teaching and had no basis in science.
- In 2012, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an office within the Vatican, began a 3-year investigation of Women Religious, accusing these women of not complying with Catholic doctrine – women who have devoted their life to healing, educating and helping all people, especially the poor. The investigation continues to this day.
While the Catholic Church is specifically named in the above examples, they are by no means the only institution guilty of “burning witches.” In fact, every institution that has their roots in patriarchal, hierarchical power and control is guilty of similar offenses – the government by barring women of power from positions of leadership, universities denying tenure to women, corporations expecting more from the women while paying them less than their male counterparts. The list goes on and on and on. If you are a woman and you are taking this course, chances are you could list your own experiences of being treated as “less than” simply because you are a woman. If you are a woman of power, chances are that you too have suffered under the threat of condemnation, ridicule, even banishment for entertaining, exploring, cultivating and then sharing your gifts. Perhaps you are a healer or a prophet. Maybe you communicate with the dead. Perhaps you see auras, hear people’s thoughts, feel others’ feelings. Maybe you enjoy working with herbs for the purposes of healing or know how to clear negative energies with your thoughts or through a simple pass of your hand. Whatever your gifts might be, chances are you have either hesitated to share them or been condemned for trying. Maybe you have even been “burned at the stake.”
1 Samuel 28: 3-25
Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land.
The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all Israel and set up camp at Gilboa. When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.”
“There is one in Endor,” they said.
So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.”
But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?”
Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this.”
Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”
“Bring up Samuel,” he said.
When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”
The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?”
The woman said, “I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth.”
“What does he look like?” he asked.
“An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said.
Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.
Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”
“I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.”
Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy? The Lord has done what he predicted through me. The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today. The Lord will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”
Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel’s words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and all that night.
When the woman came to Saul and saw that he was greatly shaken, she said, “Look, your servant has obeyed you. I took my life in my hands and did what you told me to do. Now please listen to your servant and let me give you some food so you may eat and have the strength to go on your way.”
He refused and said, “I will not eat.”
But his men joined the woman in urging him, and he listened to them. He got up from the ground and sat on the couch.
The woman had a fattened calf at the house, which she butchered at once. She took some flour, kneaded it and baked bread without yeast. Then she set it before Saul and his men, and they ate. That same night they got up and left.