Ronald Hutton vs The Witch of Endor
June 14, 2011
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The main part of this post consists of a list, spanning over 400 years, of primary sources attesting to the use of the English word “Witch” (or in some cases an equivalent word in another European language) to refer to someone whose magical workings are beneficial to others, including especially persons who perform healing, mediumship, or divination, or who can provide protection against (and/or relief from) malefic magic (“curses”).
Several of the works cited are inspired by the Biblical story of the so-called “Witch of Endor,” who is portrayed as a medium/prophetess/necromancer. When Jerome wrote the Vulgate (Latin) version of the Bible he referred to her as “mulier habens pythonem in Aendor” at I Sam. 28:7. The modern Webster’s Online Dictionary (here) tells us that a “pythoness” (the most direct rendering in English of “mulier habens pythonem”) is:
1. A witch with powers of divination.[Wordnet]
2. (Greek mythology) the priestess of Apollo at Delphi who transmitted the oracles.[Wordnet]
3. The priestess who gave oracular answers at Delphi in Greece.[Websters]
4. Any woman supposed to have a spirit of divination; a sort of witch.[Websters].
The important thing about all four of these definitions above is that they have not so much as a whiff of maleficium about them. Even more importantly is the fact that pythoness unambiguously refers back to pre-Christian magico-religious practices and beliefs that were revered and respected by ancient Pagans and that played a central and highly prestigious role in their mainstream/traditional religious cults. Therefore the list below strongly argues against Ronald Hutton’s claim that two of the primary characteristics of a Witch are that she is a person who (1) “cause[s] misfortune or injury to other humans”, and (2) “earns general social disapproval, usually of a very strong kind”. The list also argues against one of the secondary characteristics of Witches according to Hutton, namely that they perform their magic “from motives of malice and spite.” (See Hutton 2004, Hutton 2011, and also: Ronald Hutton: Witches Are “Inherently Evil”).
- c. 1510 Jacob Cornelisz Van Oostsanen (1477-1533) “Saul bij Heks van Endor” (painting)
- 1584 Reginald Scot (c. 1538 – 1599; In his Discoverie of Witchcraft Scot has multiple references to “white witches” and he also equates “witch” with “wise woman”.
- 1597 DAEMONOLOGIE by King James VI of Scotland (King James I of England) attests to the fact that not only “that Pythonisse that Saul consulted with”, but also “these wise men of Pharaohs, that counterfeited Moyses miracles” and “Simon Magus in the new Testament” were at the time commonly thought of and referred to as Witches.
- c. 1600 William Perkins (1558-1602) Perkins once delivered a sermon titled “The Good Witch Must Also Die.”
- 1635 Matthias Stom – “Saul en de heks van Endor” (painting)
- 1649 “Divels Delusions” (account of the trial of John Palmer, et al, ) Two of those whose trial is recounted herein were at first thought to be “good witches”, but were later convicted as “black witches.” (see Wallace Notestein’s 1909 A history of witchcraft in England from 1558 to 1718, Appendix A.5.)
- 1656 Thomas Ady’s Candle in the Dark contains multiple references to “good witches”, whom Ady explicitly equates with “cunning” persons, and whom Ady portrays as healers, soothsayers, and also as providing protection against curses.
- 1688 “Saul e la pitonessa di Endor” by Salvator Rosa (painting)
- 1702 Cotton Mather (1663-1728) Mather refers, matter-of-factly, to the “Witch of Endor” in his Magnalia Christi Americana, in Chapter XXVIII (on the life of Samuel Whiting). Mathers also refers to her as an “enchantress”.
- 1739 Georg Friedrich Händel SAUL An Oratorio; or Sacred Drama, words by Charles Jennens. The “Witch of Endor” appears as a character in Act Three, Scene Two.
- 1754 Saulus Consulit Sagam An earlier engraving by Gerard Hoet was reproduced in Robert Goadley’s An Illustration of the Holy Scriptures, by Notes and Exposition. This book was published in Sherborne, in 132 parts, between 1754 and 1759. “It also shows that representations of the Witch of Endor as attractive and young existed throughout the eighteenth century.” (quoted from here) The caption that appears in Goadley’s edition is multilingual and refers to the Witch as “Sagam”, “Divineresse”, “Tooveresse”, “Zauberin”, as well as simply “Witch” and also using her Hebrew appellation from the First Book of Samuel, בעלת אוב, baalath ob, “the mistress of the Obidiah or Pythonic spirit – one who had a familiar spirit, whom she could invoke when she pleased, and receive answers from him relative to futurity,” according to Adam Clarke’s commentary on the Whole Bible (1832).
- c 1760 John Wesley in his commentary on Exodus 22:18, “Thous shalt not suffer a witch to live,” portrays Witchcraft as a full-blown religious alternative to Christianity (albeit framed by a boilerplate Satanic gloss): “Witchcraft not only gives that honour to the devil which is due to God alone, but bids defiance to the divine providence, wages war with God’s government, puts his work into the devil’s hand expecting him to do good and evil.” Wesley’s focus is on malefic magic “whereby hurt shall be done to any person”, but he also states plainly that “pretending to tell where goods lost or stolen may be found, is an iniquity punishable by the judge, and the second offence with death.”
- c. 1830 Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832; Scott wrote about “Agnes Simpson, or Sampson, called the Wise Wife of Keith … seems to have been a kind of white witch, affecting to cure diseases by words and charms …” Sampson was executed in 1591. See Letter IX in Collected Works, volume I)
- 1866 Gustave Doré (1832-83) Saül et la sorcière d’En Dor (engraving).
- 1895 Arden Holt’s “Fancy Dresses Described; Or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls” includes (figure 48) a “White Witch” Fancy Dress. [found at sexywitch]
- 1900 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum, featuring two, count ’em two, Good Witches.
- 1921 “Charming Little Witch” Halloween postcard from 1921 reads:Though witches weird on Hallowe’en
I must admit alarm me,
I know a little witch like you
Who never fails to charm me.