The Witching Hour

What does the bible say about witchcraft? What is magic?

During the reign of Saul, there was a war that was about to take place. The Philistines were gathering an army to fight against Israel. Saul gathered all of his people together to face the army that approached their land but when he saw their numbers, a fear began to grow within him. Saul called out to the Lord to intervene, to give him a sign through his dreams but nothing came. So Saul resorted to the Urim and Thummim, those white and black stones we talked about in a previous episode. But God still did not provide the answer he sought. He then he called on the prophets to assemble in his courts to decree the outcome of the war at hand but every prophet drew a blank. 

Saul only had one option left. There was a woman who had contact with the great prophet, Samuel. Saul knew Samuel had favor with God and that he would be able to provide the answers he so desperately needed. So he adorned a disguise and made the journey to a small Canaanite village in the valley of Jezreel. 

He sought out the woman and when he found her, he begged her to get in touch with Samuel on his behalf to provide him some answers. So the woman went and woke Samuel and brought him before Saul. Samuel asked Saul, “Why have you disturbed me?”. Saul fell on his face and proclaimed the troubling news about the Philistine army sitting at their doorstep and the war to come. Then Samuel delivered some not so great news. “Has the Lord not turned away from you and became your enemy?” Samuel asked. “Today the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David.” Samuel continued, “The Lord will give Israel into the hands of the Philistines and tomorrow you and your sons shall join me.” 

Saul fell face first into the ground paralyzed with fear. Not only was his nation about to be torn from his grasp, but he was told he was about to join Samuel in his resting place. Which may not sound too frightening until you realize who this woman Saul came to see was. She was known as the Witch of Endor, a conjurer of spirits. A medium if you will. Which is why she was the only one who could access Samuel, because he was dead.

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If you’ve ever spent any time in church culture, you would be well informed that witchcraft if forbidden. But what many of us are not informed of is what constitutes witchcraft in the first place. And if witchcraft is so bad, why do biblical characters who follow God use it so much? 

 Many instances in the Bible speak about forms of sorcery and how they are completely off limits, only for God to use those very things. Take the craft of Nahash as an example. Nahash literally translates to “hissing and whispering”. So why then did God come to Elijah as whisper in 1 kings? Or what about Onan, the practice of reading clouds as signs – also known as aeromancy? We all know the story of the Israelites following a pillar of cloud by day to the promised land. Oh, and then there is Kashaph, with literally translates to “herb user”. Good luck selling your young living essential oils at church if that gets out. 

The honest truth, is that what many people have previously viewed as witchcraft has long been misunderstood forms of science or even miracles. The more you look into it, the more you realize that the differences in witchcraft and a Devine miracle are mostly tied in the intent. Sure, there are accounts of idolatry and pagan practices tied to many forms of witchcraft, but often these things are eerily similar, if not the exact same practices performed by our beloved Bible characters.

 So for the sake of the Halloween season and our love for all things creepy, lets take a look at some of our most beloved biblical characters and stories. We might be amazed at just how similar our beliefs are to many of our not so sacred counterparts. 

Lets start by clearing the air on what witchcraft even is. Websters dictionary primarily describes witchcraft as “the use of sorcery or magic”. But let’s not stop there, because to understand the use of something we must also understand what is being used and with witchcraft, the tool being used is magic. Magic has a few definitions, all of which are pertinent to today’s episode. I’ll list them in order: 

1: the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.

2: having or apparently having supernatural powers

3: the use of means (such as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces

4: something that seems to cast a spell or enchantment

Now that we cleared the air with all of the, let’s begin. 

Let’s start with Moses. We know the stories of the plagues. We remember the rod Aaron carried and how Moses cast it down to turn it into a snake, but how often do we let that very idea sink in. Moses threw down a stick and it turned into a serpent! And guess who did the same? That is correct, the Egyptian magicians. And before we go jumping to conclusions I would like to remind all of us that Moses was raised in the inner courts of the Egyptians. He knew their arts and while being a Hebrew by nature, he was an Egyptian by nurture. 

And then there is the battle between Israel and the Amalekites. It is said in Exodus, chapter 17 that every time Moses would lower his arms the Amalekites would start to overcome the Israelites but so long as he kept his arms raised Israel would prevail. I take it Aaron and Our were pretty superstitious considering God never decreed for Moses to keep his hands in the air for the duration of an entire war. But hey, if it works it works I suppose.

The last account of Moses we will be looking at is fount in the book of Numbers. The Israelites were grumbling against God for leaving them to wander in the wilderness and for their lack of bread and water. So God, being in a completely good mood I assume, sent an army of snakes to bite and kill the Israelites. There is a bit of irony here, being that the book of Matthew states that God being good knows how to give good gifts and doesn’t gift a serpent when one asks for food. Thank God for a New Testament grace I guess. 

Luckily God listened to Moses’ prayers and gave him instruction to craft a bronze snake on a pole. To me, that sounds a lot like an idol but since it came from God, I guess it works. According to God’s change of heart, anyone who was bitten but looked to the bronze snake would survive their venomous encounter. 

In Genesis 30, we find an interesting story concerning Jacob. Leah, Jacob’s first wife in which he was tricked into taking instead of her sister, Rachel, had a son named Reuben. One day Reuben was in the field when he stumbled across a rare plant with amazing capabilities. The book of Genesis doesn’t go into a lot of details on this plant other than to give us it’s name , the Mandrake root. It is said that Leah traded some of her mandrakes to her sister Rachel,  in exchange for a night of sex with Jacob and she became pregnant with another son. 

But the real question here is why would Rachel desire a Mandrake root, even to the point of trading a night with her husband away? And how convenient was it that God opened her previously barren womb right after acquiring such a plant? Well, some of these answers can be found in understanding what the mandrake even is. 

Mandrakes have been used in witchcraft for centuries. It receives its name, “Mandrake” from looking eerily similar to the form of a human. The best way I can describe it is if nature made a voodoo doll, this is what it would look like. Which, ironically is just one of the magical uses of this plant. It is said that one can use a mandrake to control the human body, to heal ailments, and of course, to open one’s womb and assist in reproduction. Quite a convenient overlap, don’t you think?

With the favor of the Lord and possibly a little mandrake, Jacob and Rachel finally were able to conceive a son they named Joseph. The same Joseph that was sold into Egypt and as a matter of fact, the next instance we will be looking at. 

After selling Joseph into slavery in Potiphar’s home, his honesty quickly exalted him to, as the Bible says, “a place with the authority like Pharaoh”. He was second in command and because of his understanding of the Pharaohs dreams, had prepared Egypt for the coming famine. Egypt thrived during the season of lack and people from across countryside came to receive food from their surplus. 

One day, Joseph found himself looking down from his throne at his brothers who had no idea they where in the presence of family. Joseph, being wise, planted his silver chalice in one of their bags and had his servant follow them to ensure they did the right thing and confessed to their error. Long story short, he learned that his brothers had changed their ways and they were able to come back together once again. Sweet story, except for a few parts we often gloss over. 

It seems Joseph learned a few things during his stay in Egypt because this chalice was no ordinary cup. This was a cup of divination. A cup that Joseph used to predict the future. And these are not my words, these are his. Because on more than one occasion he declared his ability to read the events to come and know the outcomes of his brothers fate. Which I am sure is the reason he planted such an important item on one of his brothers’ person. After all, he would have know it would finds its way back. I guess that’s a skill worth drinking to. 

the Bible is full of stories that bear a striking resemblance to similar, off limit practices. Things like reading the future, talking to the dead, and curses. But what about when it’s a prophet? Does that still count?

In 2 Kings chapter two, we find Elisha taking up Elijah’s mantle. It’s a relatively straight forward passage up until the end of the chapter where this little story that gets sprinkled in. At the end of chapter two, it is recorded that a mob of young boys were harassing Elisha calling him a “baldhead”. This obviously got on the prophets never who inflicted a curse on the children. A curse that summoned from the woods two she-bears who mauled the children and gave Elisha an escape from the sheer torture they inflicted on him. 

And then we come to the constellations, astrology, and numerology. While deemed as a purely pagan practice, many of the biblical figures we look up to, themselves looked up to the heavens for answers. The Magi who followed the star to find Jesus were most likely Zoroastrian priests who used the stars as a form of predictive tool. Many believe the shepherds were also astrological practitioners due to certain sects of those who watched the stars being called, shepherds in some ancient texts. 

And then we come to Revelation. A book that has scared the wits out of young children and adults alike for ages. Twenty-four elders, preachers made entirely of eyes, flying serpents, and beasts with four faces. Thats some nightmare invoking stuff John saw on that exiled isle. But when we start to break it down, it’s really not so frightening after all. 

Think about this: what is a constellation? Well, its in the shape of a familiar being and it’s made of a bunch of stars. Almost like some kind of creature made of eyes. And what do constellations do? They rotate with the earth, almost like they are circling a throne. But what about the four faced cherubim, the same creatures mentions both in Ezekiel and Revelation that can only move forward, backward, or side to side? How could a four headed beast be related to stars? Well, what are those faces? A bull, a lion, a man, and an eagle, right? Well, that translates perfectly to the four cardinal signs on the zodiac wheel: Leo – the Lion, Taurus – the Bull, Aquarius – the man pouring out water, and Scorpio – which had two signs in traditional astrology: the scorpion for the bad and the eagle for the good. 

Not to mention the twenty four elders that bow down being representative of the twenty four hours in a day. And then you have all the numerology associated with the seals and the lamp stands. Yes, Revelation is just one big book full of divination. But it’s from God so that makes it okay.

Christianity has a history with being a bit dramatic when it comes to things like witchcraft and sorcery. In Europe, between the years of 1550 and 1700AD, over 40,000 people were burned alive at the stake based on an accusation that they were a witch. Honest, family oriented, even church going people were drug out of their homes and unfairly tried based on obscene evidence. Things like witches marks, scaring tests, and one crazy notion that witches could not sink. 

This lead to people tying alleged witches to large objects and tossing them into a body of water. If they sank, they were not a witch and even though they drowned at least they were righteous in the eye of God but if they floated they would be taken and roasted alive. This is all absolutely unthinkable to us now, but at the time this was just life. But there was one test in particular that I think sums up this whole conversation nicely and that was the test of the witches cake.

The witches cake was an idea brought to the table by Mary Sibley, an honest, church goer in Salem, Massachusetts. It was believed that her strange concoction would reveal the names of those who had cast a curse on the innocent daughters of the local minister. These cakes were prepared by taking the Urine of the young girls, mixing it into a bread and then was fed to the dog of the alleged witch. Why the dog, you ask? Witches were believed to have something called a familiar. 

A witch’s familiar was like their spirit guide that often took the form of a pet. It was believed that if they fed the familiar one of these witch cakes, the creature would throw it back up and would audibly say the name of their master. Needless to say, this did not work as planned but isn’t it ironic: the newly established Protestant church was so afraid of witchcraft that they resorted to using the very thing that scared them the most. In the end, the only people practicing witchcraft were the very ones hunting it.

The images of magic and witchcraft hold a strange place in our minds. On one hand, you have fun holidays that plaster witches as old hags stirring their kettles bubbling over with green goop. On the other, you have the ever present reality that more harm has been done in the name of ridding the world of witchcraft than good. And still yet on another we have the superstition of those things which we do not understand. But be careful; many things are based on one’s intent and what might seem like the work of the devil to you, might be the Love of God to someone else. 

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