1 Samuel 28:7-14 Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.”
So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?” But Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.” The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.
The practice of witchcraft and magic is addressed several times throughout the Bible ("Were Sorcerers, Mediums, and Necromancers really performing magic in the Bible?"), but this is a narrative account that seems to demonstrate the power of one particular medium. Commonly referred to as the "Witch of Endor", we see in this story how she apparently calls forth the spirit of Samuel at Saul's request. The medium asks who she should "bring up". Where is this spirit coming "up" from? Heaven? Where does the Witch get this power? Is the spirit actually Samuel or is it an illusion? If it is Samuel's spirit, then how has the Witch accomplished this miraculous feat? If it is an illusion, is it divine in nature like a prophetic vision or is it more like a trick performed by modern magicians? Does Saul ever actually see the spirit or is he simply falling for the Witch's ruse? Later in 1 Samuel 28:15 it says that Samuel's spirit speaks to Saul which seems to imply that this is not an illusion.
The spirit was Samuel, brought forth with God's will. "The passage does not give us any reason to believe it was anyone other than Samuel... God allowed the witch of Endor to summon the prophet Samuel in order to give King Saul the news of his coming defeat and death." (Got Questions?: Did the witch of Endor really summon Samuel from the dead)
Follow-up Question: Earlier in 1 Samuel 28:6 we are told "And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets." Why would God wait to answer Saul's inquiries by way of a witch? This is a practice that God expressly forbids elsewhere in the Bible. If God was responsible for summoning Samuel, then it seems like it was rewarding the consultation of witches since God never directly reveals himself as the instigator of the interaction, neither to Saul nor to the reader of the text. Wouldn't this inspire others to seek the assistance of witches if they heard that Saul was able to summon Samuel in this manner?
The spirit was Samuel, and God enabled the witch to bring him forth. "Humans are forbidden to participate in the occult arts because humans can be deceived by them—we could be fooled into thinking that a fallen angel is a departed relative’s spirit, for instance. God has told us what we need to know about the spiritual realm in Scripture—so we should not seek other sources of information which we know are not trustworthy. But God created the spiritual realm and all the spirits that dwell there, and He rules them and cannot be deceived—He’s in control. So He can command the spirits to do whatever He wants." (Creation Ministries: Did the witch of Endor call up a ghost?)
Follow-up Question: If "humans can be deceived" by "the occult arts" then why would God use an occult practice like contacting the dead as a way to reveal prophetic truths to Saul? Why would God use an untrustworthy vehicle of communication in this situation? In fact, it seems like God himself would be the deceiver in this instance by failing to reveal that it was by his power alone that Saul was able to speak with Samuel. Instead God allowed Saul to think that the witch had accomplished the spiritual summoning.
The spirit was a deception from a demon. "By knowing what the Bible teaches about the state of the dead, and the circumstances regarding Saul's relationship with God at the time, we can be quite certain that it was not actually Samuel raised from the dead speaking to him, but a fallen angel, a demonic spirit. That Saul even attempted this séance with a spirit medium (witch) was an abomination, a further rebellion against God, and Saul paid for his rebellion with his life." (Bible Light: Witch of Endor)
Follow-up Question: If the spirit was indeed a demon, does that give us reason to doubt the identity of other spiritual appearances elsewhere in the Bible? Later verses state that "Samuel said to Saul", not "a demon appearing as Samuel said to Saul". If demons truly have this power of spiritual deception then what are their limitations? Might demons have appeared to the disciples in the form of the risen Jesus?
The spirit could not have been Samuel and must have been a demon. "Another important passage is in Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10, which says plainly that “the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing… There is certainly no soul that lives on, able to communicate with the rest of the living. Knowing this, the entity Saul communicated with could not possibly have been the ghost or spirit of Samuel, or any other human being. That leaves only the spirit realm as a possibility... [We] are forced to conclude that the “Samuel” conjured up by the medium of En Dor was a demonic spirit masquerading as God’s prophet." (Beyond Today: Did the ghost of Samuel appear to Saul after his death?)
Follow-up Question: Does this imply that those who practice the occult arts are actually capable of summoning demons to deceive others? Was the witch a demon? Or was she a human who summoned a demon? Can humans employ powers that can attract demons? Or do demons simply appear to make humans think they can command them? The power to appear as a dead person and predict the future seem comparable to powers that God has demonstrated.
The spirit could have been real, conjured, or a trick. "In short, it remains unclear whether the ghost of Samuel was real or conjured; it is also possible the witch may have hypnotized Saul into believing that he had seen Samuel." (Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel: The Bible’s Most Famous Ghost Story: The Witch of Endor)
The spirit could have been real magic, but it was likely brought forth by God. "There is a difference of opinion as to whether or not ancient sorcerers actually had any magical abilities. The Radak and others say they did. The Rambam says they didn’t and that their deeds were tricks.... A third opinion is offered by Rav Saadia Gaon: for the most part these people are frauds, but in this case, G-d permitted Shmuel to be raised in order to give Shaul the prophecy." (Orthodox Union: 1 Samuel - Chapter 28)
- It could have been a hallucination induced by any number of means. (Wikipedia: Hallucination)
- It could have been a trick or natural illusion created by the woman. (Wikipedia: Illusion)
- It may not have happened at all. There are many events and descriptions in the books of Samuel that do not comport with verified historical discoveries. (Wikipedia: Historicity of the Bible: Books of Samuel)
1 Samuel 28:7, 1 Samuel 28:8, 1 Samuel 28:9, 1 Samuel 28:10, 1 Samuel 28:11, 1 Samuel 28:12, 1 Samuel 28:13, 1 Samuel 28:14