The Witch of Endor

Ever since reading in C.S. Lewis’s letter to Arthur Greeves (I think) about the housekeeper he called the Witch of Endor I’ve wanted to write something that included a Witch of Endor. Like Herod Agrippa’s chamberlain Blastus—a name with possibilities.

Robert Alter calls her a Ghostwife. That suggests something. The story of Saul is haunting, isn’t it? It is the long, steady destruction of one who could have been a hero, the opposite of David’s story, the foil that sets it up.

Robert Frost has a poem called Abishag, from later in the story. A poem about the Witch of Endor in the same mode could be interesting: apprehension in Endor, dread in Shunem, horror and carnage over Jezreel, the Philistine scavengers on Mt. Gilboa, the awkward congregation of every unclean bird and odious, the red sun rising over Beth Shan, the eerie tranquility, the lolling monkeys, and, in the Ghostwife’s mind, the bitter insight. She summons Saul.

I just ran across The Witch of Endor as the name of a spaceship. How would that be? Moving through the lonely silences, The Witch of Endor was a chip of substance in the void, following the dim signal of an unacknowledged star which had hijacked the research vessel. Sedated biotech monkeys in exploratory pods awaited contact, suspended in indefinite potential. In the channels of the ship’s systems, the consciousness of the stowed human cargo muttered dimly—grey, muted, and indistinct, like Sheol.

In Scripture, the Witch of Endor serves Saul a very kingly meal, perhaps in hopes that he will not afterward recover his former zeal for exterminating her kind. The moment reveals either the insincerity of Saul’s earlier activity, or his new hypocrisy. Both characters have been reduced by time and circumstances, and in that state of moral confusion they are tragic and pathetic. His is by now more than a lack of decorum, but it is a lack of decorum nevertheless. Saul has always lacked decorum and failed to acknowledge it; he has lacked the sense of proportion requisite. Instead of humility he has acquired humiliation. She summons Samuel, and Saul’s concluding futility is revealed. She who has summoned up a prophet’s ghost seeks by propriety to save herself from him whose improprieties have cost him everything. She’s so resourceful. Prodigally and persistently so. She is so many things and yet so little.

It is a name with resonances.


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