Saturday, October 31, 2009
The Witch of Endor
The Service begins with the Service of Light (BCP 109). After the Phos hilaron is sung, two or three lessons are read, each followed by a Psalm, Canticle or hymn and a prayer.
The first lesson is the story of The Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:3-25). There is a note in the BOS which reads: It is appropriate that this lesson be read by a narrator, and by other readers for Saul, the witch and Samuel.
If you haven't ever done this service, do try it. At least once. I've been meaning to 'dust it off' and 'spruce it up' a bit - make it less formidable and a bit more accessible for families and children, because I think it can be a valuable spiritual context for the overwhelmingly secular aspects of Halloween.
The story of the Witch of Endor, in particular, makes a very compelling 'ghost story' which is part of our spiritual heritage. If you follow the suggestion from the BOS and turn the story into a little performance piece, you've got a congregation that won't soon forget the experience.
You know the story, right? Samuel has died and all Israel had mourned him deeply, and buried him in Ramah, his own city. Saul is now on his own in the battle against the Philistines. When he saw the great Philistine army encamped at Gilboa, he became sore afraid.
Saul prayed to God, but God did not answer him, not in dreams or by Urim, or by prophets. So Saul did something that he himself had outlawed: He sought the services of a medium - someone who might raise up the spirit of Samuel to talk with him and advise him.
His servants located a woman at Endor who was known to be a necromancer, so Saul disguised himself (smart thing since he was breaking his own law, the penalty for which was death) and went to seek her services.
Imagine how frightened she must have been when she discovered that it was Saul, himself, who came to her asking that she bring up the ghost of Samuel for him.
Well, as frightened as she was, Samuel was even more angry, saying to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?"
Samuel did not advise Saul, but rather told him what was about to unfold - that the kingdom would be given to David and that he and his army would be soundly defeated by the Philistines.
Saul was so distraught that he threw himself to the ground, shaking with terror.
But the woman, the Witch of Endor, was filled with compassion for him and she, together with his servants, convinced Saul to eat. She took a fatted calf - perhaps her food for the next few weeks and months, and prepared a feast for him and his servants.
It was to be for Saul and his men their last Supper, delivered to them by a woman they would have killed for the very service she provided.
What I love about this story is that it raises lots more than the ghost of Samuel.
Like? Well, like the fact that misogyny in Endor is as old as the Garden of Eden. Power that can't be controlled must be Evil and if the power of a woman can't be controlled, she must be the embodiment of Evil.
She's a witch.
Several years ago, when I was in Ghana, I traveled from Accra to Cape Coast where I visited the Slave Castle - which is directly across the street from the Anglican Cathedral. We went from there to Kumasi (where you can get yards and miles of Kente cloth right off the loom) and further north to Tamale.
While in Tamale, I learned of a Witch Camp not far from where we were staying. I later learned that there are six such camps in northern Ghana, and many throughout Africa.
All it takes for a woman to be brought there is to be accused of being disobedient to her father or husband or brother. For that, she receives a 'life sentence' in exile where she lives in extreme poverty and isolation.
I asked to be taken to one of these Witch Camps, but our host demurred, saying that most natives were not allowed to enter the camp and 'outsiders' were most certainly forbidden.
However, he said with a slight twinkle in his eye, he did know of a collective of women who were making Pottery for sale. Perhaps we'd like to see their wares and, perhaps, purchase some?
The poverty in the Camp was breathtakingly stark. Women lived in mud huts with thatched roofs which they had to repair and maintain themselves. There was no running water and no electricity. Water was carried in from a pump five miles away in large 10 gallon barrels which the women carried on their heads.
There were two huts of sick women and children. A pediatric nurse practitioner in our company and I tended to them with what little supplies we had with us. Tylenol, mostly, which is a prescription drug in most of Europe and Africa. Some cough medicine which we had in little sample sized bottles. And, some Pepto Bismol and Kaopectate.
You might have thought we were angels sent from heaven. Several of the women wept openly in gratitude. My colleagues and I cried openly with them. My heart was so heavy I found it hard to draw a full breath.
I think we bought every piece of pottery we could fit in our bags - and some we couldn't but planned to leave with our hosts when we got back to Accra.
Lest you think otherwise, there was no kiln. The raw pieces were "fired" in an open field, with straw under and on top of the pottery. It was a pretty amazing process.
When we left, the women had earned more money in that one day than they had all year. They wept with joy, for now they could afford to purchase things for themselves and their children.
As it came closer to the time to leave, I found I had a hundred questions. At one point, and without thinking, I asked one of the women, "Gee, if there aren't any men allowed here, um . . . gosh . . . where do these children come from?"
My interpreter looked at me as if I were from outer space. Finally, she came close to me and whispered, "Do you really need me to ask that question?"
I felt ashamed for my question. And then, I felt angry when I figured out the answer. The "witches" smiled at me, kindly. I think they knew my question. I think they saw the answer on my face. My outrage provided for them a kind of comfort and they returned the favor with kind smiles.
I am haunted by them. Their faces. Their smiles. Their stories.
The Witch of Eden. The Witch of Endor. The Witches of Salem. The Witches of Tamale.
All of these women continue to inspire me to dust off and spruce up a little ritual in the Episcopal Book of Common Service for All Hallow's Eve for this generation of God's children.
Because, the more the story is told, the more the myths are exposed, the better we are able to move through the superstitions that keep us from the truth.
!Feliz Dia De Los Muertos!
Or, as Mother Jones would say, "Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living."