Se·ance /sāˌäns/


a meeting at which people attempt to make contact with the dead, especially through the agency of a medium.

For most the word séance immediately evokes the image of a small group of people sitting around a table intently focused on some mysterious looking individual. And interestingly enough, in French, that’s exactly what the word means. To take a seat. Apparently we adopted the word into English based on this curious fact, that attempts to make contact with the spirit world invariably seem to require that everyone be seated around a table.

According to the New World Encyclopedia entry on Séances

“Attempts to communicate with the dead… have been a part of most cultures throughout history; shamans and witch doctors have practiced mediumship, and many religious groups have believed their leaders to be guided by spirits. Séances as they are known today, however, did not become popular until the mid-nineteenth century.”


The story behind the image that immediately seems to comes to mind apparently has it’s origin in the story of the Fox sisters of Hydesville, New York. In 1848, the sisters claimed to have made contact with the spirit of a murdered street peddler while in their home one evening by means of a series of mysterious banging and rapping (knocking) sounds. Though raised in a devout Methodist home the girls continued on with their apparent communication with the departed peddler. As the knock-knock communications continued and the number of witnesses increased news began to spread causing the girls to become local celebrities. But there were darker consequences as well. For one, the activities of the sisters led to the family’s expulsion from their local church and eventual ostracization from the community. Secondly, by 1888, after the world had moved on, both of the sisters were left poor, destitute, and alcoholics. And for this reason when one of the sisters finally admitted that it had all been a fraud, almost no one believed her and instead accused the journalist reporting the story of exploiting the sister’s dire circumstances to coerce the confession for publicity. Whether the confession was true or not, only a year later the same sister recanted the admission of fraud, again sticking to her original story that the events were genuine. This would be her final word on the matter up until her death 4 years later. Regardless of her true position, the events surrounding the Fox sisters had already had its impact on society as a whole and the interest they had kindled in the supernatural only grew, and is today widely believed to mark the birth of the modern spiritualist movement.

The Fox sisters fiasco pressed many church leaders across denominations to attempt to meet the challenge of spiritualism during those years. However, their major point of failure was that because so many held to the pagan notion of an immortal soul they were unable to expose the issue on it’s most fundamental level. As long as their congregations were taught to believe that the dead continued on in some conscious form beyond the grave the prospect of making contact with these departed souls remained a temptation to great for many to resist.

Within my own denomination the events were taken very seriously and we received the following sobering warning against the “Mysterious Rapping” as it was called.

August 24, 1850 “I saw that the “mysterious rapping” was the power of Satan; some of it was directly from him, and some indirectly, through his agents, but it all proceeded from Satan. It was his work that he accomplished in different ways; yet many in the churches and the world were so enveloped in gross darkness that they thought and held forth that it was the power of God. Said the angel, “Should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?” Should the living go to the dead for knowledge? The dead know not anything. For the living God do ye go to the dead? They have departed from the living God to converse with the dead who know not anything. (See Isa. 8:19, 20.)”

Early Writings Page 59

It seems there was very good reason to believe that the events surrounding the Fox sisters were exactly as they appeared to be. The same sort of spiritualism that the Bible had warned against since the earliest books of the Old Testament. Consider the following verses.

“Do not defile yourselves by turning to mediums or to those who consult the spirits of the dead. I am the LORD your God.” 

Leviticus 19:31 (New Living Translation)

“I will also turn against those who commit spiritual prostitution by putting their trust in mediums or in those who consult the spirits of the dead. I will cut them off from the community. 

Leviticus 20:6, 27 (New Living Translation)

“For example, never sacrifice your son or daughter as a burnt offering. And do not let your people practice fortune-telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead.”

Deuteronomy 18:10, 11

This brings us to a very interesting question this week. It centers around the events described in 1st Samuel 28:14 (NASB)

“And he said to her, “What is his form?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped with a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and did homage.”


Before we go on, let’s lay down a little context. First of all the book of first Samuel is 31 chapters long and ends with the death of Israel’s first King, Saul. By chapter 15 God has already rejected Saul as King due to the disobedience and pridefulness displayed in that same chapter. By chapter 19 Saul tries to kill David, and in his angry pursuit he even kills the priests of God in Chapter 22. From here Saul begins to display increasing signs of insanity, and yet in spite of this, by chapter 28 he finally seems to do one thing right. Chapter 28:3 tells us that

“Saul had banned from the land of Israel all mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead.”

1 Samuel 28:3

Incredibly however only a few verses later in verse 14 we see that Saul becomes so worried about his place as king, a concern rightfully heightened by the fact that God had cut off all forms of communication with him, that he actually asks for help finding a medium, or a necromancer, one who talks with the dead. The very individuals he’s just banned throughout Israel.

Now that we know what’s going on with King Saul we can pretty easliy explain what’s going on in verse 14 with the witch at Endor.

First of all notice that whatever it is that the witch at Endor sees, Saul does not. In fact he has to explicitly ask her “What does he look like” (NLT). To this he is given the vaguest of answers! “He’s wearing a robe”. I’m almost tempted to type “lol” at this point. We know that Saul is already mentally in a very unstable state and apparently primed to believe exactly what he wanted to see. And so with that thin description he declares what the witch describes as an apparition as Samuel and the apparition apparently obliges to hold up his end of the charade.

Now, I say charade for the following reasons

  1. The spirit supposedly comes up from the earth. If the righteous really did go to heaven when they died, why wouldn’t Samuel be coming down from heaven as opposed to up from the earth?
  2. Saul was a lost man, but according to the apparition he was going to the same place where Samuel God’s Prophet would supposedly be.
  3. He lied to Saul. A point almost universally overlooked by the notes in the many study bibles I referenced on this verse. In verse 19 this supposed “Samuel” says to Saul that the Lord would hand over the land of Israel to the Philistines. Israel did indeed lose that battle, a fact that likely didn’t take a witch to predict. But David returned to Isreal two days later and is crowned as it’s King. And, by 2nd Samuel Chapter 5 David deals a crushing blow to the Philistines from which they never recover nor reclaim anything near the kind of power they had up to the days of Saul’s reign as king.

Therefore there is absolutely no reason to accept the apparition as Samuel.

To do so would to strongly imply that God makes exceptions to His own laws, or that He is either not consistent or openly contradicts Himself. And as I have said elsewhere, when any one of two explanations is that God contradicts Himself you’re on pretty safe ground in assuming it’s the other choice. 10 times out of 10 a little Bible study and some context will pretty much always bear that out.