This powerful novella is a classic of both existentialist and spiritual literature. One day Ivan Ilyich (the Russian name for "John Doe"), a moderately successful lawyer and minor judge, learns that due to a small injury, he is quickly dying. He has never thought about this possibility, and it tears away all the structure of his life and the values and assumptions which have supported him. This is why the existentialists revere this novel: It shows man stripped of all certainties, helpless and alone in a world he can't know. But Tolstoy doesn't stop there. He knows that this forlorn state is exactly the precondition for seeing deeply, and he shows how Ivan Ilyich, through the devotion and faith of his peasant servant, finds his way to a renewed faith in his fellow people, and to a vision in which death is superseded by spiritual awakening. Because Tolstoy has presented the shock of Ivan's sudden despair so vividly, we find Ivan's victory over his despair all the more heartfelt and moving.
King Saul of Israel sought counsel from a medium called the Witch of Endor. The armies of Israel were about to be attacked by the Philistines. Saul was in rebellion against God and in desperation sought the services of the spiritist. "So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes, and he went, and two men with him; and they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Please conduct a séance for me, and bring up for me the one I shall name to you.” (1 Samuel 28:8 NKJV). Saul then asked the medium to conjure up the spirit of the deceased prophet Samuel, to ask his counsel regarding the pending Philistine attack. "And the king said to her, 'Do not be afraid. What did you see?' And the woman said to Saul, 'I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.' So he said to her, 'What is his form?' And she said, 'An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle.' And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed down.'" (1 Samuel 28:13-14. NKJV)