You may have probably heard or witnessed a situation where the living have tried to communicate with the dead to either ascertain the cause of death or retrieve important information.
Well, that is Necromancy. But is it actually real or it is just a magical scheme to get people to believe in the power of the dead?
Some say it’s occultism. Let’s delve into deeper waters.
What Is Necromancy?
Necromancy is the practice of magic involving communication with the dead – either by summoning their spirits as apparitions, visions or raising them bodily – for the purpose of divination, imparting the means to foretell future events, discover hidden knowledge, to bring someone back from the dead, or to use the dead as a weapon.
Sometimes referred to as “Death Magic”, the term may also sometimes be used in a more general sense to refer to black magic or witchcraft. [credit: Wikipedia]
What Is The Origin Of Necromancy?
Early necromancy was related to – and most likely evolved from – shamanism, which calls upon spirits such as the ghosts of ancestors. Classical necromancers addressed the dead in “a mixture of high-pitch squeaking and low droning”, comparable to the trance-state mutterings of shamans.
Necromancy was prevalent throughout antiquity with records of its practice in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Greece and Rome.
The oldest literary account of necromancy is found in Homer’s Odyssey. Under the direction of Circe, a powerful sorceress, Odysseus travels to the underworld (katabasis) in order to gain insight about his impending voyage home by raising the spirits of the dead through the use of spells that Circe has taught him.
He wishes to invoke and question the shade of Tiresias in particular; however, he is unable to summon the seer’s spirit without the assistance of others.
How Is Necromancy Performed?
Rituals could be quite elaborate, involving magic circles, wands, talismans, and incantations. The necromancer might also surround himself with morbid aspects of death, which often included wearing the deceased’s clothing and consuming foods that symbolized lifelessness and decay such as unleavened black bread and unfermented grape juice.
Some necromancers even went so far as to take part in the mutilation and consumption of corpses. These ceremonies could carry on for hours, days, or even weeks, leading up to the eventual summoning of spirits.
Frequently they were performed in places of interment or other melancholy venues that suited specific guidelines of the necromancer. Additionally, necromancers preferred to summon the recently departed based on the premise that their revelations were spoken more clearly.
This timeframe was usually limited to the twelve months following the death of the physical body; once this period elapsed, necromancers would evoke the deceased’s ghostly spirit instead.
Does The Bible Condemn Or Promote Necromancy?
In the Bible, the Book of Deuteronomy (18:9–12) explicitly warns the Israelites against engaging in the Canaanite practice of divination from the dead:
9When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do according to the abominations of those nations. 10There shall not be found among you any one who maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or who useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, 11or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. 12For all who do these things are an abomination unto the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee (KJV).
Though Mosaic Law prescribed the death penalty to practitioners of necromancy (Leviticus 20:27), this warning was not always heeded. One of the foremost examples is when King Saul had the Witch of Endor invoke the spirit of Samuel, a judge and prophet, from Sheol using a ritual conjuring pit (1 Samuel 28:3–25).
However, the so-called witch was shocked at the presence of the real spirit of Samuel for in I Sam 28:12 it says, “when the woman saw Samuel, she cried out in a loud voice.” Samuel questioned his reawakening asking,
“Why hast thou disquieted me?” Saul did not receive a death penalty (his being the highest authority in the land) but he did receive it from God himself as prophesied by Samuel during that conjuration – within a day he died in battle along with his son Jonathan.
Some Christian writers later rejected the idea that humans could bring back the spirits of the dead and interpreted such shades as disguised demons instead, thus conflating necromancy with demon summoning.
Caesarius of Arles entreats his audience to put no stock in any demons or gods other than the Christian God, even if the working of spells appears to provide benefit. He states that demons only act with divine permission and are permitted by God to test Christian people. Caesarius does not condemn man here; he only states that the art of necromancy exists, although it is prohibited by the Bible.
Is Necromancy Real Or Fake?
Many medieval writers believed that actual resurrection required the assistance of God. They saw the practice of necromancy as conjuring demons who took the appearance of spirits. The practice became known explicitly as maleficium, and the Catholic Church condemned it.
Though the practitioners of necromancy were linked by many common threads, there is no evidence that these necromancers ever organized as a group.
One noted commonality among practitioners of necromancy was usually the utilization of certain toxic and hallucinogenic plants from the nightshade family such as black henbane, jimson weed, belladonna or mandrake, usually in magic salves or potions.
Medieval necromancy is believed to be a synthesis of astral magic derived from Arabic influences and exorcism derived from Christian and Jewish teachings. Arabic influences are evident in rituals that involve moon phases, sun placement, day and time.
More Information On Medieval Necromancy
Medieval practitioners believed they could accomplish three things with necromancy: will manipulation, illusions, and knowledge:
- Will manipulation affects the mind and will of another person, animal, or spirit. Demons are summoned to cause various afflictions on others, “to drive them mad, to inflame them to love or hatred, to gain their favour, or to constrain them to do or not do some deed.”
- Illusions involve reanimation of the dead or conjuring food, entertainment, or a mode of transportation.
- Knowledge is allegedly discovered when demons provide information about various things. This might involve identifying criminals, finding items, or revealing future events.
The act of performing medieval necromancy usually involved magic circles, conjurations, and sacrifices such as those shown in the Munich Manual of Demonic Magic:
- Circles were usually traced on the ground, though cloth and parchment were sometimes used. Various objects, shapes, symbols, and letters may be drawn or placed within that represent a mixture of Christian and occult ideas. Circles were believed to empower and protect what was contained within, including protecting the necromancer from the conjured demons.
- Conjuration is the method of communicating with the demons to have them enter the physical world. It usually employs the power of special words and stances to call out the demons and often incorporates the use of Christian prayers or biblical verses. These conjurations may be repeated in succession or repeated in different directions until the summoning is complete.
- Sacrifice was the payment for summoning; though it may involve the flesh of a human being or animal, it could sometimes be as simple as offering a certain object. Instructions for obtaining these items were usually specific. The time, location, and method of gathering items for sacrifice could also play an important role in the ritual.
Is Necromancy Relevant To Today’s Technological World?
In the wake of inconsistencies of judgment, necromancers and other practitioners of the magic arts were able to utilize spells featuring holy names with impunity, as any biblical references in such rituals could be construed as prayers rather than spells.
In the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, it is stated that “Of all human opinions that is to be reputed the most foolish which deals with the belief in Necromancy, the sister of Alchemy, which gives birth to simple and natural things.”
In the present day, necromancy is more generally used as a term to describe the manipulation of death and the dead, or the pretence thereof, often facilitated through the use of ritual magic or some other kind of occult ceremony. Contemporary séances, channelling and Spiritualism verge on necromancy when supposedly invoked spirits are asked to reveal future events or secret information.
As to the practice of necromancy having endured in one form or another throughout the millennia, An Encyclopædia of Occultism states:
“The art is of almost universal usage. Considerable difference of opinion exists among modern adepts as to the exact methods to be properly pursued in the necromantic art, and it must be borne in mind that necromancy, which in the Middle Ages was called sorcery, shades into modern spiritualistic practice.”
“There is no doubt, however, that necromancy is the touchstone of occultism, for if, after careful preparation, the adept can carry through to a successful issue, the raising of the soul from the other world, he has proved the value of his art.”