necromancy

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necromancy

the art or practice of supposedly conjuring up the dead, esp in order to obtain from them knowledge of the future

Necromancy

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In the Middle Ages it was believed that the spirits of the dead were privy to knowledge of future events. It was therefore reasoned that if it was possible to speak to the dead, then it would be possible to learn what the future held. Some magicians attempted to do this by magically "raising the dead," briefly giving back life to a corpse just long enough to interrogate it. This act was known as necromancy (from necro, the Greek word for a dead body or person).

A freshly buried corpse would be dug up and conjured, using a necromantic tri- dent or wand. When questioned, it would reply truthfully, telling all it knew of future events. The frontispiece of Mathieu Giraldo's Histoire curieuse et pittoresque des sorciers (Paris, 1846) shows Dr. John Dee and his assistant Edward Kelley standing in a magic circle confronting a shrouded corpse who stands at the foot of its tomb. There is actually no mention of such a ritual being performed in Dee's private journal, so the event depicted may be spurious.

Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, in his Pharsalia (c. 65 CE), tells of Sextus Pompey, son of Pompey the Great, who employed the necromancer Erichtho. From a battlefield they obtained the body of a recently slain soldier and, by magic ritual, interrogated it concerning the probable outcome of Pompey the Great's coming battles. They later burned the body.

Necromancy

(pop culture)

Abraham Van Helsing, the wise vampire expert in Bram Stoker‘s novel Dracula (1897) noted, in his halting English, that vampires “have still the aids of necromancy, which is, as his etymology imply, the divination by the dead, and all the dead that he can come nigh to are for him to command.” Necromancy was a form of divining the future through the use of the dead, most specifically dead bodies. Necromancy was specifically condemned in the Jewish Bible (Deuteronomy 18:11), though it is not altogether clear what form was being practiced. It possibly involved the calling up of the spirit or shade of the deceased as was done when Saul attempted to communicate with Samuel (I Samuel 28). By Stoker’s time, the term necromancy referred specifically to calling forth the dead from the grave to obtain otherwise unavailable information, especially about the future. From the Middle Ages to the present, artists have produced drawings of such necromanic activity. Necromancy involved a corpse, but was also seen as communication with the spirit/soul of the dead person, which appeared before the magician in a ghostly but bodily form—what theosophists termed the astral body.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the United States, England, and much of continental Europe were swept by the movement called spiritualism. Spiritualism was built around the practice of mediumship, the communication with the spirits of the dead. Spiritualism was several steps removed from traditional necromancy, however, although its practitioners were called necromancers by many religious critics. The identification of spiritualism and necromancy was common in Stoker’s time.

Sources:

Cavendish, Richard. The Black Arts. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1967. 373 pp.
de Givry, Emil Grillot. Picture Museum of Sorcery, Magic and Alchemy. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1963. 395 pp.
Kieckhefer, Richard. Forbidden Rites: A Necromancer’s Manual of the Fifteenth Century. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998. 384 pp.

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