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


(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.


(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.


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.

Nefarious see: Vampire Fandom: United States

Nepal, Vampires in see: Tibet, Vampires in

New England Dark Shadows Society see: Dark Shadows Fandom

New Moon see: The Twilight Saga: New Moon

References in periodicals archive ?
However, a version of the pact was indirectly implicit in the act through its condemnation of necromancy.
Eventually the noble lineage of both William and the werewolf is revealed, it transpiring that the latter is in fact Alphouns, prince of Spain, who has been rendered lupine by the necromancy of his stepmother.
Even though King Saul consulted with the Witch of En-Dor, he did so in disguise, for he himself had prohibited all forms of necromancy, the oracular consulting of the dead.
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Doctor Faustus reveals the words of necromancy not to have power in themselves, but only in their persuasive effect on an audience.
Here, necromancy, werewolves and the black arts in general seem to be an intrinsic part of American campus life - at least, for a few intrepid souls and their tutors - all of it such a long way from Angela Brazil.
While agreeing that the ambitions of Eleanor Cobham of 2 Henry VI underlie the familiar witch-treason stereotype, Levine also notes that Cobham was entrapped by "a conspiring Lancastrian court" (48) which posed more of a danger to England than any of her necromancy.
19) Malory certainly had the supernatural in mind when he gave the damsel her name, since in the same phrase he calls her a sorceress, and renames her place of residence: in French it was 'le Chastel Orgeillex', but he calls it 'the Castell Nygurmous' -- the castle, in other words, of necromancy.
In May, 1477, the Duke of Clarence's servant, Thomas Burdett, was charged with having used necromancy to predict the King's death.
Wills argues that England's obsession with necromancy made the second half of Macbeth (Hecate's jazzy witch songs) as interesting to the Jacobeans as the first half is to us.
Necromancy seems the order here--the cold and dead are coffined in beauty, and beauty empowers and blesses.
According to Schmidt, "the dtr writers reconfigured Mesopotamian necromancy as an ancient 'Canaanite' ritual" (p.