Necromancy - Magical Arts

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Magical Arts

“Necromancer” is sometimes used as a synonym for “sorcerer” with the added implication of “evil sorcerer.” Necromancy is frequently used as a synonym for malevolent, harmful witchcraft. Often, those who realize that necromancy has something to do with death interpret the word to mean “corpse desecration.” None of these definitions are correct.

Technically, necromancy indicates divination using the dead as a tool in the same manner that cartomancy indicates divination via cards. There are many techniques of divination; most do not involve a trip to the cemetery or any contact with a corpse although a few methods do.

Necromancy is most frequently practiced via various divination techniques included scrying, dream incubation, séances and the use of witchboards. Botanical techniques are also incorporated: in Virgil’s Aeneid, the golden bough (mistletoe) is the passport to the realm of the dead.

Of course, necromancy is not just any form of divination. People have always been fascinated with mysteries of life and death: necromancy is, at its finest expression, a sacred, spiritual art that attempts to bridge the realms of the living and the dead.

Necromancy is rooted in shamanic techniques for journeying between realms. There are several beliefs at the heart of necromancy:

Image Certain secrets can only be discovered in the realm of the dead

Image When the living die, time stops for them and they are able thus to see the past and future equally well

Image Because dead souls were once living people, they can communicate with people more clearly than spirits, who sometimes have difficulty expressing themselves to people in a lucid, understandable fashion. (See HORNED ONE: Faunus, Leshii.)

Image Ancestral spirits are genuinely interested in your welfare: there are no ancestors without descendants. Their well-being depends on yours. Therefore, ancestral spirits in particular may be contacted for assistance and information.

Most necromantic systems believe that dead souls can communicate with the living no matter how long they’ve been dead—hence the practice of attempting to contact historic figures, sometimes long gone, at séances. Ancient Greek shamans, however, disagreed. They perceived that the longer someone was dead, the further away from the living they traveled. The longer a person was dead, the less likely it would be that they could communicate lucidly with the living or even understand the living person’s concerns—hence the need for actual contact with a fresh corpse or a recently buried one. Classical Greek and Roman authors describe witches digging in the cemetery with horror but this was the true spiritual basis of the practice, however by then shamanic traditions had fallen from fashion.

Legendary necromancers include Circe and the Witch of Endor. In Assyria, a special name existed for this type of practitioner: “Raiser of the Departed Spirit.”

In Book XI of Homer’s Odyssey, composed in the ninth-century BCE but based on earlier sources, the goddess Circe advises Odysseus that he must obtain council from the dead prophet Tiresias. There is only one way to accomplish this: under Circe’s tutelage, Odysseus engages in necromancy. He enters the realm of the dead via shamanic rituals including a blood sacrifice. Homer indicates no revulsion or sense of wrongdoing. By Plato’s time however, in the fourth-century BCE, necromancy was viewed with revulsion.

Witches have traditionally been accused of defiling gravesites and corpses. However, most necromantic practices do not require either.