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What is Necromancy: Practice of Contacting the Dead

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Written by: Dawn Black (Witchipedia)


Reviewed by: Tina Caro

Necromancy is the practice of contacting the dead in order to request their aid or counsel. The word Necromancy comes from the Greek words νεκρός necros “dead body” and μαντεία manteia “divination” though the ancient Greeks had their own word for it: ἡ νέκυια nekyia.

The word necromancy was first coined by Origen Adamantius, a 3rd-century Christian theologian and philosopher.

Names for Necromancy/Necromancers: bone-conjuring, nekyia, mediumchanneling, nigromancy, negromancy, egromancy

Related practices: sciomancy, demonology, demonomancy

Necromancy in Ancient Greece

The ancient Greeks may have practiced ἡ νέκυια or nekyia similar to that described in Homer’s The Odyssey.

The Odyssey
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The ritual described required traveling to a lonesome place near the mouth of Hades, digging a pit and filling it with the blood of of a sacrificed ram and ewe. This caused the dead to gather around the sacrifice and he was able to treat with them for assistance.

Another form of necromancy described in the literature of the ancient Greeks is through κατάβασις katabasis or “descent”. In this process, the practitioner or hero descends into Hades, the underworld, to confer with the dead directly in their own land.

This was most likely performed via some ceremonially prescribed method of astral projection.

One location in Greece where such rites may have taken place is the Necromanteion Νεκρομαντεῖον temple (trans: “Oracle of the Dead”) in Ephyra which was sited along a river believed to flow directly into the underworld.

It was most likely here that Odysseus performed his rite and Herodotus reports that the 6th-century tyrant Periander sent messengers here to inquire of his dead wife Melissa.

Visitors would be given a meal containing narcotics of some sort and then would be led through twisting corridors, leaving offerings as they go which the Priest, the nekyomanteia, asked questions and chanted prayers. The Romans destroyed this temple in 167BC

Necromancy in Abrahamic Lore

The opinion of Abrahamic tradition is largely that Necromancy is impossible at best and any messages received from the dead are really demonic forces in disguise sent by Satan to fool the unwary.

At any rate, Christianity strictly forbids Necromancy and all forms of divination in the Book of Deuteronomy (18:9–12) and further illustrates what a bad idea it is in 1 Samuel when Saul seeks the aid of a medium to get some advice from the deceased Samuel, only to receive a fierce chiding from Samuel and assurances that he’s going to die soon.

Most Christian apologists insist that this was impossible and that the image of Samuel was an illusion, perhaps an angel sent to give the message or a demon bent on trickery. Thus, all necromancy is actually the summoning of demons.

During the Early and High Middle Ages, however, Christian clerics occasionally saw necromancy in practice.

Rituals written by Christian necromancy, particularly those practiced by Medieval clerics, are often heavy with Christian symbolism, traditional Christian prayers and “Names of God” so as to easily disguise these rituals as acts of prayer and devotion.

These clerics were highly educated and had access to magical texts from both East and West and combined these practices with exorcism and other Christian practices.

They experimented a great deal with both necromancy and demonology; often in conjunction as the two were frequently conflated. As a result, most Christian sources for necromancy cannot be relied upon as they are mostly about demons, not the dead.

What the Dead Know

The ancient Greeks and Romans did not believe the dead to be omniscient. They believed that the dead could know only what they experienced, just like the living.

They have whatever knowledge they gathered in life and whatever they have learned since death.

According to Ovid’s Metamorphosis, the dead meet in underworld marketplaces and gossip, just like the living, so they could know quite a bit.

Metamorphoses (Oxford World's Classics)
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Other traditions maintain that the dead, freed from the limitations of their corporeal bodies, have access to a great deal of knowledge of the past, present, and future.

It is generally believed that the more recently the deceased spirit, the clearer their answers. After a time, a ghostly spirit‘s answers become more riddle-like or garbled, perhaps because the spirit is losing its material connection in preparation for reincarnation or moving on, it is also losing its ability to relate to material beings.

Some Modern Necromancy Practices

Necromancy is seen in modern magickal and spiritual practice in séances and Spiritualism.

Many mediums practice all over the world in a variety of contexts including offering private consultations to clients and gallery readings to groups of people. Ouija is a popular tool for necromancy.

This article is incomplete. A stub. Need ref to Nordic necromancy, Persian, etc. and the darker, icky bits.

About Morningbird (Witchipedia's Founder)

I am a homesteading hearth witch who grew up along the shores of the Hudson River and has lived among the Great Lakes for the past 20 years. Together with my musical husband and youngest child, I steward a one-acre mini homestead with herb, vegetable and flower gardens, chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits, and areas reserved for native plants and wildlife. 

I have three children; two are grown, and I have been practicing magick alone and with family and friends for over 30 years.

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