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Necromancy is the name given to a particular form of divination by recourse to the evocation of the dead. The word derives from the Greek nekros "dead" and manteia "divination". It has a subsidiary meaning derived from an alternative and archaic form of the word, nigromancy, (from the word niger, "black") in which the magical force of 'dark powers' is gained from or acting upon corpses. One who is a practitioner of necromancy is a necromancer.

The historian Strabo (Strabo, xvi. 2, 39, νεκρομαντεις) makes reference to necromancy as the principle form of divination amongst the people of Persia; and it is believed also to have been widespread amongst the peoples of Chaldea (particularly amongst the Sabeists[?] or star-worshippers), Etruria and Babylonia. The Babylonian necromancers themselves were called Manzazuu or Sha'etemmu. The raised spirits in Babylon were called Etemmu.

In the Odyssey (XI), Ulysses makes a voyage to Hades, the Underworld, and raises the spirits of the dead using spells which he had acquired from Circe. His intention was to invoke the shade of Tiresias, but was unable to summon it alone without the accompaniment of others.

Biblical references abound. Moses, in the Book of Deuteronomy (XVIII 9-12) explicitly warns the Israelites against the Canaanite practice of divination from the dead. This does not necessarily mean that all of the Israelites heeded this advice: King Saul asked the Witch of Endor to invoke the shade of Samuel, for example, and there are many other notable evocations of the dead within the Bible. Some might argue that Jesus Christ's raising of Lazarus from the dead was a prima facie case of necromancy.

The 17th century Rosicrucian Robert Fludd describes Goetic necromancy[?] as consisting of "diabolical commerce with unclean spirits, in rites of criminal curiosity, in illicit songs and invocations and in the evocation of the souls of the dead".

Necromancy may also be dressed up as sciomancy[?], a branch of theurgic magic[?].

Necromancy is extensively practised in voodoo.

In modern society, it has become an element contained within many role playing games and fantasy novels. Interfering with the repose of the dead is typically considered an extremely evil act.

Necromancy in fiction

In this fictional context, necromancers are usually considered evil, and are said to have sold their soul to a demon or the devil himself, or worship evil gods, or have been otherwise tainted by their evil practices. As such, in most contexts where necromancers exist, one or more churches are devoted to slaying Necromancers and their undead minions. Some necromancers are neither evil nor good, and use necromancy for their own purposes.

Necromancers raise the dead as "undead", causing the decaying corpse (zombie) or bare bones (skeleton) to act under the necromancer's will. There are two primary categories of undead, corporeal and incorporeal. The former have tangible bodies, and are usually affected by normal weaponry; the latter have an insubstantial existence.

In the X-Files television series 7, the episode Millennium deals extensively with the subject of necromancy.

The short horror story The Monkey's Paw by W.W. Jacobs[?] is considered a classic of the genre.

See also:


Paul Vulliaud, La Kabbale Juive : histoire et doctrine, 2 vols. (Émile Nourry, 62 Rue des Écoles, Paris, 1923).

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