The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Necromancy is divination by raising the spirits of the dead. The word derives from the Greek necros "dead" and manteia "divination". It has a subsidiary meaning reflected in an alternative and archaic form of the word, nigromancy, (a folk etymology using Latin niger, "black") in which the magical force of 'dark powers' is gained from or by acting upon corpses. A practitioner of necromancy is a necromancer.


Necromancy in history

The historian Strabo (Strabo, xvi. 2, 39, νεκρομαντεις) refers to necromancy as the principal form of divination amongst the people of Persia; and it is believed to also have been widespread amongst the peoples of Chaldea (particularly amongst the Sabians or star-worshippers), Etruria and Babylonia. The Babylonian necromancers themselves were called Manzazuu or Sha'etemmu and the spirits they raised 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 learnt from Circe. His intention was to invoke the shade of Tiresias, but he was unable to summon it alone without the accompaniment of others.

There are also many references to necromancy in the Bible. The Book of Deuteronomy (XVIII 9–12) explicitly warns the Israelites against the Canaanite practice of divination from the dead. This warning was not always heeded: 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' raising of Lazarus from the dead was a prima facie case of necromancy, though Lazarus was raised in both body and spirit, and simply resumed his previous life after the event.

Norse mythology also contains examples of necromancy, such as the scene in the Völuspá in which Odin summons a seeress from the dead to tell him of the future. In Grogaldr, the first part of Svipdagsmál, the hero Svipdag summons his dead Völva mother, Groa, to cast spells for him.

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".

Modern séances, channeling and Spiritualism verge on necromancy when the invoked spirits are asked to reveal future events.

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

Necromancy is extensively practised in voodoo.

Spread of necromancy in Christianity

Christian clergy were wholly responsible for the propagation and ongoing practice of necromancy. It is apparent that necromancy was a method of witchcraft only available to the scholarly of Europe, because of the accessibility, language, knowledge and methods it employs. There are confessions of the clergy members themselves professing a history of experience with necromancy. Necromancy became a way for idle literate Christian clergymen to integrate Hebrew and Arabic legend and language into forbidden manuals of sorcery.

The Christian clergy were the main forces simultaneously practicing and condemning necromancy. The language, execution and format of the rituals illustrated in the Munich Handbook (Kieckhefer 42-51) are striking similar to Christian rites . In a Christian exorcism , various demons and spirits are driven away by name, in the name of God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit. The spells of necromancy are very similar to these Christian rites (Kieckhefer 128-129) in their complete opposition. The distortion of the rites into spells is within the scope of Christian understanding at that time. Necromantic spells were mainly illusory or utility spells. Mondern scholarship confirms that most were written with hopes that their utility would prove to be useful in acquiring a feast, horse, cloak of invisibility or perhaps just notoriety among others in the necromancy practicing clergy. The nature of these spells lend themselves to being understood as underground clergy members deviantly indulging in unlawful pleasures.

The confessions of clergy members regarding necromancy clearly illustrate that there was a range of spell casting and the related magical experimentation among the clergy. John of Salisbury is one of the first examples related by Kieckhefer, but as a Parisian ecclesiastical court record of 1323 shows, a “group of monks, canons and lay men, who were plotting to invoke the demon Berich from inside a circle made from strips of cat skin,” were obviously participating in the church’s definition of “necromancy.” (Kieckhefer, 191)

The probable reason that clerics were dabbling in the dark arts is that the evolution of natural and spiritual magic was slow, leaving the church divided in its tolerances. Caesarius of Arles (Kors and Peters, 48) entreats his audience to put no stock in any demons, or “Gods” other than the one true Christian God, even if the working of spells appears to provide benefit. He states that demons only act with divine permission, and permitted by God to test Christian people. Caesarius does not condemn man here; he only states that the art of necromancy exists, although it is prohibited by the bible. Within the Rawlinson necromantic manuscript, a fable is presented as a warning to those that would perform necromancy, although the story ends with a note of physical trial, but without mention of the ramifications in the afterlife.

In the wake of these inconsistencies of judgment, necromancers, sorcerers and witches were able to utilize spells with holy names with impunity, as biblical references in such rituals could be construed by local clergy as prayers as opposed to spells. As a result, the necromancy discussed in the Munich Manual is an evolution of these understandings. It is understood that the authors of the Munich Manual knowingly designed this book to be in discord with understood ecclesiastic law .

It is possible to trace Christian ritual and “prayer” and its subsequent mutant forms of utility and healing prayer/spells to full-blown necromancy. The main recipe employed throughout the manual in the necromancy sorcery uses the same vocabulary and structure utilizing the same languages, sections, names of power alongside demonic names . The understanding of the names of God from apocryphal texts and the Hebrew torah demand that the author of such rites have at least a casual familiarity of these texts. The structure of the spells themselves also requires that the author have experience with Christian rites that are not pedestrian, again naming Christian scholars as the most likely suspects.

As we have established that the Christian clergy were the authors of the sundry necromancy manuals, the question of their inspirations must arise. One of the first clues could be the Gods and demons references in the illusions, conjurations and spells. The Hebrew Tetragrammaton and various Hebrew derivatives are found, as well as Hebrew and Greek liturgical formulas (Kieckhefer, 139). Within the tales related in these Manuals, we also find connections with other stories in similar cultural literature (Kieckhefer, 43). The ceremony for conjuring a horse closely relates to the Arabic The Thousand and One Nights, and the French romances. Chaucer’s The Squire’s Tale also has marked similarities. This becomes a parallel evolution of spells to foreign Gods or demons that were once acceptable, and framing them into a new Christian context, albeit demonic and forbidden.

As the source material for these manuals is apparently derived from scholarly religious and magical texts from a variety of sources in many languages, it is easy to conclude that the scholars that studied these texts manufactured their own aggregate sourcebook and manual with which to work spells or magic.

Necromancy in fiction

In fantasy and horror fiction, necromancers are often considered evil, and are sometimes said to have sold their soul to a demon or the Devil himself, to worship demons and evil gods, or to have been otherwise tainted by their evil practices. However, in some stories, necromancy is not inherently evil, but is simply a tool to be used like any other.

Necromancers in fiction often raise the dead as "undead", typically as zombies under the necromancer's control, though the binding of ghosts and spirits is also common. Necromancers often become powerful undead creatures themselves; in modern fantasy fiction, the Dungeons & Dragons-derived term "lich" (originally a word meaning 'corpse') is often applied to such beings. Necromancers are, in rare cases, capable of raising the dead or restoring vitality to the living, though in some cases the life energy involved must be transferred from another living creature.

The short horror story The Monkey's Paw by W.W. Jacobs is considered a classic of the genre. In the X-Files television series 7, the episode Millennium deals extensively with the subject of necromancy.

In Brian Lumley's Necroscope series, the villians often perform a particularly gruesome form of necromancy.

In J. R. R. Tolkien's fiction, The Necromancer was a name applied to Sauron in The Hobbit, and Morgoth's magic is sometimes described as necromancy. Notable are the Barrow-wights as evil undead spirits, as well as the phantom that ensnared Gorlim in The Silmarillion and the army of the dead that helped Aragorn defeat Sauron's attacking forces.

In Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novels, the title character, Anita, is a powerful necromancer. She raises zombies for a living and can also use her control over the dead to aid her in the slaying (and dating!) of vampires.

In the Japanese animation/comic book Shaman King there is a character named Faust VII who is a necromancer. He is a supposed decendant of the infamous Dr. Faustus

Necromancy in role-playing games

The Necromancer is also a common character class in Role-Playing Games. In such games as Dungeons & Dragons and Diablo II, the Necromancer is a practitioner of Necromancy, but is not necessarily a force of evil. It simply represents a collection of skills relating to raising the dead, and/or death-related magic spells, and is sometimes a subclass of the general class "Mage".

In Dungeons & Dragons, necromancy is one of the eight magic disciplines , representing a collection of spells which fall under a common heading. The Necromancer in second and third edition rules, is a subclass of the general Mage or Wizard class, who is most proficient in Necromancy spells.

In Diablo II, the Necromancer is one of the five original classes. He is always represented as an elderly white male, good-natured but fascinated by death. His skill set in the game includes Summoning Spells (which aid him in the creation of Golems, and raising the dead), Poison & Bone Spells, and Curses.

In Ultima VIII: Pagan, Necromancy is one of the four main magic disciplines , which is focussed around the element of Earth, and is less to do with death itself. However, it does relate to death, raising and communicating with the dead, and also the creation of Golems. Necromancy is governed by Lithos, the Titan of Earth. In the game, The Avatar trains as a Necromancer after finding them in the graveyard.

In Warcraft III, the Necromancer is a spellcasting unit on the Undead race which was once a human mage, tempted into the service of the Lich King . It has the ability to raise the dead, amongst other abilities.

See also


  • Paul Vulliaud, La Kabbale Juive : histoire et doctrine, 2 vols. (Émile Nourry, 62 Rue des Écoles, Paris, 1923).
  • Richard Kieckhefer. Forbidden Rites. Sutton Publishing, 1997.
  • Richard Kieckhefer. Magic in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
  • Kors and Peters. Witchcraft in Europe 400-1700. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

External links

  • Necromancy school in West Palm Beach, Florida. Necromancy In Florida
  • See also "Ars Falcis" at


Last updated: 05-23-2005 09:32:32