AskDefine | Define necromancy

Dictionary Definition



1 the belief in magical spells that harness occult forces or evil spirits to produce unnatural effects in the world [syn: sorcery, black magic, black art]
2 conjuring up the dead, especially for prophesying

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative forms


From sc=polytonic, sc=polytonic + sc=polytonic.


  1. Divination involving the dead or death.


divination involving the dead
  • French: nécromancie
  • Italian: negromanzia
  • Latin: nigromantia, necromantia
  • Middle English:
    14th Century forms: negremancie, negremaunce, nigramace, nigramanci, nigramancie, nigramansi, nigramansy, nigramauncie, nigramauncy, nigremansi, nigromance, nigromancie, nigromaunc, nigromaunce, nygremancy, nygremauncy, nygremauncye, nygremounchys, nygromancie, nygromancye, nygromaunce, nygromaunci, nygromauncy, nygrymancy
    15th Century forms: egremauncey, egremauncye, neagromancye, negramency, negremauncie, negremauncye, negremoncye, negromancy, negromancye, nigermansye, nigramansy, nigremancye, nigremansy, nigromance, nigromancie, nigromancy, nigromancye, nigromansy, nigromaunsy, nigrymancye, nygomauncy, nygramance, nygramancie, nygramancy, nygramancye, nygramansi, nygramansy, nygramansye, nygramauncy, nygramencye, nygremansye, nygremoncye, nygromancy, nygromancye, nygromansy, nygromansye, nygromantsye, nygromauncye, nygrymancye
    16th Century forms: igramansie, igramansy, igrimansie, nagramisse, negromancie, negromancy, nicromansie, nicromancy, nigomancy, nigramansy, nigromance, nigromansie, nycromancie, nycromancy, nygramyce, nygramyssy, nygromansie
    17th Century forms: nagomancy, necromancie, necromanty, negromancy, nigromacie, nycromansy
    18th Century forms: necromancie, necromantie
  • Old French:


  • 1597 King James Daemonologie
    And for to make this treatise the more pleasaunt and facill, I have put it in forme of a Dialogue, which I have diuided into three bookes: The first speaking of Magie in general, and Necromancie in special.
  • 1652 Gaule The Magastromancer
    And in one word for all, Nagomancy, or Necromancy; by inspecting, consulting, and divining by, with, or from the dead.
  • 1867 E. Rogers, quoted in K. Thomas Relig. & Decline of Magic
    the Devil did often tempt me to study necromancy and nigromancy and to make use of magic, and to make a league with him...
  • 1920 L. Spence Encyc. Occult
    There is no doubt..that necromancy is the touch-stone of occultism...

Usage notes

Many different cultures have used necromancy. There is therefore much controversy as to how it is used. There are two clear divisions of necromancy however, that branch in which one consults directly with the corpse or spirit, and that branch wherein one takes the spirit within oneself, thereby using its knowledge (usually to glean the future).

Extensive Definition

Necromancy (Greek νεκρομαντία, nekromantía) is a form of divination in which the practitioner seeks to summon "operative spirits" or "spirits of divination", for multiple reasons, from spiritual protection to wisdom. The word necromancy derives from the Greek νεκρός (nekrós), "dead", and μαντεία (manteía), "divination".
However, since the Renaissance, necromancy has come to be associated more broadly with black magic and demon-summoning in general, sometimes losing its earlier, more specialized meaning. By popular etymology, nekromantia became nigromancy "black arts", and Johannes Hartlieb (1456) lists demonology in general under the heading. Eliphas Levi, in his book Dogma et Ritual, states that necromancy is the evoking of aerial bodies (aeromancy). (page 64)


Early necromancy is likely related to shamanism, which calls upon spirits such as the ghosts of ancestors. Classical necromancers addressed the dead in "a mixture of high-pitch squeaking and low droning", comparable to the trance-state mutterings of shamans.
The historian Strabo refers to necromancy as the principal form of divination amongst the people of Persia (Strabo, xvi. 2, 39, νεκρομαντία), and it is believed to also have been widespread amongst the peoples of Chaldea (particularly amongst the Sabians or star-worshipers), Etruria, and Babylonia. The Babylonian necromancers were called Manzazuu or Sha'etemmu, and the spirits they raised were called Etemmu.
Necromancy was widespread in Western antiquity with records of practice in Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The oldest literary account of necromancy is in Homer’s Odyssey (ca. 700 BCE). In the Odyssey (XI, Nekyia), Odysseus under the tutelage of Circe, a powerful sorceress, makes a voyage to Hades, the Underworld, in an effort to raise the spirits of the dead using spells which Circe has instructed (Ruickbie, 2004:24). His intention is to invoke and ask questions of the shade of Tiresias, in order to gain insight on the impending voyage home. Alas, he is unable to summon the spirit without the assistance of others. In Homer's passage, there are many references to specific rituals associated with necromancy; the rites must be done during nocturnal hours, and based around a pit with fire. In addition, Odysseus has to follow a specific recipe, which included using sacrificial animals blood for ghosts to drink, while he recites prayers to both the ghosts and gods of the underworld. Rituals, such as these, were common practices associated with necromancy, and varied from the mundane to the more grotesque. Rituals in necromancy involved magic circles, wands, talismans, bells, and incantations. Also, the necromancer would surround himself with morbid aspects of death, which often included wearing the deceased's clothing, consumption of unsalted, unleavened black bread and unfermented grape juice, which symbolized decay and lifelessness. Necromancers even went as far as taking part in the mutilation and consumption of corpses. Rituals, such as these, could carry on for hours, days, even weeks leading up the summoning of spirits. Often these practices took part in graveyards or in other melancholy venues that suited specific guidelines of the necromancer. Additionally, necromancers preferred summoning the recently departed, citing that their revelations were spoken more clearly; this timeframe usually consisted of 12 months following the death of the body. Once this time period lapsed, necromancers would summon the deceased’s ghostly spirit to appear instead.
Although some cultures may have considered the knowledge of the dead to be unlimited, to the ancient Greeks and Romans, there is an indication that individual shades knew only certain things. The apparent value of their counsel may have been a result of things they had known in life, or of knowledge they acquired after death: Ovid writes of a marketplace in the underworld, where the dead could exchange news and gossip (Metamorphoses 4.444; Tristia 4.10.87–88). This does not correspond to contemporary classifications, which use nigromancy and black arts synonymously.

Late Middle Ages to Renaissance

see Renaissance magic
In the wake of 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 as prayers as opposed to spells. As a result, the necromancy discussed in the Munich Manual is an evolution of these understandings. It has even been suggested that the authors of the Munich Manual knowingly designed this book to be in discord with understood ecclesiastical law.
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.
Within the tales related in occult 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. Most forms of Satanic Necromancy today include prayers to such demons, namely Nebiros,and Eurynomos.
As the source material for these manuals is apparently derived from scholarly magical and religious 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.
In the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, it is stated that:
Of all human opinions that is to be reputed the most foolish which deals with the belief in Necromancy, the sister of Alchemy, which gives birth to simple and natural things. (taken from 12:13)

Modern necromancy

In modern time necromancy is used as a more general term to describe the art (or manipulation) of death, and generally implies a magical connotation. 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 practiced in Quimbanda and is sometimes seen in other African traditions such as voodoo and in santeria, though once a person is possessed by a spirit in the yoruba tradition he cannot rise to a higher spiritual position such as that of a babalawo, but this should not be regarded as a modern tradition, in fact it predates most necromantic practices.
''An Encyclopedia of Occultism states:
The art is of almost universal usage. Considerable difference of opinion exists among modern adepts as to the exact methods to be properly pursued in the necromantic art, and it must be borne in mind the necromancy, which in the Middle Ages was called sorcery, shades into modern spiritualistic practice. There is no doubt, however, that necromancy is the touchstone of occultism, for if, after careful preparation the adept can carry through to a successful issue, the raising of the soul from the other world, he has proved the value of his art.


Used in The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion


  • Sabriel Nix, Garth
  • Halliday, Greek Divination (1913). Chapter 11 is on Necromancy
  • Ogden, Daniel, Greek and Roman Necromancy 2004. ISBN 0-691-11968-6 — Reviewed by Sarah Iles Johnston, Bryn Mawr Classical Review (6/19/2002), with stinging methodological criticism.
  • Ruickbie, Leo, Witchcraft Out of the Shadows. Robert Hale, 2004. ISBN 0-7090-7567-7. See ch. 1 in general and p.24 in particular for discussion of necromancy in the encounter between Circe and Odysseus.
  • Wendell, Leilah. (1997). Necromany 101.
  • Digitalis, Raven: Goth Craft: The Magickal Side of Dark Culture (Llewellyn, US, English, 2007) ISBN: 0738711047 (softback). Covers magick, Witchcraft, Wicca, occultism, Necromancy (chapter 7: 'the death current'), and the Gothic subculture
  • Spence, Lewis. (1920). An Encyclopedia of Occultism. Hyde Park, NY : University Books.
  • Kieckhefer, Richard. (1997). Forbidden Rites. Sutton Publishing.
  • ____. (1989). Magic in the Middle Ages. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-78576-6
  • Kors & Peters (2001). Witchcraft in Europe 400-1700. Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-1751-9
  • Vulliaud, Paul. (1923). La Kabbale Juive : histoire et doctrine, 2 vols. Paris : Émile Nourry, 62 Rue des Écoles.
  • (Knee-Crow-Mansir)
necromancy in Bulgarian: Некромантия
necromancy in Czech: Nekromancie
necromancy in Danish: Nekromantiker
necromancy in German: Totenbeschwörung
necromancy in Spanish: Nigromancia
necromancy in French: Nécromancie
necromancy in Italian: Necromanzia
necromancy in Latvian: Nekromantika
necromancy in Hungarian: Nekromanta
necromancy in Dutch: Dodenbezweerder
necromancy in Japanese: ネクロマンシー
necromancy in Polish: Nekromancja
necromancy in Portuguese: Necromancia
necromancy in Russian: Некромантия
necromancy in Finnish: Nekromantia
necromancy in Swedish: Nekromantiker
necromancy in Turkish: Nekromansi

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1