As any other form of magic involving the dead, necromancy is also hugely associated with dark magic, i.e., it is much closer to witchcraft than it is to sorcery. It is also often compared to various forms of the occult, most importantly shamanism. Some of the prominent features of shamanism are found in necromancy, but there are also some sharp differences. The almost ineligible, hypnotizing chant that the shamans inculcate in their procedures is also found in necromancy. So are some of the spells. Interestingly, necromancy is also sometimes referred to as ‘negromancy’ or ‘nigromancy’ which obviously adheres to black magic and is indicative of the negative power.
Necromancy and Magic
Over the last thousands of years, the word ‘necromancy’, interpreted by different people in widely different ways. The layman knows it to be something to do with the séances. The illusionist will claim its value to be mythical, and the astrophysicist might believe in its existence.
But a true practitioner will tell you that necromancy is mainly a form of magic, which aids communication with the dead. The means of doing so might differ in each case. For instance, in some cases, the summoning of a concerned spirit is what most often materializes as an apparition. In other cases, when such an option is not available, sometimes it also involves making the spirit appear as a bodily manifestation. But as one might guess, it requires an extremely experienced set of skills to do so.
The term necromancy is derived from the Latin word ‘necromantia’, which was borrowed from the post-classical Greek concept. The Greek meaning is an amalgamation of the terms ‘nekros’ meaning dead body and ‘mantiea’ meaning prophecy. This is where the difference lies between necromancy and séance – the element of fortune-telling, as one might call it. But it is largely absent from the usually practiced dark magic involving the dead.
The most prominent example of an instance involving necromancy is the one where Odysseus visits the realm of death. It is the most easily relatable to history when it comes to defining necromancy.
As any other form of magic involving the dead
Necromancy was very common before the Renaissance, throughout Eastern Europe, especially in Greece, Serbia, Rome, etc. The Babylonian necromancers were called ‘manzazuu’ and the spirits they raised were referred to as ‘etemmu’. The necromancers are different from oracles in many ways. But the most significant difference between them is the power of endurance.
The necromancers are thought to have an immensely powerful mind, not because they can communicate with the dead but because it can channel a huge amount of energy, resulting in an incredible strain on their minds and excruciating physical pain. When Odysseus travels to the sphere of death, there is a reference to the power of the necromancers. Even until the 18th-century, they were broadly classified as shamans.
It has been often reported that modern-day necromancers are trying to eliminate the grotesque practices their ancestors regarded as important. the incantations and the vigorous rituals, wearing the clothing of the dead and sometimes burning them, eating black bread, etc. Necromancers have often been referred to as the ‘bone-conjurers’ which suggests a rather medical function, not quite in the oracle family. It also has heavy influences on Pagan ritualistic culture.
Now, it was widely believed by the Eastern Europeans that re-incarnation is only possible with the help of divine spirits; the necromancers also believed in a very similar value. But they usually prayed to the dark witches or their oracular gods or goddesses. Surprisingly, in the wake of the Renaissance, a few Biblical allusions were considered, regarding the necromancers' practices.
This was mainly due to the Hebrew Scriptures, but evidence proves these theories are true. During that time, necromancy was gradually regarded as a study, not some evil practice. The people practicing it came from several fields. Some of them were scholars.
In fact, it began to affect the literature of the times, as it was beginning to gain attention. During Elizabethan times, it has been referred to in a few important works - maybe not directly, but the allusions couldn’t be ignored. Leonardo da Vinci states in one of his notebooks 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.
As modernism emerged, there was a wide discrepancy in the people's views regarding necromancy. Illusionists had a reliable stance on this issue; Harry Houdini supported its promotion and circulation. In the Palladium fantasy, necromancers are a specific type of magicians; one can trace Houdini’s love for them from there. Thus, necromancy exists still, though not at large; but evidently as an influential occult culture and ritualistic option.