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Divination - Necromancy

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Necromancy

The word necromancy is adapted from Late Latin necromantia, itself borrowed from post-Classical Greek (nekromanteía), a compound of Ancient Greek nekrós 'dead body' and manteía 'divination'; this compound form was first used by Origen of Alexandria in the 3rd century CE.  The Classical Greek term was (nekyia), from the episode of the Odyssey in which Odysseus visits the realm of the dead souls, and in Hellenistic Greek rendered as necromantia in Latin, and as necromancy in 17th-century English.

Necromancy is the practice of 'magic' which involves communication with the dead -- either by summoning their spirit as an apparition or raising them bodily -- for the purpose of divination, imparting the means to foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge, to bring someone back from the dead, or to use the dead as a weapon, as the term may sometimes be used in a more general sense to refer to black magic or witchcraft.

In the Hebrew Bible (in the 28th chapter of the 1st Book of Samuel), the Witch of Endor is a woman consulted by Saul to summon the spirit of the prophet Samuel to enable him to obtain advice against the Philistines in battle after his prior attempts to consult God through sacred lots and prophets had failed.

Samuel's spirit appearrd to Saul; however, the witch screamed and was frightened by Samuel's appearance because God was the one who summoned his spirit in order to confront Saul for his disobedience against Yahweh.  The witch is absent from the version of that event recounted in the deuterocanonical Book of Sirach (46:19–20).

Later Christian theology found trouble with this particular passage as it appeared to imply that the witch had summoned the spirit of Samuel and, therefore, necromancy and thus magic were possible.

Early necromancy was related to – and most likely evolved from – 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.  Necromancy was prevalent throughout antiquity with records of its practice in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Greece and Rome.  In his Geographica, Strabo refers to nekromantia, or "diviners by the dead", as the foremost practitioners of divination among the people of Persia, and it is believed to have also been widespread among the peoples of Chaldea (particularly the Hermeticists, or "star-worshipers"), Etruria and Babylonia.  The Babylonian necromancers were called manzazuu or sha'etemmu, and the spirits they raised were called etemmu.

N.B.  The illustration to the above left (from the frontispiece of Sadducismus Triumphatus (1681 CE) by Joseph Glanvill) portrays a scene from the Bible wherein the Witch of Endor, frightened, unsuccessfully tried to use a necromantic ritual to conjure the spirit of Samuel at the behest of Saul.



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