Necromancy (Gr., from venp6g, dead, and fiavreia, divination), the art of obtaining knowledge of future events by consulting the spirits of the dead. From the treatise of Tertullian De Anima it appears that the common practice of necromancy in his day consisted in eliciting an oracular response from a dead body. It is generally thought, however, that the term necromancy anciently designated the evocation of departed spirits, and "necyomancy" (Gr., from vtavg, a corpse, and pavTeia) a descent into the abode of the dead. This latter form of divination is a favorite one with epic and dramatic poets of every period; but no trace of it exists outside of their fictions. On the other hand, necromancy or the calling up of the dead appears to have been a practice and a profession from the earliest historical times. In Greece the necro-manteum (yekpouavteiov) was a place consecrated to the performance of necromantic rites. There were several such places, as the cave of Trophonius in Boeeotia, the banks of the Acheron in Epirus inhabited by the Thesprotians, various localities in Thessaly, Hierapolis in Phrygia, and wherever the Cabiric associations prevailed in the East or West, Heraclea on the Propontis, and the shores of Lake Avernus in southern Italy. It has been conjectured, from Deut. xviii. 10, 11, that there were also many in Palestine and the neighboring countries, while Endor is indicated in 1 Sam. xxviii. - The most ancient Greek poets devote to necyomancy or the descent into Hades some of their most remarkable compositions, thence called vEkviau, their counterparts being termed varoi, "returns." Homer, Hesiod, Aeschylus, Euripides, Aristophanes, and Lucian among the Greeks, and Virgil and Seneca among the Romans, employ necyomancy as a principal part of their machinery, and some of them devote whole poems exclusively to it.
Horace in satire 8, book i., and Lucan in his Pharsalia, describe forms of evocation. The calling up of Samuel by the witch of Endor, and of Melissa, queen of Corinth, at the instance of her husband Periander, are the first instances of necromancy mentioned in history. It is commonly admitted that its practice was frequent in all known countries at the dawn of Christianity. Ter-tullian, in the treatise mentioned above, discusses in the light of Christian revelation the prevailing pagan practice of necromancy and the belief underlying it. He speaks of dead bodies reanimated by demons and delivering oracles through the magic arts of sorcerers, as well as of the evocation of departed spirits. This demoniac agency, he contends, was employed by the Egyptian magicians, Simon Magus and Elymas, to deceive the multitude; and he maintains that this same agency was employed by the witch of Endor. He concludes by asserting that it is the exclusive prerogative of the Creator to recall the departed soul to its body; and that similar prodigies performed by demons are mere illusions. Necromantic practices were forbidden under severe penalties by Constantine; and, as forming a part of the magic art, they had been rigorously proscribed under the republic and the pagan emperors.
They were half encouraged and half censured by Julian the Apostate, who reproached the sick Christians with sleeping near the monuments of the martyrs in the hope of having a remedy for their ills revealed to them. The professional necromancers (vxaywyoi) continued to be proscribed by the successors of Julian, as well as by the canons of the western and oriental churches. Of the practice of necyomancy among the pagan northern nations, we have one striking indication in the Saemundic Edda, in which is narrated the descent of Odin to the Scandinavian hell in order to consult the prophetess Angarbodi. - In the practice of necromancy, founded as it is in the belief of a future life in which the departed spirits preserve their identity and associate with each other, while holding a certain communion with their living kindred on earth, certain ritualistic forms have been handed down from age to age with slight or no substantial variation. The poetic forms of the necromantic ritual, reflecting more or less truly the national belief of the writers, are to be found in the Odyssey of Homer, books x. and xi., the " Frogs " of Aristophanes, the "Persae" of Aeschylus, the "Menippus" or "Necyo-manteia" of Lucian, and from Virgil, Lucan, and Horace as above quoted.
It is said that colleges of the necromantic art existed in Spain throughout the middle ages and as late as the 16th century; but absolutely nothing deserving to be considered as fact can be gathered from contemporary authors. The reports made to the inquisitorial courts, or said to be gathered from their archives, are found upon close examination to be unworthy of serious belief. That necromantic and other magical practices always existed in some localities in every Christian land, is probable; but that the rites, forms, and incantations attributed to necromancers, and printed in various compilations, are genuine, cannot be regarded as proved.