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Glossary of Wiccan, Neo-Pagan and Occult Terminology


John Dee
In this 19th Century illustration, John Dee (1527-1608), famous mathematician, philosopher, and astrologer for Queen Elizabeth I, holds a torch while an adept necromancer consults with a spirit.

Necromancy is the act of conjuring the spirits of the dead for divination.   It dates back to Persia, Greece and Rome, and in the Middle Ages was widely practiced by magicians, Sorcerers, and witches.   During the medieval period necromancy may have been closely allied with astrology and, from the evidence of Court Records and old magical formulae, it appears to have been practised occasionally as late as the 16th and 17th centuries when either the ghost of a dead person was involved or materials from a graveyard, including earth, skulls and whole corpses.

It has been claimed that the latter was utilized as the basis for toxic Potions.   Some authorities believed that witches possessed the power to raise the bodies of dead persons for the purpose of necromancy.   The third Witchcraft Act (1604) in England included a clause making it a felony to take up a dead body in whole or part for magical purposes.

The classic case of necromancy is the Witch of Endor, described in the Bible (1 Samuel 28), who summoned the spirit of Samuel in the presence of Saul.   Apollonius of Tyana gained a great reputation in 1st-century Greece as a philosopher and necromancer.   The 16th Century English Enochian Magicians, John Dee and Edward Kelly, were reputed necromancers, though Dee never recorded any such activities in his diaries.   The 17th Century French Ritual Magician, Eliphas Levi, attempted to conjure the spirit of Apollonius, an experience that left him badly shaken and frightened.   The idea behind necromancy was that the dead could see the future and could be conjured into describing it.

It is unlike other forms of divination in that it its tools are not part of the world around us, like clouds or rods or animal entrails.   It goes back to legends of descents to the Underworld and visits from the dead, such as are recorded in the Eleusinian Mysteries, but in its trappings and rituals it is more a branch of Black Magick than of regular divination, which relies on the person of the diviner being in tune with the phenomena he or she is assessing.

Necromancy is not to be confused with conjuring devils or demons for help.   Necromancy is the seeking of the spirits of the dead.   The spirits are sought because they, being without physical bodies, are no longer limited by the earthly plane.   Therefore, it is thought these spirits have access to information of the past and future which is not available to the living.   It has been used to help find sunken or buried treasure, and whether or not a person was murdered or died from other causes.

The practice of necromancy has been compared by some to modern mediumistic or practiced Spiritualism.   Many within occult circles consider it a dangerous and repugnant practice.   Dangerous because it is alleged that when some spirits take control of the medium they are reluctant to release their control for some time.

Necromancy is not practiced in Wicca and/or other forms of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft, but it is practiced in Voodou and Santeria.

There are two kinds of necromancy: raising a corpse itself to life and, more commonly, summoning the spirit of the dead - as in Ouija boards and Spiritualism.

The rituals for necromancy are similar - though not identical - to those for conjuring demons, involving Magick Circles, wands, talismans, bells and incantations, as prescribed by various grimoires.   In addition, the necromancer surrounds himself by gruesome aspects of death: he wears clothing stolen from corpses and meditates upon death.   Some rituals call for the eating of dog flesh, for dogs are associated with Hekate, the Patron Goddess of witchcraft, and for consuming unsalted and unleavened black bread and unfermented grape juice, symbolic of decay and lifelessness.

Such preparations may go on for days or weeks.   The actual ritual itself may take many hours, during which time the magician calls upon Hekate or various demons to help raise the desired spirit.   The ritual customarily takes place in a graveyard over the corpse itself.   At midnight or dawn, the grave is opened and the corpse conjured to come out alive.   In accounts of such events, the corpse is often made to speak through the mouth of one of the assistants.

The objective is to summon the spirit to re-enter the corpse and bring it back to life, rising and speaking in answer to questions posed by the magician.   Recently deceased corpses are preferred by necromaocers, for they are said to speak most clearly.   If the person has been dead a long time, necromancers try to summon their ghostly spirit to appear.   Once the ritual has been performed successfully, the nec-romancer is supposed to burn the corpse or bury it in quicklime, so that it will not be disturbed again.   In the Middle Ages, many believed that necromancers also consumed the flesh of the corpse as part of the ritual.

Some necromancers summon corpses to attack the living.   This practice dates back as far as ancient Egypt and Greece and is still done in Vodoun.

Necromancy techniques were taught in medieval Spain, in deep caves near Seville, Toledo and Salamanca.   The caves were walled up by Isabella the Catholic, who considered them evil. The numbers nine and thirteen are associated with necromancy.   Nine represents an old belief that there were nine spheres through which a soul passed in the transition from life to death.   Thirteen was the number of persons who attended Christ's Last Supper, at which he was betrayed; Christ later rose from the dead.

In Vodoun, corpses are "raised" from graves in rituals in which appeals are made to Baron Samedi, the scarecrow like god of graveyards and zombies.   In Haiti, the rites take place in a graveyard at midnight.   They are performed by the person who is the local Incarnation of Papa Nebo, father of death, and a group of followers.   A grave is selected and white Candles are implanted at its foot and lit.   A frock coat and a silk top hat, the symbols of Baron Samedi, are draped on the grave's cross (if the grave has no cross, one is made).

A ritual is performed to awaken Baron Samedi from sleep.   While the god makes no visible manifestation, he signals his presence and approval by moving or flapping the frock coat or hat. The necromancers pay homage to the Baron and promise him offerings of food, drink and money, then send him back to sleep by tossing roots and herbs.   The corpse is unearthed, and the Incarnation of Papa Nebo asks it questions.   The answers usually are "heard" only by the Papa Nebo representative.

A Biblical Perspective:

The Scriptures clearly prohibit Divination and contacting the spirits of the dead in any way, shape or form.   Divination is the attempt to divine the mind of Deity through some means other than God's way.   It is an attempt to understand the past, present, or future by some means other than the revelation of God.   The revelation may come through various means, but ultimately any revelation apart from God is Divination.   God's revelation and divination are opposites.

Divination usurps the rightful place of the Scripture in the life of the Christian.   It attempts to give direction and guidance to the individual.   The Bible is clear on the subject.   Divination, is an abomination to God.   Some would have us believe the Bible endorses Divination as an art that offers mankind an understanding of his true self, an opportunity to create his or her own reality to suit his or her personal spiritual goals.   The following Scripture indicates otherwise.
"When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not imitate the detestable ways of the nations there.   Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices Divination or Sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead." - Deuteronomy 18:9-11

Scripture also calls each of us to place our faith in Jesus Christ rather than the created universe.   The book of Colossians reminds the individual to "see to it that no one takes you captive through vain philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of man, according to the elemental principles of the universe, rather than according to Christ." - (Colossians 2:8)

see also: CLOPHILL

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One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.

Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans.     Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.

Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church.     Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.

- Jean-Luc
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