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On Necromancy

By David Rietti
(Originally Published at Samhain 1997)

Necromancy is that Branch of the Arts Magickal that deals with conversing with, and controlling, the dead. At first glance such a definition seems simple and obvious, but it is not so, dear hearts, it is not so.

Let us first consider the question why anyone would want to talk with, and control, the dead. In my, possibly cynical, but, I would contend, realistic view, stripped of pretence and any veil of virtuous words, there are three and only three motives for any practical magical activity, these being Power, Wealth and Curiosity; Sex is a possible fourth, but most people’s sexuality can actually be deconstructed into Power (games) and Curiosity, assuming that there is more there than mere instinctive drives of the basic animal kind, and, in this case, there are few necrophiliacs.

So "raising the dead" would be motivated by either an intent to make the dead serve one in pursuit of Power, Wealth or Knowledge, or, most likely, Knowledge to gain Power and hence Wealth, or Wealth and thus Power. That in this art of Necromancy the gaining of knowledge assumed to be in the possession of the dead is the primary aim, or at least the first aim in the sequence of aims, is given by the word itself with its suffix ‘ -mancy’ as this ‘-mancy’ indicates one of the many, many forms of gaining hidden (ie occult) information subsumed under the general title of ‘Divination’ (compare cartomancy, geomancy etc). This then defines, in the strict magical sense, ‘Necromancy’; it is the art of using Information gained from the dead, either directly to control the dead, or by routes that do not involve the dead other than as informants, to achieve one’s Will in and through the pursuit of Power, or the concrete Power expression which is Wealth, or as a step to gaining other information, as for example where a lost text is regained by persuading or coercing its long since dead author to reproduce it. But who are these ‘dead’?

Now there’s a question, or perhaps the question is better put as ‘what’ are these dead who/that are to be questioned by bribery or coercion? The traditional view is that the dead are simply the people they once were somehow continuing in existence with the knowledge they had when alive, perhaps augmented by a knowledge of the ‘place’ wherein they now find themselves. It is thus reasonable to assume that the dead most efficiently called are those in a place unpleasant enough that they are not unwilling to leave, even for a temporary respite, and not so final a resting place that they are unable to leave it. Implicitly one would not expect necromancy to be an art found in cultures where a strict belief in reincarnation holds sway. But such is not the case. In the kabbalistic strands of Judaism where the belief in the ‘wandering of souls’ is held, necromancy was/is found though frowned upon never so much. And in the sacred necrophilia of extreme Tantra the dead with whom the Tantric copulates can be expected to impart information, as well as liberation through the union of lust and disgust (no dears, you won’t find that in the introductory ‘How to improve yourself with sanitized Tantra’ books from your friendly new-age/Pagan publishing house.).

So if dead is dead and only partly a ‘deadness’ appropriate to one’s culture, with what does the Necromancer hold conversation if not congress? It is a precept common to initiate insight and the more obscure byways of physics and systems theory that Information once in existence remains imprinted on the matrix of existence itself and, whilst it may be removed from a particular medium of storage, cannot in itself be destroyed except by entropy, and informational entropy is slow indeed if the experience that created it was intense enough. So then even if the Essence, the Scintilla, the Hadit point passes on from life to life with memory intact if suppressed, each vehicle of experience remains as an informational entity even when its protein machine has rotted away. In this view necromancy is just another technique of information retrieval from a general matrix and not the disturbance of the true person from his or her well earned rest or punishment. Such a view also frees necromancy from its somewhat disreputable image.

Yet there is a genuine caveat in ‘dealing with the dead’ (pink angora cardigans notwithstanding), and I must add my voice to those of worthy predecessors such as Mr Crowley himself in taking an absolutely disparaging view of spiritualism and its ‘new age’, ‘neopagan’ offspring, ‘channeling’. Necromancy is an art. It should be done, if at all, only with the sceptical cynicism and strict laboratory hygiene of the trained magician. ‘Spiritualism’, amateur and organized, and ‘channeling’ have in common a total lack of discrimination and, as often as not, the same total lack of any honourable empirical aim, such as honest greed, but rather a desire to have prejudices confirmed, and comfort for cowardice. Nor are the simplest precautions of experimental hygiene respected. So much then for Necromancy in the strict sense.

There is however a broader sense of Necromancy where it crosses over from a Magical to a Religious form and that is the worship of the Ancestor, particularly where the ancestor is deified through myth and practise. The Loa and the Orishas of the Afro American religions, the Japanese cult of Shinto, are examples of institutional necromancy. But in these enough true magic(k) remains to give them a nobility that is lacking from such horrors as ‘Christian Science’ or the ‘Spiritist Churches’.. I do not however wish to get into discussion of these forms, at least not in this article. Except on one point. What is seen more clearly and more often in the institutionalised religio-magical practice of necromancy is the desire to acquire virtue by osmosis from the mere association with and proximity to the ‘virtuous’ dead. This is the mechanism which underlies the cults of the ‘Catholic’ saints as ‘present’ in their reliques.

This process of the osmosis of virtue by necromantic transfer, at least of an undeclared popular belief in such a transfer was well documented in Argentina at the time of Eva Peron’s death; it lay behind the genuine emotive response, however stage managed, by the people of the Great Helmsman Mao Tse Tung, and the Great Leader Kim Sung, as earlier by the people of the USSR for Little Father Stalin, for these monsters were by (their own) definition the paragon and paradigm of virtue. Moreover such popular mass necromancy bordering on necrophilia is not limited to oriental cultures already tuned to the cult of the great ancestor, nor the hot emotiveness of hispano-americans. It can happen here as witness the, in my personal view, grotesque excesses that we saw accompany the death and burial of Saint Diana of Sloane Square, Erstwhile Princess of Wales. (N.B. This is my personal view, and if you don’t like it write abusive letters to me care of the editor, she will forward them and I’ll use them as I see fit, promise! But don’t blame Rowan or cancel your subscription.) Now you will have guessed that I neither liked or admired the Lady and did not fall for her largely self engineered myth, yet that is not the point at issue here. Even if it were the case that the former HRH had been the supermodel version of Mother Theresa that many would have us believe, the sight of millions trading their emotions for her presumed virtue by vicarious osmosis from her corpse was to minds endowed with good taste, I contend, more obscene than any tantric thrusting his member in a dead whore, or any ‘black’ magician reanimating a rotting corpse to coerce it to reveal the secret of the transformations leading to the Medicine of Metals.

I would like to think that we, the enlightened fraternity of magicians, witches and what have you are above such stuff, but when faced with the fact of one claimant to A.C.’s throne who seems to think that wearing A.C.’s ring gives him some claim to absolute legitimacy of papal proportions, and the editor of this publication being nervous of my not being kind about Princess Diana because the feelings displayed at her funeral run deep into the pagan community, well give me a dead temple dancer and a pinch of graveyard dust any time, I might just raise someone worth talking to.