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  Necromancy (Greek, ‘corpse-prophecy’) is prophesying by contacting the dead. It was and in some places still is a standard practice in societies which believed that people\'s spirits remained part of the community after death, and could be contacted if the right agents performed the appropriate rituals in the correct way. (A standard way was for the agent to go into a trance, that is to enter the world of the dead without leaving that of the living, and report back; a rarer way was for the spirits to be encouraged to manifest themselves in the world of the living, either as artificially induced ‘natural’ phenomena such as wind rustling in leaves or mysterious knockings, or by speaking or otherwise communicating through a medium.)

The point of necromancy is that the dead are thought to live outside human time, and to have access to the past and future which is denied to those still bound by mortality. From the standpoint of scientific rationality, necromancy may seem to belong to the lunatic fringes of superstition. But communication with the dead, and invitations to them to help the living (for example by predicting our future) is standard practice in many societies and religious systems, and is current, in a bastardized, secularized and charlatan-ridden form, in seances and ouija-board sessions throughout the world. It may be possible to draw distinctions between such practices and the ceremonies of voodoo priests or shamans, or between shamans raising dead spirits and Saul in the Old Testament calling up the Witch of Endor, or between all such events and the Roman Catholic evocation of saints and martyrs but it is hard, from outside the belief-systems in question, to be quite sure where exactly those distinctions lie. KMcL



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