Greek for "Magic of the Dead"

According to Catholic Theology Necromancy is the practice of talking to the dead. Usually for the purpose of divination. For example a seance. The Bible explicitly forbids the practice of necromancy.

Of course, because of its literal meaning in english it has come to refer to more interesting magical practices, such as raising zombies and skeletons.

In the Vampire: The Masquerade roleplaying game, necromancy is a form of vampiric magic which deals with the dead. On the surface it is similar in practice to other forms of vampiric magic, like Tremere thaumaturgy or Koldunic sorcery, in that it involves both spells that can be cast instantaneously and rituals which require extensive preparation and can take hours to conduct. Necromancy is far more limited than other forms of vampiric magic, however, in that it deals solely with death, dying, and the spirits of the departed (often called "wraiths"). One tempted to venture a biased opinion might note that Tremere thaumaturgy can imitate Giovanni death magic (case in point: the Path of Spirit Manipulation) but necromancy can never imitate most Paths of thaumaturgy.

Necromancy as a magical art is commonly thought to have been developed by the Giovanni bloodline of the Cappadocian clan, though there are inconsistencies between 2nd Edition and 3rd Edition Vampire canon which call this into question (these inconsistencies will be addressed at the end of this writing).

The Cappadocians were past masters at dealing with the physical aspects of death, but in their search for knowledge wished to diversify their capabilities and learn how to control the spirits beyond the Shroud. Upon discovering the Giovanni family, a cabal of mortal sorcerors that dealt heavily in death magick, Cappadocius (founder of the Cappadocian clan) decided to Embrace most of the Giovanni and set them to work on developing the necromantic arts for Cainite use.

The Giovanni succeeded handily, and grew ambitious. In the mid-1400s, Augustus Giovanni led a revolt against Cappadocius, which ended in Cappadocius's diablerie and the destruction of the Cappadocian clan, and the subsequent rise of the new Clan Giovanni. For some reason, the Giovanni usurpation of the Cappadocians did not meet the same negative response as the Tremere destruction of Clan Salubri did...

The Giovanni, over the centuries, have refined their necromantic arts into a series of magical paths, each of which deals with a separate branch of practice. Some -- the most common -- deal with communicating with and controlling the spirits of the dead, and interacting with their world. Others deal with the soul, or the dead body. Countless rituals have also been designed. Since wraiths are so very omnipresent in the World of Darkness, they are useful servants indeed.

There are, as I have mentioned above, inconsistencies to the idea that the Giovanni are the first users of necromancy. For instance, the Nagaraja have practiced a discipline known as Nihilistics for millenia; in the 2nd Edition Vampire Storyteller's Handbook Nihilistics is specifically referred to as a discipline, and it is detailed up through the 9th level (necromantic, thaumaturgical and sorcerous paths of magic only go through level 5 in all the World of Darkness games). However, in the 3rd edition storyteller's handbook, Nihilistics is renamed as "Vitreous Path Necromancy" and is given only five levels, with the notation that it is often referred to by the Nagaraja as Nihilistics. Clearly, White Wolf has done some editing here; it's up to the storyteller to determine which version is preferred.

Next, the clan disciplines of the Kiasyd bloodline are given (in the 2nd Edition Guide to the Sabbat) as being Mytherceria, Necromancy and Obtenebration; however, in 3rd Edition, Necromancy is replaced with Dominate. More editing.

It is important to note that in recent nights, the Cappadocians have returned, calling themselves the Harbingers of Skulls now. They have refined their original discipline of control over death processes -- called Mortuus -- into a necromantic path, called the Mortis Path. They have tentatively joined the Sabbat, and hunt their Giovanni usurpers with a vengeance.

The derivation of this word as meaning magic generally, or more specifically black magic runs thusly:

Magical practices often involved summoning or talking with the dead. The dead are dead, except as raised to eternal life by God, so this is impossible. Hence, anyone speaking to the dead must be being deceived by demons. Hence, necromancy is, de facto demonological black magic. This meaning came to be widely applied.

Mainly practiced by priests, as to do this stuff you needed to be able to read and speak funny old languages. They had the incentive as being ordained did not guarantee being employed by the Church. Each church was responsible for getting its own clerics. Unfortunately, supply rather outstripped demand, so priests had to turn to unsavoury practices.

Source: Magic in the Middle Ages, Richard Kieckhefer, Cambridge University Press

Divination received from the spirits of the dead. The historian Strabo mentions that Persia's main form of divination was through necromancy, marking Persians as the first recorded to practice this art. In Babylon, necromancers were called Manzazuu or Sha'etemmu and the raised spirits were called Etemmu. Necromancy is from the Greek word, nekos (dead), and manteria (divination). Subsequently the word in its Latin form became nigromancia (black art).

Israelites probably learned the art from Persians or Babylonians and practiced it extensively, to the point where the Bible explicitly forbids it repeatedly. Three classes of necromancy were known to Israelites as ob, yidde'oni, and doresh el ha-metim (questioner of dead). Ob is said to denote the soothsaying spirit. Jewish tradition says, "Ob is the python, who speaks from his armpits, yidde'oni is he who speaks with his mouth". Warnings against necromancy were not heeded, for instance, King Saul asked the Witch of Endor to summon Samuel.

In Odyssey, Ulysses travels to Hades, and summons the dead using spells learned from Circe, the intention was to call Tiresias. Likewise with Norse mythology, in Volsupa, Odin summons a seeress from the dead in order to predict the future. In Grogaldr, Syipdag summons Groa. In the 17th century, Robert Fludd describes Goetic necromancy as consisting of "diabolical commerce with unclean spirits, in rites of criminal curiosity, in illicit songs and invocations and in the evocation of the souls of the dead". Necromancy is extensively practiced in voodoo.

Deuteronomy 18:11, 26:14
Isaiah 8:19, 29:4
1 Samuel 28:7-19

Nec"ro*man`cy (?), n. [OE. nigromaunce, nigromancie, OF. nigromance, F. n'ecromance, n'ecromancie, from L. necromantia, Gr. ; a dead body (akin to L. necare to kill, Skr. na() to perish, vanish) + divination, fr. diviner, seer, akin to E. mania. See Mania, and cf. Internecine, Noxious. The old spelling is due to confusion with L. niger black. Hence the name black art.]

The art of revealing future events by means of a pretended communication with the dead; the black art; hence, magic in general; conjuration; enchantment. See Black art.

This palace standeth in the air, By necromancy placed there. Drayton.


© Webster 1913.

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