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Necromancy: The art of communicating with the dead

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Magic is something we commonly see through old times of fiction and fantasy. But, this magic is generally categorized as light and dark, good and evil. There are acceptable practices and then there are taboo, and Necromancy, falls in the darker group of magic or witchcraft.

The word ‘necromancy’ is adapted from the Latin word ‘necromantia’, which itself is borrowed from post-Classical Greek ‘nekromanteía’ a compound of Ancient Greek where ‘nekrós’ means “dead body”, and ‘manteía’ means “divination by means of’. There was a practice in ancient Greece called Nekyia, which essentially was a rite or a ritual where the dead would be called upon to answer questions about the future, something that we know today as necromancy.
Necromancy is the practice of magic involving communicating with the dead, either by summoning their spirits as ghosts, visions or raising them bodily for the purpose of knowing about the future events, or discovering hidden knowledge.

Initially, the practice of calling upon the dead did not really have an evil intention, it was rather seen in a positive light as it was performed by Greek and Roman heroes who performed catabasis, a physical journey to the underworld that involved performing a task or a quest. The oldest literary account of necromancy can be found in Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, where Odysseus under the guidance of Circe, a powerful sorceress, travels to the underworld in order to gain insight about his impending voyage to home by raising the spirits of the dead through the use of spells, and specific recipe including the blood of sacrificial animals. But today, the word necromancy has absolutely no positive connotation in the world of magic,and it is simply a forbidden dark art.

In the Medieval age, the practice of bringing the dead to life was known as ‘maleficium’, and was condemned by the Catholic Church. It is important to know that one cannot be really considered a necromancer, an inherently evil person, if he happens to perform or advance necromancy by accident. But it is certainly not in any way preferable to do so, for the sake of all living beings who are free agents in the cosmos, including oneself.

Necromancy was especially popular in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and its temptations and perils were vividly described in the stories of ‘Dr Faustus’ written by Christopher Marlowe, where a legendary hero Faust, a German necromancer or astrologer who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and power.

Appearance of Necromancy in popular culture

Necromancy appears in many works of fantasy fiction, often by villains who use it to raise undefeated armies of the dead, from the underworlds to slay the heroes. It is used as a popular plot element in computer and video game franchise series, such as Bioshock, Warcraft, Magic the Gathering, Gothic and Mortal Kombat, as well as in the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.

The Dark Lord Sauron adopts a guise known as the Necromancer in the 1937 novel The Hobbit.
Warhammer 40,000, The Mummy Returns, Man of Steel, and some parts in the Harry Potter series feature antagonists who are trying to revive their own people that have been dead for a long time. In the series, “Game of Thrones”, several magic has been shown which had the ability to affect dead people in some way. The Lord of Light for example can apparently bring people back from death to their old selves.

Does Necromancy still exist?

There is no one who can really tell you whether or not necromancy exists. There are things that happen out there that cannot be explained by reasoning, and it is up to individuals to decide whether or not to believe the mystical explanations. After all, there are people who still call themselves witches or wizards but they don’t have hooked noses and warts, nor do they worship the Devil, as commonly portrayed by popular culture. Black magic or dark magic is a type of magic that draws on malevolent powers. It is used for malicious acts or to deliberately cause harm to someone. Though necromancy is believed to bestow considerable power that rises quickly, but it levels out just as fast.

Visuals by: Anupal Deuri Bharali

Article by Neelchandra Roy, The North-Eastern Chronicle

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