Necromancy (necro=dead body) is the art of summoning departed spirits.
Necromancy holds a place of honor among ancient oracular arts. Shamanic practitioners have always received training in communication with the dead. The latter were thought to be skillful at diagnosing illness and prescribing cures.
Necromancy was well developed among the Egyptians, Assyro-Babylonians, and Etruscans of the ancient world. Citizens in classical times revered their necromaneia, oracles of the dead, and often made pilgrimages to them. A famous oracle of this type was located at Epiris in a hillside cave. The legendary hero Odysseus summoned the dead at Epiris and obtained valuable guidance for his perilous journey home. This site was associated with the worship of Persephone, goddess of the underworld, and later with Hades, god of the dead.
During the medieval and renaissance periods of European history, summoning the dead was practiced as a normal part of life. Wise-women and wise-men in the countryside conjured up departed spirits to help diagnose illnesses and prescribe cures. Families prayed to departed relatives for guidance, asking them to appear in dreams or make their presence known. Souls who had "crossed over to the other side" were particularly helpful in finding missing persons or lost treasure. They also felt impelled, like the ghost of Hamlet's father, to expose secret crimes that had been committed. Catholic priests practiced their share of necromancy in centuries past, a matter rarely discussed in church history books!
In this nineteenth-century illustration, John Dee (1527-1608), famous mathematician, philosopher, and astrologer for Queen Elizabeth, holds a torch while an adept necromancer consults with a spirit. They are protected by a magic circle etched with signs of the zodiac and other arcane symbols. A frightful looking corpse rises from its tomb to impart unthinkable secrets. Necromancy plays a role central role in the Faust legend, for example. In Dicken's Christmas Carol, Scrooge's life is saved by his nocturnal conversations with a departed soul.