“True” Necromancy: Raising the Dead-Part 5

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016


The Ancient Practices

“When you have reached this spot, as I now tell you, dig a trench a cubit or so in length, breadth, and depth, and pour into it as a drinking-offering to all the dead, first, honey mixed with milk, then wine, and in the third place water – sprinkling white barley meal over the whole. Moreover you must offer many prayers to the poor feeble ghosts, and promise them that when you get back to Ithaca you will sacrifice a barren heifer to them, the best you have, and will load the pyre with good things. More particularly you must promise that Teiresias shall have a black sheep all to himself, the finest in all your flocks.

When you shall have thus besought the ghosts with your prayers, offer them a ram and a black ewe, bending their heads towards Erebus; but yourself turn away from them as though you would make towards the river. On this, many dead men’s ghosts will come to you, and you must tell your men to skin the two sheep that you have just killed, and offer them as a burnt sacrifice with prayers to Hades and to Proserpine. Then draw your sword and sit there, so as to prevent any other poor ghost from coming near the split blood before Teiresias shall have answered your questions. The seer will presently come to you, and will tell you about your voyage–what stages you are to make, and how you are to sail the sea so as to reach your home.”

-Odyssey, Homer, B8th BCE, trans. S. Butler


The word necromancy means, “divining by the dead”. Reanimation or summoning the actual ghost (versus the shade) with the use of a burial site or particular deceased person’s body was a form of “true” necromancy. Moving in the shadow realm surrounding the physical plane, the dead can also see the location of buried treasure and know the nature of others spirits (such as demons) and how best to communicate with them. Some cultures considered the knowledge of the dead to be unlimited whereas in the West (such as the ancient Greeks and Romans) believed that individual shades knew only certain things. Hence why Odysseus needed to speak directly to the ghost of a seer or oracle in order to get home. The obvious value of the deceased’s counsel may have been based on things they knew in life or knowledge they acquired after death. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, he makes mention of a giant bazaar in the underworld where the dead could convene to exchange the latest news and gossip.


In the ancient Greek world, the standard procedure for necromancy was the same as the offerings made to the dead for funerals:

• create a trench 

• create a fire pyre

• offer libations of honey, milk, oil, water, and wine

• offer grain (including barley cakes) and flowers

• sacrifice (black) animal and burn on fire

• offer blood

• prayers to chthonic gods



The only difference between an act of necromancy and a funeral to bury the dead was the intent. The hair of the participants in both cases were loosely bound or unbound during services. Offerings to the gods were made to the fire and the offerings to the dead went into the pit. In Horace’s Satires 1.8, the statue of the god Priapus is witnessing two silly looking witches grave robbing a cemetery for slaves and performing necromantic rites.

He drives them off and concludes they never had power of any sort if he was able to so easily chase them off being a lowly deity. Horace introduces the concept of using wax dolls as vessels for the summoned spirits by his witches. This is the first literary reference to the use of such figurines (save Picatrix), which have be subsequently been used in various traditions (ATR’s,european witchcraft,etc.).

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Reanimation is considered one of the most gruesome and treacherous of magical operations. It’s considered especially dangerous since the nastiness of its procedures stirs up evil currents or attracts evil forces which may latch onto the magician.

“For nine days before the ceremony the necromancer and his assistants prepare for it by surrounding themselves with the aura of death. They dress in musty grave clothes, filched from corpses, and these must not be taken off until the operation is finished. When they first put these on they recite the funeral service over themselves. They abstain from the mere sight of a woman. They eat dog’s flesh with black bread, baked without salt or leaven, and they drink unfermented grape juice.

The dog is the creature of Hecate, the goddess of ghosts and death and sterility, the terrible and inexorable one, the dweller in the void, who is invoked with averted head because no man can see her and remain sane. The absence of salt is a symbol of putrefaction after death, because salt is a preservative. The bread has no leaven and the grape-juice is unfermented to stand for the matter without spirit, the physical clay without the spark of life. The bread and the grape-juice are also the necromantic equivalents of the bread and wine of a communion, unleavened and unfermented as a sacrament of emptiness and despair.

Through these preparations the magician puts himself in touch with death into a corpse like state in which he is in rapport with the real corpse he intends to disturb. When everything is ready to go the magician goes to the grave either between midnight and one in the morning and draws the magick circle around the grave. Assistants carry torches and burn a mixture of henbane, hemlock, aloes wood, saffron, opium and mandrake.

They open the grave and the coffin, exposing the corpse. The magician touches it three times with the wand, commanding it to arise. one formula is:

By the virue of the Holy Resurrection and the agonies of the damned, I conjure and Command thee, spirit of N. Deceased to answer my demands and obey these sacred ceremonies, on pain of everlasting torment. Berald, Beroald, Balbin, Gab, Gabor, Agaba, Arise, Arise, I charge and command thee!”

– pg.268, Cavendish,Richard. The Black Arts. Perigree Books, 1967

After the corpse has reanimated, you can then make your request. It will, depending on the state and age of the corpse, answer in a faint, hollow voice. Once the task is completed, it’s advised that the remains should be burned or buried in quicklime as a payment so no other could trouble or molest the spirits rest with sorcery. In Roman literature, the character Erichtho is a legendary Thessalian witch who appears several literary works.

“She would demand for a recent carcass with sound lungs which would speak audibly and clearly. Older corpses ‘only squeak incoherently’. According to occult theory, some of a body’s energy remains in it after death, but this energy is gradually dissipated.”

– pg.269, Cavendish, Richard. The Black Arts. Perigree Books, 1967

Ivan corpse

As you can see, these ancient practices were considered barbaric and bloody peculiar when you get right down to it. Personally, I can’t see how someone could perform these kinds of rituals legally today, given the laws we have in place to prevent the desecration of corpses and grave sites that would be required. (Maybe the stray medical student wanting that high score on an exam.) As it is, many celebrity burial sites (Marie Laveau, Oscar Wilde, and Lovecraft to name a few examples) have been repeatedly vandalized and graffitied over the years by people who may literally want a piece of them! They’ve had to dramatically increase security as a result. It’s probably just as well, as the end result of such a ritual would be pretty dire.


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