A to Z Challenge Folklore

Unnatural Magic #folklore #AtoZChallenge

U is for Unnatural

Learn more here.

People controlling or bringing back the dead has long been the subject of horror.

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Folklore

BYGONE BELIEFS:
BEING A SERIES OF EXCURSIONS IN THE BYWAYS OF THOUGHT
BY HERBERT STANLEY REDGROVE, [1920]

Mediaeval ceremonial magic was subdivided into three chief branches–White Magic, Black Magic, and Necromancy. White magic was concerned with the evocations of angels, spiritual beings supposed to be essentially superior to mankind, concerning which I shall give some further details later–and the spirits of the elements,–which were, as I have mentioned in “Some Characteristics of Mediaeval Thought,” personifications of the primeval forces of Nature. As there were supposed to be four elements, fire, air, water, and earth, so there were supposed to be four classes of elementals or spirits of the elements, namely,

Salamanders, Sylphs, Undines, and Gnomes, inhabiting these elements respectively, and deriving their characters therefrom. Concerning these curious beings, the inquisitive reader may gain some information from a quaint little book, by the Abbe de MONTFAUCON DE VILLARS, entitled The Count of Gabalis, or Conferences about Secret Sciences (1670), translated into English and published in 1680, which has recently been reprinted. The elementals, we learn therefrom, were, unlike other supernatural beings, thought to be mortal. They could, however, be rendered immortal by means of sexual intercourse with men or women, as the case might be; and it was, we are told, to the noble end of endowing them with this great gift, that the sages devoted themselves.

Goety, or black magic, was concerned with the evocation of demons and devils– spirits supposed to be superior to man in certain powers, but utterly depraved. Sorcery may be distinguished from witchcraft, inasmuch as the sorcerer attempted to command evil spirits by the aid of charms, etc., whereas the witch or wizard was supposed to have made a pact with the Evil One; though both terms have been rather loosely used, “sorcery” being sometimes employed as a synonym for “necromancy”. Necromancy was concerned with the evocation of the spirits of the dead: etymologically, the term stands for the art of foretelling events by means of such evocations, though it is frequently employed in the wider sense.

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Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland by Lady Francesca Speranza Wilde [1887]

The Cave Fairies: The Tuatha-de-Danann

IT is believed by many people that the cave fairies are the remnant of the ancient Tuatha-de-Dananns who once ruled Ireland, but were conquered by the Milesians.

These Tuatha were great necromancers, skilled in all magic, and excellent in all the arts as builders, poets, and musicians. At first the Milesians were going to destroy them utterly, but gradually were so fascinated and captivated by the gifts and power of the Tuatha that they allowed them to remain and to build forts, where they held high festival with music and singing and the chant of the bards. And the breed of horses they reared could not be surpassed in the world–fleet as the wind, with the arched neck and time broad chest and the quivering nostril, and time large eye that showed they were made of fire and flame, and not of dull, heavy earth. And the Tuatha made stables for them in the great caves of the hills, and they were shod with silver and had golden bridles, and never a slave was allowed to ride them. A splendid sight was the cavalcade of the Tuatha-de-Danann knights. Seven-score steeds, each with a jewel on his forehead like a star, and seven-score horsemen, all the sons of kings, in their green mantles fringed with gold, and golden helmets on their head, and golden greaves on their limbs, and each knight having in his hand a golden spear.

And so they lived for a hundred years and more, for by their enchantments they could resist the power of death.

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The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci by Jean Paul Richter [1883]

Of all human opinions that is to be reputed the most foolish which deals with the belief in Necromancy, the sister of Alchemy, which gives birth to simple and natural things. But it is all the more worthy of reprehension than alchemy, because it brings forth nothing but what is like itself, that is, lies; this does not happen in Alchemy which deals with simple products of nature and whose function cannot be exercised by nature itself, because it has no organic instruments with which it can work, as men do by means of their hands, who have produced, for instance, glass &c but this Necromancy the flag and flying banner, blown by the winds, is the guide of the stupid crowd which is constantly witness to the dazzling and endless effects of this art; and there are books full, declaring that enchantments and spirits can work and speak without tongues and without organic instruments– without which it is impossible to speak– and can carry heaviest weights and raise storms and rain; and that men can be turned into cats and wolves and other beasts, although indeed it is those who affirm these things who first became beasts.

And surely if this Necromancy did exist, as is believed by small wits, there is nothing on the earth that would be of so much importance alike for the detriment and service of men, if it were true that there were in such an art a power to disturb the calm serenity of the air, converting it into darkness and making coruscations or winds, with terrific thunder and lightnings rushing through the darkness, and with violent storms overthrowing high buildings and rooting up forests; and thus to oppose armies, crushing and annihilating them; and, besides these frightful storms may deprive the peasants of the reward of their labours.–Now what kind of warfare is there to hurt the enemy so much as to deprive him of the harvest? What naval warfare could be compared with this? I say, the man who has power to command the winds and to make ruinous gales by which any fleet may be submerged, –surely a man who could command such violent forces would be lord of the nations, and no human ingenuity could resist his crushing force. The hidden treasures and gems reposing in the body of the earth would all be made manifest to him. No lock nor fortress, though impregnable, would be able to save any one against the will of the necromancer. He would have himself carried through the air from East to West and through all the opposite sides of the universe. But why should I enlarge further upon this? What is there that could not be done by such a craftsman? Almost nothing, except to escape death. Hereby I have explained in part the mischief and the usefulness, contained in this art, if it is real; and if it is real why has it not remained among men who desire it so much, having nothing to do with any deity? For I know that there are numberless people who would, to satisfy a whim, destroy God and all the universe; and if this necromancy, being, as it were, so necessary to men, has not been left among them, it can never have existed, nor will it ever exist according to the definition of the spirit, which is invisible in substance; for within the elements there are no incorporate things, because where there is no body, there is a vacuum; and no vacuum can exist in the elements because it would be immediately filled up.

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The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore by Patricia Monaghan

Necromancy

Cosmological concept. There is some question as to whether the Celts employed what is today called necromancy – speaking with or raising the dead, sometimes with the intention of gathering information that only they possess. Folkloric tales describe witches or fairies as having this ability, but it is unclear whether normal people could attain it. In Irish texts we find a description of a long rite employed by a bard seeking to gain information through necromancy.

*More can be read in the book.

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The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells by Judika Illes

Necromancy

Technically necromancy is a divination system that exploits the special powers of the dead. It has come to encompass contacting the dead by various means to extract information, about the future or otherwise. Necromancy is a word frequently misused and misunderstood: it’s been used as a catchall label for any sort of cemetery desecration. Although desecration may occur in the name of communication (and one person’s ritual is another person’s desecration), vandalism and desecration for its own sake or for destructive purposes is not necromancy under any definition, and there are many methods of contacting and speaking with dead souls that do not involve a trip to the graveyard, nor require any contact with a corpse at all.

Necromancy exists because the end of life doesn’t necessarily end the need for one person to talk to another. Necromancy also exists because some metaphysical systems believe that dead souls are the only ones both privy to certain information and able to share that information in a lucid manner with the living.

Because it’s believed that the dead are no longer bound by the limitations of the mortal physical realm, they are able to foresee events, understand the past and be either persuaded or compelled to reveal these details. Necromancy may be used to reveal the future or to gain understanding of a past or current situation.

Two kinds of souls may be summoned:

  • Those with ties of love and loyalty to you, who are probably inclined to be helpful
  • Those who must be compelled to appear and provide assistance

Different methods of summoning exist for different souls. Whether there must be contact with the corpse depends upon the method chosen.

The ancient Greeks believed that the recently deceased were more coherent than those who had been dead for a while. In essence, the long-deceased are out of practice. The longer one has been dead, the further away from the land of the living one has drifted. It becomes harder for the living to understand the dead and likewise for the dead to comprehend the living person’s needs, desires and even language. Hence the Greeks’ inclination to use fresh corpses in necromantic ritual.

Of course, all of this depends upon whether you believe that love, loyalty and consciousness transcend death. For some cultures, all semblance of human feelings and memory immediately ceases at death, therefore there can be nothing benevolent about contacting the dead. Any contact with the dead is thus, by definition, malevolent sorcery.

The most famous modern necromantic device is the ouija board, available at toy stores amongst the board games, and its relative, the planchette. This begs another point of consideration. Some philosophies consider that wisdom and foresight are acquired during the death process. Others believe that nature and intelligence after death remains what it was during life. In other words, if Aunt Sophie never gave you good advice while she was alive, what makes you think that she’ll do any better now that she’s dead?

Be cautious whose advice is relied upon, whether it derives from living sources or those beyond the grave. The ouija board is considered something of a portal to the next realm: an open telephone line, as it were. Consider who speaks with you before continuing and maintaining any conversations.

These are all remnants of shamanic rites, out of context. When shamans are banished, people attempt to do needed jobs themselves, as best as they are able, whether or not they have been extensively trained.

Necromancy should be preceded by intensive cleansing and protective spells. Fasting probably wouldn’t hurt and may make the process more successful to boot. Wear or carry protective amulets and charms.

*More can be read in the book.

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The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft by Judika Illes

Necromancer: Often incorrectly used as a synonym for “sorcerer” (and a malevolent one at that), technically necromancer indicates a practitioner of necromancy, the art of divination via communication with the dead.

Necromancy

“Necromancer” is sometimes used as a synonym for “sorcerer” with the added implication of “evil sorcerer.” Necromancy is frequently used as a synonym for malevolent, harmful witchcraft. Often, those who realize that necromancy has something to do with death interpret the word to mean “corpse desecration.” None of these definitions are correct.

Technically, necromancy indicates divination using the dead as a tool in the same manner that cartomancy indicates divination via cards. There are many techniques of divination; most do not involve a trip to the cemetery or any contact with a corpse although a few methods do.

Necromancy is most frequently practiced via various divination techniques included scrying, dream incubation, séances and the use of witchboards. Botanical techniques are also incorporated: in Virgil’s Aeneid, the golden bough (mistletoe) is the passport to the realm of the dead.

Of course, necromancy is not just any form of divination. People have always been fascinated with mysteries of life and death: necromancy is, at its finest expression, a sacred, spiritual art that attempts to bridge the realms of the living and the dead.

Necromancy is rooted in shamanic techniques for journeying between realms. There are several beliefs at the heart of necromancy:

  • Certain secrets can only be discovered in the realm of the dead
  • When the living die, time stops for them and they are able thus to see the past and future equally well
  • Because dead souls were once living people, they can communicate with people more clearly than spirits who sometimes have difficulty expressing themselves to people in a lucid, understandable fashion.
  • Ancestral spirits are genuinely interested in your welfare: there are no ancestors without descendants. Their well-being depends on yours. Therefore, ancestral spirits in particular may be contacted for assistance and information.

Most necromantic systems believe that dead souls can communicate with the living no matter how long they’ve been dead—hence the practice of attempting to contact historic figures, sometimes long gone, at séances. Ancient Greek shamans, however, disagreed. They perceived that the longer someone was dead, the further away from the living they traveled. The longer a person was dead, the less likely it would be that they could communicate lucidly with the living or even understand the living person’s concerns—hence the need for actual contact with a fresh corpse or a recently buried one. Classical Greek and Roman authors describe witches digging in the cemetery with horror but this was the true spiritual basis of the practice, however by then shamanic traditions had fallen from fashion.

Legendary necromancers include Circe and the Witch of Endor. In Assyria, a special name existed for this type of practitioner: “Raiser of the Departed Spirit.”

In Book XI of Homer’s Odyssey, composed in the ninth-century BCE but based on earlier sources, the goddess Circe advises Odysseus that he must obtain council from the dead prophet Tiresias. There is only one way to accomplish this: under Circe’s tutelage, Odysseus engages in necromancy. He enters the realm of the dead via shamanic rituals including a blood sacrifice. Homer indicates no revulsion or sense of wrongdoing. By Plato’s time however, in the fourth-century BCE, necromancy was viewed with revulsion.

Witches have traditionally been accused of defiling gravesites and corpses. However, most necromantic practices do not require either.

*More can be read in the book.

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The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca by Rosemary Ellen Guiley

necromancy An ancient art of conjuring the dead for the purpose of divi nation. Necromancy is condemned by the Catholic Church as “the agency of evil spirits,” and in Elizabethan England it was outlawed by the Witchcraft Act of 1604. Throughout history, necromancy has been feared and reviled as one of the ugliest and most repugnant of magical rites. Necromantic rites are

not part of contemporary Paganism and Witchcraft. Necromancy is not to be confused with conjuring demons or the Devil. The spirits of the dead are sought for information because they are no longer bound by the earthly plane and therefore supposedly have access to information beyond that available to the living. Conjured spirits are asked about the future and where to find buried treasure. There are two kinds of necromancy: raising a corpse itself to life and, more commonly, summoning the spirit of the corpse.

*More can be read in the book.

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Further Reading:

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Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel

Magic involving the summoning or raising of the dead is called necromancy. Sometimes it is used to refer to black magic or witchcraft, but it is a form of magic all its own. It is sometimes called “death magic” as it relates to the dead. It is used to communicate with the dead to learn the future, discover hidden knowledge, bring the dead to life or to use the dead as a weapon.

Necromancy was prevalent in the Ancient world. Even Odysseus had help from Circe to raise the shades of the dead to find the knowledge he needed. It survived centuries. During the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci was accused of necromancy because he used corpses for his anatomical studies – the Pope forced him to give up his research. And in modern times séances are held whenever someone wants to know something from a dead person.

Whether it is eating corpses and surrounding oneself with things representing the dead or just fooling around with candles, talking to the dead can only lead to madness, despair and death.

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Necromancy in Modern Culture

When I think “necromancy/necromancer”, I immediately think of Lord Voldemort, Ra’s al Ghul and Sauron.

Lord Voldemort (Tom Riddle)

Albus Dumbledore mentioned in his notes on Beedle the Bard that Necromancy was “a branch of magic that has never worked”. Assuming the original goal of Necromancy was to bring people back from the dead, this is mostly true: whilst it was possible to create Inferi, these were mindless creatures with no soul or intelligence, despite possessing human corpses and hence were not truly “raised” persons.
Tom Riddle was a notable practitioner of this branch of dark magic, having created an army of Inferi during the First Wizarding War, mainly from the corpses of people he had murdered. Possibly his largest army of Inferi inhabited The Cave where he hid Salazar Slytherin’s Locket, to protect it from potential intruders.[4] He further grew his army of the undead during the Second Wizarding War, which often created thick grey mists in the areas they occupied.

Learn more about necromancy in the Harry Potter world here.
An inferius. Image credit.

Ra’s al Ghul (Arrowverse)

A form of sorcery that draws upon the spirits of the dead to perform such feats as reanimating a corpse to create an obedient revenant or binding an undeparted soul to the will of the necromancer. Necromancers may also channel upon the raw energies of death to enhance themselves.

Sara Lance, Damien Darhk and John Constantine have performed this type of necromancy. Check it out here.

There are waters in Nanda Parbat. They’ve permitted Ra’s to live for over a hundred years. And in rare instances, told in legend, those waters have been used to restore the dead to life.“—Malcolm Merlyn[src]
The Lazarus Pit,[1] historically known as the Fountain of Youth,[2] is a pool of regenerative waters that allowed the user to heal themselves of any wounds, or even prevent aging to a certain extent. The Pit can be found only at specific intersections of Earth‘s ley lines. The only known Lazarus Pit was owned by Ra’s al Ghul before his death, by his predecessors, and lastly by Malcolm Merlyn, and is located within its chamber in Nanda Parbat. This pool in Nanda Parbat has since been destroyed by Nyssa al Ghul as revenge for Malcolm using the Pit to revive Sara Lance without her soul. However, Malcolm later learned of the existence of three other Pits.

Ra’s al Ghul’s type of necromancy. Check it out here.
Ra’s heals himself. Image credit.

Sauron (The Lord of the Rings)

The Dark Powers are powers possessed by evil characters in Tolkien’s legendarium. These are powers of corruption wielded by Melkor and Sauron in the forms of the Discord Of Melkor and the Rings of Power. It seems that the all encompassing darkness is one capability alongside necromancy.
Known wielders of the Dark Powers are SauronUngoliant and Melkor.

The Dark Powers in lotr wiki
Sauron as depicted in the movies. Image credit.

Sauron (or Þauron (Thauron); QuenyaIPA: [ˈsaʊron] or Vanyarin; IPA: [ˈθaʊron] – “The Abhorred”), the eponymous Lord of the Rings, was a fallen Maia, creator of the One Ring, a gifted student of Aulë the Smith and lieutenant of Melkor (Morgoth). After Melkor’s defeat by the Valar, Sauron became the second Dark Lord and sought to conquer Arda by creating the Rings of Power.
In the Second Age, he was defeated in the War of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men united under kings Gil-galad and Elendil. In the final battle, Isildur managed to cut the One Ring from Sauron’s finger, dismantling the Dark Lord’s corporeal form and power. After centuries lying dormant, rebuilding his strength, Sauron returned to power late in the Third Age, but was permanently crippled in the War of the Ring after Frodo Baggins destroyed the One Ring in Mount Doom.
His name is sometimes seen written as Thauron (Þauron), an earlier pronunciation of Sauron.

Learn more about Sauron on the lotr wiki

Titles of Sauron.

  • The Lord of the Rings
  • The Enemy
  • The Nameless Enemy
  • The Deceiver
  • The Dark Lord (Post-First Age)
  • The Lord of Barad-dûr
  • The Lord of Mordor
  • The Necromancer (First Age/Third Age)

Check out this awesome trailer of a movie filled with necromancy and necromancers.

I did a quick search on IMDb and got this list of “most popular necromancy movies and TV shows“. Check it out.

In books, I’ve found this series by Icy Sedgwick: Underground City Series.

Though Jyximus Faire lives in a crumbling tenement in the Underground City, he escapes the squalor daily to attend lessons in magic and sorcery at the prestigious Academy in the City Above. But the pace isn’t fast enough for Jyx. He wants to learn everything – and he wants to learn it now.

Then the dread necromancer general Eufame Delsenza sets her sights on Jyx; she needs a new apprentice, and Jyx fits the bill. When she tasks him with helping to prepare royal mummies for an all-important procession, he realises this might be a chance of a lifetime.

Will Jyx’s impatience lead to him taking his education into his own inexperienced hands, and can a necromancer’s apprentice really learn to raise the dead – and control them?

Check it out on Goodreads.

In Merlin, Morgana uses necromancy.

Determined to stop her vision from coming true, she visits the Dochraid for advice regarding necromancy. The hag explains to Morgana that with the enchanted coin Morgause gave her, she will be able to summon a shade from the dead and bend it to her will. Morgana therefore goes to summon Lancelot and molds his resurrected self, devoid of memory and his former sense of morality, for her malignant purposes.

Learn more about it here.
Morgana and the revived as a shade Lancelot. Image credit.

Necromancy in My Writing

Origin of the Fae: Necromancy
Dark magic concerned with raising the dead, calling upon spirits to do the bidding of the necromancer, and all-around bad, unnatural magic.
Ankou, King of the Dead, isn’t fond of necromancers, though he tolerates and even humours them on occasion.
Carnelian is a powerful stone for them to draw their powers from. They also use solar eclipses and other astral events to power their magic.

necromancer translation english afrikaans
Learn more here.

Where did you hear about necromancers for the first time? What do you think of this type of magic? Any folklore about necromancers you’d like to share? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to the subject.

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6 thoughts on “Unnatural Magic #folklore #AtoZChallenge”

  1. Another creepy death one. True confession: I totally believe in talking/communing with the dead, as Catholic, so in a good way. But not trying to control people, alive or “dead” (not currently alive on earth.) This is such an interesting reflection on necromancy from the other side. My personal belief is we shouldn’t fear death or the dead, as on my maternal (Buddhist) side there is also so much reverence, not fear for those who go before. I always thought of necromancy as trying to control the dead, not talk to them, which I think is wrong – trying to control anyone really. So many deep thoughts here. Maybe this is all a misunderstanding and we are all on the same side then? I love how you weave so many different perspectives on one idea, like a full essay each time.

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