Monday, November 14, 2011

Necromancy: Sources!

Tiresias appears to Odysseus

Medieval/Grimoire Necromancy:
Magic in the Middle Ages by Richard Kieckhefer.
Forbidden Rites by Richard Kieckhefer.

Magic in the Middle Ages specifically has a chapter entitled Necromancy in the Clerical Underworld, which discusses some of the sources for necromancy in the Grimoires, and who was practicing it. Forbidden Rites, on the other hand, is a republication and discussion on CLM 849 “The Necromancer's Handbook,” or “the Munich Handbook” as it's respectively known. Conjurations from this Grimoire may well trigger a horde of spirits that come to beat the fuck out of your circle. So, y'know, have fun with that. You may also reach the much vaulted vision state, by which the manuscript appears to operate. It includes directions for scrying and other forms of divination, and a whole slew of angry medieval demons, for you to screw your life up with! And it's all in Latin. Owen Davies' book on Grimoires is more of a general overview of the various forms of magical books, but is helpful in certain instances by examining the contents of some of the various Grimoires and the sources they drew off.

Classical/Graeco-Roman Necromancy:
Jesus the Magician by Morton Smith

I am still making my way through Ogden's Greek and Roman Necromancy, and so I cannot comment on his second book. His first is a recompiling of literary and historical examples of Greek and Roman practices centered around necromancy. Insofar as information surrounding the practices go, it's been incredibly helpful toward my sorting of information on the subject. It also helps give you a general idea of why the practice was so widespread in Greece and Rome. I have not read Luck's book at all; it sits on my shelf, neglected for now. Betz's tome contains more than a few rituals for dealing with the dead. Morton Smith's Jesus the Magician was my first reference point for the subject of Goetes, the guys that practiced classical Goetia. (Betz dedicates his tome to Smith.)

I have raved about how great the Geosophia is more than enough. However it's precursor, the True Grimoire by Mr. Stratton-Kent, has been long praised by more than a few individuals. Like Luck's Arcana Mundi, it also sits neglected on my shelf. That said, the Grimoirium Verum is probably my favorite of the Grimoires.

Note: I am being extremely flippant with my treatment of CLM 849. Not all conjurations will occasion a horde of marauding spirits, nor will all of the demons/spirits categorized as demons, fuck with you. However, in the event you've supposed that classical necromancy was just divination involving the dead, you might want to consult the historians. Who seem to disagree with such assessments. Most classical necromantic events (according to Ogden) were precipitated  by a spirit beating the shit out of someone, forcing them to go and consult an oracle that dealt with such things. Ogden writes that this is the most common reason for consulting an oracle at a Nekyomanteion. Secondarily, Ogden suggests that at most of the Nekyomanteion oracular sites there was an individual referred to as a Psychagogeo. Ogden specifically translates the term as evocator. He cites a play by Aeschylus entitled The Psychagogoi, which recounts Odysseus' Necromancy, but with a slightly different flavor than usual:
A lake takes the focal role in the fragments of Aeschylus's account of Odysseus's necromancy, Psuchagogoi.The “evocators” of the title announce themselves with the words,“We, the race that round the lake, do honor Hermes as our ancestor.” Like Circe in the Odyssey they instruct Odysseus in necromantic rites:
“Come now, guest-friend, be stood on the grassy and sacred enclosure of the fearful lake. Slash the gullet of the neck, and let the blood of this sacrificial victim flow into the murky depths of reeds, as a drink for the lifeless. Call upon the primeval earth and chthonic Hermes, escort of the dead, and ask chthonic Zeus to send up the swarm of night-wanderers from the mouths of the rive, from which this melancholy off-flow of water, unfit for washing hands, is sent up by the Stygian springs.” - Aeschylus, Psychagogoi (F273a,TrGF)
In this case, the Psychagogeo are mythic individuals (the sons of Hermes), but in most historical incidents they were real people, apparently trained in raising up and dealing with spirits.

Edit x2: I feel there is one more issue that bears discussion. In the event of sacrifice, many misunderstandings arise. One is that the the sacrifice is a wasteful occasion.

In the event that, say, a Ram would be sacrificed:
- The blood appears to have been used, primarily, to empower a disempowered spirit or ghost.
- The body of the Ram would be immolated in the name of the Nether gods after it had been skinned.
- The skin of the Ram would then be worn into the Nekyomanteion, and the individual would sleep and incubate an experience of discussion with the ghost.

The fleece would thereafter become a ritual instrument, but the entire process has meaning and utility. I am not suggesting that anyone immolate Rams in the name of the nether gods; however, I do think you must be, very, very careful about how you categorize sacrifice and what you think is going on. After all, it still happens routinely today. The giving of something of value, to feed the gods and help establish the connections by which you are operating, is something which is never done lightly. It is done for specific purposes, and in specific circumstances.


Brother Christopher said...

I found Greek and Roman Necromancy a really interesting read.

if you want something that takes a look at the evolving views of the Dead from Scandinavian countries I recommend "The Return of the Dead" by Claude Lecouteux (trans. by Jon E. Graham). There is a brief description of ritual performed that summoned the dead to ascertain whether someone had died from an accident or from murder neat stuff.

Rex said...

I've heard CLM 849 is extremely difficult to read due to the hastily scribbled Latin of the time and how much other stuff (alchemy, astral magick, scrying, etc) was included in their. I'm quite glad that Kieckhefer included the entire text in his book.

If I ever get out of this financial debt that i'm in and can get a passport, visa, and travel money the first stop i'm hitting is Greece. As you know the Romans destroyed what was supposed to have been the entire Necromanteion but according to Wikepedia a site was excavated in 1958 that a certain scholar said had very similar characteristics to that found in the accounts of Herodotus and Homer. Even though the site is questioned due to it's geography, I would still like to investigate myself.