Let’s Talk About Necromancy

Witch oil painting

Defining Necromancy

Necro just means death (necropolis, necrosis, necronomicon… you get it) and has two meanings: the first is a form of divination/mediumship/spiritwork involving the summoning of the dead in the form of spirits and communicating with them to gain knowledge and foreknowledge and the second is witchcraft and sorcery in general usually practiced specifically by a witch. Not really so scary, right? More like ancestor worship and witchcraft than all the horrible things you were thinking. As for reanimation of corpses, well you’ll need to read The Serpent and the Rainbow to learn about real zombies.

The second definition gives away that witchcraft and sorcery have some inherent association with death and with the history of witches being moon worshippers and gathering at night, it doesn’t surprise me. Witches work with spirits, spirits come from death. Think about it, we don’t just work with dead people; those herbs you used in your incense are dead parts of plants, and that skull on your altar is from a dead animal. Even those witch gods you invoke may just be the first ancestors or ancient ancestors who practiced as you do.

To be a necromancer one needs to accept death and not fear it. One also needs to have reverence for death and not be insensitive to it – a life, is a life, is a life after all – not matter how seemingly small. We will all die. Everything will die. The entire Universe will come to an end one day. It is easier to forget that and push it aside in our squeamish age of modern medicine with death and suffering hidden behind sterilized doors. So much easier than those who lived during the black plague, the worst smallpox outbreaks, and the bloody massacres of battles without long-distance weapons. So much easier than the times of our ancestors who had to hunt, kill, gut, and clean animals for their own food, who watched executions, and who had to wash and prepare the bodies of their own dead loved ones for burial.

Those who fear death will fear spirits and not be able to do this work and be so close to death. If you are afraid maybe you should be a healer or a poet or a worshipper of gods of life. There is no shame in walking with the Sun instead of the Moon; some people don’t belong in the shadows and need the light instead to be healthy and happy.

Animal Necromancy

An animal necromancer works with animal spirits and animal bones, teeth, claws, feathers, and skins. They are essentially animal spirit workers, shapeshifters, and bone collectors. Bone collectors today are much more likely to work with animal remains unless they happen to be a funeral director or are a cemetery caretaker. Our animistic ancestors believed that in order for a creature to be reborn, all its bones had to be returned to the earth intact. If a bone was missing it was replaced with wood. Bones were also kept, however, and used to adorn, to make fetiches, kept in sacred vessels, and for other ritualistic uses. For such purposes a rite of release is important to free the spirit of the animal from its remains if it so chooses. For such purposes the animal should be found dead, as it is not the most ethical action to kill a creature with the sole intent of ceremonial use (please don’t kill your cat just for it’s bones no matter what your book of authentic black magic spells tells you). It is likely the spirit of the creature would curse you rather than lending you their aid. Traditions vary, however, and there are always exceptions.

Plant Necromancy

Not a path so much as a practice; the harvesting of herbs from cemeteries and graves, the harvesting and communion with plants associated with death and the underworld and poison plants that cause death, the knowledge of plants that can bring those close to death back to life, the use of such plants to summon and manifest spirits of the dead, the use of these plants to travel to and from the underworld safely, the killing of a plant to birth an alraun… and so many more secrets the plant spirits teach. Plants know much about death as many die every year to be reborn again through root or seed, revived by the warm light of the Sun.  Others, like the great Yew, live and die at the same time and are masters of life, death, and rebirth. The plant necromancer is a master of entheogens and poisons and knows well the way to the underworld through the roots of the World Tree.

Human Necromancy

Human necromancy is so much more complex and full of differing roles and abilities and each one important, but almost forgotten in the modern world due to our fear of death. This necromancy belongs to those who can see and hear the dead – it’s best left alone by those who cannot. They resolve conflict between the living and the dead, the new generations and the ancestors. They aid the lost and forgotten. They smooth the way to death for the dying. They care for the ashes, bones, and graves of the dead. They are much-needed in our world full of spirits.

Bone Collector – The One Who Cares for the Remnants of the Dead

Grave-Tender – The One Who Remembers the Dead

Medium – The One Who is Ridden by the Spirits

Poisoner – The One Who Causes Death

Psychopomp – The One Who is the Guide of Death

Seer – The One Who Sees and Hears Spirits

Sin-Eater – The One Who Purifies the Souls of the Dead to Set Them Free

Author Sarah

Illustrator and weaver of words. Witch. Forest siren with talons, succubic tendencies, a love of otherworldly beauty, poisonous plants, wild places and dead things.

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Join the discussion 34 Comments

  • Nymphaea says:

    Would the killing of an animal such as the deer as part of a ritual, a sacred hunt, and then using all the parts of the animal, meat for food, hide, bones, etc, curse the bones?

  • Snow says:

    AAAA+++++!!!!! AWESOME you!

  • Shadow says:

    Thank you for this, for many reasons which I am unable to articulate at this time.

  • Good food for thought…I’ve often wondered if those who can hear the dead but can’t see them (or blocks it if that’s possible) that it’s because of their own unresolved issues about death? Interesting…enjoyed the post…

  • Sal The Spider says:

    I love your blog 🙂

  • lancemfoster says:

    Traditionally, some NA tribes (such as my own) strangled an animal such as a weasel when it was to be used for medicine or a medicine bundle. This trapped the breath of life in the skin. When we sacrificed dogs in the old days to the Diseasemaker to take away smallpox or the Water to release the souls of the drowned, they were hung by the neck and their spirits given. This is also reflected in the horror of tribes in the Euroamerican mode of execution which was hanging. This trapped the breath of the man (or woman) in his (her) body. Better to charge the enemy and be shot or stabbed than trapped in one’s dead body.

    This was all in the old days. We do not scalp or take heads etc. anymore either. The scalp gave control of the dead person’s spirit to the bundle owner or as a sacrifice of the spirit to Thunder. Anyways one could write a book on such things. One such book is “The taking and displaying of human body parts as trophies by Amerindians” by Richard J. Chacon and David H. Dye, eds.

    Here is another necromancer: http://mugami.wordpress.com/category/about-me/necromancy/

    The book “Communing with the Spirits: The Magical Practice of Necromancy” by Martin Coleman (pseudonym of Draja Mickaharic) is a must read for those interested in necromancy. One should approach such a practice with full awareness. It is a very serious commitment and has repercussions and prices to be paid. It isn’t a matter of looking “goth” and messing with body parts. Unless one considers an undertaker to be a necromancer 😉

    As -mancy, matic, -mancer etymologically all relate to divination, I sometimes wish there was another term, a more encompassing term, for magic inclusive of, but not specific to divination.

    Geomancy is specifically the practice of using the earth to divine, predict, etc., such as the practice and system of interpretation marks in dirt originating in the Middle East and transferred to Europe, such as written of by John Michael Greer and in the Golden Dawn system. For example, feng shui is often described as geomancy, but it is much broader than that, as feng shui does not focus only on divination using the earth but on correcting and utilizing the earth energies and dealing with earth spirits such as genius loci.

    So necromancy classically would be divination through the dead, such as that done in Palo, or oracular heads, or RJ Stewart’s “Tomb of a King,” etc. But operations focusing on raising the dead or operative spirits or sendings/revenants etc. are more than divination (-mancy), operations beyond divination. Soothing the dead, psychopomps, spirit releasement (laying ghosts) also are beyond necromancy, sensu strictu.

    In my youth, I was horrified by such things, as I said before. The Dead frightened me until only a few years ago. Never say never, is what life circumstances have been telling me. I had a dream a year or so ago about soothing the dead I am still trying to understand.

    • I do practice the divinatory type, but there is so much more to it. I agree that the word necromancy doesn’t truly encapsulate the practice as a whole. It’s funny how words change their meaning over time and use. No one questions the etymology, they just use words as they hear them and borrow them for other uses – such is the history of our language. I think “spirit work” covers all the bases rather nicely and without the darker connotations, but it seems to only just be finding common use in the community.

      To kill something is old magic, to harvest spirits and take their power -whether they be human or animal. That’s dark stuff leading to a dark road. Better to absorb willing spirits to gain their power in a relationship that is an exchange of energies, not a violent taking.

      • V.V.F. says:

        While I understand and even sympathize with the position that it’s wrong to take an animal’s power for your own (as in certain witchcraft rites discussed below), I don’t think it’s fair to lump that in with sacrificial practices that are done for the benefit of a community, or for the sake of the community’s survival. I don’t see how that’s any different from hunting and skinning animals for food and warmth.

        • I think I need to clarify since many seem to be hyper-focusing on that one sentence out of the whole post – I meant not to kill things for the sake of killing them for the bones for use in necromancy (in keeping with the context of the post) – not that ritual killing is horrible in general. When it comes to animal sacrifice, it’s all about cultural context and intent. This article is within the context of witchcraft applying to necromancy (not animal sacrifice) and the statement was not meant as a generalization, but more along the lines of “don’t kill your cat because you want its skull”. I hope we’re all on the same page now, sorry for any misunderstanding.

    • “The book “Communing with the Spirits: The Magical Practice of Necromancy” by Martin Coleman (pseudonym of Draja Mickaharic) is a must read for those interested in necromancy”

      I believe this would be a good book to have whether a person practices necromancy or not…thanks for the information, enjoyed your post…

  • A very interesting post, though it ended so suddenly I thought I had missed an entire paragraph or some such, hehe!

    You stated: “For such purposes the animal should be found dead, for it is taboo to kill a creature with the sole intent of ceremonial use. Such an act would only curse the bones and their keeper.” but what about the Toad Bone Rite? I know there is a lot of controversy over whether or not the toad should be found dead or alive. Though, I suppose we don’t really know for certain if the toad witches of the past found the toad alive or dead….Most of the stories I’ve read of modern toad witches found theirs dead and proceeded with the ritual.

    Thank you for the post 😀

    • Scylla says:

      The original Toadbone rite involves death. That is a core part of a specific “current” of that rite. For a meat eater in today’s world, any objection to the death of an animal is a point better left to a polite “Is that so?” and moving on. However, the rite itself involves a period where one is subjected to the experience of the death the amphibian endured – through that one might caution the prospective Toadwitch to kill the amphibian with kindness.

      Traditional is not right or wrong, it is traditional. Personal morals and permissions have to come into play. Absolutist views on these things won’t get far. Some are under a personal and spiritual geas or taboo not to take life, others are under the opposite.

      • Yes, I remember your post about the Toad Rite and you described your experience of being frozen and then burned. As I said every single modern account that I have found of the Toad Rite involved a toad already dead. It was much like how I found my little bumble bee sadly killed upon the road side. I took him home to give him a proper place in a working environment.

        One may even argue that finding a toad alive and then killing it for the sorcerer’s own purposes is actually quite selfish and would cause the spirits to curse the killer of the toad, wouldn’t you say?

  • nightjohn88 says:

    Great post! What are your thoughts, I wonder, on certain traditional spells often used in root work that involve the purposeful killing of animals in order to harvest their organs or other “useful” parts? The black cat bone spell comes to mind. I think people actually boiled living cats for this one.

  • Valiel says:

    Excellent article… It is such a rarely tackled topic.

    I wish I could learn more about the “how to” to help me grasp the path that is mine (the human part).

  • This is a very interesting post, and the comments have been quite illuminating as well. I’m curious about your opinion(s) on something related to this practice. In reading some of the primary sources and commentaries on medieval and Reformation-era witch trials lately, a charge I’ve frequently seen leveled at witches was cannibalism. I think that an argument could be made that while this is hyperbole, the ‘grain of truth’ in the accounts might be that by consuming the flesh of something one gains an intimacy with it, its ‘power,’ so to speak. Since witches were supposed to be in league with the dead, eating dead humans makes a sort of perverse sense. (Though let me be clear I am NOT advocating cannibalism!!!)

    In discussing animal and plant necromancy, then, would it seem appropriate to you that the necromancer should consume some of the flesh of the animal or a portion of the plant in order to gain access to it? This might explain the witch’s deep familiarity with things like entheogens–carefully managed trial and error would certainly teach which plants open which gates, and how far those gates get opened. As to the animal side of things, I know there are strong taboos in some cultures against eating one’s family animal/’totem.’ But perhaps the witch, as one who breaks taboos for the best reasons and in the most calculating ways, might consume the flesh of a sacred animal. What are your thoughts on that?

    A thoughtful and probably much-needed post. Thank you for sharing it!

    • I had an interesting dream about cannibalism, maybe I’ll post it as a story later on. It could be remnants of pagan funerary practices and the keeping of bones and body parts for folk magic that led to accusations of cannibalism… hard to say.

      I believe consumption is one of the forms of alignment to become closer to a plant or animal – it’s in your very blood at a cellular level when you eat of it – you can’t get much closer than that! To consume is to commune. The shamans in some indigenous cultures are forbidden to eat any meat that isn’t of a ritually slaughtered and blessed animal and that isn’t prepared by “pure” hands. Interesting, no?

  • Sandy says:

    Thank you. Excellent as usual! I am wondering if you have any recommendations for books on Plant necromancy?

  • Ambrosius says:

    Awesome post. The section on Plant Necromancy is particularly cool as it seemed logical to me that if folks using animal/human remains and such are doing animal/human necromancy then those using plant matter are doing plant necromancy. Made sense but I really didn’t have anything to go on. Kudos.

  • sara says:

    I tend towards the ancestor worship end of the spectrum (not that there is a spectrum, mind you, these are many different practices), mostly.

    In the past year, as my partner and I have been raising our own food, though, I’ve been sending off my chickens during the ritual of plucking and then cleaning them up for preparation as dinner, giving thanks for the gift of their flesh, for the gift of their feathers, and I ask permission to keep their feet and wings for the purpose of drying. I send them off (this is after they’ve been pithed and bled) with woodland tobacco, and home-grown poppy capsules, with a libation poured, and a bit of feed on the plate as well as a piece of sweet fruit like apple or persimmon (my cluckers love sweet fruits). My intention with this, initially, was to make contact in order to ensure a bird felt welcome to stick around if s/he cared to do so. And I took to salt-drying their feet and wings but have yet to cold water-macerate and then dry a skull. We’ll see what the new year brings. There are times when a specific task is very necessary, and then the next time it can vary widely from that.

  • Geetar646 says:

    Before we get into it I first need to state: no, I’m not talking about necrophilia you perverts. Oh Damn! That counts me out. Anyway, Sarah, I wanted to invite you to a holiday party. Already on the guest list: Erich Weiss (a/k/a “Houdini”), the Amazing Randy, Roger Morneau, and some crazy guy with holes in his hands and feet. RSVP!!

  • Lady Shardae says:

    Is there anywhere one can go to learn more? Such as books?

  • luceaschild says:

    I must say the comments have been as informative as the article! I’m certainly adding “Communing with the Spirits: The Magical Practice of Necromancy” to my book list… 🙂

  • lancemfoster says:

    Another book that looks worthy:
    The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind by Claude Lecouteux

  • Great article, really interesting!

    I’m curious about what you said about human necromancy around aiding and supporting those who are dying. How would a necromancer support this transition as opposed to a priest or a hospice nurse? Thanks.