Fortunately for chickens, blood sacrifices aren’t necessary to raise the dead…
I’ve written a few books (don’t look so shocked, I am capable of stringing more than two paragraphs together at a time) and I usually try to involve a nice dollop of necromancy wherever I can. There’s an art to raising the dead and the procedure varies depending on who you talk to.
The word Necromancy comes from the Greek words ‘nekrós’ (meaning dead body) and manteía (divination) but engaging in ‘necromancy’ sounds a lot better than nipping out for a spot of ‘corpse divining’.
Necromancy should not necessarily be considered an ‘evil’ practice. Just because someone dies, it doesn’t mean people stop wanting to talk to them. If someone visits a relative’s grave and asks them for a sign that the departed is happy, should they be accused of a malign act? However, asking for a winning set of lottery numbers might be pushing it a bit.
In Greek mythology, necromancers could spend weeks preparing necromatic rituals before the actual event took place (preferably in a graveyard) and things could get pretty…um… grim. The necromancer surrounded himself with as many morbid articles as possible, including wearing articles of the dead person’s clothing or sacrificing unsuspecting animals so the spirits could drink their blood (being a Greek chicken must have really sucked). Occasionally the ritual involved the mutilation and even (best put your sandwich down) the consumption of corpses. Greek mythology advises that the best time to raise a corpse is within twelve months of death. After that, raising a dead person for a chat seems to become rather difficult (I suppose a lack of lips and flesh in general might be an issue) and the necromancer would have to settle for trying to summon the person’s spirit instead for a chat. An alternative reason given for the Greeks preferring to speak to the dead sooner rather than later was that the longer it was left, the further away the dead drifted from the land of the living, making it harder to communicate.
In Greek mythology, Charon, the ferryman of Hades, carried souls of the newly dead across the River Styx…
Unfortunately, many people are convinced that necromancy insists on a blood sacrifice of some kind (I confess, the rituals in my books often involve a bemused goat or chicken getting the chop in a rather unsavoury manner, but none of the rituals are based on real events… well, no events that I’ve ever attended anyway). One Greek ritual that does require the use of blood (but chickens can still sleep safely because this ritual only uses a small drop of human blood) instructs the necromancer to dig a ditch deep enough to stand in, surround it with incense and then pour in a mixture of wine, honey and milk. A figure made of dough should be made to represent the person you want to talk to, dressed with a few bay leaves and some fennel. Then you nick your finger (we’re not talking a mortal wound here, just a few drops is enough) and add the blood to the mixture in the ditch. Here’s the best bit – you then work yourself into an ecstatic state (a few cans of Red Bull will probably do the trick) before finally speaking to the dead. I should think the first response you will get from the dead is ‘what the hell are you doing?’
Modern day necromancy no longer tries to yank the dead from their graves in a physical sense but has turned to a more subtle manipulation of death. Necromancy these days appears to have become nothing more than glorified mediumship and we’ve all seen how the world has suddenly become riddled with mediums over the past few years (be warned: I quickly learned that asking a medium for proof of their mediumistic talents generally seems to start World War III and comments like ‘I don’t have to prove anything to you’ are all you get for your troubles). Ouija boards, another form of communicating with the dead which has been tarred with the ‘evil’ brush, are also considered a form of necromancy but I’ll tackle that subject in another post.
Necromancy rituals range from the mundane to the crazy
So, how else can you go about raising the dead? Well, there are numerous rituals, some of which are pretty mundane, others so crazy even I wouldn’t attempt them. One of the easier rituals is to walk around a cemetery three times whilst focusing on the question you want to ask. Allegedly the dead will then appear to you and you can ask them what you want to know. Another alternative is to concoct an infusion yerba santa, also known as the ‘holy herb’. If you sprinkle the liquid over the grave of the person you wish to speak to, they will communicate with you in your dreams.
Another form of necromancy is zombification which has links to Voodoo. Occurrences of seemingly dead people being brought back to life have sometimes been explained by way of a toxic substance being surreptitiously administered to the victim (sometimes said to be a powder – or poudre – containing elements of stone fish or puffer fish which brings on the appearance of death in its victim). The necromancer is then said to be able to miraculously ‘revive’ the victim with an antidote but unfortunately the victim is then forced to be a slave to the necromancer because, as a side effect, they are left without a will of their own. The toxin used by Voodoo practitioners has so far never been obtained by outsiders and so its existence remains questionable.
Of course, the above information is purely to keep you amused and I do not advocate the consumption of copious amounts of Red Bull in search of that elusive ‘ecstatic’ state the Greeks went in for, practising zombification on your friends or haranguing the dead for lottery numbers.
Oh, and leave those chickens alone, too.
©Nicola Kirk and http://www.nicolakirk.wordpress.com 2010
Wikipedia – Necromancy
Zombies – Monstrous.Com
The Element Encyclopaedia of 5,000 Spells – Judika Illes
Encyclopaedia of the Undead – Dr. Bob Curran