Necromancy was not linked in the Middle Ages as it is perhaps today so much with the raising of the dead, but rather with the summoning of demons. Demonic Magic and Necromancy were one and the same thing.
The Arabic magical text, Picatrix, was a well known source in the later medieval West for those wishing to practice necromancy.
See also my Reading List for Magic in the Middle Ages.
The Practice of Necromancy
Necromancy was regarded as an ascetic approach sometimes. Virtues such as chastity were important
Followers clothe themselves in black and white out of reverence to demons.
Use was made of books such as the Table of Solomon and Honorius the Necromancer’s Treasury of Necromancy.
Explicit worship of demons implied by the actions of necromancers. They would genufluct and sing and chant to the demons they worship. There would be the sacrifice of animals and their own blood. Furthermore necromancers would promise obedience and devote themselves to the service of the demons.
Three main aims of necromancy
- To affect other people’s minds and wills – for instance afflicting a person so they cannot sleep. Inflame them to love or hatred, to gain their favour or constrain them to do or not do some deed.
- Create illusions. Such as a boat or horse to take him wherever he wishes to go. An extravagant feast. Raise the dead: a consecrated ring, placed on the hand or foot of a corpse will summon six demons in turn, each of whom will animate the body for one day so that it can rise up and speak. The same ring on the finger of a living person will make him appear dead until it is recovered.
- To discern secret things in the past, present and future. Formulas for finding stolen goods, for identifying a thief or murderer, for discerning if a friend is sick or well or knowledge in general about them. Knowledge is provided by spirits, who will appear in a virgin boy, in a crystal, on a mirror, on the blade of sword, on the greased shoulder blade of a ram, or on a boy’s fingernail. If the spirit appears in the form of a king the boy should invite him to dismount and bring his throne to sit on and suggest sending for a ram to eat. When the king has dined the boy should have him remove his crown, put his right hand on his head and swear to tell the truth.
Magic circles, conjurations and sacrifices are the main elements of the technique of necromancy.
Can be traced on the ground with a sword or knife, or inscribed on a piece of parchment or cloth.
Sometimes simple geometrical forms with a few words or characters inscribed about the circumference. Often more complex.
Can be inscribed in blood – e.g. that of a hoopoe. Can be inscribed on the skin of a lion or on virgin parchment.
Circular bands often contain names for God and snippets of Christian liturgy, e.g. Salue crux digna or common magic word AGLA = hebrew Ata Gibor Leolam Adonai – thou art mighty for ever, O Lord.
Objects: e.g. sword, crosses, vessel for oil, ring, a sceptre.
Circles not necessarily for protection – could be where the demons are summoned to appear. More used as a way of collecting together symbols and inscriptions.
“I adjure you” or “I conjure you” are common.
Standard Christian prayers mingled in. One experiment requires kneeling with folded hands, turning towards heaven, and saying a prayer to the most high and benign King of the East.
Could require repitition – 3 or 7 times.
Conjurations might often require spirits to appear in pleasant form: a king, a staff of servants, a band of sailors, a black man, and above all a knight. Or a black dog that will answer all questions.
Conjuration derived from exorcism:
“I command you, O most wicked dragon, by the power of the Lord, [and] I adjure you in the name of the Lamb without blemish who walks on the asp and the basilisk, and who has trampled the lion and the dragon; may you carry out quickly whatever I command. Tremble and fear when the name of God is invoked, the God whom hell fears and to whom the virtues of heaven, the powers, dominations, and other virtues are subject and whom they fear and adore, and whom cherubim and seraphim praise with untiring voices. The Word made flesh commands you. He who was born a virgin commands you. Jesus of Nazareth, who created you, commands you, to fulfill at once all that I ask of you, or all that I wish to have or to know. For the longer you delay in doing what I command or order, the more your punishment will increase from day to day. I exorcise you, O accursed and lying spirit, by the words of truth.”
“Diabolo diaboliczo, Satana sathanaiczo, come here to me, I wish to speak to you, and take the presents that I have brought you.”
Other names for spirits: Oriens, Amaymon, Paymon and Egim – who rule over the four compass directions and have leagues of demons under them.
Only good angels known were: Gabriel, Michael and Raphael – use of other names likely to be suspect, I.e. demons, eg:
Uriel, Raguel, Tubuel, Adin, Tabuas, Sabaok and Simiel.
A captive hoopoe – the demons will ask for this bird, and will be given to them once they have sworn to obey the necromancer.
Albert the Great: the brain, tongue and heart of the hoopoe are especially valuable for enchanters.
Widely believed that demons, like classical ghosts, can be enticed by blood, or wine that looks like blood. Also that human flesh is used – either their own or that of a corpse.
Sacrifice could also be of other things: milk, honey, ashes, flour, salt – presents for the demons.
Image magic usually sympathetic – requires an image of the person to be affected.
Fumigation often used, like in astral magic. Fumigating an image with myrrh, saffron, a circle with the marrow of a dead man,
Astrological images used to summon demons – link with astral magic – Michael Scot.
Examples of Necromany and Demonic Magic:
To obtain the love of a woman:
While reciting incantations, the magician takes the blood of a dove and uses it to draw a naked woman on the skin of a female dog. The writes the names of demons on various parts of the image, and commands the demons to afflict those parts of the woman’s body so that she will be inflamed with love for him.
He fumigates the image with the smoke of myrrh and saffron, while conjuring demons to afflict her so that day and night she will think of nothing but him.
He hangs the image around his neck, goes to a secret place either alone or with three trustworthy companions, and with his sword traces a circle on the ground with the names of the demons all around its edge. Then he stands inside the circle and conjures the demons. They come in the form of six servants, ready to do his will. He tells them to go and fetch the woman for him without doing any harm, and they do so. She is perplexed, but willing to do his will. While she is there, a demon takes her place at home so that her departure will not be noticed.
How to arouse hatred between two friends:
Two stones are buried beneath the friends thresholds, then unearthed and cast into a fire, then fumigated with sulphur, left three days in water, and smashed together. As the magician fumigates them he conjures forth “all hateful demons, malignant, invidious, and contentious” by the power of God.
He demands that the demons arouse between the friends as much hatred as exists among the demons, or as much as existed between Cain and Abel. While striking the stones together he says “I do not strike these stones together, but I strike X. and Y., whose names are carved here.” Finally he buries the stones separately. Should he with to undo his damage, he should dig up the stones, heat them, crush them, and cast the fragments into a river.
How to become invisible:
The magician goes to a field outside a town and traces a circle on the ground. He fumigates the circle, and sprinkles it and himself with holy water while reciting Psalm 51:7: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
He kneels down and conjures various spirits, compelling them in the name of God to come and to his bidding. The spirits suddenly appear within the circle and ask what he wants. He requests a “cap of invisibility”. One of the spirits goes and procures such a headpiece, and gives it to him in exchange for his white robe. If the magician does not return to the same place three days later to retrieve his robe and burn it, he will die within seven days.
Names of the demons invoked: