Some Definitions, Odds & Ends

Definitions are funny things, in a way, and I suspect were I writing a more academic treatise I’d have to mince my words carefully in this post as I’m sure that there are doubtless a number of my peers both in the esoteric communities that I amble around who have their own definitions on what comprises necromancy and what makes one a necromancer. Thankfully, being a personal blog focusing primarily on my own explorations, I have a little bit more freedom in describing this black art which defines my personal practice and experiences here.

At its most basic root etymology, necromancy is “divination by communication with the dead,” borrowed in its current English use from the Old French nigromancie which by that time had already started taking on a number of different associations from mere communication and divination with the spirits of the dead and began to include intersectional practices such as sorcery, witchcraft, and what we would now call goetic magic and even diabolism. In his Three Books of Occult Philosophy (Book Three, chapter 42), Agrippa says of necromancy:

“Necromancy hath its name, because it worketh on the bodies of the dead, and giveth answers by the ghosts and apparitions of the dead, and subterrany spirits, alluring them into the carkasses [carcasses] of the dead, by certain hellish charms, and infernall invocations, and by deadly sacrifices, and wicked oblations.”[1]

A paragraph later in the same chapter, Agrippa then narrows the practice down to two chief methods:

“[But] there are two kinds of Necromancy, the one called Necromancy, raising the carkasses [carcasses], which is not done without blood. The other Sciomancy, in which the calling up of the shadow only sufficeth: to conclude, it worketh all its experiments by the carkases [carcasses] of the slain, and their bones and members, and what is from them, because there is in these things a spirituall power friendly to them.”[2]

For the purposes of my work, both could be said to adequately describe my approaches to necromancy, though if I were to create my own definition, it would be something along the lines of:

“Practices of interfacing directly through divinatory tools and mediumistic trance with discarnate and chthonic entities through the use of prayer, magical and other devotional practices.”

In my experience it is difficult to separate any clear line between what we would call necromancy from practices associated with the dead, inclusive of ancestor veneration, as well as practices which could be considered by some to be goetic magic as history and practice seems to indicate they all share a commonality in both historical derivation and contemporary practice. One element, however, that I feel deserves more attention is that of mediumship as this ecstatic practice in modern magical literature is more often than not relegated to a footnote instead of being a vital link into living magical traditions.

Mediumship is perhaps one of the near universals of practice in every culture linking us to the spirits. I say “universal” as what we could consider mediumship can be observed across cultures and, as an ecstatic practice, very clearly goes back to our ancestors from the beginning of time and the animistic practices of our Paleolithic ancestors. While we cannot be entirely certain the methodologies employed by these pre-modern societies, I think it can be safe to conjecture that they were little different from what we observe in present non-industrial tribal cultures and cultures that still maintain strong elements of animistic practice.

How I came to mediumship was definitely anomalous, however my training and education in it is largely based on three different personalities whose work profoundly influenced contemporary modern occultism, namely Emmanuel Swedenborg, Louis-Claude de Saint Martin, and Allan Kardec. While I appreciate and consider the first two to be profoundly influential in my life, it is Kardec whose systematic exploration of the processes called Spiritism that would influence me the most in my practices as a medium and modern necromancer.

Born in Lyons shortly after the French Revolution, polymath and translator Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail began his explorations into a systematic understanding of the emergent phenomena of Spiritism as it began to emerge at the apex of the technological, scientific and cultural innovations of characterized as la belle époque. Writing under the pseudonym Allan Kardec, Ravail would then systematize his experiments along with the revelations provided him by mediums into what he would call the Spiritist Codification comprising five books: the Spirits’ Book, Mediums’ Book, Gospel According to Spiritism, Heaven and Hell, and Genesis According to Spiritism.

Individually, the first two texts would seek to create a comprehensive understanding of the phenomena of spirits and their relationship to mediums; the third a comprehensive understanding of the first two relations along with that of the Christian worldview in which Kardec lived; and the last two, wholly eschatological and cosmological considerations of spirits and humanity. While I can’t say I share the same conclusions of cosmology as Kardec, I feel that the methodology he outlines in the Spirits’ Book and Mediums’ Book provide a wonderful foundation into a modern necromantic practice that can be applied (sans eschatology) to anyone honestly seeking to explore the world of the Spirits and engage with them.

How does one, then, begin to explore the relationships between necromancy as daily practice, mediumship, goetia, and ceremonial practice? Well, I suppose that being the purpose of this blog you will be able to follow along and find out at least how I go about it in my own queer manner bridging the gaps of information with the materials and information I’ve been provided through research, word of mouth, data from my own experimentation and a healthy dose of levity, curiosity, and a little bit of diabolism and piety thrown in as well for good measure.

Necromancy

[1] AGRIPPA, H. C. (2018). THREE BOOKS OF OCCULT PHILOSOPHY. S.l.: LLEWELLYN.

[2] Ibid.

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A Lacuna

In the current period of the twenty-first century, the practices of necromancy in nearly all of its many forms, is a reconstruction of disparate practices borrowing from a wide variety of sources: medieval magical manuscripts, archeological evidence of practices from pre-Christian sources, nineteenth century spiritualism, elements of folk and popular Roman Catholicism, among many other sources too numerous to mention. In common with revivals of European indigenous polytheist practices, we lack with a living and unbroken tradition of practices such as found in Lucumí, Candomblé, Las Reglas de Congo, or even Spiritualism as practiced and explored by pioneers such as Emmanuel Swedenborg, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, Ida Craddock, and Allan Kardec. This lacuna, of course, is not necessarily a defection of tradition rather in many ways an opportunity to rebuild a set of honest exploration in our communication with the world of the dead in an intentional and critical manner contextual to the world in which we now live. The first step in this direction is to understand what we mean when talking about the spirits.

Our society’s doubt about the existence of spirits owing to the excesses of Enlightenment era, rational materialism, is a cause for our ignorance of the spiritual world. While polls such as Associated Press-GfK and Gallup consistently indicate a belief in spiritual beings on a surface cultural level, for the majority of people spirits are usually thought of as beings apart from creation, whose necessity is not demonstrated, frequently a supernatural being who has less power than what is agreed upon as being a god or goddess based on literary and cultural norms. Whatever may be one’s idea of spirits, this belief arises from the predication of the existence of an intelligent principle that exists apart from what is conventionally considered material. This last part, however, may also be the crux of our misunderstanding, specifically viewing these beings as necessarily immaterial.

As a near universal in societies, there exists a continuum of belief in the interdependence between the dead and the living. Prayers and offerings are addressed to ancestors, seeking assistance in curing diseases, averting calamities, and bringing prosperity and happiness to descendants. In return, spirits of the deceased needed to be nurtured, ritually fed, and made to feel a part of the living world. If the we understand the spirits as necessarily material, the importance of actively engaging with them beyond the conventional Cartesian abstraction popularly utilized when discussing these matters, then necromancy not only becomes possible but necessary as part of even more fully understanding the complexities of our own etheric anatomy but also construct an embodied cosmology that holistically intersects with physical and spiritual worlds.

A modern necromancy then, as historically and preserved in indigenous cultures, is a feeding of souls both our own living spirits within our bodies as well as the now deceased whose bodies are our bodies as well as those spirits whose bodies are now very much part of the ground upon which we now stand. Part of filling the lacunae of history and praxis now includes bridging the contexts in which historical traditional relationships were forged between the dead and the living, as well as informing and integrating this with our own subjective experience, expertise, and breathing the our life into the blackest nights from the blackest parts of our hearts and filling in the spaces between with new possibilities and narratives.

The First Post

IT would be easy, I suppose, to narrate my story like Oliver Twist and treat you to the place where I was born, and of the circumstances attending my birth; my growth, education, board and how I came to be the person I am after all my adventures and misadventures, but that would be impossible and perhaps a little tedious.

Suffice it to say, I don’t know the circumstances of my birth nor how Fate seemed it kind to fortunately place me in the loving hands of a family of farmers in the Puyallup River Valley who themselves were the children and grandchildren of homesteaders from Northern Europe, primarily. What I can tell you is about the beauty of growing up in a community – perhaps one of the last of its kind in my part of the world – where everyone knew everyone and everyone’s story. I grew up raising cattle, playing in the barns and cabins built by my maternal grandparents, and attending to the acres of raspberries and other crops we raised alongside Native American and Latino day laborers.

I went to the same school as my parents and my brothers before me. Many of my teachers were either former classmates of my parents and also had the pleasure and dismay of teaching my older brothers – depending on who’s telling the story at the time and how many beers have passed since we gathered around the bonfire blazing high with the limbs of corn and bramble branches with a healthy dose of gasoline thrown on top for show. These circumstances and many others may be unremarkable to some, perhaps you’ve experienced them yourself. This is of no matter because to me it was magic and that’s where my story begins.

After the fires died and my parents and their friends adjourned to the kitchen to warm themselves from the crisp Autumn cold, I stayed by the dying firelight and watched the shadows play off the cracked windows of the barn as the coyotes emerged from the grasses in the lowlands where the river used to flow before it was levied in order to provide farmers more place to field their livestock. In the dying firelight I saw sparks dance like miniature people rising toward the stars and descend into a labyrinth of red and black and gray. As the stars came out, I saw bodies wrap themselves in mist and congregate row after row in the berries and share stories with one another in words that I couldn’t hear.

When it came time for me to go to bed, I’d smell roses in the room where my grandmother spent the last years of her life with us as her body faded away and remember the times we’d spend praying the rosary and watching television while she smoked her Malibu thins and drank beer. I’d also remember stories of my uncle John, whom I never met, but probably would have liked if I knew him when he was alive. I also remember rushing past my the room where my great grandfather lived when I had to go to the bathroom at night because he honestly hated kids – good thing he was dead and would politely just close the door.

“The improvements that have been effected in natural philosophy have by degrees convinced the enlightened part of mankind that the material universe is everywhere subject to laws, fixed in their weight, measure and duration, capable of the most exact calculation, and which in no case admit of variation and exception… in the infancy and less mature state of human knowledge. The chain of causes and consequences was yet unrecognized; and events perpetually occurred, for which no sagacity that was then in being was able to assign an original. Hence men felt themselves habitually disposed to refer many of the appearances with which they were conversant to the agency of invisible intelligences; sometimes under the influence of a benignant disposition, sometimes of malice, and sometimes perhaps from an inclination to make themselves sport of the wonder and astonishment of ignorant mortals.”[i]

I don’t pretend to know how I came to magic, but I knew what it was – it was in the change of seasons, the agricultural cycles we followed, raising cattle from calf to steer, chicken from egg to hen, and all the stories of how my mother divined the names of me and my siblings’ by birth order with the aid of a Ouija board and pendulum. It was also in the apocryphal stories of a young monk who fell to his death and haunted what would become my alma mater. It was being taught by a large Native American woman how her people greeted the day and made offerings to the day. It was also in books that I stole from Barnes & Nobles that promised ancient wisdom and symbols to effect change on the face of reality. It was also singing Christmas carols with family and friends year, after year, after year and trips to Pike Place Market or going to the Washington Coast and seeing the sun rise and fall over the Pacific.

When I started my studies in magic, I knew it all. Not that I was some Merlin-like prodigy by any stretch of the imagination – hardly that at all – what I mean to say is that I was an unusually bright child with a penchant for tall tales and insatiable curiosity and wouldn’t shy away from causing mischief if it would suit my mercurial impishness or attitude problems. I suppose that’s why I ended up making the school bully get hit by a car, breaking his legs and hips, with the use of my mother’s sewing needles, a chicken heart and a heavily redacted ritual to the Horned God and Lady compliments of Cunningham [ii]and Leland[iii].

As I grew up and my family got the internet, I would spend hours researching whatever I could find on magic, folklore, and mythology. There wasn’t much back then, but there was Hermetic.com, hours of porn and learning the hard way the importance of making browser history disappear at the stroke of midnight. But then I digress – I’m a sucker for storytelling and thank you for your indulgences. I’ll need those when I go to join the ranks of the dead (hopefully a very long time away from now).

SO, why should this blog interest you?

Well, if you’ve found this blog it’s highly likely that you’re probably a magician of some stripe or one of my friends who’ve been pestering me to get back to writing in a more focused manner.

If you’re the former, I hope that in sharing my observations and engaging in dialogue we might be able to inform our practices and respectfully critique our experiences in a courteous manner that is mutually beneficial to us as individuals as well as to the benefit of the level of discourse in the greater community.

If you’re a friend of mine whose been pestering me to get back to writing in a more focused manner, I apologize in advance for anything I write that might disappoint your estimation of my abilities, magical and mental prowess and penchant for shenanigans.

If it so happens you’re both, I think you’ll enjoy my writing and musings and occasional snarky comments on Ye Arte of Social Magic. In all seriousness, though, whether you’re a practicing magician or merely interested in it from an academic perspective (or secretly writing slash fic about me and need fodder to build a more believable character – in which case please share!) I imagine there will be something to delight and intrigue.

By and large, my esoteric interests lie in the history and phenomenology of magic from the Antique to Contemporary era. I’ll leave it for you to decide what this means, but in practice it largely means reading a lot of old texts like a 21st Century scholar and abusing them like a 12th Century renegade cleric. I’m primarily concerned with the intersections between necromancy and the grimoire genre as well as their influences and confluences into historical and contemporary spiritualism in both Old and New Worlds. On occasion I might veer off the beaten road and into other territories such as American traditional witchcraft, New and Old World necromancy, lodge ceremonial, and indigenous or traditional Spiritualist practices of the New World, but for the most part what you’ll be reading are the musings of a very Cascadian, would-be Wise One following the paths of the magicians and graveyard wanderers who came before me and hopefully leading those who will come after down an interesting path.

 

[i] Godwin, William. Lives of the Necromancers: Or, An Account of the Most Eminent Persons in Successive Ages, Who Have Claimed for Themselves, or to Whom Has Been Imputed by Others, the Exercise of Magical Power. London: F.J. Mason, 1834.

[ii] (Sorry) Cunningham, Scott. Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1993.

[iii] Leland, Charles Godfrey. Aradia; Or, The Gospel of the Witches. London: D. Nutt, 1899.