To this point I’ve mostly posted about my interests in cartomancy and maybe a few posts alluding to my interests in a particular strand of American traditional witchcraft. While these are indeed an important part of my life, as a gentleman necromancer it would insincere of me to not post a few things now and then in my vocation interfacing with the dead and the living.
If I were forced to pigeonhole myself into a particular religious expression, I would unabashedly have to say that I’m catholic. Part of this is definitely due to the expression of Roman Catholicism I grew up with, however as the years have gone on it’s clearly apparent that I’ve deviated significantly from the teachings and dogmas of orthodox expressions of the faith. While I am to all outward appearances a Christian, this is ultimately nuanced by a dual observance in traditional witchcraft and belief in many numinous divine powers couched within the cultural milieu in which I live.
For the more orthodox, necromancy is a practice mentioned primarily in the Bible in order to forbid it or to reprove those who have recourse approach or engage it. As my definitions of necromancy are very broad, even “big tent”, I find room for it in my personal piety through the hallowed practice of praying for the dead, in particular those souls who may have found themselves lost between the realms of the living and the assumed eschatological destination: heaven, hell, or purgatory.
The custom of praying for the dead in historical apostolic Christianity is rooted in scripture (1 Maccabees 5:58, 2 Maccabees 12: 42-43, 46; Revelation 21:27, 1 Corinthians 3:12-15) as well as in the writings and teachings of countless theologians and the Fathers and Mothers of the Church. Over time many practices would eventually emerge for the living to pray for and with the dead. Pope St. Gregory the Great (540-604) would often offer Masses on behalf of the souls in Purgatory and by the late medieval period a number of elaborate practices would emerge in devotion to the dead, in particular to those in purgatory and indulgences would eventually become attached to them in order to encourage the piety of the faithful.
The word indulgence originally meant kindness or favor. In Latin it meant the remission of a tax or debt. Under Roman law it was used to express release from captivity or punishment. In this instance, an indulgence is given to remit the temporal punishment of sin that has been forgiven. As defined by the Catholic Encyclopedia, an indulgence:
“[Is] the extra-sacramental remission of the temporal punishment due, in God’s justice, to sin that has been forgiven, which remission is granted by the Church in the exercise of the power of the keys, through the application of the superabundant merits of Christ and of the saints, and for some just and reasonable motive.”
One such sacramental that has become particularly dear to me is the Pardon Crucifix. The Pardon Crucifix was introduced at the Marian Congress of Rome in 1904, with the support of his Eminence Cardinal Coullié, Archbishop of Lyon. As seen in the image below, the historic and inscription of the royalty of Jesus, INRI or the titulus crucis, appears in inscription over the head of Christ on a (typically) foliate crucifix. On the obverse at the center, the Sacred Heart shines forth with two inscriptions: on the horizontal bar, “Father forgive them”; and on the vertical bar, “Behold this Heart which has thus loved men.” At the base of the cross is then, is the monogram of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In 1905, Pope St. Pius X attached a particular indulgence to the Pardon Crucifix which was added to the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum or Handbook of Indulgences until revisions were made in later editions where it was removed though still remaining popular in personal devotion. At the time, Pope Pius X gave the following indulgences to this crucifix:
- Whoever carries on his person the Pardon Crucifix, may thereby gain an indulgence.
- For devoutly kissing the Crucifix, an indulgence is gained.
- Whoever says one of the following invocations before this crucifix may gain each time an indulgence: “Our Father who art in heaven, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” “I beg the Blessed Virgin Mary to pray to the Lord our God for me.”
- Whoever, habitually devout to this Crucifix, will fulfill the necessary conditions of Confession and Holy Communion, may gain a Plenary Indulgence on the following feasts: On the feasts of the Five Wounds of our Lord, the Invention of the Holy Cross, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Immaculate Conception, and the Seven Sorrows (Dolors) of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
- Whoever, at the moment of death, fortified with the Sacraments of the Church, or contrite of heart, in the supposition of being unable to receive them, will kiss this Crucifix and ask pardon of God for his sins, and pardon his neighbor, will gain a Plenary Indulgence.
As a tool of necromancy, the application of the Pardon Crucifix become clear in being a tool for interfacing with the souls of the dead in purgatory who, as we find in certain strains of traditional witchcraft, can become powerful allies in ones magical praxis. We find in Scot’s Discoverie (Book 15, chapter 17), praying for the dead is part and parcel with the operation An Experiment of the Dead. After praying for three days and abstaining from impurity, the magician is instructed to go to the grave of one who is newly buried – specifically one who has either committed suicide or died from self-destructive behaviors – or to one who is about to be hanged and exact from them an oath to be put into effect after their death.
Approaching the grave, the magician armed with a crystal and hazel wand approaches the grave, strikes the ground three times and conjures the spirit saying:
“Arise N. Arise N. I conjure thee Spirit N. by the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, that thou do obey my words, and come unto me this night verily and truly, as thou believest to be saved at the day of Judgement. And I will swear to thee an Oath, by the peril of my soul, that if thou wilt come to me, and appear to me this night, and shew me true visions in this Crystal-stone… I will give thee an alms-deed, and pray for thee N. to my Lord God, whereby thou mayest be restored to thy Salvation at the Resurrection day, to be received as one of the Elect of God, to the everlasting glory. Amen.”
While at the time of the writing of the Discoverie the Church of England had formally declared the doctrine of Purgatory “ a non-essential doctrine” in light of the reformation, it is clear the belief that laity could pray on behalf of the dead and the dead for the living remained in popular consciousness and would be preserved in magical practice, even if in the imagination of those who would write about witchcraft.
Applied, the magician or witch could feasibly create a list of spirits they have in their employ and at certain times during the month or yearly pray for them while utilizing the indulgences attached to the Pardon Crucifix for the benefit of these souls in order to fulfill the obligations “by the peril of [your] soul” to the spirit as well as gaining the spiritual protections and assistance associated with the pious reverence of this powerful sacramental. Similarly, for those inclined toward ancestor veneration, this practice can become a powerful vector for calibrating workings with one’s personal deceased relatives and mighty dead.