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Necromancy, or communicating with the spirits of the dead, is an ancient and venerable magical tradition and is an integral part of most shamanic and polytheistic religions. Present day religions as diverse as Shinto and Santeria still practice necromancy in the form of contact and sacrifice to ancestral spirits.

Monotheistic religions such as Christianity have traditionally frowned upon the practice of necromancy, and during the medieval and renaissance periods the practice almost died out in the Western world, apart from isolated cases associated with classical sorcery. One of the best examples of such is Eliphas Levi's evocation of the spirit of Apollonius of Tyana, described in his book Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie:

The cabinet prepared for the evocation was situated in a turret; it contained four concave mirrors and a species of altar having a white marble top, encircled by a chain of magnetized iron. The Sign of the Pentagram, as given in the fifth chapter of this work, was graven and gilded on the white marble surface; it was inscribed also in various colours upon a new white lambskin stretched beneath the altar. In the middle of the marble table there was a small copper chafing-dish, containing charcoal of alder and laurel wood; another chafing-dish was set before me on a tripod. I was clothed in a white garment, very similar to the alb of our catholic priests, but longer and wider, and I wore upon my head a crown of vervain leaves, intertwined with a golden chain. I held a new sword in one hand, and in the other the “Ritual”. I kindled two fires with the requisite prepared substances, and began reading the evocations of the “Ritual” in a voice at first low, but rising by degrees. The smoke spread, the flame caused the objects upon which it fell to waver, then it went out, the smoke still floating white and slow about the marble altar; I seemed to feel a quaking of the earth, my ears tingled, my heart beat quickly. I heaped more twigs and perfumes on the chafing-dishes, and as the flame again burst up, I beheld distinctly, before the altar, the figure of a man of more than normal size, which dissolved and vanished away. I recommenced the evocations and placed myself within a circle which I had drawn previously between the tripod and the altar. Thereupon the mirror which was behind the altar seemed to brighten in its depth, a wan form was outlined therein, which increased and seemed to approach by degrees. Three times, and with closed eyes, I invoked Apollonius. When I again looked forth there was a man in front of me, wrapped from head to foot in a species of shroud, which seemed more grey than white. He was lean, melancholy and beardless, and did not altogether correspond to my preconceived notion of Apollonius. I experienced an abnormally cold sensation, and when I endeavoured to question the phantom I could not articulate a syllable. I therefore placed my hand upon the Sign of the Pentagram, and pointed the sword at the figure, commanding it mentally to obey and not alarm me, in virtue of the said sign. The form thereupon became vague, and suddenly disappeared. I directed it to return, and presently felt, as it were, a breath close by me; something touched my hand which was holding the sword, and the arm became immediately benumbed as far as the elbow. I divined that the sword displeased the spirit, and I therefore placed it point downwards, close by me, within the circle. The human figure reappeared immediately, but I experienced such an intense weakness in all my limbs, and a swooning sensation came so quickly over me, that I made two steps to sit down, whereupon I fell into a profound lethargy, accompanied by dreams, of which I had only a confused recollection when I came again to myself. For several subsequent days my arm remained benumbed and painful. The apparition did not speak to me, but it seemed that the questions I had designed to ask answered themselves in my mind. To that of the lady an interior voice replied – Death! – it was concerning a man about whom she desired information. As for myself, I sought to know whether reconciliation and forgiveness were possible between two persons who occupied my thoughts, and the same inexorable echo within me answered – Dead!

Necromancy underwent a huge revival in the late 19th century under the guise of spiritualism, reaching its zenith in the post World War I era, when seances were held regularly in most towns across Europe and the USA in attempts to contact relatives who had died in the fighting or in the flu epidemic shortly afterwards. Despite many of these seances eventually to have been proven fraudulent, spiritualism is still extremely popular in many places today.

Although generally not considered a technique associated with Thelema, the Gnostic Mass does contain an element of necromancy in the Deacon's invocation of the Gnostic Saints during the Collects:

Oh Sons of the Lion and the Snake! With all thy saints we worthily commemorate them worthy that were and are and are to come. May their Essence be here present, potent, puissant and paternal to perfect this feast!

and the Priest's subsequent communication with these dead Saints :

Hear ye all, saints of the true church of old time now essentially present , that of ye we claim heirship, with ye we claim communion, from ye we claim benediction in the name of IAÔ.

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