Cameron Murray looks at a dark ancient magical practise and its bizarre connections.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary Necromancy is:
“The supposed practice of communicating with the dead, especially in order to predict the future: alchemy, necromancy and other magical practices.”
Most people involved in the Occult have not conducted rites they would consider to be Necromantic as the image Occult Practitioners have of the art involves midnight in a cemetery, arcane languages and the invocation of dangerous entities. The magician will often have an assistant, and every article and procedure must conform to very strict rules. In the first place, they must find a suitable location for their rites, which may be underground either a subterranean vault, hung with black and lighted by a magical torch, or else the centre of some forest or empty desert. It may be amid the ruins of ancient castle, abbey, monastery or some private detached churchyard, or any other solemn, melancholy place between the hours of darkest night, either when the moon shines bright, or else when the elements are disturbed with storms of thunder, lightning, wind, and rain. Some practises are plain and others grotesque Rituals could be very elaborate, involving creating magic circles and triangles of art out of chalk and raising a spectral wraith from a grave and with incantations and magical menaces, ordering it to answer questions. Some rituals involved mutilating corpses or consuming them.
Truth be told, that is one way to do it. In the Christian era, Europe and the Levant learned of the art from the Bible with scripture citing the Witch of Endor at the wish of Saul raise the spirit of Samuel.
While we could take this article down the road of a wikipedia description fit for coffee table reading, however Necromancy has taken an interesting route since the 18th century. In fact it has taken two routes and the stating of this may even be classed as controversial.
Firstly Necromancy took an unexpected but perhaps not unsurprising turn with the likes of Jasper Bamberg, an Alchemist and Necromancer from the Low Countries. He is referred to in the book Vader Simon Witgeest and lived in the early 18th century. Ordinarily Jasper would not stand out as there were a number of Alchemists in particular during this period trying to make a living by turning base metals to gold.
Jasper however, as a Necromancer was to stand out and inadvertently started a conjuring dynasty that is still classed as special by modern day conjuring historians. As a Necromancer the founder of the Bamberg clan used cutting edge 1700s technology. He used magic lanterns, smoke and revolving mirrors in darkened rooms. To see the eerie effects and artistry employed by Jasper Bamberg was receive a spine-tingling exhibition of raising the dead that no one would ever forget. While this charlatanism will have some yelling fraud, it is without doubt that this man also had strong connection to the likes of Cagliostro and with his Alchemical interests it is obvious he straddled the Occult and Performance Art with perfect ease.
Whilst I do not wish to give a biography of the Bamberg family, Jasper’s son Eliaser was without doubt a conjurer who lost his leg in naval battle against France in 1793, became known for street performing in his local town and making frogs appear at will. He was also a skilled maker of Automata. These mechanical marvels, if any reader has had the chance to see, would surely agree have a creepiness and otherworldly quality and like the magic lantern of his fathers day this was cutting edge technology.
The Bamberg lineage was strongly Masonic and over the years involved royal patronage, as the Alchemists of old used to enjoy. In fact the Bambergs were Magicians to the Dutch Royal Court.
Once into the 20th century the Bambergs sought to retain esoteric mystery and thus began the commencement of Oriental conjuring. First with Theo Bamberg performing in silken robes as Okito and then his son David as Fu Manchu. Fu Manchu passed away in 1974 and with him ended the Magical Bambergs (as his children did not continue to perform) that began with Necromancer and Alchemist Jasper. It is interesting to note the Bambergs in their conjuring guise, were not only great artists but originators and innovators to a point that made them a worldwide phenomenon. Part of this included Fu Manchu’s famous bullet catching act which is recorded and available on video http://youtu.be/TSw5UMVcI3g
With the example, and a prominent one too, the Bambergs show how Necromancy developed as Performance art and conjuring. Jasper using technology to guarantee the appearance of spirits, so perhaps although his family line were conjurers, he was the father of the horror movie and special effects.
Secondly taking Necromancy to its origin we have shamanic contact with spirits. As such irrespective of religious or spiritual dressing and belief we essentially have the modern Medium. However the split between Mediumship or Spiritualism and the conjuring of the Bambergs is a little messy.
Leah,Margaret and Kate Fox, famous as the founders of Spiritualism in the 19th century. They enjoyed great success as Mediums but Margaret and Kate in 1888 confessed to their séances being fraudulent. The following year Margaret attempted to retract her confession but it was no use. Within half a decade all sisters were dead and both Margaret and Kate passed away in abject poverty. This Spiritualist movement was born however and it continued undamaged by the earthquake confession. A different style than Jasper with his theatricality but the Fox sisters admitted they were of the same mind.
Spiritualism was joined by the efforts of Frenchman Allan Kardec’s Spiritism movement. Kardecs works “The Spirit’s Book” and “The Medium’s Book” swiftly became handbooks for anyone looking to contact those beyond the grave. It is important to note Spiritualism and Spiritism are not the same entity, Spiritism for instance believes in reincarnation.
The die was cast and from Necromancy in the 17th and 18th century, it was to come in from the cemetery and into the parlour. It was no longer necessary to dismember or eat flesh, cast magic circles and utter long latin or Hebrew incantations or even to be a man. Contacting the dead came indoors, needed little paraphernalia and many Mediums were to be women. The only similarity with the old days was the need for darkness.
However over time technology was to be employed to fraudulently add spice to séances. Hands cast in paraffin wax, ectoplasm and even small well trained children stuffed into secret sections of a dinner table to give the appropriate rapping noises, all still echo the work of Jasper Bamberg and family. Many are aware of Harry Houdini, a Bamberg contemporary séance busting exploits, indeed many conjurers today hold this up as evidence all Mediumship being fraudulent. In fact it only serves to prove frauds of only those so-called Mediums unmasked. We do need to state clearly, the reason Houdini was interested in Spiritualism was because his mother had passed away and he wanted to remain in contact after her death. So despite his stellar conjuring profession he wanted the comfort a Medium would be able to provide.
Often I am asked how I can defend Spiritualism or Spiritism considering the evidence of fakery. The answer to me is simple; those acting as Mediums either were Mediums or frauds from the outset. Those genuine Mediums found themselves contacting more and more souls sent to spirit from incredible diseases, more and more infant mortality and ever more mechanised warfare. Some I feel were seduced by fraudulence as their job was becoming too harrowing and for others it perhaps gave the sitters the exact sort of peace and proof that they were looking for. Other, a great many Mediums remained genuine and were sadly stained by those using dubious means. It tickles me frauds were being scared witless in the 1950s by conjurers such as Tony Corinda who produced a spirit in a fraudulent Medium’s spirit cabinet. The séance was set in a hotel room. The Medium was driven to intense fear and ran screaming from the room. As a Psychic I applaud such actions as I do not want charlatans ruining what should be an honest and loving profession.
Necromancy changed in the Georgian era, then split to conjuring or Mediumship also as we have read, there was some crossover. The linking factor to me is showmanship. Both new roles required bucket-loads of it.
The Victorian and then Edwardian eras still used darkness and night. The cemetery by moonlight was changed to the séance room with candles. The trappings changed from robes, swords and magic wands to spirit cabinets, dolls, school slates and chalk.
This changed with the 1930s to include electricity, dim red lights, ouija “talking” boards, pendulums. It is with credit many mediums during the early 20th century used the latest technology and sought to find new ways of permitting the spirits reveal themselves.
Bringing Mediumship and as such Necromancy to the present day, the process of ritual changed from cemetery with Dr John Dee booming out Enochian Angelic incantations to the dark parlour and quiet loving words of Mediums and finally it arrived at an era of Spiritualist Church, community halls and brightly lit theatres. Instead of 5 or 6 sitters at a table we now have hundreds or thousands in a single venue with a spotlight on a solitary figure with the audience hanging on every word. As referred to earlier, showmanship. It obviously makes sense to the many rows of sitters as only good results can guarantee the packed houses some Mediums get.
Even now the conjurers who arguably come from the same origin still try and prove fraud. Paul Zenon, a conjuror of much renown and fame who used to be a Fortune Teller wrote an article in the Daily Mail claiming celebrated Medium Sally Morgan used an earpiece during performance in Dublin. This case became huge in 2011 and Sally Morgan took this to court and the newspaper agreed to pay £125,000 in libel damages.
With television now seeing Mediumship as something that is sure to get bums on seats. We are strongly aware from the 20th century at the very least, contact beyond the grave is and was of strong importance across all social strata if makes us wonder if the Necromancy of old was just as strong. How many ate of corpses, dug up bodies and cast magic circles. With society’s penchant for revisiting the past how many are revisiting that very style today.
Necromancy is niche if we think of it’s old form and it is interesting to note during the time when its Mediumistic incarnation was prevalent some authors such as H.P Lovecraft were penning tales with necromantic incantations borrowed from A.E Waite’s works on Eliphas Levi.
“The essential Saltes of Animals may be so prepared and preserved, that an ingenious Man may have the whole Ark of Noah in his own Studie, and raise the fine Shape of an Animal out of its Ashes at his Pleasure; and by the lyke Method from the essential Saltes of humane Dust, a Philosopher may, without any criminal Necromancy, call up the Shape of any dead Ancestour from the Dust whereinto his Bodie has been incinerated.
— The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, section II, part 1”
In conclusion what are we to think about Necromancy? Has it become more accessable? Yes undoubtedly, by making it less arcane and more people friendly its modern Mediumship incarnation is certainly far more palatable than digging up graves at midnight. However we need to acknowledge the fakery and why it is present, the showmanship. It is a strange paradox, the darkest and most arcane ancient rites known to mankind gave birth to two children, pole apart and eternally squabbling.