Necromancy in Ancient Greece: Goeteia


Necromancers psichagogos, which meant that they were able to summon and manipulate the dead to achieve goals beyond divination. These necromancers were called goetis from goetia,, referred to dark magic intended to manipulate spirits or demons with evil intentions. This meant they were used to attract them to the world of living as well as for getting them back there. Their services were hired despite of fear since everybody knew about the influence and existence of the spirits and demons in daily life.

However, under archaeological references, curses were more frequent, in which the spirits were forced to act against will so we can say the fear was more about the fact of manipulating a demon than the demon itself.

Manipulating spirits-demons or dead people was especially carried out with those who were upset or forgotten: dead warriors, for example, could became guardian spirits, or they could not rest in peace if they failed or did not receive the proper burial so they could be hostile. Necromancer can take advantage of those similar situations for his evil objectives since his presence is a disaster and people often thought their souls could reach demon status so he could control forces beyond the power of the living. To do that, it was only necessary to explore their tombs to obtain a piece or a personal belonging and then summon them. Another way to communicate to underworld was to write a message or a curse in small metal sheets or in papyrus and bury it with the dead. Sometimes it was enough to summon since the power of the words was way better than the rest of the ritual.

We can find curses with many purposes through katadesmós or defixiones -"bonding" spells through lead nameplates in which they wrote or draw whatever was desired and then they were hit or drilled and then abandoned under earth, water, fire or a place for passage as a doorstep -, they were also used wax figures or wooden carving, stones or hit bones -which remind of the worst voodoo practices-, and also they wrote in papyrus or other materials, they indicated there the formula to the warlock -or containing them for their direct use-. These were more appropriate to summon spirits or make them do the evil mission for them, or for being the intermediary for underworld deities to gain their favour.

In the terms of love, they summon the dead's "properties", -it means his physical disability- to avoid the sexual act or in order to avoid to be hear or seen by the person who is the rival of the wizard or witch or the client. Other times the aim of the spirit is to softly scare the person chosen by the necromancer, preventing him or her from sleeping and giving him a lot of thoughts of his loved one and also to attract them both. There was a belief in which summoned demons could adopt physical form or at least copy their images to deceive enemies by pretending to be another person. They could intervene in the land of living in soft or violent way according to the wish of the person who summoned it to give "signs" or "messages" to the cursed one and convince him of the purposes of the necromancer.

The curses intended to kill a person by spirits intervention use formulas in which the name of the enemy is "recorded" among Hades population as if this way he could be called to the underworld. In those cases, the call is addressed to the underworld deities and the demon is only a messenger, more suited for the task. It was also common to ask demons or underworld gods for help when a person felt there was an injustice in which earthly laws could not apply, claiming for divine justice. They could call for anonymous spirit or known spirits, summoning them by their names and it seemed the results were not better if they chose a violent spirit, one without burial or a young on, although they are chosen because of the ease methods before mentioned. Some texts as The Frogs from Aristophanes established that they have to be summoned at least three times, but this seems to be a religious idea which is not exclusive for these practices.

In ritual practice, the curse could be taken off the person when it accomplished its aim, freeing the cursed one and the demon used. It is necessary to record this too, since the spirit would remain chained to the warlock and he would not rest or come back to the land of the dead, something negative for both since the demon can chase and punish him. The aim of the spell and also the freedom process are written on the formulas:

«(...)that when I exhume, unroll and read this, Dionisophon can be married, not before»(PGM XVI)

«If you do this for me, I will set you free» (Suppl. Mag. 46)

Necromancy directly related to magic according to manipulation was not reduced only to summon the dead, as we have seen. Everyone in the underworld could be required for the warlock's purposes, this, he could summon an entire family, a full necropolis and even underworld gods as Kore/Persephone, Hecate -goddess of witchcraft, Hermes Psychopomp or Hades himself, each one with their own appropriate evocation according to the aim of the wizards.

There was voces magicae for demons and spirits and also for gods and also names of supernatural powers with some complexity that were included on the texts and they allowed to chain and force the gods in the same way as a demon. Among them there were names of the god or Hebrew demons, Babylonian and Egyptian deities, etc. Those people were considered as magician. This complexity was extended through "ephesian words", words with no meaning that made difficult to cast the curses to those which were not initiated in the knowledge since the spell was not perfect, the results would not be good as well.

There were often included a series of magical symbols which must be with formula as for example magical triangles or "reversed wings" which are formed by vowels or words as "abracadabra". Nevertheless the researchers show that in magical practices there was a valid syncretism of all the close cultures. One example could be the word Iao which is related to Yahvéh but in the same time with one of the names of Denis or the intentional list of different deities and epithets mixed, the presence of one group would not affect the other.

«I place with thee, underworld gods, Pluto, Yesmigadoth and Kore Persephone Eresquigal and Adonis also called Barbarita and the underworld Hermes, Toth and the powerful Anubis Pseriphta who was the keys for the Hades (...) I summon thee, demon of dead. Whoever thou are, man or woman, by Barbaathan Cheloumbra Barouchambra Adonaios and by Abrath Abrasax Sesegen» (Suppl. Mag. 46)

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -

Rachel Black - Translator -

-Dodds, E.R., Los griegos y lo irracional. Alianza Editorial, Madrid, 1997
-Luck, G. Arcana Mundi: Magia y Ciencias Ocultas en el Mundo Griego y Romano, Gredos, 1995 / Arcana Mundi: Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman worlds, The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2006
-Martín Hernández, R; Torallas Tovar, S; Conversaciones con la muerte. Diálogos del hombre con el más allá: Desde la Antigüedad hasta la Edad Media, CSIC, Madrid 2011.
-Petropoulos, J.C.B., Greek magic: ancient, medieval and modern. Routledge, 2008- Textos de magia en Papiros Griegos, Biblioteca Clásica Gredos, 1987

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