Raising the Dead: A History of Early Modern British Necromancy


Raising the Dead: A History of Early Modern British Necromancy


A self-contained one-off class on necromancy in early modern Britain (1500-1700), combining a long-form illustrated lecture with access to full scans of the thirteen primary sources cited and explored, with a full set of suggested reading to follow up this class. 

The material focuses on three main areas of necromancy: death, dying and funerary contexts in the early modern British Isles; the uses of corpses as spell components; and nigromancy, 'Geocie', witchcraft, and ghostlore.

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The early modern age of 1500-1700 was a period of European colonial expansion into the so-called ‘New World’, civil wars, famine, and plague: life could indeed be ‘nasty, brutish, and short’. Amidst such fragile mortality, people prayed for their deceased, petitioned elevated Christian martyrs, witnessed ghosts, and whispered of black magic in midnight graveyards.

This talk investigates the roles and powers of the dead in Western occult philosophy and magical practices: from magical funerary customs to corpses as spell components, and from the exorcism and summoning of ghosts and spirits to early sensationalist reports of the customs of various indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Finally, this talk investigates the diabolical associations of necromancy and “nigromancy” with witchcraft and demonology, offering analysis of a number of pre-modern rituals and techniques involving shades of the dead.

This talk-bundle includes:

An illustrated lecture of 1 hour 40 minutes duration
13 primary source documents concerning early modern necromancy
Bibliography of further reading

A full "table of contents" of the talk itself runs:

1. Dying in Early Modern England

Death Rates
Civil Wars & War Dead
Plague, Famine & Unusual Causes of Death
Death Customs
Funerary Objects: Shrouds, Bells, & Salt
Grave Goods & Commemorations

2. Corpses and Components

Sacrifices to Zagam
Depositories of Virtue
Unadulterated Animal Passions
Corpses & the Contagion of Deathly Virtues
"Haunted" Objects
Dead Man's Blood

3. Shady Customers

Ghosts: Apparitions & Visitations
Mr Culpeper's Ghost
The Church's Position
How To Survive A Haunting
Nigromancy, Witchcraft, & Diabolism
Necromancy: My Favourite Definition
Legality of Necromancy
Exorcism & Ghost-Laying
Colonialism and "Native Black Magic"
'Geotick' Nigromancy & Grimoires of Ill Repute
An Experiment of the Dead
The Excellent Booke of the Arte of Magick
Another Experiment of the Dead


The full list of the primary source documents explored in the lecture and included in the talk-bundle runs:

A True Relation of the Horrid Ghost of a Woman (London, 1673)
Thomas Ady, A Candle in the Dark (London, 1655)
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy (London, 1651)
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, Vanity of the Arts and Sciences (London, 1676)
John Aubrey, Miscellanies (London, 1696)
Thomas Barlow, A Letter Concerning Invocation of Saints, and Adoration of the Cross (London, 1679)
Thomas Blout, Glossographia (London, 1661)
Nicholas Culpeper, The English Physition (London, 1652)
Mr Culpeper’s Ghost, Giving Seasonable Advice to the Lovers of his Writings (London, 1656)
John Goad, Astrometeorologica (London, 1686)
John Heydon, The Harmony of the World (London, 1661)
William Lilly, History of his Life and Times (London, 1715)
Reginald Scot, Discoverie of Witchcraft (London, 1584: 1665)