From Fortean Times 214 (October, 2006):

"Maybe 'Transmediumization' is long and important-looking enough to give me the appearance of really saying something" - Fort (Books, p1014) on the supernatural.

Strabo (Geography, bk16 ch2 para39) ascribes necromantic origins (FT197:53) to the Persians; Clement of Alexandria (Protrepticus, ch2) to Babylonians and Etruscans; Theodoret (Cure of Pagan Maladies, ch10) to Egyptians. Numerous OT thunderings betray its attraction for Israelites. The awkward Witch of Endor tale (1 Sam. 28.7-19) was Christianly denied or credited to the crone's ventriloquist skills - "If witches there be, there must of course be some humorous witches" (Fort, p983). In late Rome, necromancy was pervasive enough to be denounced by a host of church fathers and legislated against by all Christian emperors from Constantine on, the which did not prevent its mediaeval (Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, bkl ch5O para3) and Renaissance (Benevenuto Cellini, Memoirs, ch13) recrudescence.

Orpheus evoked his dead wife Eurydice at Aornos in Thesprotia ('Birdless') near the Acheron river entrance to Hades "where there used to be a death-oracle" (Pausanias, Guide to Greece, bk9 ch30 para6). The literary 'locus classicus' is Homer, Odyssey, bkll, sub-titled 'Necyomanteia'. Necromancy is ubiquitous in Roman poetry: amatory (Tibullus), comic (Horace), epic (Virgil, Lucan), pastoral (Virgil), religious (Ovid); cf. Lucian's prose satire (Lover of Lies, ch14) and the non-literary Papyrus Londiniensis 121 para285.

Herodotus (Histories, bk5 ch92) has a ripping yarn about Corinthian tyrant Periander conjuring up his wife Melissa's ghost to help locate a lost valuable. She complied, after prevaricating to punish him for f**king her when dead, characterising this copulation as "putting your loaves into a cold oven."

Pausanias (bk3 ch17 para8) describes the homonymous Spartan king's efforts to appease the ghost of a girl he meant to rape but accidentally killed at Phigalia (Plutarch, Cimon, ch6 para6, locates it at Heraclea) where regular priests conducted such rites near the deep, dark snake-haunted spot where the river Neda disappears underground - his Penguin editor Peter Levi (vol2 p61 n150) says modern Greeks still avoid the place. His killer Callondas evoked the Greek warrior-poet Archilochus (Plutarch, On Delays of Divine Vengeance, ch17). The grammarian Apion (Pliny, Natural History, bk30ch6 paral8) consulted Homer's shade on the epicist's origins, a handy scholarly trick more recently emulated by Exeter professor Jackson Knight who checked Virgil's text with that poet in seances.

Cicero (Tusculan Disputations, bkl ch16 para37) attributes necromancy to his friend Appius and (Against Uatinius, ch6 paral4) to a Pythagorean enemy, Vatinius, who enticed ghosts with children's entrails. How many jurors swallowed this? A Christian, Gregory Nazienus, Against Julian 1, ch97, did. Citing Cicero's contemporary Varro, Augustine (City of God, bk7 ch35) attests to Pythagoras's infernal conjurings.

Tacitus (Annals, bk2 ch28) reports the aristocrat Libo's "treasonable" overtures to Junius the necromancer. Suetonius (Nero, ch34 para4) says that matricidal emperor suborned two Magi to bring back his mother to forgive him, an effort ridiculed by Pliny (bk30 ch5 paral4) - Nero should have kept Mum.

When emperor Caracalla (Dio Cassius, Roman History, bk77 ch15 para4) summoned his late father and assassinated predecessor Commodus, his brother Geta (they had a Cain-Abel relationship) turned up uninvited. The family shades refused to speak, while Commodus uttered threats, not consolations - Caracalla "treated with gross indignities" those confidants who blabbed about the seance.

Apropos FTs cognate topic of incubation, a certain Elysius of Terina applied to a death oracle for the cause of his son's suspicious death (Cicero, TD bkl ch 45 para 115; Plutarch, Consolation to Apollonius, ch14). Josephus (Jewish Antiquities, bk18 ch3 para4) provides a grand finale. Lusting after the respectably married Paulina, Roman knight Mundus bribed the priests of Anubis to tell her that God would appear and make love to her if she incubated in the Temple of Isis. The credulous lady duly went, and was carnally enjoyed by the divinely disguised Mundus. When Tiberius heard, he crucified the priests and razed the temple, albeit Mundus got off with exile, the emperor granting a French-style leniency towards this "crime of passion".

"I suspect the spiritualists are reversedly right - that there is a ghost world - but that it is our existence - that, when spirits die, they become human beings" - Fort, p898.

Barry Baldwin
(reprinted with permission of the Author; blame any typically graphic transcription errors on dm ... note that I did put some asterisks in up there lest the oversensitive firewalls at various schools block rc)