Posted by: Jack Henry | May 14, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Necromancy

Hello fellow word lovers! I could not resist this collection of words from Daily Writing Tips. The article is called “Necromancy and Words for Divining the Future.” No, I’m not a witch or Tarot card reader, but I do find these things interesting. The article is a bit on the long side, but I think you’ll find it interesting. I cut a few things out, including the last word, but I’ll give you a hint: it has to do with following an animal around and “reading” the future by what the critter leaves behind, and it isn’t usually a fortune cookie. J

In times of uncertainty, people wish for some magical means of foretelling the future.

Considering that uncertainty is one of life’s certainties, it’s not surprising that human beings have come up with numerous ways to “look into the seeds of time/And say which grain will grow and which will not.”

The English vocabulary is rich in words that name different ways of divining the future. Most of them end with the suffix –mancy. The suffix derives from mantis (mάντης), a Greek noun for a prophet, diviner, or fortune-teller.

English compounds with –mancy include some that have been around since ancient Greek was still spoken….

In current usage, necromancy has a general sense of sorcery, witchcraft, or black magic, but its literal meaning is formed from the Greek word for a corpse, nekros.

A medieval spelling of the word as nigromancie resulted in a misconception that the word was related to Latin niger, “black.” For that reason, necromancy was often defined as the “black arts.” The spelling was “restored” to necromancy in the sixteenth century. Practitioners of the art believed that the dead knew where treasure was buried and attempted to summon ghosts to reveal the information. They also robbed graves for body parts to use in divining rituals.

Here are some—but by no means all— English words that name different types of divination.

divination by the stars.
Astromancy is another word for astrology.

foretelling the future by placing a finger on the page of a randomly opened book and finding meaning in the words so found.
Any book can be used (biblios=book), but the Bible is commonly used for the purpose.

divination with playing cards.
Playing cards are thought to have originated in China during the Tang dynasty (618—906 CE), whence they spread to Egypt and Europe. Decks with four suits existed in southern Europe in 1365. Tarot cards began as playing cards in the mid-fifteenth century. Later, in the eighteenth century, they became popular for divination and special decks were developed for the purpose.

divination by studying the lines in the hands.
Chiro is Greek for hand. Chiromancy is another word for palmistry.

divination from the observation of objects used in sacrifice or other religious rites.
Hiero– is from the Greek word for holy.

divination by interpretation of dreams.
Oneiro– is from a Greek word for dream.

divination by fire or by signs derived from fire

divination by observing the behavior of birds.
Ornitho is from a Greek word for bird. Augury is another term for reading meaning in the behavior of birds.

divination by means of a rod or wand, specifically discovering ores, springs in the earth by means of a divining rod. Rhabdo is from the Greek word for rod. The practice of rhabdomancy remains very much alive. People who use rods, usually made of copper, are called dowsers. What they do is also called witching. The American Society of Dowsers, founded 1961, has a web page and hundreds of members who presumably make a good living plying their craft.

divination by dress clothes. [KC – Sorry. I couldn’t resist.]

Unfortunate Fortune Cookies

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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