This Week’s Prompt:52. Calling on the dead—voice or familiar sound in adjacent room.
The Resulting Story:A Dreadful Tapping
Necromancy is upon us, fellows! Dark sorcerer at last revels itself! But perhaps you are confused…this is about only sights and sounds. How does this relate to Necromancy, which much of popular culture conflates with zombies, skeletons, liches, and the summoning of undead war engines or hordes?
Necromancy, at it’s base, is much simpler then all these things. A necromancer attains knowledge by communicating or contact the dead. The modern word has it’s roots in just that meaning (Necro meaning dead, mantiea means divination). This has a number of cultural ties to be discussed at length here, as it might give insight into the unsettled spirits above. And of course, we are necromancers here aren’t we?
The first place to start, although not the oldest, would be the Greek conception. Necromancy here is most apparent in the works of Homer, specifically Odysseus’s voyage to the Underworld, where by blood offering he acquires the aid of a long dead sage. These could be elaborate rituals in later times, and often relied on the conjuring of specific shades for their precise knowledge.
Related to the Greek school of thought is the Jewish and Old Testament relations of necromancy. Necromancy, for a variety of reasons, is forbidden under the Law. It was a Canaanite practice, and further, it disturbed those God had claimed. The existence of shades to conjure was also severely questioned by later Christian critics. However, there is a noteworthy account of necromancy here as well. The Witch of Endor.
The Witch of Endor episode occurs during the book of Samuel, where a Canaanite woman is asked by King Saul to conjure up a dead prophet and judge in order to learn his fate. This resulted in the King being roundly condemned for daring to disturb the dead in his quest for certainty.
Moving farther abroad, the means of contacting the dead are known in China as well as the Mediterranean. More often, mediums are used there to contact the dead then conjuring as we know it. However, the Chinese authorities have perhaps a more elaborate arrangement of the dead, divided into forms based on death (In the way that other faiths might assign punishments). The hungry dead, those derived of ritual, are the primary ones to be kept at bay, while other deceased relatives might provide comfort or aid to their descendants.
The Maya priests also engaged in a sort of necromancy, consulting the spirits of Xibalba by shamanistic or hallucinogenic rituals and blood letting. They contacted otherworldly spirits this way, in a manner that might seem familiar. Ancestors again were a protective force at times, and knowledgeable about many things.
In the Northern European climes, there are records from a seventeenth century poem of a mother being called forth by her son after death, in order to defend him and free him from his stepmother. The mother adds her son by casting a series of spells to defend him.
Among the Buryat people today, ancestors are the primary group to be consulted by shamans. After almost a century of Soviet oppression, however, many of the names of these ancestors have been lost. And worse still, several have found the places they inhabited to become nightmarish, with ancestors killed in Soviet prison camps manifesting as tortured and angry spirits barely intelligent to the mortal sense. These ghosts all need appeasements, as the various ills that befall a Buryat household are often ascribed to angered ghosts and displeased ancestors. These rites might involve sacrificial sheep or promises made with a shaman as an intermediary.
I could go on, my fellow society members, but the number of ghosts in the world is vast indeed. The dead are often restless, sometimes manifesting in human forms, sometimes in frightening ones. But to close this portion of research, I might bring attention to the phenomena that Mr. Lovecraft was particularly thinking of : Spirtualism.
Spirtualism was a movement in the late 18th century, brought on by speculated causes, of conjurers and contractors of the dead. Mediums and seances spread through Europe, claiming to speak with the long dead through various devices they had. Now, whether the craze was built upon the notion of invisible forces as revealed recently by sciences, or the sudden access Europe had to Egyptian, Buddhists, and Hindu manuscripts through it’s vast colonial empire can’t be said. What can be said is that the séance was a common occurrence.
And the remains of these séances are wide spread. The Winchester house might be the most famous. Built by the wife of the inventor of the Winchester rifle, the house was always being built. Why? At a séance, the builder Sarah Winchester was told that she would be haunted by all those who were killed with the Winchester rifle. The house was thus a never ending labyrinth to confuse spirits that sought to harm Sarah, so elaborate that even within the last year new rooms were discovered.
Another séance inspired the religion of Spiritism in a young Frenchman, who believed he had come in contact with the souls of ancient druids. While Spiritism proper might balk at being termed necromancy, Allan Kardac’s discovery was of the secret knowledge held by spirits that had past on. The religion spread across the Atlantic and took roots in many Caribbean and Latin American countries, as well as to the French colony of Vietnam. Recently, I read an article detailing how the French movement influenced moral teachings in Iran as well. The faith maintains a following to this day, with thirty five countries on an international council.
This is all to bring context to the scene we have hear. A séance, a contacting of the dead is by it’s nature a strange and uncanny event. But here, we have a contact that was actually achieved. A voice is heard or a familiar sound (in proper tradition, probably some musical notes). So, what is the horror and dread here?
This won’t be a story, I feel, of a great overt horror. No one is going to be dismembered in gory ways. No one is going to go mad in the overt, grand, Gothic sense. A séance may be dripping with Gothic forms, a Victorian melodrama that disturbs the barrier between the living and the dead. But the horror is going to be…different.
Atmosphere seems key to all horror, but I think with something as small as a séance, where the shift is merely a sound, it will be primary. The horror here will rely on who is attending the séance, and who is conjured. And maybe what they say. After all, the voice of the dead might be one full of knowledge. But in a Lovecraftian world….well. Who’s says knowledge is a good thing? Ignorance is bliss.
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