A few incantations and some magic rites were all it took for necromancers to provide answers to worried clients, such as Roman Emperor Nero. In AD 59, after he had murdered his mom Agrippina, then discarded the evidence with an appalling lack of religious ceremony, he found himself suddenly guilt-ridden. Just couldn't get a decent night's sleep. Finally, to put a stop to the spectral maternal harassment, he hired a ghostbuster to summon her shade and appease her. The necromancy was successful; Nero went on to years of further abominations and slaughters without a single pang.
Home cookin' to die for
Beyond Necromancy 101 were supernatural
feats that required a lot more legwork. The ancient Greco-Roman recipe for
reanimation, for example. Long to bring a favorite corpse back to life for a
chat? First assemble your ingredients, including the foam of a rabid dog, the
hump of a hyena, and some fresh blood. Stir well and pump the mixture into the
corpse while gently reinserting the soul. You'll make Betty Crocker proud.
Both the Greeks and the Romans had regularly scheduled appeasement festivals to keep ghosts at bay. In May they held the Lemuria, more of an exorcism than a joyous time to remember dear old granny. During Lemuria, each household appeased the really hostile and spiteful ghosts called lemures and larvae. At midnight on the 9th, 11th, and 13th of May, the male head of each house conducted a ghost-busting ritual. Barefoot, he moved through the house, spitting out a series of nine black beans as he went, without looking behind himself. These solemn duties required good hand-eye coordination. The guy had to simultaneously spit and gesture and call out, "With these I redeem me and mine!" Once the master of the house had made the circuit, he did a quick handwash, some loud banging on brass pots, and a final "Spirits of my ancestors, get lost!" and he was through for that night.
The Greeks celebrated parallel rites, the main one called Anthestheria, when ghosts from the underworld entered the city of Athens. During the festival, the ghosts got a meal of mixed grains and then had to be chased out. To protect themselves against excessive haunting, Athenians put pitch over their doors and chewed hawthorn leaves.
But these festivals were merely the
special occasions for ghost appeasement. On a more routine basis, survivors
took great care to attend to their family shades, beloved or not. Apparitions
back then were considered divine, and thus were more demanding than modern
Whether cremated or buried, the newly dead required immediate transfusions of food and drink. For that reason, the Romans in particular made sure that graves and sepulchres had built-in pipes or slots into which wine, milk, and even edible solids could be poured. Or stuffed. (Pizza delivery cost extra, of course.) During October and November, the divine ghosts required special treats: graveside lanterns, garlands, flowers, wine and other beverages. Believe it or not, the Romans even served up Bubba-style BBQ to their deceased.
After two millennia of evolution--has anything changed?