evocation The summoning up of spirits. In ancient Greece, evocation was the calling up of souls of the dead, or NECROMANCY. The purpose of evocation usually was to consult with the dead for oracular purposes. Evocators (psuchagogoi or “soul-drawers”) were considered comparable to some types of sorcerers or witches. They had the power to summon the ghosts of the dead and also to lay, or exorcize, them. Thessalian witches were particularly renowned for their powers of evocation.
Evocation for Prophecy
The earliest descriptions of evocation rites are in Homer’s Odyssey and involve consulting ghosts for prophecy. To secure the temporary release of ghosts from the underworld, evocators made offerings to the appropriate gods.
Evocation rites always took place at night around a pit and a fire. First the evocator made offerings to the underworld deities of libations of honey-milk, wine, water, and perhaps olive oil, sprinkled on top with white barley. This was followed by the sacrifice of black cattle or sheep— the color black being appropriate for the underworld. The throats of the animals were slit and their blood was drained into the pit. The carcasses were burnt whole.
The evocator petitioned the gods with magical prayers and incantations for the temporary release of the ghost or ghosts. When the ghosts arrived, they drank the blood of the sacrificed animals, which gave them a temporary restoration to corporeal form and the ability the communicate with the living. The evocators controlled the ghosts with swords made of bronze or IRON.
In Odyssey, the goddess Circe sends Odysseus to “the house of Hades and dread Persephone” to consult the ghost of Tiresias, the blind Theban prophet. She gives him the ritual instructions and Odysseus follows them. The rites summon a horde of wailing ghosts who crowd around the blood pit seeking to drink, and Odysseus is gripped by fear of them. He draws his sword to keep them in abeyance, not letting them drink the blood until he has spoken with Tiresias.
First comes the ghost of his fallen comrade, Elpenor, whose body remains unburied, and then comes the ghost of Odysseus’s mother, Anticleia. Third comes the ghost of Tiresias, who asks to drink the blood before answering questions. Odysseus allows him to do so. Tiresias delivers his prophecies and says that “Whichever of the dead you allow to approach the blood will speak infallibly to you. But if you begrudge it to anyone, he will retreat.”
The earliest use of the term psuchagogoi, or evocators, is in Psuchagogoi by Aeschylus. Psuchagogoi is a fragment, a retelling of Homer’s account of Odysseus’s summoning of the ghosts. Aeschylus places the rites at the side of an unnamed lake:
Slash the gullet of the neck, and let the blood of this sacrifi cial victim fl ow into the murky depths of the reeds as a drink for the lifeless. Call upon primeval Earth and chthonic Hermes, escort of the dead, and ask chthonic Zeus to send up the swarm of night-wanderers from the mouths of the river, from which this melancholy off-fl ow water, unfit for washing hands, is sent up by the Stygian springs.
The lake is thought to be Lake Avernus, a flooded volcanic crater near Cumae in Italian Campagnia. Lake Avernus was believed by the Greeks to be Odysseus’s entrance to the underworld, and it was strongly associated with necromantic rites.
The use of sweet libations without blood sacrifice to evoke ghosts of the dead is described in Persians by Aeschylus. Atossa, the widow of King Darius and mother of Xerxes, the successor, is troubled by the ghost of her husband in dreams. She and a council of Persian elders evoke his ghost for prophecy. Atossa arrives with “full libations” which “soothe the dead”:
…white milk, good to drink, from an unyoked cow, the secretion of the flower-processing bee, gleaming honey, offerings of water from a virgin spring, and an unmixed drink from its mother in the field, this restorative from an ancient vine. The fragrant fruit of the light olive tree, which always luxuriates in leaves, is here, too, as are woven garlands of flowers, children of the Earth that bears everything. But, my friends, sing hymns in support of these libations to the dead below, and call up the Demon Darius, while I give these honors to the gods below into the thirsty Earth.
The ghost of Darius appears and dolefully predicts that Xerxes’ military campaign against Greece will be crushed. In Dissertationes, Maximus of Tyre writes of evocatormen (andres psuchagogoi) who attend an oracular cave on Lake Avernus; there is no evidence that such a cave existed. According to Maximus:
A man wanting an oracle would come to them, pray, sacrifice an animal, pour full libations, and call up the soul of any of his ancestors or friends. Then the ghost would confront him. It would be hard to see, and one could doubt that one was seeing it, but it would have the power of speech, and could deliver prophecies. After discussing what was asked of it, it would depart.
Evocation in Dreams
Evocation could also be accomplished by the incubation of DREAMS, for the dead often came to the living during sleep. If a person wished to evoke a particular ghost to answer a question, he made the appropriate ritual libations, sacrifices, and incantations prior to going to sleep. The ghost would thus be evoked to appear in a dream and deliver the information sought.
Evocation for Ghost-Laying
Evocation was also performed to appease, exorcize, or lay a troublesome ghost. Usually the identity of the restless dead was known, for the living were well aware of a dead person’s grievances and unfinished business. If its identity was not known, evocators employed various methods to find the responsible corpse.
One method was to bring a black sheep to graves and lead it around by the horns or front feet. Whenever the sheep came to the grave of the restless ghost, it fell down. The evocators then sacrificed the sheep and burned its carcass whole. They performed a ritual and uttered incantations while marking off the grave. They walked around and listened to the ghost speak and vent its anger. Appropriate measures were then taken to appease the ghost. For example, if a body was not buried properly, the remains would be dug up and reburied with proper observances.
Numerous accounts of evocation for exorcism exist in classical literature. In Cimon, Plutarch tells the story of Pausania, the regent of Sparta who conquered the Persians in 480 and 479 B.C.E. As part of his gloating over the victory, Pausania—who was in Hellespont with the Spartan navy—summoned Cleonice, the virgin daughter of prominent Byzantium citizens, intending to rape her and cause her disgrace. When she came to his bed, the room was dark and he was asleep. She accidentally turned over the lamp stand. Suddenly awake, Pausania reacted as if an enemy had come into his room. He drew his dagger and stabbed Cleonice to death. Thereafter, her ghost came to him in dreams and disturbed him, giving him no peace.
Pausania was forced to flee Byzantium. He was relentlessly pursued by the girl’s ghost. Desperate for relief, he sought an oracle of the dead (neokomanteion) at Heracleia. He called up the ghost of Cleonice and begged for relief from her anger. She told him that all would be well when he returned to Sparta. Pausania did not know—but the ghost did—that death awaited him there. A decade passed. Pausania ran afoul of the Spartans, who killed him by starving him to death in the temple of Athene of the Bronze House. Thus, the ghost of Cleonice was at long last avenged.
The ghost of Pausania, however, was in turn troubled and haunted the temple, frightening people away. In Moralia, Plutarch tells how the Spartans learned from an oracle how his ghost should be propitiated. They summoned evocators from Thessaly, Italy, to lay his ghost. According to the evocators, the Spartans had committed a pollution against the temple. Originally, the Spartans had intended to toss Pausania’s body into a crevasse where the corpses of criminals were thrown, but they relented and buried it in the ground. The oracle at Delphi later told the Spartans that they should bury Pausania where he had died, and so they moved his remains to the forecourt of the temple. This, said the evocators, was the pollution. To compensate for it and nullify it, two bronze statues of Pausania should be erected at the altar. When this was done, the restless ghost was appeased and departed the temple.
Roman Emperor Nero was haunted by the ghost of his murdered mother, Agrippina, with whom he may have had an incestuous relationship. An ambitious woman, Agrippina felt her power over Nero slipping, and she became involved in political intrigues to advance the interests of Britannicus, the son of Emperor Claudius, whose death by poisoning had enabled Nero to take the throne in 54 C.E. Nero ordered the murder of Britannicus in 55 C.E. He ordered Agrippina killed in 59 C.E. First, he arranged for her to “accidentally” drown in a collapsible boat at Baiae, next to Lake Avernus. Agrippina managed to swim to safety. Then Nero arranged to have her killed so that it would appear she had taken her own life. This was successful. But despite the congratulations of his allies, Nero was overcome with horror and guilt. Soon Agrippina’s ghost began to haunt him mercilessly. Nero also confi ded to others that the Furies hounded him with whips and burning torches.
Nero consulted evocators to have Agrippina’s ghost laid, which apparently gave him relief. But later, on a tour of Greece, Nero declined to go through the Eleusinian Mysteries rites. The initiation required a journey to the underworld, and Nero feared he would stir up the anger of the ghost of Agrippina and also the Furies.
According to Pliny in Natural History, Nero had no proper respect for the dead at all. Instead of consulting the dead and the gods for advice, Pliny said, Nero turned to brothels and prostitutes. In 64 C.E., he allowed a great fire to burn much of Rome; some felt he had set the fire himself in order to make way for an ambitious and selfish building program. “With all too much cruelty did he fill our city with ghosts,” said Pliny.
- Coffta, David J. “Nero (54–68 C.E.)” Available online. URL: https://www.roman-emperors.org/nero.htm. Downloaded February 17, 2006.
- Hurley, Donna. “Agrippina (the Younger): Wife of Claudius.” Available online. URL: https://www.roman-emperors.org/ aggieii.htm. Downloaded February 17, 2006.
- Ogden, Daniel. Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
evocation In Ritual, the calling forth of a spirit, entity, or deity. The spirit may be either an external, independent force or the physical manifestation of a force within the magician. According to FRANCIS BARRETT, “gods and hierarchies of spirits may be reasonably supposed to be but previously unknown facets of our own consciousness.” In magic, sorcery, and witchcraft , an evocation is a command to an entity to appear and do the bidding of the magician. In ceremonial magic, spirits are evoked to appear in a Magic Triangle outside the magician’s protective magic circl e, lest they cause him harm. Evocation is an elaborate ritual, and various procedures for it are detailed in the many magical grimoires. Before the ritual, the magician must map out exactly what he desires to accomplish and how he intends to do so. He must carefully choose the spirit or int el l igence that he will summon to aid in the purpose of his work. He must know the ritual thoroughly and be able to perform it smoothly and fl awlessly without break or pause. The magician purifi es himself through fasting and prayer, dons his garb, purifi es his magical t ool s, and casts the circle and triangle. To evoke the spirit, he must have perfect knowledge of it and the purpose it is to serve. The correct sigil s, perf umes, and names must be used. He must visualize the spirit, for once evoked, the spirit will reappear in the same form in subsequent evocations. The evocation comprises words and gestures with ritual tools. The magician speaks in a commanding tone of voice and may even shriek the evocation to intimidate unruly spirits. f ranz bardon said that evocation is the most difficult magic to understand. In his second book, The Practice of Magical Evocation (1956), he gives one of the first detailed public descriptions of evocation in the Western tradition. Bardon said that the powers of astral seeing and hearing— psychic senses of cl airvoyance and cl airaudience—are essential to evoking spirits. He said it does not matter where a spirit is evoked—triangle, magic mirror, f l uid condenser—as long as the magician creates an artificial atmosphere akin to the environment of the spirit. The magician must transfer his consciousness into the atmosphere in order to be noticed by the spirit. See also invocat ion.
Bardon, Franz. The Practice of Magical Evocation. Albuquerque, N.Mex.: Brotherhood of Life, 2001. Barrett, Francis. The Magus. 1801. Reprint, Secaucus, N.J.: The Citadel Press, 1967. Regardie, Israel. The Tree of Life: A Study in Magic. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1969.
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