Early necromancy is likely related to shamanism, which calls upon spirits such as the ghosts of ancestors. Classical necromancers addressed the dead in “a mixture of high-pitch squeaking and low droning”, comparable to the trance-state mutterings of shamans.

Necromancy was widespread in Western antiquity with records of practice in Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The oldest literary account of necromancy is in Homer’s Odyssey (ca. 700 BC). In the Odyssey (XI, Nekyia), Odysseus under the tutelage of Circe, a powerful sorceress, makes a voyage to Hades, the Underworld, in an effort to raise the spirits of the dead using spells which Circe has instructed. His intention is to invoke and ask questions of the shade of Tiresias, in order to gain insight on the impending voyage home. Alas, he is unable to summon the spirit without the assistance of others.

In Homer’s passage, there are many references to specific rituals associated with necromancy; the rites must be done during nocturnal hours and based around a pit with fire. In addition, Odysseus has to follow a specific recipe, which included using sacrificial animals’ blood for ghosts to drink, while he recites prayers to both the ghosts and gods of the underworld.