Oxymorons, Necromancy, and Prayers to Saints

Some words and phrases were never meant to be combined in the same sentence.  When you take two contradictory words and smash them together, you get oxymorons like “Congressional Ethics”, “Military Intelligence”, and “Microsoft Works”.

Less humorously, but just as frequently, certain groups of Protestants claim that “praying to saints” is a form of “necromancy”.  This too is an oxymoron.  Let’s take some time to examine this claim.

The Protestant argument seems to be thus:

  1. Prayer to saints involves communication with people who have experienced death.
  2. Necromancy involves communication with people who have experienced death.
  3. Therefore, prayer to saints = necromancy.

At first glance, the argument appears logical. After all, it would seem that “talking to the dead” is involved in both cases.

The logical error becomes more easily apparent when we consider a parallel case.  Let’s see if we can identify the flaw in the following argument:

  1. The consummation of a marriage involves sex.
  2. Rape involves sex.
  3. Therefore, the consummation of a marriage = rape.

Premise #1 is true. Premise #2 is also true. Yet the conclusion does not follow. Why not? The conclusion does not follow, because it illegitimately assumes that all instances of “sex” are identical to one another, and that there is no distinction to be made between licit sex and illicit sex.

So it is with the Protestant argument regarding necromancy. It is true that prayer to saints involves communication with people who have experienced death. It is also true that necromancy involves communication with people who have experienced death. But the Protestant conclusion does not follow, because it illegitimately assumes that all instances of “communication with people who have experienced death” are identical to one another, and that there is no distinction to be made between licit communication and illicit communication.

There are three places in the Old Testament where God condemns necromancy:

“Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:31)

“And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people.” (Leviticus 20:6)

“When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you.” (Deuteronomy 18:9-14)

God never gives a blanket condemnation for communicating with people who have experienced death.

Rather, God explicitly condemns mediums, familiar spirits, witchcraft, sorcery, spiritists, soothsayers, diviners, and anyone who “calls up the dead”. In other words, God is banning the occult. We are not supposed to bypass God, to get spiritual help from demons. We are not allowed to pull back the veil between this world and the next, in order to acquire guidance from the other side. It would be a sin for us to hold a seance, calling up the apostle Paul from the dead, in order to have him help us interpret his epistles. It is forbidden for us to try to contact dead family members, in order to get a message from beyond the grave.

Three times, the prophet Isaiah talks negatively against this sort of thing. He chastises people for seeking the services of “mediums and wizards” (Isaiah 8:19), he mocks Egypt for consulting “mediums and sorcerers” (Isaiah 19:3), and he speaks a prophetic curse, stating that Jerusalem’s voice would be “like a medium’s” (Isaiah 29:4). In each case, he speaks in the context of the occult.

We are also told that the wicked king Manasseh practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft and sorcery, and consulted mediums and spiritists. (2 Kings 21:6, 2 Chronicles 33:6). Again, the context is the occult.

But what do all of these terms actually mean? What is a witch? What is a sorcerer? What is a medium? What does it mean to call up the dead?

In the book of 1 Samuel, we are given an example of a witch/medium who calls up the dead:

1 Samuel 28
3 Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had lamented for him and buried him in Ramah, in his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the spiritists out of the land.
4 Then the Philistines gathered together, and came and encamped at Shunem. So Saul gathered all Israel together, and they encamped at Gilboa.
5 When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly.
6 And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets.
7 Then Saul said to his servants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.”
And his servants said to him, “In fact, there is a woman who is a medium at En Dor.”
8 So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes, and he went, and two men with him; and they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Please conduct a séance for me, and bring up for me the one I shall name to you.”
9 Then the woman said to him, “Look, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the spiritists from the land. Why then do you lay a snare for my life, to cause me to die?”
10 And Saul swore to her by the Lord, saying, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.”
11 Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”
And he said, “Bring up Samuel for me.”
12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman spoke to Saul, saying, “Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul!”
13 And the king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What did you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.”
14 So he said to her, “What is his form?”
And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle.” And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed down.
15 Now Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”
And Saul answered, “I am deeply distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God has departed from me and does not answer me anymore, neither by prophets nor by dreams. Therefore I have called you, that you may reveal to me what I should do.”
16 Then Samuel said: “So why do you ask me, seeing the Lord has departed from you and has become your enemy?
17 And the Lord has done for Himself as He spoke by me. For the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David.
18 Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord nor execute His fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day.
19 Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines. And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.”
20 Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, and was dreadfully afraid because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten no food all day or all night.

This is the one place in Scripture where we actually see a medium, and where we actually get to see what it means to call up the dead:

  • The medium bypasses God, and works her dark arts in accordance with the occult.
  • She calls up spirits from beyond the grave, in order to receive a communication from them.

Does this look remotely similar to the intercession of the saints? Not at all.

  • When we ask saints to pray for us, we do not bypass God, nor do we associate with the occult. On the contrary, we ask the saints to pray to God for us. This is just like asking our parents or siblings to pray to God for us. In either case, we look to God for the ultimate answer to prayer.
  • We do not call up saints from beyond the grave, in order to receive any communication from them. Rather, we simply send up our requests in one direction, trusting that they get the message, and we do not look for any verbal response. We do not seek their guidance from beyond the grave.

Scripture says that we are forbidden to call up the dead, in order to receive guidance from them.

But where does Scripture say that we are forbidden to send a one-way message to the saints in heaven, so that they can pray for us?

Scripture records no such prohibition.

However, Scripture does record numerous pieces of data which suggest that:

  1. The inhabitants of heaven know what is happening on earth.
  2. They pray to God about it.

As can be seen in this recent article, Scripture is full of examples showing that the veil between heaven and earth is really a one-way mirror. We cannot look through it to see heaven. But they can easily look through it to see and hear us.


  • If I thought that my prayers could -not- be heard by the saints in heaven,
    it would be in contradiction to the biblical evidence which suggests otherwise.
  • If I thought that the saints did -not- pray to God, based on what they knew was happening on earth, it would be in contradiction to the biblical evidence which says otherwise.

If Scripture prohibits all communication with the dead, without exception, then Jesus disobeyed God’s Law when He spoke with Moses at the Mount of Transfiguration.

Finally . . . If 100% of all interaction with the dead was forbidden, and was necessarily defined as “necromancy”, then Jesus was a necromancer who violated God’s Law. Just think about the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17 and Mark 9. Why was Jesus having a conversation with Moses?

Moses had experienced death centuries earlier. Yet here is Jesus, in human flesh, still living under the Law, having a conversation with Moses. This is quite striking, considering that Moses is the very one had written down the prohibitions against necromancy!

Moses wrote down Leviticus 19:31, Leviticus 20:6, and Deuteronomy 18:9-14. Yet after his own death, here he is talking to a human on earth (Jesus) who has not yet experienced death. If Leviticus and Deuteronomy prohibit all communication with the dead, without exception, then Jesus disobeyed the Torah. If Jesus disobeyed God’s law, then He cannot be our Savior. And if He cannot be our Savior, then we have no hope, and we will all spend eternity in hell.

On the other hand, maybe the Scriptures do not prohibit all forms of communication between heaven and earth. Maybe it just forbids us from practicing witchcraft, sorcery, seances, and the occult. Since Jesus was doing none of these things when He spoke with Moses, He was not disobeying the Scriptures. Likewise, when faithful Christians take advantage of the biblical teaching that heavenly saints pray to God about events on earth, they are not disobeying the Scriptures either.

Neither Jesus, nor Orthodox Christians, are having seances and calling up the dead.

About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in 1 Samuel 28, 2 Chronicles 33:6, 2 Kings 21:6, Deuteronomy 18:9-14, Isaiah 19:3, Isaiah 29:4, Isaiah 8:19, Leviticus 19:31, Leviticus 20:6, Prayers to Angels & Saints. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Oxymorons, Necromancy, and Prayers to Saints

  1. Pingback: A Thin Veil between Heaven and Earth | The Orthodox Life

  2. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

  3. Mrs. Mutton says:

    Whoa, I never thought of that connection with the Transfiguration! Good one! When people bring up this topic with me, I usually tell them, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. So the saints still live in Him – just because we can’t see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. So if they live with Him, then they aren’t dead, so we can talk to them.”

  4. Pingback: Intercession of the Saints | Living a Liturgical Life

  5. The saints are not dead, they are alive in Christ.

  6. Pingback: A Thin Veil Between Heaven and Earth « On Behalf of All

  7. Pingback: A Thin Veil Between Heaven and Earth | Orthodox Christianity in the Diaspora

  8. Dan Gray says:

    Really helpful article with good sources. Keep up the great research and posts. I will follow. Dn. Dano

  9. Maybe you’ve dealt with this elsewhere, but could you further address the situations where there are prayers, not only for intercession, but for actual action on the part of the Saints? “Most Holy Theotokos save us…” etc.

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