In ancient Greek cult-practice and literature, a nekyia (ἡ νέκυια) is a "rite by which ghosts were called up and questioned about the future," i.e., necromancy
Necromancy is a claimed form of magic that involves communication with the deceased, either by summoning their spirit in the form of an apparition or raising them bodily, for the purpose of divination, imparting the ability to foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge...

. A nekyia is not necessarily the same thing as a katabasis. While they both afford the opportunity to converse with the dead, only a katabasis is the actual, physical journey to the underworld
The Underworld is a region which is thought to be under the surface of the earth in some religions and in mythologies. It could be a place where the souls of the recently departed go, and in some traditions it is identified with Hell or the realm of death...

 undertaken by several heroes in Greek and Roman myth.

In common parlance, however, the term "nekyia" is often used to subsume both types of event, so that by Late Antiquity for example 'Olympiodorus
Olympiodorus the Younger
Olympiodorus the Younger was a Neoplatonist philosopher, astrologer and teacher who lived in the early years of the Byzantine Empire, after Justinian's Decree of 529 A.D. which closed Plato's Academy in Athens and other pagan schools...

...claimed that three [Platonic] myths were classified as nekyia (an underworld story, as in Homer's Odyssey
The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work ascribed to Homer. The poem is fundamental to the modern Western canon, and is the second—the Iliad being the first—extant work of Western literature...

book 11)'.

Questioning ghosts

A number of sites in Greece and Italy were dedicated wholly or in part to this practice. The Underworld communicated with the earth by direct channels. These were caverns whose depths were unplumbed, like that of Heraclea Pontica
Heraclea Pontica
Heraclea Pontica , an ancient city on the coast of Bithynia in Asia Minor, at the mouth of the river Lycus. It was founded by the Greek city-state of Megara c.560-558 and was named after Heracles who the Greeks believed entered the underworld at a cave on the adjoining Archerusian promontory .The...

'. The most notable was the Necromanteion
The Necromanteion or Nekromanteion was an ancient Greek temple of necromancy devoted to Hades and Persephone. According to tradition, it was located on the banks of the Acheron river in Epirus, near the ancient city of Ephyra. This site was believed by devotees to be the door to Hades, the realm...

 in the northwestern Greek town of Ephyra
Ephyra may refer to:* The city of Kichyro, later known as Ephyra.* Ephyra, one of the Oceanids* Ephyra, one of the Nereids* Ephyra, a stage of the life cycle of jellyfish* Efyra, a village and an archeological site in Elis, Greece...

. Other oracles of the dead could be found at Taenaron and Avernus
Avernus was an ancient name for a crater near Cumae , Italy, in the Region of Campania west of Naples. It is approximately in circumference. Within the crater is Lake Avernus .-Role in ancient Roman society:...

. Such specialized locations, however, were not the only places necromancy was performed. One could also perform the rite at a tomb, for example. The gods associated with the nekyia rite include Hades
Hades , Hadēs, originally , Haidēs or , Aidēs , meaning "the unseen") was the ancient Greek god of the underworld. The genitive , Haidou, was an elision to denote locality: "[the house/dominion] of Hades". Eventually, the nominative came to designate the abode of the dead.In Greek mythology, Hades...

 and his wife Persephone
In Greek mythology, Persephone , also called Kore , is the daughter of Zeus and the harvest-goddess Demeter, and queen of the underworld; she was abducted by Hades, the god-king of the underworld....

, as well as Hecate
Hecate or Hekate is a chthonic Greco-Roman goddess associated with magic, witchcraft, necromancy, and crossroads.She is attested in poetry as early as Hesiod's Theogony...

 and Hermes
Hermes is the great messenger of the gods in Greek mythology and a guide to the Underworld. Hermes was born on Mount Kyllini in Arcadia. An Olympian god, he is also the patron of boundaries and of the travelers who cross them, of shepherds and cowherds, of the cunning of thieves, of orators and...

 (in his capacity as psychopompus - one who escorted souls to Hades).

The Odyssey

The earliest reference to this cult practice comes from Book 11 of the Odyssey, which was called the Nekyia in Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

. Odysseus was instructed to 'make a journey of a very different kind, and find your way to the Halls of Hades...across the River of Ocean'. There he consults the soul of the priest and prophet Teiresias about the means to return home to Ithaca, in a setting of 'ghosts and dark blood and eerie noises, like a canvas of Hieronymous Bosch'. He sacrifices a lamb into a pit in order to let Teiresias drink from its blood, and meets and talks to the souls of dead heroes.

'The story of Odysseus's journey to Hades was further accounts of such journeys undertaken by other heroes', although it is clear that, for example, 'the katabasis of Heracles in its traditional form must have differed noticeably from the Nekyia'.

The Athenian playwright Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

 features the use of tombside nekyiai in his Persians and Libation Bearers.


C. G. Jung used the concept of Nekyia as an integral part of his analytical psychology
Analytical psychology
Analytical psychology is the school of psychology originating from the ideas of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. His theoretical orientation has been advanced by his students and other thinkers who followed in his tradition. Though they share similarities, analytical psychology is distinct from...

: 'Nekyia...introversion of the conscious mind into the deeper layers of the unconscious psyche'. For Jung, 'the Nekyia is no aimless or destructive fall into the abyss, but a meaningful katabasis...its object the restoration of the whole man'.

Jolande Jacobi
Jolande Jacobi
Jolande Jacobi was a Swiss psychologist, best remembered for her work with Carl Jung and her writings on Jungian psychology. She was born in Budapest, Hungary as Jolande Szekacs, but became known as Jolande Jacobi after her marriage at the age of nineteen to Andor Jacobi. She spent part of her...

 added that 'this "great Nekyia" interwoven with innumerable lesser Nekyia experiences'.

Night sea-journey

Jung used the images of the Nekyia, of 'the night journey on the sea....descend into the belly of the monster (journey to hell)', and of '"Katabasis" (descent into the lower world)' almost interchangeably. His closest followers also saw them as indistinguishable metaphors for 'a descent into the dark, hot depths of the unconscious...a journey to hell and "death"' - emphasising for example that 'the great arc of the night sea journey comprises many lesser rhythms, lesser arcs on the same "primordial pattern"', just like the nekyia.

The post-Jungian James Hillman
James Hillman
James Hillman was an American psychologist. He studied at, and then guided studies for, the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, founded a movement toward archetypal psychology and retired into private practice, writing and traveling to lecture, until his death at his home in Connecticut on October 27,...

 however made some clear distinctions among them:

Cultural references

  • 'Thomas Mann
    Thomas Mann
    Thomas Mann was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual...

    's conception of the nekyia draws extensively from "the doctrines of the East...Gnosticism
    Gnosticism is a scholarly term for a set of religious beliefs and spiritual practices common to early Christianity, Hellenistic Judaism, Greco-Roman mystery religions, Zoroastrianism , and Neoplatonism.A common characteristic of some of these groups was the teaching that the realisation of Gnosis...

    , and Hellenism
    Hellenism may refer to:*Hellenic studies*Hellenistic civilization*Hellenistic period, in Greek antiquity*Hellenistic Greece*Hellenization, the spread of Greek culture over foreign peoples*Hellenistic philosophy in the Hellenistic period and late antiquity...

  • Jung considered Picasso's 'early Blue Period
    Blue Period
    The Blue Period is a term used to define to the works produced by Spanish painter Pablo Picasso between 1901 and 1904, when he painted essentially monochromatic paintings in shades of blue and blue-green, only occasionally warmed by other colors... the symbol of Nekya, a descent into hell and darkness'.
  • Nekyia is also a popular name assumed by numerous art projects and performance or music groups.
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