I'm currently reading Erfworld and different kinds of magic users are denoted by names like "Dirtamancer", "Thinkamancer", "Turnamancer" etc. and their fields "Dirtamancy", "Thinkamancy", "Turnamancy" respectively.

Now I know that's not entirely Erfworld-specific because I know at least one other comic (SMBC, link is SFW) who used "Vaginomancy".

So where does this notation come from?

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    Per Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necromancy) this is derived from the greek "manteía" (meaning "prophecy or divination"). – Eike Pierstorff Jun 9 '16 at 20:39
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    This question doesn't seem to be about scifi or fantasy, it seems to be about English Language Usage. – Valorum Jun 9 '16 at 21:09
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    @Valorum I've not encountered this words outside of scifi / fantasy literature. And the 'history-of' tag mentions "origins of a term" in its use. – Angelo Fuchs Jun 9 '16 at 21:24
  • True, but if we've learned anything from the answer below, it's that it's a pretty common term that largely pre-dates what we'd think of as scifi or fantasy. – Valorum Jun 9 '16 at 21:35
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    No, not off topic. There are a lot of unusual or specialized words there. It might have been closed for insufficient research though. – Matt Gutting Jun 9 '16 at 22:47

According to the wikipedia methods of divination article, it comes from the Greek "manteia" meaning prophecy, and at least some of these terms were coined by Medieval scholars:

During the Middle Ages, scholars coined terms for many of these methods — some of which had hitherto been unnamed — in Medieval Latin, very often utilizing the suffix -mantia when the art seemed more mystical (ultimately from Greek mantis, prophet) and the suffix -scopia when the art seemed more scientific (ultimately from Greek skopein, to observe).

The article provides a long list of -mancy terms, although it does not say how many date back to the Middle Ages and how many are more recent. For a list from a published book, see p. 103 of The Skeptic's Dictionary, or p. 240 of Word Parts Dictionary.

For a specific example of a text from the Middle Ages which lists a number of such terms, Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas, written in 1265-1274, has a section titled Whether we ought to distinguish several species of divination? which says:

I answer that, As stated above (A4), all divinations seek to acquire foreknowledge of future events, by means of some counsel and help of a demon, who is either expressly called upon to give his help, or else thrusts himself in secretly, in order to foretell certain future things unknown to men, but known to him in such manners as have been explained in the FP, Q57, A6. When demons are expressly invoked, they are wont to foretell the future in many ways. Sometimes they offer themselves to human sight and hearing by mock apparitions in order to foretell the future: and this species is called "prestigiation" because man's eyes are blindfolded [praestringuntur]. Sometimes they make use of dreams, and this is called "divination by dreams": sometimes they employ apparitions or utterances of the dead, and this species is called "necromancy," for as Isidore observes (Etym. viii) in Greek, {nekron} "means dead and {manteia} divination, because after certain incantations and the sprinkling of blood, the dead seem to come to life, to divine and to answer questions." Sometimes they foretell the future through living men, as in the case of those who are possessed: this is divination by "pythons," of whom Isidore says that "pythons are so called from Pythius Apollo, who was said to be the inventor of divination." Sometimes they foretell the future by means of shapes or signs which appear in inanimate beings. If these signs appear in some earthly body such as wood, iron or polished stone, it is called "geomancy," if in water "hydromancy," if in the air "aeromancy," if in fire "pyromancy," if in the entrails of animals sacrificed on the altars of demons, "aruspicy."

The divination which is practiced without express invocation of the demons is of two kinds. The first is when, with a view to obtain knowledge of the future, we take observations in the disposition of certain things. If one endeavor to know the future by observing the position and movements of the stars, this belongs to "astrologers," who are also called "genethliacs," because they take note of the days on which people are born. If one observe the movements and cries of birds or of any animals, or the sneezing of men, or the sudden movements of limbs, this belongs in general to "augury," which is so called from the chattering of birds [avium garritu], just as "auspice" is derived from watching birds [avium inspectione]. These are chiefly wont to be observed in birds, the former by the ear, the latter by the eye. If, however, these observations have for their object men's words uttered unintentionally, which someone twist so as to apply to the future that he wishes to foreknow, then it is called an "omen": and as Valerius Maximus [*De Dict. Fact. Memor. i, 5] remarks, "the observing of omens has a touch of religion mingled with it, for it is believed to be founded not on a chance movement, but on divine providence. It was thus that when the Romans were deliberating whether they would change their position, a centurion happened to exclaim at the time: 'Standard-bearer, fix the banner, we had best stand here': and on hearing these words they took them as an omen, and abandoned their intention of advancing further." If, however, the observation regards the dispositions, that occur to the eye, of figures in certain bodies, there will be another species of divination: for the divination that is taken from observing the lines of the hand is called "chiromancy," i.e. divination of the hand (because {cheir} is the Greek for hand): while the divination which is taken from signs appearing in the shoulder-blades of an animal is called "spatulamancy."

To this second species of divination, which is without express invocation of the demons, belongs that which is practiced by observing certain things done seriously by men in the research of the occult, whether by drawing lots, which is called "geomancy"; or by observing the shapes resulting from molten lead poured into water; or by observing which of several sheets of paper, with or without writing upon them, a person may happen to draw; or by holding out several unequal sticks and noting who takes the greater or the lesser. or by throwing dice, and observing who throws the highest score; or by observing what catches the eye when one opens a book, all of which are named "sortilege."

Accordingly it is clear that there are three kinds of divination. The first is when the demons are invoked openly, this comes under the head of "necromancy"; the second is merely an observation of the disposition or movement of some other being, and this belongs to "augury"; while the third consists in doing something in order to discover the occult; and this belongs to "sortilege." Under each of these many others are contained, as explained above.

Note that Aquinas cites the Etymologiae by Isidore of Seville, an older work from early in the 7th century. Apparently the discussion of -mancy terms appears in book VIII, section 9 titled "Magicians" which can be read on google books on pp. 181-182 of The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. The original Latin version is online here, if you go to the De Magis section you can do control-F (or command-F on a Mac) to search for various terms like "necromantii" or "necromantia", "hydromantii" or "hydromantia", and "geomantiam, hydromantiam, aeromantiam, pyromantiam".

Looking on google books for "Isidore" and "necromancy", it seems that this term at least dates from before the fall or Rome, as this page from chapter 4 of the book The Return of the Dead says:

From the fourth to the twelfth centuries, the term necromanticus, quickly distorted into nigromanticus and necromantia, recurs with remarkable consistency in the literary efforts of educated Christians. Lactantius (Lucius Caecilius Firmianus), who wrote between 197 and 222 CE, incorporated necromancy into the demonic arts: "Demons were the inventors of astrology and soothsaying and divination and these productions that are called oracles and necromancy."

The quoted phrase seems to be from Book II, Chapter 17 of Lactantius' book The Divine Institutes. I think The Return of the Dead gets the date wrong, the wikipedia article on Lactantius dates this book as being from 303-311 CE, citing this page, and Lactantius wrote about a battle between Maxentius and Constantine which took place in 312 CE.

For an even earlier example of the use of "necromancy", I found that the First Apology of Justin Martyr, dated from 155-157 CE, uses the term in chapter 18, see here. The Latin/Greek versions can be found on p. 355 of this pdf (from this site, under "Iustinus" in the "Auctor" column), seems to be "necyomantiæ" in the Latin version and "Nεχυομαντιαι" in the Greek version.

Finally, the wikipedia page for necromancy says the Greek version of the word was used as early as the 3rd century BC, citing the Oxford English Dictionary:

The word "necromancy" is adapted from Late Latin necromantia, itself borrowed from post-Classical Greek νεκρομαντεία (nekromanteía), a compound of Ancient Greek νεκρός (nekrós), "dead body", and μαντεία (manteía), "prophecy or divination"; this compound form was first used by Origen of Alexandria in the 3rd century BC.

  • [citation needed]! Wikipedia is not always right. (but thanks for the link either way, that list will come to use :) ) – Angelo Fuchs Jun 9 '16 at 20:47
  • ok. Citation given! You should edit Wikipedia. – Angelo Fuchs Jun 9 '16 at 20:48
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    Sidenote: "-mancy/-mancer", in its original meaning, referred to "getting information from" rather than "manipulating". Strictly speaking, I believe these cases should be "-turgy/-turge". Of course, English is not a prescribed language, and this usage of "-mancy/-mancer" is prevalent enough that I can't really say they're incorrect. – Tin Man Jun 9 '16 at 22:52
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    @Amadeus9 - Yes, one of the bolded quotes in the Aquinas quote notes it comes from the Greek word "manteia" meaning "divination". I think it refers specifically to a sort of divine or supernatural getting of information though, not just any means of getting it; "divination" does ordinarily refer to supernatural means, and the wiki article says the root is "ultimately from Greek mantis, prophet", and this etymology dictionary says "mantis" in Greek meant "one who divines, a seer, prophet". – Hypnosifl Jun 9 '16 at 23:59
  • @Hypnosifl So a Praying Mantis is a praying prophet? – Adeptus Jun 10 '16 at 2:03

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