Those who claim to contact the dead on behalf of the living are referred to as those who possess "familiar spirit(s)" in the KJV Bible (Leviticus 20:6, 1Samuel 28:7, 9, etc.). They are also called necromancers (Deuteronomy 18:11) or those who practice necromancy. Those who try to get in touch with departed spirits are also considered those who practice sorcery (Isaiah 47:9, Revelation 9:21, etc.) or witchcraft (Galatians 5:20). Individuals today who try to contact the dearly departed are oftentimes referred to as "mediums" or "spiritualists."
Are we conscious after we die?
One of the foundational beliefs underpinning the idea that contact with the dead is possible is the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. This teaching states that humans possess a spirit or "soul" that continues to live on and remain conscious after the body dies. Although widely held, this belief is contrary to what the word of God teaches.
The Bible clearly proclaims that those who have died are unconscious. The same absence of life happens to both animals and man when they perish (Ecclesiastes 3:19 - 20, Psalm 49:12 - 20). Those who pass away are not aware of the trials and triumphs of their own families (Job 14:21) nor are they aware of the evil that goes on without them (2Kings 22:20). The dead cannot give thanks to God (Psalm 6:5), nor proclaim his truth (30:9) and because they are silent they cannot praise Him (115:17).
5. For the living know that they shall die; but the dead DO NOT KNOW ANYTHING . . . 6. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, IS LONG AGO PERISHED . . . 10. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no work, nor plan, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave where you go (Ecclesiastes 9:5 - 6, 10, see also Psalm 146:3 - 4).
The Bible truth is the dead are unable to communicate with ANYONE, including the devil, until they are resurrected from the grave sometime in the future (Job 14:14). Please see our articles on the immortality of the soul and life after death for more details.
man with cloth tries to ward off evil spirits!
The Woman of Endor
One of the most common Biblical references used to support the false belief that the dead can offer information to the living involves King Saul of Israel (1Samuel 28). Briefly (see "The Witch of Endor" for details), the King sought someone to contact the dead spirit of Samuel the prophet to seek guidance regarding an upcoming battle. He ended up consulting with a woman in Endor who had a "familiar spirit" (KJV). An excellent reference book entitled "Here and Hereafter" by Uriah Smith (chapter 10) lists several reasons, some of which are below, why the spirit seen by the woman was a demon pretending to be Samuel.
Contact with the spirit world can only be accomplished through either God or the devil (demons). Prior to meeting with the woman in Endor Saul had tried to seek God's advice through the only three acceptable means available to him (dreams, the Urim and prophets - 1Samuel 28:6) but failed. It makes no sense that the Eternal would initially REFUSE to communicate with Saul, whom he had rejected (1Samuel 16:1, 28:16), only to allow him to access to Samuel's dead spirit (which he strictly forbad - see Leviticus 19:31, 20:6, 27, Deuteronomy 18:9 - 12). In fact, Saul's consulting of a necromancer was one of the reasons God stated he was allowed to die in battle (1Chronicles 10:13)! The spirit conjured for Saul had to be a demonic imposter pretending to be Samuel.
During his reign, Saul had all those who practiced the "black arts" put to death (1Samuel 28:9). The female necromancer did not know that it was the King who sought her counsel (1Samuel 28:8 - 9). It was only when she made contact with the spirit world that she learned it was the King. She immediately cried out with a loud voice in fear (verse 12). Putting the woman on guard and aiding her abominable practices is something the real Samuel would not have done!
The woman said she saw the spirit Saul thought was Samuel rising out of the earth (verses 13 - 14). However, how could this be the REAL Samuel if, as some suppose, he was before God in HEAVEN receiving his reward? If Samuel was not in heaven, but unconscious in the grave, could this have been some temporary resurrection of his spirit? No! Not only does the Bible not teach a temporary resurrection of only someone's spirit (though a person's spirit AND flesh has been brought to life several times), it NEVER ascribes to demons the power to resurrect anyone. Additionally, how could the woman have seen the actual spirit of Samuel "rise from the earth" when he was buried in Ramah near Jerusalem (verse 3), which is located at least SEVENTY miles (112 kilometers) south of Endor?