“or one who casts spells.” The Hebrew phrase is chover chaver (חֹבֵ֖ר חָ֑בֶר), using the same root as a participle and then a noun. A much more literal rendering would be something like, “a binder of bands,” or perhaps, “one who ties ties” (the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon mentions “tie a magic knot”). In older English, magic spells were equated with “charms,” and thus some sources might have a “charmer who charms.” The root idea is that the person who can “bind with a band” can cast a spell or make magic that binds a person in some way. We can see why Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible has: “who bindeth with spells.” In Psalm 58:6 the verb refers to a snake charmer, in Isa. 47:9 and 12 the noun refers to magic spells.
“one who inquires of the spirits of the dead or of a familiar spirit.” The Hebrew is shoel ob (שֹׁאֵ֥ל אוֹב). The word “ob” referred to a pit or hole in the ground and then by extension to spirits that lived there (another meaning of the Hebrew word is “skin bottle,” and some lexicons only give that meaning, which can be confusing to people trying to study this subject). Thus, the phrase refers to one who asks or inquires of spirits, particularly the so-called spirits of dead people. This would include mediums, necromancers, and others who try to contact the spirit world.
The phrase “familiar spirits” is from the Hebrew word yiddoniy (#03049 יִדְּעֹנִי), from the root yada (#3045), “to know,” and thus refers to “a knower,” or one who has a “familiar spirit.” The phrase “familiar spirit” is found in many Bibles and comes into English from the Latin word familiaris, which meant “of the family,” but which was used, among other things, to describe household slaves and servants. The idea is that mediums and spiritists usually have some particular spirits or “spirit guides” (demons!) who “know” things and with whom they are regularly in touch and who serve them.
“necromancer.” The Hebrew is more literally, “one who inquires of [or consults with] the dead.” The Devil successfully supports the belief that dead people are not really dead by the appearance of ghosts, apparitions, and other types of visitations by “dead people,” which are actually demons impersonating the dead. Demons have the power to manipulate matter to make visible figures appear with more or less clarity. Some “ghosts” appear as real as in real life, while other ghosts or apparitions appear in very vague or unclear ways, such as a dim figure in a smoky haze.
Necromancy is the term for the practice of contacting the dead, and many people, for many various reasons, want to contact those who have died. The desire to contact the dead is so strong that it goes on even among Christians despite the fact that it is specifically stated to be an abomination to God. Sadly, traditional Christian doctrine feeds the practice of necromancy by teaching the unbiblical doctrine that when a person dies, only the body dies and the “soul” (or “spirit”) lives on. But death is the absence of life, and it is an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26). When a person dies, they are totally dead, lifeless in every way, and will be that way until Jesus Christ raises them from the dead. That is why our hope is in the return and appearing of Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:7), not in our own death, and it is why the Judgment occurs at his appearing and not at our death (2 Tim. 4:1). When a person “contacts the dead,” they are actually in touch with demons that impersonate the dead and who only have a hurtful, demonic agenda no matter how “nice” what they communicate seems to be.
The Devil has a multi-faceted agenda for making people think that dead people are not dead. For one thing, it makes physical death itself seem much less horrible. The thought of dying and being totally dead in every way, gone from life and loved ones, is very unsettling to many people and they willingly find reasons to believe that is not what happens. But being dead is what the Bible says happens. The first death is temporary, and people will be resurrected on their Day of Judgment, but for those who are unsaved, death via the Lake of Fire will follow the Judgment and be a permanent “second death” (Rev. 20:13-15).
Another reason the Devil has for getting people to believe the dead are alive is so that through mediums, apparitions, ghosts, etc., the Devil can communicate erroneous and hurtful information to the living. Of course if everything being communicated from the spirit world was hurtful, people would see through the delusion, and because of that, much of what the demons communicate is either temporarily helpful or neutral. But the Devil does have an evil agenda, which is why any “communication with the dead” is an abomination to God.
[For more information on what happens when we die, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead”].