JWs from the beginning of their movement have spoken out against the spiritistic practice of communicating with the spirits of the dead. This form of spiritism was popular in the late 1880's to the early 1900's. The name for this form of spiritism is necromancy.
In stating their official opposition to necromancy the Society has pointed out that the Bible in such places as Deut. 18 condemns all forms of spiritism including necromancy. They have published much on this through the years.
In addition to the Biblical statements against the practice they have appealed to their belief in the doctrine of "soul sleep" or "annihilationism" as proving that a person can not communicate with the dead since the Bible, they believe, teaches that the dead are unconscious or "asleep" and thus can not communicate with anyone. Those who claim therefore to being in communication with the spirits of the dead are actually talking with demons, they say.
For example, Rutherford wrote an article titled "Talking With the Dead(?)" which appeared in the first Golden Age magazine in 1919. In it he mentions those who were well known at the time for their belief and involvement in necromancy. He said:
Sir Authur Conan Doyle, a positive witness that the living communicate with the dead (?), has written much on the subject. It will be noticed that the messages which purport to come from the dead come through a medium. 
Rutherford believed that Doyle and others were unBiblical in 'talking with the dead' by appealing to his belief in soul sleep, that is, the belief that the dead are unconscious until the resurrection. He then quotes several Scriptures (Psalms 6:5; 88:10, 11; 90: 3; 115: 17; 146:4; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10) and then comments that:
These Scriptures, then, prove conclusively (and there is none to contradict them) that man has not an immortal soul; that man is not a spirit being but a human; that man when he dies is dead and is not conscious; therefore could not possibly communicate with any who are living.
His conclusion as to who the spirits are that communicate with humans through mediums was:
... instead of this being the work or voices of departed men, we answer that the voices and works are those of demons who never were men,... 
This is the typical manner they have answered the claims of spiritists who believe in necromancy and supposedly the Bible at the same time. However, this stated opposition to necromancy does not mean that the Society inoculated itself against the activity, or that they have not, in fact, engaged in their own form of necromancy.
The Faithful and Wise Servant is Dead!
On Halloween (Oct. 31) of 1916 C. T. Russell the "faithful and wise servant," as he was called died. This posed a problem for his followers. Since the 'new light' or meat in due season came only through the faithful servant according to their theology, and he was now deceased, did this mean that no new light was to be expected? Would they now have to be content with "old light" and keep printing this until Kingdom come (literally!)?
This came to a head for some when Rutherford, in 1917, by then the Society's president, had the book The Finished Mystery published as the posthumous work of Russell. This, among other Rutherford moves, led to some splits in the organization with some leaving and forming their own sects (such as The Layman's Home Missionary Movement).
The Society's justifications for the Finished Mystery are interesting and bring up some fundamental problems I have with their whole theology relating to 'meat in due season' from God through 'that servant.' For the purposes of this article I will look at one of these justifications.
In the Finished Mystery book they promoted a form of necromancy as a solution to the above stated dilemma. On page 256 they said:
The three days of terrible darkness over the land of Egypt may represent three years of the great war, and indicate its close shortly after the publication of this final witness of the church... Pastor Russell passed forever out of reach of the antitypical Pharaoh, Satan, in the fall of 1916.... we hold that he supervises, by the Lord's arrangement, the work yet to be done. [Emphasis mine]
Here, one year after Russell's death, the Society said The Finished Mystery is to be the final witness before the end and that Russell is still supervising their work even though he is dead!
How could he do this since they taught, as briefly documented above, that the dead are unconscious and thus can not possibly communicate with the living?
First Resurrection in 1878
Russell taught that the resurrection of the "sleeping saints" started in 1878. This was not viewed as a visible, bodily resurrection, but a spiritual resurrection to heaven. All those of the anointed class who died beginning in 1878 were resurrected to heaven upon death. Those of this class who died prior to this time such as the Apostles were also resurrected in 1878.
The Finished Mystery as well promoted this belief. On page 182, for example, they said:
... in the spring of 1878 all the holy Apostles and other 'overcomers' of the Gospel Age who slept in Jesus were raised spirit beings,...
Thus, when Russell died in 1916, he was immediately resurrected as a "god", a "divine being." From heaven this god was "supervising" the Society's work!
On page 144 of The Finished Mystery they again stated their belief that the now "spirit being" C. T. Russell was directing their work from beyond the grave:
... though Pastor Russell has passed beyond the veil, he is managing every feature of the harvest work.
In the November 1, 1917 Watch Tower they also said:
This work is conducted by the WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY, a corporation organized for that purpose by Pastor Russell years ago, and which, without doubt, was organized under the Lord's direction, and which was managed and directed by Pastor Russell until his death....
Hence our dear Pastor, now in glory, is without doubt, manifesting a keen interest in the Harvest work, and is permitted by the Lord to exercise some strong influence thereupon. (Revelation 14:17) It is not unreasonable to conclude that he has been privileged to do, in connection with the Harvest work, things which he could not do while with us. Although we recognize that the Lord is the great Master and Director of the Harvest, yet we recognize that He would privilege the saints beyond the veil to have a part in the work on this side; and thus all the saints, both in Heaven and upon earth, are now given the honor of concluding the work on this side, preparatory to the full establishment of the Kingdom of Glory. 
Thus, not only was Russell directing the Society, but all the "saints" beyond the veil! This is a somewhat unusual form of necromancy, but it is necromancy in the sense of promoting the involvement of dead "saints" to direct the living on earth.
How Russell directed them from beyond the grave they never explained. I seriously doubt that the Society's leaders such as Rutherford held seances at the Society's headquarters to contact the spirits of Russell and the Apostles to see what they were to do next. This doctrine sounds more like the Catholic doctrine that the living faithful can pray to the "saints" for help than the traditional form of necromancy such as the 'witch of Endor' variety.
At least one other critic of the Society came to a similar conclusion. In a 1924 Golden Age they printed this person's objections to Society beliefs including this subject. As recorded in the Golden Age his statements were as follows:
"In Volume VII, STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES, page 161, Revelation 9:13, referring to the Adventists, in connection with other Protestant churches, the statement is made, 'The common ground on which they stand is this, their affirmation of spiritism in some form.' The writer is not an Adventist, nor affiliated with any church; but he believes in fairness. It seems to him that Adventism, which maintains that all the dead are still unconscious in the grave, leaves the field less open to spiritist delusions than does your doctrine, which declares that, since 1878, the righteous dead are conscious spirits; for in another place you disclose with great particularity [in "Spiritism" and "Talking With the Dead"] how the fallen angels have almost unlimited powers to impersonate even the righteous dead. It occurs to this writer that this doctrine also exposes the believer to lying telepathic communications from the living. It resembles strikingly the Roman Catholic belief that only a few of the dead, the saints, etc., have any communication with the living." 
Here the opposer to the Society's position correctly, in my view, states that their doctrine of the "saints" being resurrected to heaven since 1878 (together with the view that Russell was directing their work from there) opened them up to a form of necromancy and was similar to the Catholic view of the Saints. The Society's response was as follows:
The ground for including the Adventists in those tainted with spiritism has reference to their acceptance some years ago of the delusions of "Mother White," and not to their sound theology on the question that the dead are dead. However, the doctrine that the dead do really die does not in any way interfere with the doctrine of the resurrection.... This is the case with all the saints who fell asleep in death prior to 1878. Since then we understand that we are living in a special season when the overcomers are, at death, "changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Corinthians 15:52) and do not need to remain asleep in death. But our doctrine would forbid any intercourse with any of these; indeed, none of the Lord's people would undertake it. 
They deny that this doctrine of a post&endash;1878 spiritual resurrection etc. opens them up to spiritism and say their doctrine forbids it and none would attempt such.
This is not completely true. Their doctrine of being directed by the spirits of the dead from heaven [especially Russell] is a form of necromancy by definition. It is a fact also that at least one Bible Student did take these doctrines to heart and did communicate with a spirit that claimed to be Russell!
Russell Dead, But Speaking Again
The Society responded to this person's claim in the article Demons Entrap a London Ex-Elder in the January 1, 1934 Golden Age. Speaking of someone who was formerly an "elective elder" in the London congregation they said:
He imagines that he is receiving spirit messages from Charles Taze Russell, first president of the International Bible Students Association; as a matter of fact he is taking messages from a fallen angel that for centuries has been getting his principal enjoyment in making fools out of humans. 
They claim the spirit that communicated with the man was a fallen angel (not of the "honest" variety) because he gave him false doctrines; doctrines that Russell himself never taught. They therefore, unlike their endorsement of Angels and Women, these messages from a fallen angel were not "exceedingly interesting and sometimes thrilling," but were instead "characteristic demonic expressions." It was not "thoroughly in accord with the correct interpretation of certain scriptures" like J. G. Smith's spirit messages.
After giving examples of such false Biblical interpretations they further pointed out the demons were careless in their use of English:
Flirting with the witch of Endor, and other witches since, has made the demons careless in the use of pronouns; sixteen errors in four pages of manuscript are too many, even for an unclean and fallen spirit. 
I do not know who this person was that made these claims. The article doesn't identify him. I assume that he was open to necromancy based on previous Watchtower statements as the 'opposer' warned might happen ten years earlier. He opened himself up to lying communications from the "dead." Whether this was done "telepathically" or through a medium, I do not know. This person apparently did not follow their 1924 statement that their doctrine forbids such communication.
Later in 1934, perhaps as a result of this, Rutherford wrote the following clear-cut denunciation of trying to communicate with Russell or any other dead "saint." He denounced the belief that the dead were directing the Society's work. This appeared in the May 1 Watchtower and in his book Jehovah. There he said:
All at the temple will realize that their spiritual food comes to them from their Teachers, Jehovah and Christ Jesus, and not from any man. No one will be so foolish as to conclude that some brother (or brethren) at one time amongst them, and who has died and gone to heaven, is now instructing the saints on earth and directing them as to their work.
Rutherford may be correct in calling such beliefs "foolish" but it was he who had the Finished Mystery published that promoted the idea that "some brother", who died and went to heaven, namely Russell, was directing those on earth.
His clear rejection in 1934 of this did not end the matter of the Society itself, let alone those with the dreaded "elective elder spirit," promoting the idea that the dead are communicating truth to those on earth. In recent years they have seemingly "resurrected" the idea.
In the 1988 book Revelation&endash;Its Grand Climax at Hand! they say on page 125:
This suggests that the resurrected ones of the 24&endash;elders group may be involved in the communicating of divine truths today.
Thus they currently teach that the departed spirits of the anointed class "may be involved in the communicating of divine truths today" to those on earth.
Again, I seriously doubt that the Governing Body is today holding seances during their meetings. However, it is still official doctrine that the dead leaders of JWs "may be" involved with sending divine truths to the anointed on earth. As before they do not say how they may deliver the information to those on earth.
References and Notes:
1. The Golden Age, Oct. 1, 1919 p. 23 (last ¶).
2. Ibid. p. 26.
3. Ibid., p. 28.
4. The Watch Tower, November 1, 1917 p. 325.
5. The Golden Age, February 13, 1924 p. 312, ¶73.
6. Ibid., ¶74.
7. The Golden Age, Jan. 31, 1934 p. 273.
9. The Watchtower, May 1, 1934 p. 131; J. F. Rutherford, Jehovah, (Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower, Bible & Tract Society) 1934 p. 191.