The blackest of all the black arts is undoubtedly necromancy, the ancient method of communication with the dead.
The art of raising the dead and controlling their spirits takes its name from Greek words meaning “dead” and “divination”.
Necromancy is a form of magic involving communication with the deceased – either by summoning their spirit as an apparition or raising them bodily – for the purpose of:
- imparting the means to foretell future events
- discover hidden knowledge,
- to use the deceased as a weapon,
Early necromancy was related to shamanism, which calls upon spirits such as the ghosts of ancestors. Classical necromancers addressed the dead in “a mixture of high-pitch squeaking and low droning”, comparable to the trance-state mutterings of shamans.
If you are doubtful about how serious Necromancy is – consider that Necromancy is throughout the bible.
Necromancy can be divided into two main branches:
Divination by means of ghosts, and divination from corpses. The second method leads to the disinterment of corpses and rifling of graves for grisly charms which magicians and witches consider necessary for the effective performance of the magical arts.
Necromancy is a universal practice of great antiquity, only the profoundly initiated, brave and single-minded magician has any chance of success in such a venture, always considered to be extremely dangerous, for not only is a pact with the Devil necessary, but it is thought that the “astral corpse” has an intense desire to live again and could, by absorbing life-energy from living creatures, prolong its life idenfinitely, thus, unless he has taken adequate precautions, the magician might be in great danger.
To evoke the dead the magician needs to obtain the help of powerful spirits, both for his own protection and to compel the corpse or ghost to submit to his will. A spell from ancient Greece calls upon the powers of the mighty Kore, Persephone, Ereshkigal, Adonis, Hermes and Thoth, to bind the dead. According to a ritual described by Seneca, the Roman dramatist, the summoning of the dead involves not only a burnt sacrifice but a blood-drenched aItar.
Scent and odours must be carefully produced from burning substances for their powerful influences. Elaborate preparations include careful study of the positions of the planets, and especially of the moon and the influence of Saturn.
The site for the operation has to be chosen with care, the most favorable is some lonely crossroads, a vault, a ruin, an unfrequented forest, or a blasted heath.
Once a time is decided upon for the operation, a series of concentric circles of power must be drawn on the ground within which are inscribed crosses and other symbols, together with holy names of God. The circle must be blessed and consecrated, with the magician and his assistant standing at its centre, protected by the holy names from all danger. Then, wand in hand, the magician summons the dead to rise, using names of power.
Eliphas Levi and other magicians have suggested the need for some attempt at identification between the living and the dead, as for example the presence of a portrait, and a portion of bread which the ghost would be invited to consume. In his evocation, the magician summons the dead by name and, if he is successful, he has to face the frightening ordeal of a phantom screaming and gibbering with rage at having been compelled against its will to return to the realms of the living. Sometimes the dead appears in the shapes of furious beasts raging about the circle and threatening to tear the sorcerer to pieces.
When the dead finally decides to submit to the magician’s will he often becomes transformed into a naked men who is willing to answer the questions put to him.
After the operation it is necessary to dismiss the dead, who usually vanishes amid clouds of sulphur. Under no circumstances the magician should leave the protection of the magic circle before this. He also has to remove all flowers from the place and after burning them, to bury the ashes deeply in the earth.
Necromancy in popular games, culture & films
- Many necromancers existed in the Necroscope series by Brian Lumley, including Vlad Dragosani and Janos Ferenczy.
- The final chapter of The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien mentions the White Council driving the Necromancer, a guise of Sauron, from Dol Guldur, his stronghold in Mirkwood. However they are not named as Sauron in the book.
- Anita Blake, main character of the Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton, is a necromancer, and there are numerous other mentions of necromancy.
- The Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix is a cycle of novels centered around the practice of necromancy and its influence on the world of the living.
- The tenth Jonathan Aycliffe ghost story novel, The Silence of Ghosts uncovers a necromantic trade in bodies based in England’s Lake District and Portugal.
- HP Lovecraft’s classic The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward features a similar trade in New England, for the purpose of eliciting knowledge from the remains or salts of the great and good.
- Being ineffective as a means of “reuniting body and soul once death has occurred”, necromancy in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling is generally disparaged as “a branch of magic that has never worked.” However, practitioners of the Dark Arts contrive to produce “vile substitutions” such as the reanimated corpses known as Inferi.
- In the Japanese manga series Shaman King by Hiroyuki Takei, the character Johann Faust VIII is a self-taught necromancer who takes part in the Shaman Fight in order to gain the ability to bring his wife back from the dead.
- A necromancer named Doll is featured amongst the core characters of ½ Prince, a series of Taiwanese novels by Yu Wo, later adapted into manhua format by Choi Hong Chong.
- Nico di Angelo, a demigod character appearing in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan, wields various necromantic powers owing to his paternity by Hades, Greek god of the underworld.
- Necromancy is prominent in the Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy.
- Chloe Saunders, main character of the Darkest Powers trilogy by Kelley Armstrong, is a genetically mutated necromancer.
- Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?, a series of Japanese light novels by Shinichi Kimura (which has also been adapted into manga and anime formats), features as its protagonist a zombie who was raised from the dead and befriended by a powerful necromancer.
- Appearing in a series of short stories and novels by Jonathan L. Howard, the character Johannes Cabal is “a necromancer of some little infamy” who sold his soul in order to gain the ability to commune with and raise the dead.
- The fourth installment of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott is entitled The Necromancer. The series, however, employs this term in a broader sense as one of several that refer to characters who are practitioners of magic, though with a darker connotation than the others.
- In Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Macon Ravenwood’s aunt Twyla Valentin is a necromancer who gives Ethan Wate a brief encounter with his dead mother
- In the book series Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy, necromancy is a discipline of magic that is talked about heavily and one of the chosen disciplines of the main character Valkyrie Cain as well as other characters like Lord Vile.
Film and television
- In the Cartoon Network animated series The Venture Bros., Dr. Byron Orpheus is referred to as a “necromancer extraordinaire”, although he has been shown to command a broad range of mystical powers. He belongs to the Order of the Triad, a team of occult practitioners, and regularly collaborates with Team Venture.
- In the fifth season episode “Just Rewards” of the WB series Angel, vampires Angel and Spike try to put a rogue necromancer named Magnus Hainsley out of commission. Their task is made much harder by the fact that they are both undead and therefore susceptible to Hainsley’s power.
- In the second season episode “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things” of the CW series Supernatural, Sam and Dean Winchester are forced to intervene when the teaching assistant to a professor of Ancient Greek uses a necromantic ritual to bring the professor’s daughter back to life after she dies in a car accident.
- Necromantic rituals conducted by the former occupant of a house are largely to blame for the supernatural forces that plague its current owners in the 2009 horror film The Haunting in Connecticut.
- In the fourth season of the HBO series True Blood, antagonist Marnie Stonebrook employs necromancy to cause herself to become possessed by the spirit of Antonia Gavilán de Logroño, a witch who was burned at the stake during the Spanish Inquisition. As she was dying, Antonia used her power to gain control over all nearby vampires and subsequently caused them to walk into the sunlight, killing themselves. Marnie desires the same ability to manipulate vampires like puppets.
- In the fourth season episode “Lancelot du Lac” of the BBC series Merlin, Morgana uses necromancy to bring the knight Lancelot back from the dead in order to interfere with the pending marriage of King Arthur and Guinevere, thereby preventing Guinevere from becoming queen. Morgana herself wants to be the sole ruler of Camelot.
- In the third season of the FX series American Horror Story: Coven, the character of Misty Day (Lily Rabe) is a necromancer who is persecuted by non-witches after bringing a bird back to life.
- The film Black Death is a gothic tale of horror dealing with disease, spirits, and necromancers.
- In some editions of Dungeons & Dragons, wizards can specialize in the school of necromancy, and clerics can select death as their sphere or domain. Both accordingly gain access to spells that not only focus on death, decay, and the undead, but also various forms of life force manipulation, enabling them to heal or cause injury, cure or inflict disease, and perform resurrection.
- Necromancers are a specific type of magic user in the Palladium Fantasy and Rifts role-playing games from Palladium Books. They wield a number of powers over death and the dead, such as acquiring supernatural abilities by ingesting certain organs harvested from corpses and being able to merge severed limbs with their own bodies.
- The necromancer is a character class in the video game Diablo II, released by Blizzard Entertainment. It is also a character class in the video game AdventureQuest Worlds, released by Artix Entertainment. In Diablo II, they can animate the dead, inflict curses, and use life-draining attacks. It is also an Undead unit in Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, and there are named necromancers in World of Warcraft.
- In The Battle for Wesnoth, an open source turn-based strategy game, players may advance their units as practitioners of the dark arts to the level of necromancer, thereby gaining “the terrible ability to awaken the dead with false life”, among other arcane powers.
- Necromancy can be learned by wizards of the School of Death in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game Wizard101 from KingsIsle Entertainment.
- The necromancer is available as a profession in the Guild Wars competitive online role-playing game series from NCsoft. Able to drain life energy from their enemies, they also specialize in raising undead minions and casting curses.
- In the Dungeon Management game, War for the Overworld, Necromancers appear as a unit which can raise Ghouls and Revenants.
- The character Quan Chi, from the fighting game series Mortal Kombat is a Necromancer
- The Character Lezard Valeth, from the video game series Valkyrie Profile, is a Necromancer.
- Necromancers can be found in the Bethesda video games ‘The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind‘, ‘The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion‘ and ‘The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim‘ among others. Players cannot become a full necromancer, but they can use magic to raise the dead, summon souls, and create black soul gems that are used to trap human souls and harness their magical power.
- In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Necromancers are minions of the final Lord of Shadow, Zobek the Dark Lord of the Dead, Death himself. In the game, Necromancy is considered the most evil of all the schools of magic, and it can only be performed by Zobek and his followers. Unlike vampirism and lycanthropy, the powers necessary to control the energies of the deceased are not easily acquired. The Dark Lord only shares a small part of his power with his followers, who themselves must die in order to use the abilities given to them. Once dead, they become his thralls and their master is able to control them with his own considerable power. They appear as cloaked mummifed figures, who wield scythes and summon the undead to fight their enemies, though more powerful Necromancers can summon deadly Reapers, spirits that personify death. Three Necromancers are encountered by Gabriel Belmont during his quest to defeat the final Dark Lord, two as bosses, while the third impersonated the Dark Lord and raised the Dracolich Titan to fight Gabriel. In the sequel Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, Gabriel’s grandson, Simon Belmont, encounters a single Necromancer when he tries to obtain the Combat Cross belonging to Trevor, his father. The Necromancer was sent by Zobek to steal the Combat Cross, and was promised the return of his soul if he succeeded. After taking the Combat Cross, the Necromancer engages Simon in combat with his scythe. During the fight, he steals the Spirit of Belnades (the spirit of Simon’s deceased mother), preventing Simon from using her healing and defensive powers. He is eventually defeated by Simon, who rips the Combat Cross from him.
- Necromancers are a playable faction in several of the Might and Magic Heroes video games.