So I write zombie fiction (which I’m sure none of you knew!) and one of the most interesting things to me is how necromancers haven’t been used more often in this genre. In my stories necromancy is the ability to control the dead, raise corpses, use dead energy to accomplish ones goals and also feed off death and pain. It goes a step further to deal with illnesses and communicating with the dead.
Traditionally, however, necromancy was a way to communicate with the dead. Vaguely it’s mentioned that necromancy was used (at times) as a weapon. Mentioned much more often is the use of spirit conjuring to figure things out. Most cultures seemed to think the knowledge of the dead was limitless, but it was the Greeks and Romans that had a more realistic grasp on it. They thought spirits were limited in what they knew, and probably didn’t know much more than they did in life.
Necromancers have even been rumored to store their souls into objects so that they could continue living past their mortal death. This made them a lich. A lich was harder to kill than a regular necromancer because in order to really kill them, you had to destroy the object their soul was stored in, or they would be able to come back.
Some popular references to necromancers would include World of Warcraft with their expansion Wrath of the Lich King. In this expansion we are introduced to a hero class called Death Knights which gain energy from death and disease. They utilize all kinds of banes and illnesses to inflict injury and death upon their victims. Another popular reference would be Lord Voldemort. In Harry Potter, Lord Voldemort was called a dark wizard, but he shares a lot of similarities with a necromancer. He is able to talk to snakes, his “familiar” is a snake, he has split his soul into several fragments through horrible acts of murder and stored them in various power objects throughout the wizarding world. His favorite spell is even the killing curse. Lord Voldemort, in my mind, is the perfect modern interpretation of a necromancer, and though he is never outright called a necromancer, I think he shares a startling list of prerequisites for that label.
So what is the allure of writing a necromancer? For me there are tons of exciting things! They seem to me to be the epitome of dark magicians. They don’t give a crap in most cases, and they are out for themselves (at least most often in my books). They can have a tortured side as well. For a regular person to find out they have this power over the dead would be kind of disturbing. Suddenly they are among a class of people who thrive off death, who have embraced their power and utilize it to their advantage. There is a huge margin for corruption among necromancers. Mental instability is a big factor too since you would doubtlessly have spirits nagging you day and night.
Necromancy is a really interesting study, and I can’t say that I’ve studied it as much as I’d like. It is also interesting to see how much modern stories have changed necromancy from what it was originally: spirit communication even if through pretty heinous dark rituals.