Magic is something that we commonly see through all types of fiction and works of fantasy Most of the time it provides us with a major plot device it allows us to submerge ourselves in a world that feels familiar but yet unique and fantastical In works of fantasy and fiction it’s common to see magic described as light and dark good and evil there are acceptable practices and then those that are taboo the subject of this video is necromancy a practice that many classify as black magic or dark witchcraft a school of magic that should not be practised but that wasn’t always the case and so today we’ll take a look at some of the origins of necromancy how it evolved and what examples we have today before we go any further we first
need to define necromancy the term itself refers to a practice of magic that centres around communicating with the dead this can involve summoning their spirit or even raising their entire body as the spirit would no longer be considered part of our world it’s believed they would have access to
the past present and future raising them physically is something we see from those who perhaps wish to bring a loved one back from the dead or in some cases they’re even used as a weapon to do the bidding of their master the word itself originated from the Latin Necromantia which was taken from the Greek Nekromanteía or Necromathia which meant divination by the means of a dead body this takes us to some of the earliest accounts of necromancy which took place in Greece and Rome along with Egypt and Babylonia these practices are often compared to shamanism and there was no stigma or notion of
wrongdoing when it came to necromancy this is something that came much later there was a practice in ancient Greece called Nekyia or a Nekyia which essentially was a rite or a ritual where the dead would be called upon to answer questions about the future one of the earliest examples we have of this particular kind of necromancy comes from Homer’s Odyssey where we see the powerful sorceress Circe who is capable of both the raising and communion with the dead Circe then teaches many of these spells to Odysseus the hero of the story she then advises him to travel to the
underworld and to perform an Nekyia In order to gather the information needed
for him to safely return home in book 11 of Homer’s Odyssey Odysseus was instructed to raise the spirit of the blind prophet Tiresias and this particular ritual is described in some detail he must first light a fire in the dark of night and then sacrifice animals whose blood will be given to the shades or spirits to drink whilst doing this he would recite the incantations given to him by Circe Odysseus encounters several spirits before seeing the Prophet the most notable of these being his mother who he was shocked to see because he
believed that she was still alive when Tiresias finally appears he drinks the blood and begins to give a discus the information needed to make it home first advising him not to eat the cattle of Apollo to avoid incurring his wrath he also tells him that he will return home alone with none of his crew we can see from this particular example that necromancy wasn’t seen as an evil
form of magic almost quite the opposite this type of necromancy would be used by
numerous Greek and Roman poets who would include these rituals in their stories it became somewhat of a common trope for Greek and Roman heroes to perform a Katabasis a physical journey to the underworld that involved performing a task or a quest in many cases communion with the dead those bringing the dead back to life were referred to as necromancer’s and it seemed when it came to summoning one’s body they would mainly focus on those who had died recently within a year or two rituals of necromancy did tend to vary as we saw in Homer’s Odyssey they can be grotesque involving animal sacrifice and sometimes
even mutilation and consumption of the dead other times involves practices such as wearing the clothing of the deceased and consuming food such as blackened bread and unfermented grape juice which was thought to symbolise the decay and lifelessness of death it was fairly common practice to see artefacts such as talismans and wands used alongside these incantations so when did necromancy become this dark art? this school of magic that was considered unacceptable or taboo most sources point to once a time period of medieval Europe when the church really began to crack
down on magic and witchcraft necromancy was one of those practices to be condemned as dangerous the church labelled the act of necromancy as maleficium an act of witchcraft were the intention of doing harm necromancy would be equated to raising demons who hid under the guise of spirits the church believed that resurrection itself was an act that could only be performed with the assistance of God and interestingly enough there were a number of clergy who did perform certain degrees of necromancy these practitioners were
almost always highly trained and educated in astrology demonology and exorcism combing the Christian, Jewish and Arabic teachings that centered around necromancy practitioners of necromancy or necromancer’s outlined three things they believed could be achieved through the practice knowledge illusion and the ability to manipulate the will of others these three things can all be seen in a positive and a negative light it just comes down to where you stand on one side you have the church who believed those outside would use necromancy as a means to harm others and benefit themselves those who are not associated of the church saw it as an attempt to control and limit this form of magic so that it would only benefit the church now whether or not you believe these rituals and this particular school of magic is real is completely up to you my stance on Necromancy is pretty much the same as my stance on the supernatural and all sorts of myths and legends I don’t personally believe in these stories but I believe they created and inspired interesting ideas and archetypes that we used and still use today in storytelling and that segues nicely onto the next part of the video having discussed what necromancy
is where it came from and how it’s changed we can now take a look at some more modern examples and how the archetype of a necromancer is used today for those of you who have been watching this video and waiting for examples of necromancer’s there are quite a few that appear in big franchises that you likely would have heard of or seen before one that many of us would have come across in recent times is Tolkien’s character Sauron the Dark Lord who went by many
titles one of these of course being the necromancer those who have watched the
movies and maybe read some of the books may be wondering why he was given this title? because raising the dead isn’t something we really see in any of the movies however in the history of middle-earth a series of volumes collected by Tolkien son from all of his father’s manuscripts in volume 10 morgoth’s ring we see a quote that tells us he is indeed capable of communion with a dead enslaving them and harnessing their knowledge if we take a look at the Mortal Kombat franchise we have Shang Tsung and Quan Shi hoo both assumed roles of warlocks and sorcerers who dabble in the art of necromancy in both their cases they focus on raising the dead to form armies for their master and ultimately do their bidding raising an army of undead is honestly something that we see from most necromancer’s in Harry Potter we of course have Lord
Voldemort a wizard who did practice necromancy raising an entire army of skeletons and zombies during the first wizarding war which consisted mostly of those he had already murdered we also see something similar to this with the white walkers and the night king of Game of Thrones who can raise the dead by simply lifting his arms now all of these examples so far definitely have evil intentions and they are the villains of their respected stories but as we’ve already seen necromancy wasn’t always considered a dark art and not all necromancer’s are depicted as evil we’ve already discussed the story of Odysseus who is the hero of Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey if we take a look at the Marvel Universe and black panther in specific T’Challa sister Shuri has the ability to
reanimate the dead and she’s no villain we also have the rather interesting
example of dr. Frankenstein who many consider to be a necromancer who certainly didn’t have evil intent I do find the case of Dr. Frankenstein to be
quite strange because technically you can argue that he did raise the dead and therefore he qualifies as a necromancer but I tend to look at him as more of a man of science and he’s monster as a creation so I guess we do have to ask ourselves other than the influence of the church
during the medieval period why are so many necromancer’s in fiction evil? I think it comes down to the fact that they just make really good villains when you defeat the villains army you expect the battle or the war to be over but with necromancer’s they’re capable of summoning entire new armies from the corpses given this feeling of hopelessness they also have a level of knowledge obtained through communing with the dead that makes them more than
just a formidable enemy there is also this taboo when it comes to messing of the dead and just leaving them to rest in peace thus the act of raising the dead can be seen as disrespectful and even evil in some cases there are some aspects of necromancy that we don’t always have to view through a lens of ill intent such as communicating with a dead I mean sure this is still an aspect that can be used in a negative way but someone wanting closure for a close friend or a loved one is something that most of us can relate to how you choose to view necromancy is ultimately your choice but hopefully this video has been informative I’m sure those of you who were unfamiliar with the necromancy archetype will start to notice it a lot more in your favorite stories feel free to share your favourite necromancer’s or even just your thoughts with me in the comments below as always I have been your host mythology and fiction explained