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The world consist of several different countries who are no strangers to being at war with each other. Even more, some countries are ruled by different races, like humans, elves, dwarves, etc. Racism and xenophobia are common occurrence.

Yet, despite all their differences and mistrust, necromancy is forbidden in all of them. Also, no government tries to secretly train necromancers in order to unleash undead hordes on their opponents if war happens.

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    $\begingroup$ You probably want to check out this previous question, not a duplicate, but can provide reasons it may not even worth it if it weren't banned. worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/205221/… $\endgroup$
    – TCooper
    Jun 24 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ @TCooper If it's not worth it, then why do they even need to ban it? It's like having a law against using teaspoons instead of shavels. $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 25 at 5:42
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    $\begingroup$ For the same reason that we don't use poison gas or germ weapons anymore. I guarantee you, though, that the kingdoms study defense against necromancy, because... you never know when the Other Guy is going to break the Great Taboo. (This leapt to mind as soon as I read the question, before seeing Trioxane's answer.) $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Jun 25 at 6:29
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn How are you going to practice defence against necromancy without actual acts of necromancy? It's like learning firefighting without actual fires. $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 25 at 7:20
  • $\begingroup$ We study biological warfare without engaging in biological warfare. Thus, while you make a good point, it can be possible to protect yourself against something without actually engaging in it. I don't know your rules of magic, but I do know human nature: racist xenophobes will distrust Others, and there will be one or more Others that they distrust enough to think, "maybe They will break the taboo; we'd better be ready just in case!" $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Jun 25 at 9:11

20 Answers 20

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In Hamlet, Shakespeare describes the realms of death and the afterlife as "The Undiscovered Country". Maybe in your world, that description is more literal than poetic. The dead are loyal citizens of the afterlife, a country quite distinct from and universally opposed to whatever living world country they used to belong to while alive. That country might be in a constant state of war with the living world. The reanimated may for a short time be enslaved to the necromancer but after that time, they do not return to the grave. Instead unfettered by the living necromancer's will, they strike out at the living indiscriminately as warriors for their new homeland, the afterlife.

And if some of those undead were themselves necromancers before they died, the situation will escalate exponentially.

In a world where xenophobia and rampant nationalism are rampant, where war is a constant across the present and past, adding another country to fight with doesn't make sense to anyone. So all nations outlaw it.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's quite interesting angle to look at. It makes more litteral what @nepene-nep said in their answer, "Raising a necromantic army means allowing an enemy king a foothold in your land." $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 26 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ It also opens possibility that some necromancers can be double agents of the King of the Dead. $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 26 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ Nations also could have learned danger of necromancy the hard way, which can make answer of @Gloweye complement your answer $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 29 at 5:49
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Because we do it in our world too

Thanks to Geneva conventions and others, many weapons are forbidden. Gas and chemical among them. Now there are of course countries that secretly, or not so secretly, still have such arsenals and use them. Still, there are some lengths that no one would stoop to. Things like cobalt bombs, or actually using a disease to kill your enemies. The reason is that the result is undetermined and near impossible to control. It can just as easily kill your own people, or at least the people they want to keep alive.

Undead armies might be such a thing. They might be turned, or the control too difficult. Maybe they feel that the dark powers are simply too dangerous. Would you invite the powers of a dark god among your people as a nation, while it could destroy you all? Especially if stories how it could go wrong are everywhere. Undead turning, blight that makes the land unlivable, necromancers getting extremely unlucky, or getting some bad feedback, or requiring horrible sacrifices to take into effect. Maybe families of the undead people get a curse or feel the bad effects. This is a very bad thing, as eventually everyone is sort of connected.

Others can be more mundane. Most races might not want their dear old grandmother created into an undead abomination and off to war.

Or maybe it's because despite all the advantages, the undead are just not cost effective. It is very easy to keep you to the rules if it is costing you more than you put in.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Maybe they feel that the dark powers are simply too dangerous." Nothing is too dangerous if you have ambitious arrogant aristocrats ruling over your nation. $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 24 at 8:04
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    $\begingroup$ Aristocrats actually want their heir lands intact, so they have a lot of skin in the game that e.g. outlaws-turn-rulers don't. $\endgroup$
    – alamar
    Jun 24 at 8:20
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    $\begingroup$ @user161005 Aristocrats hate one thing above all - the power that threaten their rule. In history they opposed royal power for this reason while also hampering growth of cities etc. An necromancer leading army of zombies is exactly the sort of thing that may threaten their rule, so they will be the first to ban necromancy. $\endgroup$
    – Archelaos
    Jun 24 at 9:29
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    $\begingroup$ This answer would make more of an impact if more groups actually held themselves to the Geneva conventions. Only established nations with at least basic democracy do. Many rebel groups or dictator ships ignore the Geneva conventions when it suits them, or when they get desperate enough. Even the great powers still have the option to break them - for instance nuclear weapons, whose deployment violates the Conventions. $\endgroup$
    – Gloweye
    Jun 24 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Pingcode the same can be said of generals. If you do it right, the soldiers are loyal to the army instead of the ruler. We've seen enough coups of armies to support that. Any army is a potential liability. The question is, how much liability do you accept? $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Jun 26 at 7:52
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Because that Necromancer Emperor 100 years ago was REALLY SCARY.

Some time ago, probably between 100 to 500 years, a Necromancer became Emperor, conquered half the known world, and killed the majority of the world population.

Armies of all kind banded together, to no avail. All were swept aside. All used magics were pointless or countered by the Emperor.

In the end, the only reason that the entire world dodged being ruled by the same mass-murdering Emperor for millenia was because someone slipped a knife in his back.

This would develop into a cultural hatred of the practice. If you practice it, your village will hang you. If you overpower your village, the noblemen will. Or the clergy. The nearby city. The local Mage's Guild. Assassins from the royal court. Armies from the royal court. International alliances.

Everything to kill a Necromancer in rising to prevent from what happened last time.

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    $\begingroup$ Also, Necromancer Emperors tend to become undead Necromancer's (liches) who, unlike other conquerors, refuse to conveniently die. Alexander died. Genghis Kahn died. Liches don't die unless you kill them really really hard, then cut them into pieces and then burn the pieces. $\endgroup$ Jun 25 at 17:06
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    $\begingroup$ Exactly. That only adds to the flavor. Now add to the mix how much medieval witch hunts we had targeting innocents (which is every single one of them), imagine how many there would have been with actual solid evidence. $\endgroup$
    – Gloweye
    Jun 25 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ This seems more like an argument that a secretive but powerful group would try to duplicate what that Emperor did. $\endgroup$ Jun 26 at 0:13
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    $\begingroup$ Those don't need to be mutually exclusive. But yeah, the added bonus of something like this is additional story hooks someone can draw from it. $\endgroup$
    – Gloweye
    Jun 26 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe as @henry-taylor suggested the realm of the Dead is literally its own kingdom. Then instead of necromancer the one who was defeated 500 years ago was the King of the Dead himself. And he wasn't destroyed, he merely retreated back to his land, waiting for another chance for conquest of the world of the living $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 26 at 16:39
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Nobody trusts necromancers.

There is an inherent problem with necromancers, and that's what you do when you're done with them.

If you decide a conventional military leader is a liability, generally you can revoke their authority from above - the duke or king or parliament or president signs an order stripping them of command, and the general assumption is that other leaders and troops will more or less obey.

Even a weapon of mass destruction is relatively easily contained from the hands of a lunatic in charge. Codes can be changed, procedures modified, generals put on do-not-allow-entry lists. Again, the assumption (perhaps unwise, but generally believed) is that the legitimate authority can exert control over their weapons.

Undead don't work like that. They don't have access codes or accept written authority. They're irrevocably bound to the necromancer who raised them, come hell or high water. For a legitimate authority such as a king, they are forever out of reach. If your ability to exert control over the necromancer slips, there's no way you can ever bring the undead back in line.

For this reason, kings and lords consider necromancers to be an implicit challenge to their rule - a subject they can never control or contain. You can imagine for yourself how most kings respond to such a challenge.

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    $\begingroup$ "You can imagine for yourself how most kings respond to such a challenge." Divide and conquer, no? Have several necromancers competing with each other, spying on each other, distrusting each other. Like what dictators do with secret services in our world $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 24 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ @user161005 Adding more people you can't control into the situation is only going to make it worse. "Divide and conquer" would be to separate the necromancers from each other and then destroy them. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Jun 24 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ Also, wouldn't the same train of thought as in your post make powers to be reluctant to use summoners, not only necromancers? If a mage summoned magical beasts from another dimension, they would obey only the mage who summoned them. $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 25 at 4:54
  • $\begingroup$ @user161005 I'm not sure how it works in your world, but most commonly necromancy is shown as the type of magic that creates permanent, plentiful, bound-to-the-necromancer minions. While summoners often are limited in number (they supply the magic for the beast, while necros use souls?), or summon their beasts temporarily, or are able to cede control of a summon. Mix and match these factors as you please :) $\endgroup$
    – Syndic
    Jun 25 at 12:30
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    $\begingroup$ @user161005 Except in our world, we have plentiful examples of army-led coups where people with military power use the barrel of a gun to depose the civilian head(s) of state. In many countries (especially in Africa) it's still unusual for a change of government to take place at the ballot box. And in many other countries (North Korea, Russia or Belarus, for example) the necromancer and his minions are already in power and ruling through terror. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Jun 25 at 13:58
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Necromancy is easily detectable and impossible to control on a large scale.

Necromancy needs huge amounts of necromantic energy to function. Small time necromancers raising the family dog or a lover from the dead can hide it, but enough undead to be useful gives off a big aura that skilled magical detection can easily find. This prevents secretly training necromancers.

In addition, if you have a large enough concentration of necromantic energy, and what is 'large enough' is subjective and impossible to tell, ancient liches and ghosts and necromantic spirits will intervene. They want to form an undead empire of their own, and so they'll augment the spells and spread them beyond their usual bounds to conquer everything around, which usually includes your kingdom.

Raising a necromantic army means allowing an enemy king a foothold in your land. Nations that don't have a strong taboo against necromancy don't remain life run nations.

Those that did fall were eventually defeated by alliances of many previously hostile nations. They serve as memorials to the danger of trusting necromancers and the undead or trying to use them.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Nations that don't have a strong taboo against necromancy don't remain life run nations." Good point, but if the countries learned it the hard way, then we would have undead-run country, so ban on necromancy wouldn't be universal. On the other hand, we can combine it with asnwer of @Gloweye and make such dead-run country exist purely in the past of the world, making all present countries run by the living. $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 26 at 11:54
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah. They could have had to in the past unite to crush previous undead nations, and have a great fear that such nations will arise again. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Jun 26 at 12:13
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Hey, you know what sounds like fun? Angering our ancestor spirits!

So you're just sitting around, chilling, enjoying your afterlife of choice (or maybe you're not enjoying it, which could make this even worse), when something chills you to the bones. Literally. Because your bones, they ain't resting in their final resting place any more. They're on the move, fighting some mortal war you thought you had escaped from, which upsets you for reasons varying according to which flavor of the afterlife you've been sipping.

Fortunately, the breach has weakened the veil enough to allow your spirit to return separately from your body and wreak some good old-fashioned vengeance on whomever it was that disturbed you. Unfortunately, you find that the necromancer necromancing your bones was prepared for this. He just has too much power for you to affect him.

So you seek out your descendants. Surely one of them will have enough respect for the departed to put an end to this travesty, and then you can empower them or reward them or something. Except when you find your descendants, it turns out they're willingly going along with this!

Well, at least you found someone that's a part of this, but not strong enough to keep you from wreaking some vengeance on them until they do the right thing.

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You probably need multiple reasons, and there are fortunately several reasons you can give to the people in your world.

Culture:

There are some cultural reasons you might not be allowed to use necromancy. The archetypical honorable dwarves would easily have a problem with their soldiers and families being turned into the undead. Similarly using other species as undead can be seen as such dishonorable as you hide behind the corpses of your enemies.

Religion:

Proper burial, respect for the dead even if they used to be hostile and just plain "life and death is God's terrain not mere mortals" are excellent ways to discourage using necromancy.

Distrust of power and motivations:

The Necromancer has absolute control over the undead. They could turn on you whenever they want right? And if you kill him then their undead go wild meaning the Necromancer is a risk. Also this is a guy that works with dead rotting bodies for a living, he does not think like you or me right? Can you trust him to follow your rules, to not stab you and turn you into an undead yourself?

A bargain with Dark Powers:

All Necromancers need to make a pact with demonic entities to work their magic. Even with the best intentions these Necromancers will eventually be twisted and corrupted. Why take the risk using one?

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  • $\begingroup$ I personally don't believe that cultural and religious hindrances will work long-term if necromancy will be advantageous to use. It's more suitable as scenario for world where necromancy is relatively new phenomenon. $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 24 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ @user161005 you really think so? Eating insects is a good idea like grasshoppers, but hasn't really taken hold in most of western culture. Just imagine a real-world scenario where there was an advantage in fucking the corpses of your loved ones. Do you really think that this will ever be made acceptable on a national level? That is pretty close to what you are suggesting. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Jun 24 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ "Eating insects is a good idea like grasshoppers, but hasn't really taken hold in most of western culture." The key word is yet. There is some lag between change and consequent adaptation of culture. "Do you really think that this will ever be made acceptable on a national level?" If it was helping people to survive, then yes. $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 25 at 2:52
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The short version of the answer is that a skilled enough necromancer is enough of a perceived threat to the established power structure of the lands they reside in that the leader take action to neutralize that.

Something that should be noted is that it doesn't have to be a militaristic threat. The zombie dreadhorde can most definitely be a militaristic threat. However, an undead horde doing repetitive manual labour can create an economical threat to the established power structure. Learning things that people are not supposed to know is a different kind of threat to the powerful.

Also noted is that it does not have to be an actual threat. Just because a person can raise an army, does not mean that they will. But the fact that they can makes them a potential threat.

The Unnature of Necromancy

Calling all Spirits

People like to focus on the raising undead hordes part of necromancy, and that is all well and good, but there can be so much more to the art of necromancy that is far more benign in principle, but just as dangerous to the powerful.

I like to point out our English definition of necromancy:

a method of divination through alleged communication with the dead;

Source -- Dictionary.com

This could very much involve speaking to the recently deceased to find out things, like what and more importantly who, killed them. While on the surface a good investigative tool, you know it will be banned quick when the aristocracy starts getting caught arranging accidents for their rivals because somebody used this to talk to their victims.

We have magic -- there is no "alleged" in this communication with the dead.

Death Magic

Depending on the setting, necromancy also takes into account spells that use negative energies to weaken or outright kill living things.

When one kills with a knife, there is a highly visible knife wound. There is no ambiguity as to how they died. In fact, that they could get in and murder someone can be itself a message. Poison straddles a middle ground depending on the nature of the poison used in the murder and any overt effects of it. But death magic? Unless it leave a tell-tale sign, there is no wound. Just a body flopping over dead.

Done stealthily enough, say in the middle of the night or while the victim is alone in the woods, and nobody will know if they died from necromantic attack or a heart attack. As an iconic example in recent memory, the Avada Kedavera spell in Harry Potter explicitly leave no mark on its victim.

In a similar vein, if you get a necromancer into enemy territory and blight their crops and cause a famine over the winter, that will have a heck of an effect on people not involved in the wars. It is quite bluntly, a horrible war crime on civilians, at lest by our standards. But the catch might be that such a powerful curse on the land does not dispel easily or may even have unintended consequences.

The Undead Labour Market

When people think of raising undead armies, they think of war. While this can be a good use of human resources, another is in the mindless and repetitive jobs around.

Should the nature of your basic undead allow for it, with a bit of clever machinery a zombie can power basic things or do a simple task without fail or break. It's basically free labour, and that allows the commoners time for themselves to do things that the nobles may not approve of. Also, if it's one man's zombie workforce, then that centralizes economic power in one person. This is possibly a threat to the local administrator of the village.

The Nature of the World

Magical Balance

Note, you have magic in the world. How would the world itself react to an undead army, or more specifically the concentration of negative energies where the undead army is and/or was created? I could see that the biggest problem of the undead hordes not being the undead themselves, but the imbalance in the magical forces of the world caused by concentrating so much negative energy in one location.

For that matter what is the nature of your undead? Various media have different kinds of undead, and even your zombies may have different properties than the general norm. Some of them may not be conducive to the control of a large-scale army of undead.

Societal Balance

It has been brought up before, but the big question here is if this is one world-wide ban in the vein of "I hate you all, but this is the one thing we all can agree on" or if this is each individual kingdom/state making the decision and they happen to all agree necromancy is bad.

Even then, each kingdom will likely have their own reasons for the necromancy ban, as well as ensuring that their neighbours have and are enforcing that ban. There could be kingdom-specific reasons as to why necromancy is banned.

  • The kingdom of intrigue bans it because it unbalances the political and diplomatic games the nobles play. That it happens to ban undead armies from ravaging the countryside is a bonus to them
  • The kingdom that honours its ancestors bans it to prevent their rest from being disturbed or from noble bodies being used for ignoble purposes. That reverence spreads down the the common folk even if they aren't as dedicated to the honour of their ancestors as the nobles are
  • The ambitious kingdom banned it because they remember the one time it happened and nearly destroyed the kingdom. The one castle in the corner of their empire lies in ruins, still somewhat unsafe to enter even after a century or two. They aggressively prevent the art from returning to avoid a repeat of history
  • The kingdom with less fertile lands bans necromancy so that nobody can blight each other's lands as a form of revenge. They can't afford the loss of food it could cause over their winters.

The point is that everyone will have their specific reasons to ban the practice even if there is a world congress that has agreed to it on a global level.

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There is a balance, and somebody developing necromancy would break it

The various countries hate one another, they fight continuously, but there is a kind of balance, so that everyone is at about the same level of power.

Think of the perpetual deadlock among Oceania, Eurasia and East Asia in 1984.

In such situation, these countries would probably fear the idea of some another country gaining the upper hand much more than they would like to gain the upper hand themselves.
So, I expect them to make (and break) a lot alliances, in particular every time one of the rival countries seem to achieves any kind of advantage.

Xenophobia and the consequent lack of trust imply that there is a very strong level of espionage and covert actions in all the countries (and probably magic would help to monitor the foes).

Since necromancy would give an insane advantage to whoever masters it first, whatever country starts to try to exploit these techniques would soon be discovered. In order to be able to deploy an army of undead, it would take years of preliminary research and experiments.

Everybody knows that in case a country starts to develop necromancy, basically all other countries would unite and attack it far before they could reach a usable level of necromancy and were able to defend against the "rest of the world".

In such a situation, the actual status quo is a lot better than trying to prevail, since being discovered would mean the assured destruction of the country.

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Because necromancy isn't as good a weapon as it sounds

Hordes of shambling corpses sound great. No logistical problems with food, no need to resupply, and the troops are great recruiters (if you look at it right). If they're as capable (or nearly as capable) as regular, living troops then the choice is obvious.

So there must be a reason why they aren't used in war, and the obvious one is that they aren't as good as they sounded initially. A good analogy (stolen from Bret Devereaux's excellent blog) is with chemical weapons. We didn't stop using chemical weapons in war because we're noble beings who despise their senseless loss of life, we stopped using them because they didn't work well enough to be worthwhile.

Maybe there are easily available countermeasures (a mage can dispel the army as easily as it's summoned, for instance). Maybe they're difficult to control (the army becomes a steamroller you can't turn, so all you can do is set it on a fixed position and hope they haven't dug a big pit or put up a big wall, or skeletons retain some of their old personalities and stop doing what you want after a while). Maybe the conditions for necromancy to work are really delicate (you need a day-old corpse and a lock of their true love's hair or something).

With some or all of these reasons, practical battle necromancy could be juuuuust around the corner - we've almost got them following orders boss, I promise, just a few more million ducats in research funds and we're there. Might be quite a good hook for a story!

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  • $\begingroup$ "Because necromancy isn't as good a weapon as it sounds" It would explain lack of use on it. But necromancy isn't just unused, it's banned. $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 25 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ @user161005: Bio and chem weapons are banned also. $\endgroup$ Jun 25 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ @CodeswithHammer Rdd still needs to provide reason for such ban. Unless you're willing to explain reasons for ban of Bio/chem weapons in our world and how necromancy would have the same reasons. $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 25 at 14:34
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    $\begingroup$ @user161005 it’s easy to look like a moral country by banning a weapon you weren’t interested in anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Rdd
    Jun 25 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ @user161005 if necromancy isn't useful, but is disruptive to your country and dead ancestors, then it would have every reason to be banned. $\endgroup$
    – Beefster
    Jun 28 at 15:13
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Many better answers have been previously written. There's only three reasons I can think of that one nation chooses not to research/prepare a weapon for use against another nation.

One is that the weapon (necromancy) is known to be too weak and ineffective. It this case, however, a ban isn't needed. No nation (that I know of) has banned its military and citizenry from creating, using, or training with wiffle bats. And no no citizen that I know of works on mastering the wiffle bat as a means of aggression/defense -- despite any lack of ban.

The second is that the weapon is feared more than the opponent, by both the government and by the citizenry. Many other answers propose ways to enforce this, but without knowing the prerequisite details of your system (including the definition of "necromancy") I could not give reasons this might be true.

The third is that power of the people(s) itself. If all peoples fear necromancy (the weapon) even more than life itself, and are willing to do anything -- killing, insurrection etc. -- to stop it, then the governments would also fall in line. The occasional government might try to start a secret program, but if 99.99% of the people will immediately squash out anything/anyone they think might be involved in necromancy, it would only take a few failed attempts before even the 0.01% would be unwilling to even talk about it, much less participate.

The last leads to some interesting witch-hunting scenarios, particularly if all religion(s) are actively crusading to find and eliminate necromancy-practitioners.

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  • $\begingroup$ #3 can be consequence of #2, when the world learned about dangers of necromancy the hard way and the war against the undead left deep scars on every country and every race. $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 26 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ On othe other hand, without #2, but with #3 sooner or later one country will use some mental hymnastics, rebrand necromancy as holy resurrection (and you will be heretic if you say they are the same thing) and get advantage in war. Like this: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/a/84618/10910 $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 26 at 16:16
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No matter what race your enemies are, they are still living beings, enjoying the aspects of life, each for their own merit and liking, and their thinking can be understood.

Undeads aren't: they reek of decomposition and death, they hate life in all its aspects and make terrible allies, both because they can't be trusted and because they lower the morale of the troops they happen to side. They can't be trusted to stick to the agreements, nor they trust living beings for doing so, since they remember the stories of the few of them who were called and then immediately dismissed.

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It's an almost instinctive taboo

Nearly every culture on this planet has a taboo against eating other humans, or having sex with your closest relatives, due to Fun Times™ for the health of your local population this brings down the line (like genetic defects or prion diseases). Your world might have similar taboos against necromancy (for similar reasons... Can't think that a reanimated corpse would be too... sanitary) that all arose independently and convergently in your cultures, and naturally weaved their way in the morals first, and then in the laws as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ "for similar reasons... Can't think that a reanimated corpse would be too... sanitary" For similiar reasons there would instinctive taboos preventing creation of cities as unsanitary as real-life Mediavel Europe, no? $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 24 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ "the dung ages" are as much myth as its polar opposite. $\endgroup$ Jun 24 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ Considering how badly Native Americans were affected by multiple pathogens spread by Europeans, while Europeans themselves were immune, I'm willing to bet that sanitary condition in European cities were nightmarish. $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 25 at 2:55
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I think there are three primary reasons.

Necromancy is feared as a form of magic which unleashes actual beings, who will certainly have their own motivations, and therefore may become uncontrollable. As such, they have great potential to become like unstoppable golems or deamons, but with malice and motivation toward all living as a group. The undead doomsday machine, so to speak.

At the same time, calling the dead back to life is seen by many as a violation of their revered loved ones. Virtually every society tries to instill a respect and reverence for elders, as part of maintaining their own social fabric and hierarchy. Calling the dead back to serve effectively as slaves violates that social more, and implicitly then threatens the basis of social control of the living. If, as an example, the father or king or general who was to be feared and obeyed in life, can be called back as a virtual slave after death, why did we feel compelled to obey and follow them when they were alive?

Lastly, the boundaries between life and death are seen as the rightful domain of the gods. We have myriad stories of how really, really irritated the gods can become when men, elves, or anyone else tries to invade their exclusive span of authority.

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In my honest opinion, I find other answers interesting and there are some points I particularly like.


Culture

@Demigan & @Gardoglee answers cover the cultural aspect: necromancy is seen as a taboo in every country and by every race of your universe because:

  • It is a violation of the bodies of loved ones. Every society shows some ceremony and respect to the dead. Even if they have different beliefs about afterlife, you still let your dead rest in peace.

This could be backed up by religion or laws.

So no one would practice necromancy because its unethical, taboo and the worst thing you could do.

Limitations

@Michael Richardson’s answer about limitations and counters of undead as a military force.

  • Holy or light magic could be the weakness of necromancers and their puppets.
  • Controlling undead could be mentally tiring.
  • A necromancer could only control a limited number of units.
  • The undead would not be durable (corpses raised in an already damaged state, the natural decomposition)
  • The undead may not be that strong in combat, and if the necromancer needs to stay close to his units, he could be vulnerable.
  • Raising the dead could cost a lot of magic and the necromancer would be too weak to assert dominance on the undead he just raised.

Anyway, we could find a lot of reasons to make necromancers useless. Just hard nerf them by putting a lot of constraints on the use of this magic. So no one would practice necromancy because it’s not efficient enough and it has a lot of constraints.


For me, these arguments already justify the absence of necromancy, but I will add another reason to the ban of necromancy in your setting.

It breaks Reality.

Maybe necromancy is not possible because it distorts the reality. Suppose you have the Physical World with all your people and the Plane of Death (where souls of beings go after they leave the body).
A necromancer works by picking a soul from the Plane of Death, bind it under its will and put it in a corpse (I think it works like that in the Warcraft universe).
This operation between the Plane of Death and the Physical World creates holes between the two dimensions (realities, planes, or realms, whatever you want to call it).

The hole stays here, and the two dimensions start to mix up: it is really bad.

  • The land around the hole decays, fauna and flora are dying (blight, scourge, etc…)
  • Souls from the Plane of Death wander into the Physical World (ghosts or stuff like). It confuses and scares people. Strong souls could even possess living beings, causing more problems.
  • Even worse, wandering souls can possess dead bodies and create undead that are not under the necromancer’s control.
  • You can also say dangerous creatures naturally “living” (existing) in the Plane of Death go through the hole and rampage the nearby area.

Secondly, the practice of necromancy could draw the attention of some Death ruling entity (maybe the god/creator of the Plane of Death).
That entity might not be happy that some living being plays within the limits of its realm. The Death ruling entity would then come near to the Physical World and be angry for various reasons:

  • To close the hole in the reality.
  • To kill the necromancer and get the souls he stole back to the Plane of Death.
  • Eradicate the population around as a soul payment.

The Death ruling entity is inspired from Warcraft: Sargeras and demons drawn on Azeroth because the use of Arcane magic by Night Elves, who banned Arcane magic after the incident.


Briefly, avoid any contact between the two dimensions because it will cause a lot of problems.

To conclude, I would say that with these elements, you can find a lot of justifications for why necromancy is not used by governments and organisations in your setting.

I would like to point out that it would not prevent individuals that want to spread chaos (like terrorists) to perform necromancy.

Thanks for reading this long answer.

PS: It is my first post here, I hope it fulfils the requirements of the community. Any feedback is appreciated and sorry if my arguments come only from Warcraft or cite arguments that other people already mentioned.

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1. Because continuous control is not guarantied, or even likely, over long periods of time.

Controlling even a single undead requires continuous effort made by the necromancer. A single necromancer is limited in how many undead can be raised, and must be in fairly close proximity to maintain the control. Should the necromancer be killed or become incapacitated, those undead are no longer controlled, and would be a danger to their side. This would lend credence to necromancers infiltrating into enemy graveyards to raise some undead and then flee, but those would be small pockets rather than an army.

2. Because undead make really poor soldiers. A swam of undead is really frightening to a farming family on their homestead. Not so much to a well organized militia or army. A phalanx or shield wall will decimate oncoming mindless swarms.

3. Because corpses really don't travel well.

Corpses exposed to nature really don't last that long. Depending on the season, insects (flies/maggots) will make short work of remaining flesh. Vultures, crows, bears, wolves and other scavengers will likely also take a considerable toll.

4. Priests/Clerics have counters to enemy undead

It may take less effort to deal with undead invaders than it does to raise and control them. The resources it takes to raise the undead is more than those needed to counter them. There are more efficient ways to wage war on your enemies.

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  • $\begingroup$ These are reasons against practical use of necromancy. I don't see why it must lead to ban of necromancy. $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 26 at 11:50
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Most answers already here states that undead are disloyal and untrustworthy to every king. Besides that, someone could still use necromancers as a weapon to cast havoc into the lands of an enemy that is sufficiently far away if one could successfully be deployed there. So, there must be something more.

Or perhaps not. Maybe that forbidden terrible island in the shores of the kingdom is in fact the place where the king secretly maintains his loyal necromancers. Or perhaps it is the case of that ruined fearful castle imprisioning something terrible that nobody knows for sure what is inside. But since the OP demands that even this is forbidden, surely even this needs to be unfeasible or counter-productive somehow.

So, here it is: whenever the dead hordes of zombies and skeletons are released, chaos quickly ensues. The reason for that is that those undeads are mindless beasts that destroys and kill whatever living thing they see undiscriminately. And those that they kill would quickly join them by the actions of necromancers. Defeating zombies and skeletons is something hard, because they don't fear death, don't feel pain and don't value anything. However, hopefully since they are mindless, they don't coordinate efforts, are easily tricked and are very innefective about invading fortifications and strongholds.

Necromancers however, have strong minds and reason. To become a necromancer, a specific ritual needs to be performed. In order to perform it, the necromancer-wannabe needs to:

  1. Be a powerful wizard/witch with deep knowledge of magic.
  2. Have a hearth full of cruelty and hate with no love, pity or good-being left.
  3. Have great desire for power and vengeance.
  4. Take an oath to a dark entity and accept to be subject solely to its desires and orders.
  5. Sacrifice his/her own life and become an undead lich.

If 1, 2, 3 or 4 fails, then 5 also fails and the entire ritual fails degenerating just to an ugly form of suicide.

After becoming a necromancer, the conditions 2, 3 and 4 are irrevocably bound as conditions necessary for its existence. If the necromancer, even after many years of becoming so, loses its power (i.e. fails 1), shows any sign of love, pity or good-being (i.e. fails 2), thinks that it already has enough or is satisfied (i.e. fails 3) or rebels or betrays its oath (i.e. fails 4), then it immediately dies.

So, a necromancer can't be a friend or be loyal to anyone who is a living being. They are no subject to any king. They can't be used by country A against a neighbour enemy country B because the necromancer and undeads would quickly destroy whatever is worth to be conquered in B and also cross back the frontier to A.

Necromancers could in theory be deployed by A against an island B. However, they are powerful unloyal smart wizards with a great desire for vengeance, so they will eventually find their way back to A.

Also, since necromancers are smart, they won't just start to raise skeletons and zombies carelessly and randomly except when they know that this is a strategy that will work and serve their purposes. They might instead choose to hide and fly under the radar. In fact, almost all of them does exactly that, raising a few skeletons and zombies only occasionally in the right circumstances.

Also, although skeletons and zombies carelessly attack any living being, necromancers don't. They know that they will need to use and spare some living people and animals in order to achieve their objectives and that this should not be confounded with pity, love or good-being.

So, in effect, a king unleashing a necromancer in a foreign land simply rarely works. It is much more likely to turn back against him than against the enemy. Also, frequently, what happens is just the opposite. The tyrannical king that rule with an iron hand ruthlessly slaving and killing its own people is likely a meat puppet of a necromancer.

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I like RDDs answer of: They are not effective as they sound for topnotch empires, and it's easy to ban something horrible you don't want to use anyway.

I want to draw 2 other historical analogies: Longbows and nuclear weapons.

The english longbow was great at it's time, why didn't other kings adopt it? You have to order your citizens to train regularly so they are skilled enough when the call to arms comes. But only the english did so. There is a great article explaining here: https://www.peterleeson.com/Longbow.pdf

the tldr is: once the longbowmen are trained, longbows are cheap. So any upstart noble who wants to start a rebelion can do so on a dime. Crossbows and regular weapons are way more expensive. So e.g. the french kings were more worried about rebelions than loosing a battle here or there against the english. The english king in comparison had a stable position, he wasn't worried about rebelions. Which only changed over a hundred years later in the war of the roses. So in your fantasy world, every king of yours is more worried about being replaced than about the war with another race. As long as no kingdom adopts necromancy first, a potential superweapon that might win you a war that might come around in ten or a hundred years is of less concern. But Lord SuperExtraHonorableIswear here who said this would be a great weapon against race X and pushes for adoption? He knows he has the biggest place of learning in his city and he knows this would be the center of learning for necromancy too. So all the topnotch necromancers would be under his controll. No way this could go bad, right?

The other possibility is nuclear weapons (which would be a slight change in frame): Some empires secretly have a few necromancers. But everyone knows they do, they just deny it publicly. Attacking them? Pure suicide. The undead are so devastating (mindlessly killing everything, their magic draining whole lands, whatever reason you want) that nobody intents to use them, but they make a great deterrent. So the nations who has capable necromancers have an interest necromancers not spreading (to keep their own power). But those without want to acquire them for their own safety. But if you get caught before you have them, you just painted a big red target on your nation... The nations who have them just fight proxy wars without necromancy, because again, it's just too destructive.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Some empires secretly have a few necromancers. " No, they don't according to the post $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 26 at 9:46
  • $\begingroup$ That's why I prefaced that part of the answer as slight frame change. The have them to NOT use them, as deterrent. $\endgroup$
    – Benjamin
    Jun 26 at 10:28
  • $\begingroup$ It's still de-facto violation of ban on necromancy, it doesn't matter if they plan to use them or not $\endgroup$
    – user161005
    Jun 26 at 11:25
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The simplest answer is that other people won't let them. Historically foreign powers have imposed sanctions or even gone to war to end governments that sponsor necromancy. They do this because a necromancer once almost enslaved much the world and nobody wants to see a repeat of that event. The people find necromancy creepy, repulsive, and frightening, so a government that sponsors necromancy might find themselves at war and without the support of the people.

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Why is there a universal ... ban on necromancy in the world ...

I am not going to give you an explication to this kind of ban on your magic world. But I can give you an explication why this ban do exist in our (real) world.

Because it is the most emotional (so it is very dangerous) way to divination.

Other ways to divination make use of things that most of the time simply never existed, are mythological at best. Eg:

https://www.historyanswers.co.uk/ancient/oracle-of-delphi/

Where Apollo was believed to speak through a priestess, called the Pythia. You know the god Apollo did not exist.

With necromancy is different. You are using someone who really EXISTED as an oracle. This give you lots of opportunities for telling the fortune of the consulter. The dead person could be a king, a priest, a hero, a saint and so on. And in the most common and extreme case a beloved family member.

Fake a dead people is easy, a god necromancer can talk like a professional theater impersonator. If the dead person is a famous one there are lots of sources for research. And this was the case even by the bible time;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch_of_Endor

Later Christian theology found trouble with this ... as it appeared to imply that the Witch had successfully summoned the spirit of Samuel, therefore giving credence to the idea that necromancy and magic were possible.

Using a beloved family member like a oracle is a effective way to gain one trust. A simple and discreet query can providing the necessary information to forge a communication with the dead person. It is very old con-artist act, really very old.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confidence_trick

But if you want a "hard" justification to don't use died people like weapons (your misinterpretation of the word "necromancy" https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/necromancy) you can use the same arguments used against biological warfare https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biological_warfare :

It can get out of control easily and turn against yourself!

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