52
$\begingroup$

In most stories regarding movies, games or books, the art of necromancy is often seen as a "dark" and/or "evil" type of magic. I've not really come across any characters using this type of magic for the greater good, instead villains/antagonists are often associated. A few examples are:

I'm currently trying to create a world for my video game where the protagonist/good guy is trying to master the arts of necromancy. For example, he will be raising skeletons from the grave to fight other evil beasts that oppose him. Since this concept is kind of "unique", I'm trying to understand the reasoning why this type of magic isn't ordinary to be mastered by the good guy, or maybe even get some tips how I could make this work.

Protagonist abilities

  • Raise multiple corpses to fight for him (without permission from the dead).
  • Communication with the recently departed.
  • Manipulate souls.
  • Reanimation.

World rules

  • Takes place in a medieval era.
  • Religions are present.
  • The protagonist is a necromancer that needs to save the world.

So my ultimate question is:

How do I make society not consider this as an type of "evil" magic and will leave him alone or even help him to save the world?

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Can you expand on the power to "manipulate souls"? That doesn't sound very friendly. $\endgroup$ – Kat Mar 27 '17 at 21:53
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ Can't answer, but have you looked at a Viking approach ? A world where being raised from the deads to fight one last time for your gods/king is an honor ? Only the fierciest warriors are allowed such prestige, and are reborn and remade for a shot amount of time, through a Berserker Rage, they get to unleash their anger one last time. Necromancers could participate in the funerary process of the depart of the kings, allowing them to save their soul from disappearing in the flow of death, and so, call them forth to give advice to the future generations of kings. $\endgroup$ – Saffron Mar 29 '17 at 9:13
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Necromancers in the Earthdawn universe are a normal party of the game. They are not evil, only kind of scary and respected. It is not usual what they are doing, but part of the society. Unfortunately I can't find any open source for this, maybe you find someone who lents you the source book or you buy the PDF $\endgroup$ – Fabian Blechschmidt Mar 29 '17 at 11:59
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ A common trait of necromancy that is overlooked in most of the answers to the ongoing cost to the practitioner to maintain the animated corpse, or at least control of it. Raising an army may be possible, but keeping under the direction of the necromancer is to much effort to be worth it once the current task is complete. In several works the "evil" is that the necromancers raise the dead for some purpose, and then turn them loose to prey on the living when no longer needed. Having your protagonist de-animate their servants would help in this respect. $\endgroup$ – Rozwel Mar 29 '17 at 17:59
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Just want to add a reference to the excellent series by Garth Nix that starts with Sabriel en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabriel. The protagonist is a "good" necromancer, with a slightly different take on what necromancy is. Great series if you are looking for new perspective on fantasy tropes. $\endgroup$ – intrepidhero Mar 29 '17 at 20:18

37 Answers 37

54
$\begingroup$

There are two reasons why necromancy is commonly thought to be evil.

Raising an army of any sort to terrorize the countryside is considered a pretty evil act.

To raise the undead is to desecrate their corpse and grave. This could also include transgressions against any religious institutions involved in the burial process.

Pillaging the countryside, desecration, and acts against religious institutions are considered evil in most societies.

The former can be avoided by not having your necromancers commit evil acts especially any acts involving the use of undead minions.

The later requires a culture where the animating of the recently deceased isn't considered a transgression against them. Some ideas for this include:

  • Let donating your body towards charitable labor be an acceptable funerary choice.
  • The honored ancestors of the living are animated, decorated and cared for by their descendants and used to construct monuments/temples to the wisdom of their generation.
  • If the animated corpses are intelligent and communicative people could employ necromancers to awaken ancestors for important events like births, deaths, marriages, divorces, baptisms, excommunications, etc...
$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Mar 30 '17 at 15:33
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The first point could be extended in that this society has a tradition of not only allowing their dead to be raised, but it being viewed as the "honourable use for dead bodies". Unlike how in our society, where we prefer to have the dead be untouched, their society could prefer the dead to be used, eg, to protect a village from attackers. So it wouldn't merely be an "acceptable funerary choice", but the norm (akin to being drafted into an army). $\endgroup$ – Kat Mar 30 '17 at 23:49
  • $\begingroup$ Weiss and Hickman - Death's Gate cycle, the world of Abarrach (sp?). The recent dead were used as a source of menial labor, and highly regarded people were reanimated shortly after death as an attempt to keep loved ones close. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Mar 31 '17 at 9:08
32
$\begingroup$

There are a number of reasons why it's considered evil. Some are pretty culturally specific, but some apply more generally:

It's gross

Dead people are unsettling. They look like people, but wrong. It gets even worse when they do things dead people aren't supposed to do, like make noises or move — something that is known to happen with real corpses.
Besides the uncanny valley effect, corpses are also known to stink and spread disease. When people see your zombie soldiers, they'll be horrified.
In fiction, using tools that are considered gross signifies an evil character. Even relatively harmless symbols like spiders, snakes or blood are rarely associated with good characters.

It violates bodily autonomy

Most people still have some possessiveness over their body even after they die. People draw the line in different places — many are ok with being used for organ donation or scientific experiments, but few would accept being taxidermied and used as an art piece. I imagine being used as a zombie soldier would be even more controversial.
It gets worse when the corpse in question is not your corpse, but the corpse of a loved one. Seeing that beloved dead person's body walking around and being used for tasks would be traumatic to say the least.

It interferes with the order of things

This is related to the first point. Dead people are not supposed to work in the world of the living. They may have various things to do in the afterlife, or they may just be gone. But using them for tasks is not the proper order of things and offends many people's religious sensibilities.

How to get around these restrictions

One way I could see to get around this is to make the zombies not very corpse-like at all. Maybe they're skeleton soldiers, but the important thing is that you can't tell which individual they were when they were alive, and that they don't stink, don't rot and don't spread disease. It should also be relatively clear that they're just material beings and the soul of the person in question is off doing whatever souls do in your setting.

The other option is to have zombie soldiering be an opt-in prospect for victims. Maybe there's some kind of spell a person can cast as they die, to free their bodies for use as a meat robot. A good guy would only use corpses of people that have explicitly allowed it.

A different option would be to have the undead actually be sentient. They're still walking corpses, but the corpse's previous owner is willingly cooperating the entire time. Maybe the soul is even able to leave the body whenever it wants.

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ +1 for skeletons. It de-humanize the thing. Bonus point for assembling skeletons from various bones (Lego-time!), especially animal bones if one wishes to avoid pesky humans' interference. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Mar 28 '17 at 7:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +1 for the "just material beings" point. If the culture in question believes that souls go someone else specific when they die, and consider the previous body a mere remnant (like a snake's shed skin), then it'll be a lot less taboo to "recycle" these "leftovers" - perhaps even a moral thing to prevent waste... $\endgroup$ – Andrzej Doyle Mar 28 '17 at 11:16
  • $\begingroup$ It's easy to imply that the magic reanimating the corpse also preserves it and prevents rot/disease/etc, at least for the duration of the spell. Once that aspect is addressed, it's just a cultural issue, which I believe @AndrzejDoyle addressed well (recycling to prevent waste/conserve resources). $\endgroup$ – Doktor J Mar 28 '17 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ I can even imagine a scene where necromancer's dying friend explicitly asks him to use his body for revenge to whoever caused their demise. $\endgroup$ – Tomáš Zato Mar 28 '17 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ There are a lot of unsettling things in our world that are ignored by society - the poor, the homeless, the diseased. This was even worse in the medieval times when you consider things like leper colonies and such. I expect if a necromancer did exist, it would keep its zombies in a zombie colony like a leper colony until he needs them elsewhere for something. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Mar 30 '17 at 0:58
23
$\begingroup$

A world where necromancy has no evil connotation, where bringing the dead back to life is openly embraced?

You're living in it.

Galvani apparatus

Figure: The reanimation of dead tissue, 1791.

By the end of the 18th century, electrical pioneers had begun to refine their knowledge of the often-fatal electric shocks that were a hazard of their research. Galvani in Italy had discovered how to make an animal's extremities twitch and jerk by the application of electricity, which doesn't sound all that surprising until you realize that the animals in question were already long dead.

There could only be one conclusion: the body, long thought by philosophy to be under supernatural control, was merely an electrical machine like any other.

Philosophy gave way to science as researchers like Vigouroux in France and Tarkhnishvili in Russia (modern-day Georgia) probed the electrical activity of the human body. By the twentieth century, humanity was ready for the next step. Kouwenhoven, a New York-born electrical engineer educated in Germany, began studying the electrophysiology of the heart.

Professor Kouwenhoven

Initially his work was motivated narrowly: the linemen running the first electrical wires to customers were dying from a previously unheard-of heart condition, and nobody knew why. Their employers, nervous about their profits, financed Professor Kouwenhoven's experiments.

Over the course of the next several decades, Kouwenhoven and his team dug into the electrical workings of the heart, finally surfacing a great secret of restarting a stopped heart by applying a countershock.

By the early 21st century, thousands of people each year have been brought back from the dead using Kouwenhoven's inventions and procedures. The practice of electrically inducing a heartbeat where once there was stillness is today embraced by all the ancient religions with hardly a second thought.

And yet... who among us can claim to know what it is we're really bringing back?

$\endgroup$
  • 12
    $\begingroup$ Electric shock does not restart stopped heart. It restarts fibrillating heart, that is the one that is chaotically shaking. That's why the device is called defibrillator. Also remember that many people look down upon scientist who do similar experiments. After all, what's the whole anti-GMO movement, if not struggle against human creating or altering life? $\endgroup$ – Tomáš Zato Mar 28 '17 at 21:52
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ If only a defib could bring back a flatline. Too often because of fiction we think elecrickty can bring a corpse back. It cannot. Your heart is still beating... Just weakly and VERY erratically(which will end in death). The shock just forces back the proper rythm. $\endgroup$ – Patrice Mar 29 '17 at 1:02
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ To clarify: a defibrillator stops the heart (to be used if it's not all beating at the same time or otherwise in the wrong way). Hopefully it will start itself up again; that's what usually happens, but sometimes it won't. The defibrillator may produce a muscle spasm, but that isn't a normal heartbeat (it's not controlled). $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Mar 29 '17 at 19:28
19
$\begingroup$

Well, according to OP, in his world the hero will fight "evil beasts". I'll use that in answer with an example that you can utilize by getting the parts that fit into your world and story.

Let's suppose humans can't directly fight these beasts - maybe they expel poisonous gas, so any "living" being would die if near them, even from the distance needed for firing an arrow. Or they can smell humans from a long distance, so only a non-human could approach them. Your world doesn't have gunpowder, and stone throwers are not exactly "portable".

However you have magic - but the distance needed for firing a fire ball is still too near to kill these beasts without being killed, or maybe they're immune to "magic damage" (in this case, you'll have a good excuse for why a creature would survive a ball of fire just because it's magic - but that is outside the scope of this question).

Also you don't have different planes of existence to summon creatures from there, and mental manipulation magic doesn't work on these beasts due to their alien minds. They don't have the technology and resources to build constructs, since most of their resources are expended fighting the beasts.

These beasts eventually attack the frontier towns, capturing people to eat due to their love for human flesh. They eat humans by absorbing their fluids and all soft parts, leaving only the hard bones, without knowing who was that person. They leave the remains of the dead in the middle of forest/fields/whatever that exists between the beasts lair and the human civilization, so after the beasts retreat to their caves the survivors can recover the bones to bury them, without knowing who is who - which avoids the negatives of "seeing my beloved ones as skeletons".

However, they don't reproduce so fast, and they don't need to eat so frequently (and/or have access to other sources of food, as animals, that are easier to hunt but not too tasty), so humans are not being extinct - or maybe they are, but the development of necromancy skills (see below) is fast enough.

This situation continued for centuries, so society evolved to live in these conditions - including culture and religion. Then a new religion (or other kind of social movement, maybe just a new branch of existent religions) emerged - a religion where hatred for these beasts was a dogma. They said: "The most desired thing for a spirit of someone killing these beasts was revenge - revenge by their own hands if possible". This civilization starts to change their view of necromancy - not only because their attitude changed, but because only the dead can approach the beasts to kill them without being "killed" - since they are already dead. So, they start to develop necromancer units to raise the victims of the monsters to destroy them as armies of skeletons! And your hero is one of these necromancers.

Communication with the dead is viewed as a good thing, since by that the spirits of dead can say how much they hate the evil beasts who killed them, boosting the morale of your troops.

So, this is an example of how you can make acceptable to use necromancy skills - have a hated enemy that for some reason can't be confronted by the living.

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, Brian. Great answer! $\endgroup$ – kingledion Mar 27 '17 at 21:37
17
$\begingroup$

Mostly because necromancy in its core defies the cycle of life. Humans believe that everything have its beginning and its end. By being a lich or raising the dead you show that there is no end. And your death release you from your living duties.
In the same manner the stories of ghost who can't rest until they finish their earthly tasks. But with ghost they act on your own while necromancers and liches still have power over a corpse.

It's like when you wake up and say "5 more minutes". And someone will not let you rest those 5 minutes.

Edit to answer edited question: Remember that what is good or evil is made by society.So your examples of Sauron and Lich King are considered evil by their enemies. For their "people" they are good.
What is good? They cap the amount of casualties by recycling warriors, don't push economy into spiral by moving goods to war effort (dead soldiers already have their armour and they don't need to eat).
Also punishing dead enemy warriors by forcing them to fight on your side is a major psychological bust for your people "Don't let our boys die for our country" and down for enemies "We have to fight our brothers!"

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ This is nice, but it's more for "why is necromancy considered evil" than "how do I make necromancy not be evil". I'd suggest expanding on this a little bit more to cover the latter explicitly. $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Mar 27 '17 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ The original question was titled more along the "why" question, but I agree that with the edits, this answer is now incomplete. $\endgroup$ – fyrepenguin Mar 28 '17 at 2:55
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Don't know anything about the Lich King, but Sauron was not considered good even by his own servants. He did not resurrect the nine kings to spare his own warriors but to terrify them and make them even less likely to disobey him. $\endgroup$ – Elise van Looij Mar 29 '17 at 14:48
12
$\begingroup$

Necromancy as magic is not always viewed as evil. Odysseus performs necromantic ritual during his travels. Ovid mentions it in his works as well. It's more of the dead divination (asking dead for guidance/answers/prophecies), than making undead creatures.

The Bible forbids even these practises and Mosaic Law prescribs the death penalty to practitioners of necromancy. Still, we have King Saul had the Witch of Endor invoke the Spirit of Samuel. The witch was quite shocked she succeeded and the whole thing ended badly for Saul.

And later Christians rejected the idea that humans could bring back the spirits of the dead and stated those were in fact disguised demons, connecting necromancy with demon summoning. During the Middle Ages necromancy became "demon magic", something evil and this kind of stuck.

$\endgroup$
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ You're talking about necromancy in its original meaning of "divination through communion with the spirits of the dead"; most people, absent ane explicit religious prohibition, do not think it is particularly disrespectful to the person who died (assuming it is in fact the dead person who is answering, and not a demon inpersonating them). The OP, however, is talking about animating corpses, and that is generally frowned upon by people even if there isn't a verse in the OT saying "thou shalt not raise the corpses of the dead to do thy bidding." $\endgroup$ – Wtrmute Mar 27 '17 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Wtrmute worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/75416/… $\endgroup$ – apaul Mar 28 '17 at 5:27
  • $\begingroup$ @apaul34208: You're equivocating. Annathea is still talking about a different kind of Necromancy than the OP is thinking of. And if, by "necromancer", you mean "a person who brings the dead back to life" as opposed to "a person who makes corpses move and into servants", then there should be no problem with that, but they'd call such a person "healer" rather than "necromancer". $\endgroup$ – Wtrmute Mar 28 '17 at 11:48
10
$\begingroup$

Many people have brought up the reasons why it's considered evil to us in particular: death is sacred, uncanny valley, and typically necromancers are using the dead in... violent ways.

Here's one no one else has brought up; the souls. very often, necromancy involves binding the souls of the dead to their corpse in a way that isn't... pleasant for the soul involved. After all, if it was simple animation of bones and flesh, it'd be a golem, not a zombie. In many fantasy worlds, the existence of the soul is something that must be taken as fact, and those souls must be treated humanely, that is, allowed to move on. A zombie is more than shambling flesh; it is a torturous prison for what used to be a sentient being. It can build all the orphanages you want, you're still using labour derived from unwilling souls.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ What good and benevolent soul would be unwilling to build an orphanage? Necromancy Supporters unite! =P $\endgroup$ – Steve-O Mar 27 '17 at 16:00
9
$\begingroup$

Because the writer says it is, in real life it varied

  • In some cultures, and even today, dead relatives are dug up and taken to festivals because the corpse was believe to contain the soul.
  • In ancient Egypt, living relatives regularly brought offerings to graves in order to nourish the soul of the deceased.
  • In European history, necromancy was limited to speaking with the dead and Christianity claimed that mediums were actually speaking to demons.
  • The dead generally came back to life under their own power as ghosts or revenants. Sometimes, they came back as man-eating monsters particularly if the now soulless corpse was possessed by a demon.
  • The concept of zombie slaves comes from the history of Afro-Caribbean religions and slavery. In the religion of vodun, a fate worse than dead is being enslaved after death. This is the horror of the zombie.
  • In ancient China, urban myths circulated that sorcerers sold their services to reanimate corpses in order to transport them to receive funerary rites, in contrast to Haitian zombies.

If the soul isn't suffering, it's not wrong

If the soul is not suffering, then there is no moral reason that animation is wrong except for respecting property rights. The corpse, by most laws of inheritance, defaults to the ownership of surviving relatives who are free to do with the corpse as they wish. If they want to donate the body as a laborer in order to pay off bills rather than deal with the additional costs of a funereal, that is their right.

For an example of how arbitrary the morality is, look no further than the Necroscope series. The protagonist is a medium or "necroscope" who speaks with the dead and may call upon them to rise from their graves and assist him. The antagonist includes "necromancers" who mutilate corpses to learn their knowledge, which the dead souls feel despite being dead. Otherwise the dead don't care about the condition of their unfeeling remains.

$\endgroup$
5
$\begingroup$

Depends some on how serious your death barrier is. Some worlds treat death like it's no big deal. You're dead, but you can come back when X happens or after enough time has passed. In such worlds, a necromancer becomes a cog in the machine and little more. The problem with this type of world is that death becomes a rather cheap mechanism

In the comic book fan community, the apparent death and subsequent return of a long-running character is often called a comic book death. While death is a serious subject, a comic book death is generally not taken seriously in the real world and is rarely permanent or meaningful other than for story or thematic purposes.

More often, though, death is as serious as it is in the real world. In the real world, the dead don't return. In other words, death becomes a rule. This brings up some flaws they tend to suffer from

Flaw #1: The high cost of raising the dead

I can think of dozens of stories where the price to break the rule is incredibly high. A common theme is returning a dead person costs the life of someone else (the Naruto universe is one example).

Flaw #2: The ends justify the means

We tend to view people who break rules very dimly anyways. The problem, as with any story, is that once you break a rule, breaking any other rule becomes steadily easier. Probably the best modern example of this would be Lord Voldemort of the Harry Potter series. He discovers a way to cheat death, but doing so means killing someone to obtain this power. As you learn throughout the series, it involved killing not just people for the power to cheat death, but killing people who didn't like that he was killing people.

Flaw #3: The product is deeply flawed

Necromancy seldom produces something as good as the original. It's like a caricature of the person. Zombies are mindless corpses. Most other stories will typically give you something that is just less than the original. In other words, Necromancy generally cannot satisfy the desires of the person who wants the dead returned.

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$

You need to overcome the following limitations which is on Earth practically applicable everywhere:

  • Fear of death
  • Believing that the remains has bounds with the former being
  • That dead people need rest and do not want to be disturbed

The culture in which the Necromancer was born has no fear of death. Sure, children are afraid of everything, but if you think logically about it: Death is inevitable, so what do you have to fear? What is the difference between not knowing your timepoint and knowing your timepoint? You are content with your life, but once you know you die (which can happen any time!) you are devastated? Is that reasonable?

The culture came to the conclusion that it isn't. The rite of passage is in fact a (possibly deadly) test that you do not fear death. Once a marriage is completed, both spouses will in their first night share their most intimate secrets in the knowledge that every day could be the last day.

Once a person dies, all the people knowing the person will perform a sacred ritual. In it the person will say ultimately goodbye from the known and beloved person and treasure their recollection. The body will be completely annihilated because only animals are left rotting in the earth. Anything more like collecting remains is a sure sign that the farewell was either uncompleted or that the remaining person is sick and need to be cured. There is absolutely no connection between the body and the soul, it does not bother a person from that culture if bones are animated. Hint: This also means that both ghosts and undead leave the normal citizen unfazed.

The task of the necromancer is to allow spirits to fulfill unfinished tasks. If a person had shared everything with his soulmate and dies contently, he/she cannot be neither raised nor contacted. If this is not a case, the necromancer and the soul are beginning to bargain the price for salvation. The soul will finish a task for the necromancer, but it will also demand salvation. The worse the condition of the soul is (full of guilt, has debts, never talked to anyone about its problems), the higher the price the necromancer can demand.

If a necromancer dies before saving the soul, his/her soul belongs to the soul (Do I need to say that this is really, really bad?) Therefore most necromancers immediantely perform the salvation.

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$

Contract

Hereby, I, undersigned ......................, further referred to as "tenant", agree to renounce ownership of my body, further referred to as "commodity", to ......................., further referred to as "owner".

In exchange for the commodity, owner shall provide next of kin with compensation, or services outlined in annex to this contract.

As of the signing of this document, tenant is the sole inhabitant of the commodity. Commodity may be collected at owners discretion upon date or conditions agreed upon in annex. Measures of collection include but not limited to repossession and eviction.

As per statutory laws, this contract is considered binding for eternity.

Signed ...............

It really is very tricky and problematic. You would think that voluntary contracts would remove moral problems, but they don't, for multiple reasons:

  • Zombies don't eat, offering monthly wage compensation for control of zombie to next of kin could easily lead to people killing themselves to support their family. If economy or political situation is bad enough. With time, that would easily become standard practice.
  • In feudal society ("society"), it gets even worse as serfs are pretty much lords (king or noble granted the land by king) property. Zombies don't revolt, don't eat, don't question and don't tire. Zombies are much better serfs than people. "Since they are my property, I can do whatever I want. I'll hire a Necromancer to zombify them all" will think every nobleman ever.
  • In more modern society it's not any better. A lot of seemingly voluntary things are not voluntary. Situation where your option is to die and sold off or have your family starve or worse, have entire family repossessed for debt or trespassing (because they couldn't afford rent, thus became trespassers) really isn't voluntary. It's a case of normalised and systemic threats.
  • Notice that mock up contract above is deliberately constructed in a way that explicitly permits murder. It's euphemistically referred to as eviction. Definitions in first paragraph are designed specifically to make it seem less evil.
  • If you are in pre literate society, forging signing such contract would be excessively easy. In fact, even in fully literate society, there is little means or incentive to verify validity of contract - they are dead anyway, why bother?

Animation of soulless dead, is pretty much completely out. If it's involuntary it's straight up evil. If it's voluntary then as shown above, it most likely isn't voluntary at all, and opens can of worms which will easily lead to very slippery slope.

But there are necromantic powers which in my opinion could be used for vaguely defined good

Post mortal Life extension

Death is inevitable. Some may very well prefer to stay alive as undead with restricted agency, than pass away. If in your world it is possible to animate corpse and bind original soul to it while granting that soul sole control of the body, then it can work. In this case, Necromancers are pretty much MDs who step in after pathologists are done analysing what caused death.

If it's possible to bind soul to another body, then similarly to previous paragraph, we are back to capital "E" Evil whenever it's done.

Funeral services and more

Zombies move around despite the fact that they should decompose and fall apart. I presume Necromancy found a way to slow that down. Guess how long it would take to invite all the guests to funeral of the king in times before efficient mass transportation? Three months isn't unheard of. If only there was some method to prevent or slow down decomposition...

Hey, guess what? Maybe Necromancers can disassemble their spells, figure out what slows down decomposition, and build spell around that? If it's better than mundane methods, sure it would be useful in funeral services. Heck, if this spell slows down growth of bacteria and fungi, maybe it can actually be used for food preservation! Food preservation is and has always been important.

Basically, I'm advocating for analysis and research into matter, to uncover and re-purpose "Required Secondary Powers".

Post mortal communication and legal representation

One of the common tropes is someone expecting death taking measures to tie off the earthy matters. Unfortunately, not everyone has a chance to do so. Perhaps Necromancers merely contact the dead and represent dead to handle "unfinished business". They could be contracted by family, or deceased himself might take measures to contract such services before passing away.

As you can see, there are non-evil ways in which necromantic powers can be used, however they require out of the box thinking or re-purposing something people don't really think of when they hear "necromancy". Classic raise the dead for battle, will be evil no matter what, best you can achieve here is "lesser evil".

$\endgroup$
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Well my grandfather zombified all of his serfs back when my dad was still a toddler. At first all was well, but then the bad things spurled. First zombies don't reproduce - by the time my father became a grown man, three quarters of the zombie-peasants rotted and shambled beyond functioning. Second believe it or not they're even dumber than they were alive! Granpa wanted to build a second mill but there was no one quilified to do that. So our House went bankrupt in a matter of couple decades and now I am a hedge knight with no lands nor castles and a zombie for a squire. $\endgroup$ – Nick Dzink Mar 28 '17 at 21:08
4
$\begingroup$

The problem of necromancy being evil is completely cultural, just as death rituals vary throughout the world it is entirely possible for a culture to exist that views necromancy as not only not evil but good in and of itself.

To begin with, the religious beliefs of the culture would likely have to view the body as a vessel for something that is the person. So a soul, spirit of life force whatever you want to view it as. This means that once the person has left the vessel than the vessel is useless unless used in some other manner.

Once the person left the vessel it would be wasted unless someone came along and used it, now they could use it for fertilization etc but that would leave the bones behind so even then skeletal necromancy would be possible and if the society needs workers wanted.

So really in order for this to work you need to build the culture and the religion of the society around the divorcing of the person from the vessel they inhabit.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding, interesting take on the question. If you got time please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about how the site works. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Mar 28 '17 at 6:26
4
$\begingroup$

A brief history of Necromancy

First - why is necromancy evil? Short answer? It's a cultural thing. Long answer, not all cultures throughout history have considered necromancy evil (and we are talking about Earth Cultures, here). Etymologically, Necromancy comes to us from ancient Greek, and means - pretty much literally - divination by means of a dead body. The earliest Necromancy was probably practiced by shamans and druids, who would call upon the spirits of ancestors and the deceased to have questions answered or seek guidance; this kind of magic was practiced throughout the ancient world, from Babylon to Latinum, the Eastern reaches of Persia and down into Egypt. Divination of this sort only became widely regarded as evil during the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church branded Necromancy to be "demonic magic", espousing that it was actually the summoning of demons taking the guise of spirits in order to deceive the living, and that only the power of God could resurrect the dead. Despite persecution, Necromancy really flowered during the middle ages, spreading with the cultural imperialism of the Roman Catholic Church - because of this, most modern Necromancy still focuses on themes of divination and spirit summoning.

Literally Raising the Dead is not common in the aforementioned necromancy - for that, you have to look to other sources. One good example is the Saga of Hrolf Kraki from Norse Mythology. Without getting into the specifics, a Viking King has an epic show-down with his sister Skuld, who is a powerful master of Seidhr (viking sorcery), and other, darker magics. Skuld eventually turned the tide of battle using her mastery over life and death; through her magic, she was able to return any warriors who had fallen in battle to a semblance of life and send them back to the fray. It's worth noting that Skuld is the badguy in this story (of course, this is Norse Mythology, so bad-guy/good-guy dichotomies get a little wonky, in this example, Skuld is getting revenge on behalf of her beloved husband for a a number of dishonest manipulations by her brother Hrolf, a very Viking motivation for murdering, so you could argue she's justified).

As to why we find Necromancy unsettling - and now we're talking about Skuld's Necromancy here, not just divination - well, for starters, most cultures assign a certain level of ceremonial significance to the posthumous body. Just about every culture throughout history has had various rites associated with committing a loved one or community member to eternity, and many have gone so far as to associate the way that the body is handled during funerary rights with the way the spirit is received in the afterlife (if it is received at all). Viewed in this light, and tempered by the anti-sorcery rhetoric of the Abrahammic Religions (which were undeniably significant in shaping the evolution of many of the world's cultural views on death and the afterlife), it's easy to see why many people are attached to their bodies or the bodies of those they care for. Desecration of the dead is considered abhorrent in most modern societies, and it's hard not to interpret most forms of necromancy (whether you're actually animating the body, or simply using it as a ritual component) as a form of desecration based on current mores. Remember, though, that the Egyptians mummified the dead by ripping their brains out through their noses, bottling their innards, and filling them up with potpourri; a ritual that would almost certainly be considered desecration by today's standards, but was the highest honor that could be bestowed on a corpse in that time and place.

Maybe it's not so bad, though...

So, getting around to the point; again, the hatred of Necromancy in our societies is mostly cultural and religious - as the writer building your world, it's up to you to decide if these same ideas have taken hold there. There's some evidence that the ritualization of funerary rights began quite simply with the need to bury the dead because corpses are not a good thing to have lying around the camp. In general, human societies have had compunctions about eating their brothers and sisters, and if you're not going to eat and utilize it, you really only have one choice, dispose of it. Necromancy (Skuld Style) opens up the possibility for early cultures to make use of human corpses without having to eat them, thereby engendering a cultural norm. Of course, there are examples of cannibalistic human societies, so maybe in your world cannibalism was not uncommon, Necromancy came later, and by that point, it was generally considered normal to use human corpses for their potential value.

If you want Necromancy to be common in your world, you'll need a general cultural acceptance of it, which should be easy to write with some creative history, but there are other options. A few.

  1. Necromancers are feared, but respected. Necromancers are viewed with some suspicion by most, but the Order works hard to make it clear that it's more valuable than it is dangerous. By consensus, Necromancers don't make new corpses, they just use the ones that turn up normally. They contribute to the general welfare by having skeleton servitors (zombie servitors are just nasty, and unhygienic, to boot) perform community service, and undead chain gangs dig ditches, pave roads, construct dams, aqueducts, and other buildings. In fact, life is usually pretty swell for your normal person, because most of the menial things are handled by the Necromancers; and the Kingdom is safe because its neighbors fear its necromantic guardians. In exchange, the Necromancers enjoy a steady supply of freely given subjects for their work. For your needs, this means that while people are a little icked out by the work of your protagonist, many will be willing to offer him a level of respect or courtesy befitting his association with the Necromancers they have come to rely on.

  2. Necromancers are feared, but not hated. Noone can place when necromancy first became a thing, exactly, but the necromancers have been around since basically the beginning. Like anyone else who practices magic, the mundane people of the world look dubiously on them for possessing an unfair advantage, but the Necromancers have mastered the most important of Machiavelli's maxims. It is safer to be feared than to be loved; and it is important not to be hated. The Necromancers know that if the common folk - so numerous, the common folk - turn against them, it will be a bad day. They therefore take pains not to make themselves despicable, but they do not brook attacks or intrusions on their sanctums, responding with force and swift justice. In turn, everyone else has learned that the Necromancers are not to be messed around with, but since the Necromancers don't do insane things like raise undead legions and terrorize the living, the fear of reprisal is enough to keep most people from messing with a traveling necromancer.

  3. Indoctrination. Maybe it didn't start this way, but the Church of Death now employs Necromancers. The Church is responsible for ensuring that a soul sees its way into the afterlife, as compensation for this valuable religious service, they take possession of the corpse. The Church maintains a standing garrison of undead warriors to protect its temples and the towns they stand in; it also patrols the streets and keeps the peace. Skeletons stalk in throngs around Wardens, acolytes who oversee the undead work-crews. The Church is essential, and though it rules with an iron fist and brooks no opposition to its teachings, it commands loyalty in all the usual ways. People are just used to the dead, by now, really.

  4. The Undead have never been uncommon. In a world where sometimes, the dead just decide not to stop living, coexisting with such beings would be quite ordinary, as would the specialists who deal with the magic animating the undead.

  5. Maybe they've just had a long time to get used to it. You can get used to a lot. Maybe in your world, Necromancers were regarded in a negative light, but the Liche King changed that by showing that just because a guy raises the dead, doesn't mean he wants to eat your flesh and slay your family. And why not? The Liche King has been in charge for a long time, and the Kingdom hasn't burned down or been smote from on high, or anything.

Closing note. This question largely has to do with cultural perceptions. It's therefore hard to say how we might feel about Necromancy if it were, you know, actually a thing that could and did happen. Portrayals of Necromancy haven't helped at all, really. You've already touched on this by pointing out that usually Necromancers are mad, evil, or both. Generally they're egomaniacal, murderous, and usually they're interested in conquering the world - typical comic-book villains for typical comic-book villainy. It won't be hard to bring a more nuanced angle to this aspect of fiction. What if, and I know I'm being speculative here, but what if there was a necromancer (or even more than one!?) who didn't want to conquer the world, slay all the living, and reanimate their corpses to go to his insane tea party? What if he had good hygiene and expected the same from his unliving tools? And what if he knew how to give a skeleton a spade or hammer instead of a sword and shield?

Some more good questions to ask going into your world-building: How long has Necromancy been a thing? Is there other magic, and how are other magicians regarded? Is there cosmic good and evil in your setting (our world is mostly grey and grey, but in The Lord of Rings there are obvious good guys and obvious bad guys, who go along with the associated gods - the same goes for most other epic fantasy settings)? If Necromancy is generally tolerated, are there some who rail against it? Is there a god who condones or even sponsors necromancy, what about one who opposes it? Is Necromancy accepted everywhere, or just in one region or country?

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

The main reason it is frowned upon across almost every culture is that people don't take well seeing one of their relatives forced out of their grave and used as cheap labor/weapons/army...

However, I see two ways to go around that:

  • Have your necromancer ask the relatives, or even better if your world allow it, the dead himself if he will let the necromancer raise him.

For example, you could have your necromancer negotiating with peoples to get access to their corpse once they are dead, which would allow you to put more emphasis on the peoples themselves. If you have a way to talk to the dead, a system of contracts with the dead would kill two bird in one stone: the corpse can't be raised without the soul's authorization, and you can have interesting relationship between the necromancer and his "army of dead".

  • Have necromancy being well known and understood, so that there is no attachment to the body itself, and that "desecrating" the body of someone is not frown upon.

You may study the Talos Principle about this, in a lot of culture, the body is given by god and sacred, but in a culture where the body is only a tool, there would be way less, or no taboo on raising corpse left and right, since they are only bones that have no use.

$\endgroup$
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ "you can have interesting relationship between the necromancer and his "army of dead"" Wow. Good one. I just imagined ghosts unionising to renegotiate postmortal lease contracts. "Due to inflation, we demand increased compensation provided to the next of kin for lease of our former bodies. If demands are not met, we will haunt you, interfere with remote postmortal control and sue you in Provisional Final Judgement court." $\endgroup$ – M i ech Mar 27 '17 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Miech: Or even something more simple: "I am against that guy that killed you, want to help me out to overthrow him?" "Yup, go on". It also allow you to have temporary character $\endgroup$ – DrakaSAN Mar 28 '17 at 8:28
3
$\begingroup$

One option is to make re-awakening a desirable thing:


He woke and found himself lying in bed. At first he thought that he had slept late, after a long unpleasant dream that still hovered on the edge of memory. He opened his eyes to an unknown ceiling.

'We are in the House of Healing, Dae son of Aik,' he heard a familiar voice say. 'We're back home.'

'Hidr!...' he shouted, but only a mewling left his lips.

'Shh, rest now. You have been asleep for three days; your body is broken, and it's a miracle that it survived that long. But your feats of courage where witnessed by all, and this morning the Voice of Malik called for you. Today you join the Immortals,' She said, that lovely smile in her face.

They won. He would join his famous grand-grand-grand-grand-grandfather among the sacred warriors of Malik. And, most important of all - she survived.

And the kiss they shared afterwards would be the last he would experience while still breathing.


The ceremony itself was quick: They sat facing each other, the Voice and the Warrior, his heavy breathing betraying the precarious state of his flesh.

She spoke to him, and yet her lips were closed: she offered her hand, and yet she was sitting motionless in front of him. He took her hand, and all worries, all the weight on his shoulders seemed to vanish.

He saw his own body being taken away, to be prepared for his final residence.

He also saw his ancestor standing nearby, his ethereal presence a soft, pale glow. 'Welcome, Dae son of Aik, and thanks for making this old warrior proud as you bring honor to our House once again. Your soul will be reunited with your body soon, but the latter will require no food or rest; the Light of Malik will provide sustenance eternal.'

He felt a gentle breeze, and closed his eyes. When he opened it again, he was back to the House of Healing, no longer a mortal. The world seemed to glimmer with new colors, his undead eyes absorbing both the natural world and the ethereal plane.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

How about you only raise animals? If you have a strict no human rule, it would still be gross, but only PETA would think it was evil.

Then you can have evil necromancers that do use humans, that the good necromancers try to stop.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Use clean skeletons instead of rotting bodies to make it less gross. $\endgroup$ – user31389 Mar 30 '17 at 10:37
2
$\begingroup$

Call it resurrection or something else. Make the population resurrect the dead as part of their culture. That way the towns people will think it's fine and the dead will expect to be brought back at some point.

Explain how it puts the right persons soul into the right persons body and brings all the cells back to life and what not at its highest forms, or explain how there's a difference between ethical and non-ethical necromancy. You can always explain how necromancy isn't bad or you could attempt to just roll with it, but if you call it necromancy then you're going to get the connotation of bad along with it no matter what you do.

If you make ethical necromancy part of the culture then you should be able to justify whatever you want as good necromancy.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Instead of stealing bodies pay people for use of their body after they die, that alone will go a long way to a better image. Or if he can talk to the dead he can negotiate for after their death. "20 gold pieces to my family who live here, and you can have my bones."

Play it up as service to the community and you may even get volunteers without payment. Taking the time to bleach bones and clean off the rotten flesh will help too, so they are not a disease ridden mess.

Make it a point to keep a signed contract for your undead, or come up with a guild that regulates it with some kind of badge or stamp certifying legal necromancy vs grave robbing assholes.

As long as he is taking them against their will it's no different, for the moral perspective of most of the populace, than taking slaves and forcing them into your army.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Summary

Alright first of all, thanks for all the replies. I myself find necromancy a pretty interesting subject. I've seen some awesome and open-minded answers from this great community. That's why I've decided to answer my own question containing the reasons I found most helpful understanding and the tips most interesting that could help regarding the world I'm building.

Reasons why necromancy could be considered evil

1. Overall terror

Raising an army of any sort to terrorize the countryside is considered a pretty evil act.

By: sphennings

Dead people are unsettling. They look like people, but wrong. It gets even worse when they do things dead people aren't supposed to do, like make noises or move — something that is known to happen with real corpses. Besides the uncanny valley effect, corpses are also known to stink and spread disease. When people see your zombie soldiers, they'll be horrified. In fiction, using tools that are considered gross signifies an evil character. Even relatively harmless symbols like spiders, snakes or blood are rarely associated with good characters.

By: KWeiss

The protagonist raising an army has no intend terrorizing any neutral beings at all. But like in most medieval societies, no peasant likes the mobilization of armies throughout his farm. This is almost impossible to avoid, especially if these armies are... well... dead. On regular basis its unsettling to even look at, let alone work with.

2. Transgression of religions

To raise the undead is to desecrate their corpse and grave. This could also include transgressions against any religious institutions involved in the burial process.

Pillaging the countryside, desecration, and acts against religious institutions are considered evil in most societies.

By: sphennings

Just like the real world, the most active religion in this world has a lot in common with Christianity. Have researched some more I found that the Bible doesn't really like necromancy.

Necromancy is defined as the conjuring of the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events. In the Bible, necromancy is also called “divination,” “sorcery” and “spiritism” and is forbidden many times in Scripture.

No doubt the protagonist will have some problems fighting evil with risen spirits while the dominant religion is totally against it, and sees it as evil.

3. Harming the used souls

Here's one no one else has brought up; the souls. very often, necromancy involves binding the souls of the dead to their corpse in a way that isn't... pleasant for the soul involved. After all, if it was simple animation of bones and flesh, it'd be a golem, not a zombie. In many fantasy worlds, the existence of the soul is something that must be taken as fact, and those souls must be treated humanely, that is, allowed to move on. A zombie is more than shambling flesh; it is a torturous prison for what used to be a sentient being. It can build all the orphanages you want, you're still using labour derived from unwilling souls.

By: monoRed

Maybe also one of the points I should have been more specific about. The idea of necromancy (like in most fictional worlds) is that risen undead need a soul attached to work. When binding these souls to bodies that are in a lot of fighting, labour and just unpleasant events, you might make a few angry or even suffer. Thank you for making me realize this.

Tips to make necromancy (look) less evil

1. Do nice things with the undead and honor them

One way I could see to get around this is to make the zombies not very corpse-like at all. Maybe they're skeleton soldiers, but the important thing is that you can't tell which individual they were when they were alive, and that they don't stink, don't rot and don't spread disease. It should also be relatively clear that they're just material beings and the soul of the person in question is off doing whatever souls do in your setting.

By: KWeiss

If the soul is not suffering, then there is no moral reason that animation is wrong except for respecting property rights. The corpse, by most laws of inheritance, defaults to the ownership of surviving relatives who are free to do with the corpse as they wish. If they want to donate the body as a laborer in order to pay off bills rather than deal with the additional costs of a funereal, that is their right.

For an example of how arbitrary the morality is, look no further than the Necroscope series. The protagonist is a medium or "necroscope" who speaks with the dead and may call upon them to rise from their graves and assist him. The antagonist includes "necromancers" who mutilate corpses to learn their knowledge, which the dead souls feel despite being dead. Otherwise the dead don't care about the condition of their unfeeling remains.

By: Anonymous

Let donating your body towards charitable labor be an acceptable funerary choice. The honored ancestors of the living are animated, decorated and cared for by their descendants and used to construct monuments/temples to the wisdom of their generation. If the animated corpses are intelligent and communicative people could employ necromancers to awaken ancestors for important events like births, marriages, baptisms, deaths, etc...

By: sphennings

Some creative idea's by sphennings I really like. This will make the society much more appreciate what you are doing with their dead ancestors, and are much more willing to let them fight for you. The terror level really decreases when you decorate the undead with pretty tulips and leave all the rotten flesh out. Also not harming the souls part is pretty important.

2. Convince religions and society there is a greater evil

These beasts eventually attack the frontier towns, capturing people to eat due to their love for human flesh. They eat humans by absorbing their fluids and all soft parts, leaving only the hard bones, without knowing who was that person. They leave the remains of the dead in the middle of forest/fields/whatever that exists between the beasts lair and the human civilization, so after the beasts retreat to their caves the survivors can recover the bones to bury them, without knowing who is who - which avoids the negatives of "seeing my beloved ones as skeletons".

This situation continued for centuries, so society evolved to live in these conditions - including culture and religion. Then a new religion (or other kind of social movement, maybe just a new branch of existent religions) emerged - a religion where hatred for these beasts was a dogma. They said: "The most desired thing for a spirit of someone killing these beasts was revenge - revenge by their own hands if possible". This civilization starts to change their view of necromancy - not only because their attitude changed, but because only the dead can approach the beasts to kill them without being "killed" - since they are already dead. So, they start to develop necromancer units to raise the victims of the monsters to destroy them as armies of skeletons! And your hero is one of these necromancers.

By: Brian Hellekin

Only answer I found regarding the religions problem, which I found to be one of the largest. Very well written.

Conclusion

In the end it all just comes down to the world's perspective you build around a specific subject (duh). But in reference to the world I'm building, these are some pretty decent and creative solutions. I want to thank you all again for the great answers.

P.S. I hope all my thank you's won't be removed.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ One of Magic the Gathering new sets Eldritch Moon makes use of this. Liliana Vess is a recurring powerful necromancer who uses her powers for personal gains. In this block The Big Bad Emrakul magic twists bodies and corrupt souls. Undead creatures are not affected by Emrakul's so the use of a undead army to combat a greater evil was needed. $\endgroup$ – Ítalo Lessa Mar 30 '17 at 15:06
1
$\begingroup$

Talking to the spirits of ancestors is rarely depicted as being evil, but then one wonders if that isn't simply because western authors tend to depict anything non-western/from extinct cultures and christian as awesome-cool-quaint.

Ancestor spirit thing-dudes in conan-esque cultures, in oriental depictions and american indian are not normally evil, whilst ouija board and egyptian stuff is. Don't really think there's much logical consistency, except stuff like the egyptians practised human sacrifice.

But anyway..

Necromancy etc is taboo not because it's bad, But because people imagine it to be bad. Have you ever met a necromancer? How would you feel if it was ubiquitous? Any ideas?

Concerns about economy/cheap labor are a little silly, coz you're imagining that from the perspective of an economy in which necromancy does not exist.

Like an earlier answer "people would start killing themselves in order to earn their family money.." makes no sense, as they can work whilst alive..or learn to become a necromancer, presumably.

If you want to prevent such things, just have some plot-ban on suicides, such as something particularly nasty happens to their souls that simultaneously prevents their bodies being raised or bound.

You could use a similar mechanism for the victims of murder or etc

If you have pantheistic/domain Gods, your Gods of murder & suicide could be particularly jealous of people using souls which should go to them an so ban necromancy on them.

Whilst souls/bodies of people that die of nat. causes or in accident, pursuit of faith, etc could be more freely repurposed. In this way, if these things are part of common lore then people's views on the use of corpses/souls would be altered somewhat.

gl.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

I think the best way to remove the stain of evil on the practices of necromancy is to rework the way the dead are treated and perceived in your world.

There have been a number of comments already about why the practice of digging up such corpses is reprehensible, but those do not necessarily apply if the dead are more accessible. By burying the dead, they are locked away. It implies that we expect them to remain down there. Instead of burying them, put them in a location easy to walk out of. For example a crypt with a front door, where the dead are not stored in coffins, but are positioned as if they are sleeping. Why would the dead be buried this way? Because in this world/culture/religion, it is considered an honor if a corpse is reused by a Necromancer. Seeing your dead parents fight wild beasts doesn't have to be an affront if the people expect it - or even hope for.

As for the gory parts and the issues with free will, that can be solved by, for instance, having a necromancer employ good-aligned spirits to inhabit the corpses and do his bidding. The spirits could 'patch' the decaying corpses with ethereal material. If the face of the previous owner of the corpse is a problem, have the spirit conjure a face for himself. The spirits could refuse service if the necromancer wants to use them for evil purposes. The list of options doesn't end here, once you change the rituals in your world to be less grim and the status 'dead' to be less final.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Loyalty and devotion, forever.

Your peaceful farming country has always revered its ancestors. Every ancestor has worked hard for their entire life trying to improve the lives of their children, children's children, and so on. The Ancestors have always been there to help, especially in the spring and fall when the local necromancer would be able to temporarily reanimate them so they could help with the planting and harvest. Work and devotion to family is a foundation to the society, even in death. A party would be held as the dead re-interned themselves until next time. All was well with the world.

Then those Outsiders attacked.

Who are they to say that animating the Ancestors is evil? Who are they to drown the local townsfolk, as a "test" to see if they are "witches" (what's a witch anyway?). When the local necromancer is found by the Questioners, the whole family is to be executed. Unknown to them, they missed their little boy who was out playing with the squirrels. Having lost his whole family to these red-pointy-hatted Questioners, he decides enough is enough: His father had taught him the basics of necromancy and he would do all he could to enact his revenge.

He starts with his little reanimated squirrel. Later he learns how to animate several at once. With practice he graduates to humans, and even bears. Over time he understands how to communicate with those recently dead to get information of defenses from those who were killed in those vile Questioner dungeons. He eventually can reanimate the dead to look like they are still alive, fully controlled by him!

And then the ultimate gift: a Head Questioner dies of old age in his sleep without anyone knowing but the boy. He can now take down the entire organization from within!

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Have only restless souls be able to be raised, as an act of redemption, after which they are thanked and sent on to their eternal rest.

Other popular examples:

  • The "Army of the Dead" in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
  • In "The House of Hades", book 4 of Rick Riordan's popular "Heroes of Olympus" series, a legion of ancient Roman warriors is raised to fight an overwhelming foe.

I suppose you couldn't use this ability too often, at least in the same immediate area, or you might run out of restless souls.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Necromancy is used 'for good' sometimes.

Following Arthur C Clarke, who said "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.", think about organ donorship - the 'magical' use of corpses to sustain the living.

In ancient magical traditions, the perception of what is 'good' is far more related to intention/outcome than the actual methods by which it is obtained. Ideas of absolutism tend to be rejected because the metaphoric / allusional nature of the phenomenal world is a central thesis of magical traditions.

It's not just intent, of course. It's also insight (or wisdom). One must know what the consequences of one's actions are. But if one has powerful insight then the ability to use any form of magic for beneficial purpose is available.

In general, there are many divisions of necromancy - some of them are relatively benign, such as using corpses as medicine (see above) or for divination purposes; whereas corpse-raising (eg. zombies, or similar) are generally considered to be terrifying for soldiers to fight - because they find themselves fighting their own former comrades, and if they die they become just another soldier within the zombie army.

In general though, such armies only belong to fiction. Those who have claimed to raise the dead say that it is a long, arduous, and painful process - far more like Dr. Frankenstein's work (he was, after all, a necromancer of sorts) than just waving a magic wand.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Most of this is tips how it could work... But some are reasons why it's viewed as evil too.

One core reason why it is viewed as "evil" is probably the reason those characters use it for.

I'm not sure what Sauron did tbh (Ring wraith?), but the Lich King used them as an army against all living. That's quite a good reason for the living to be pissed.

The undead in that same universe however view necromancy as a means of reproduction. They can't procreate but can raise dead to increase the number of their own "race". I'm not talking about the mindless Scourge here, but the Forsaken. I assume your people is not undead, so you might have to think for another reason why they might "like" the idea of being raised.

A note at the warcraft lore, there was the cult of the damned. They hoped to get turned undead and sacrificed theirselves in the hope to be raised again. So they were hungry for power and didn't have problems adjusting their morale.

Also, another good reason would be some kind of patriotism. Serving even in dead. You could add some rituals etc. Embalming to preserve the body. Burial in armor to be ready when needed. If your undead preserve memories this is almost like resurrection.

Do they still decompose? If they are, they are an expiring army that can be used "one time only" or "for a limited time". Embalming and preservation might take a bigger role then. Maybe even create a caste of embalmers, that tend to the dead and keep them ready for the time when they are needed. This could be a honored job or a high religious position.

If they don't decompose they technically turn immortal upon being raised. If they even keep their personality that's quite a good incentive to earn being raised. The entire culture could focus their life to be raised and stay "alive" forever. That might sound a little dark to us, but if there was no stigma to it by our culture it could easily be normalcy.

Religion in general could take a major role here. Usually our real life religions want their deceased to rest in peace. Raising them to fight/work is not really resting, especially not in peace. So that's a good reason to see those who disturb the dead to do something wrong/bad. If however your god dictated servitude even in dead and being raised is an honor people who didn't manage to be heroes in life get a second chance.

You could even create cults that train in life and then kill themselves at their peak. Getting prepared and tended to, embalmed and all that stuff, just to be ready when duty calls them from their tombs.

So TLDR;

Necromancy is viewed as bad from our cultural perspective but there are tons of reasons why it could be an honor in a fictitious culture to be raised again.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Maybe something that can throw a completely different light on this is the TV-series "Pushing Daisies" (think of this as a romantic comedy series). Here, the protagonist has the power to raise a dead person back to life by touching the corpse once. If he touches the corps a second time, the person dies again and can not be resuscitated again by the protagonist.

There is one trick to it though: if a person is risen from the dead, but not touched again (died a second time) within a limited amount of time (30 seconds in the series), one random soul dies in the vicinity (can be an animal as well).

This brings up several dilemmas (such as not being able to touched a loved one if you've resurrected him/her) but also opportunities (solving murder cases).

In this case they skip very lightly over death (I described it as a romantic comedy, can't do that if there's too much darkness overhead), but some of the problems related with "necromancy", especially this special case, are touched. As for an answer to your question: in this series they do not frown upon "necromancy", and the character is most definitely not an evil protagonist.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Can do (kind of).

  • Convert self into lich. Do this before raising any other dead.
  • Carve or transfigure marble blocks into statues of yourself
  • Stone to flesh statues of you
  • Raise dead on resulting corpses

Since all bodies are yours and you are your own closest relative there's nobody to complain to.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Three things in your question make it hard to imagine your protagonist as the good guy: 1) the term "necromancy" itself, 2) the "without permission" part of the powers and 3) the "manipulate souls" part.

If you re-branded it "communing with the ancestors," if it required the consent of the dead, and if it didn't involve manipulating souls, it might be easier to sell it as a net positive. In other words, it's not just the powers themselves, it's the attitude with which they are used.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

I might suggest that though this does not answer the question precisely in the title. Another approach might not be to create a world in which necromancy is not at all taboo, but rather make it merely considered a "lesser evil" assuming the threats this necromancer addresses are more dangerous or frowned upon.

I can certainly imagine even if medieval villagers considered the hero morally questionable they would quickly overcome this if said hero is the one who protects them from these worse threats. (Many situations in history medieval settlements were ruled by pretty morally questionable leaders, who however provided protection, more important to the people than the issues.)

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

"How do I make society not consider this as an type of "evil" magic and will leave him alone or even help him to save the world?"

That's easy: by picking the right society.

Make a story where the Night King is the good guy. Write it from his viewpoint and how he uses his powers to make the world a better place. A place not ruled by those selfish humans with their kings and queen with their betrayal of each-other and the gods.

Whether someone is evil is only a matter of viewpoint.

$\endgroup$

protected by JDługosz Mar 28 '17 at 6:55

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.