Zombies & Religion: Necromancy

When one hears the word Necromancer you tend to envision a guy in his mid 40’s sporting a cape and tux combo that would make Dracula drool in his coffin. We’re talking someone like Doctor Orpheus from The Venture Brothers, here. The stereotype of a necromancer is outlandish, so ridiculous that we have a hard time believing anyone would call themselves one at any point in history. Which is probably a good idea. Playing with the dead isn’t the smartest thing to do. Something always goes wrong.

Necromancy is a form of magic. Dark magic steeped in rituals used to call upon the dead. These rituals are long, exhausting, and involve sacrifices of blood. The amount of blood varies on the magic being conducted. Early necromancers believed that more was better. Accounts tell of practitioners standing before blood-drenched altars to work their magic. Some necromancers use the spirits of the dead to predict the future. Others recover the corpse and “push” their magic into it, creating an animated corpse to control and communicate with.

During the early Middle Ages, necromancy was both fodder of myths and reality. The Norse told tales of heroes contacting spirits of dead relatives and asking the dead to cast spells against their enemies. Another Norse saga depicted Skuld, a princess so skilled in magic and communicating with the dead that in the midst of battle she could force dead warriors to rise and continue their attacks. Skuld wielded and army of the undead, the likes of which we consider a big sign that the Zombiepocalypse is upon us. This undead army made her nearly invincible on the battlefield. A feat most men would be envious of and all feared.

Medieval necromancers believed that in order to raise the dead the Christian god had to be invoked during rituals. Because of this the vast majority of medieval necromancers were highly educated clergy members. There were few seminaries at the time and made knowledge of Holy Scripture rare unless one was taught under an apprenticeship. The common man would not have access to the Bible. Nor would he be able to read the Latin it was written in. This was long before the printing press and the idea that every household should have a copy of the Bible in order to be closer to God.

At this time necromancers began to believe that they were not calling forth the souls of the dead to reanimate bodies, but demons instead. The Roman Catholic Church forbade members from practicing the dark magic for this reason. However enforcing the ruling was near impossible given the amount of time it took to deliver missives to other countries.

Despite the Church’s declaration, necromancy was still widely practiced. Through time, necromancers used the stigma towards magic by Christian faithful to fuel their rituals. Necromancers were hunted as witches, driven further underground to conduct their rituals and raise their dead. They twisted Holy Scripture, uttered names of demons never meant to be spoken by good, God-fearing people.

Modern necromancy has returned to the idea that they are communicating with the souls of the dead. While some of the demonic still exists, it is more as a warning. Great care is taken to “protect” the area of ritual, usually with a circle of some sort, to keep “evil spirits” (demonic forces) at bay. Necromancers nowadays typically aren’t attempting to raise an army of undead from their graves. But you should never disregard the idea.

Armies of undead under the control of a necromancer will move together. Unlike a typical hoard of zombies, these won’t fight with each other while reaching for their goal. Think of them as decaying marionettes. The necromancer will use their power over the dead to manipulate zombies to do their will. It could be anything from petty theft to a string of murders. Because necromancy is a type of magic, there are repercussions to using the power. Sustaining the undead will drain them, leave them vulnerable to attack. If you can break the tie between zombie and necromancer, the zombie will return to the grave or attack the person that disturbed their rest. We suggest trying salt or salt water. If that fails, use fire. Zombie flambé, anyone?