The necromancer is a popular villain theme. It appears in a huge variety of Myth and Pop Culture mediums. In the last twenty years, the theme has increased in frequency. What exactly is it? Where did it come from? What makes it evil? Why do we fear this villain type?
What is Necromancy?
First, we should look at traditional definitions. And, how those definitions changed over time:
“The conjuration of spirits of the dead for purposes of revealing the future or influencing the course of events.”
A traditionally held belief is that the dead held the knowledge of all past and future events, but had no knowledge of the present. Unfortunately, no one really knows the time or culture of origin. The abstract idea remains prevalent in many cultures. The practice is taboo because it relates to interfering with the cycle of life. In this case, life doesn’t mean living. It is relating to the course of events as fated by the divine.
Then, in time, necromancy was redefined to:
“The use of magic for evil purposes.”
The movement against witchcraft became popular. The vague definition allowed for easier prosecution. It became a serious problem. Finally, the most current definition not found in the dictionary is:
“The use of occult or science knowledge to extend life beyond what is natural and the resurrection of the dead for evil purposes.”
Modernly, we view necromancy totally different. The definition comes from science fiction stories or classical myth stories. For example, Lord of the Rings, Frankenstein, or Snow White, all have a form of necromancer villain. The abstract taboo idea remains. The idea of extended life by means of death is unnatural and wrong.
The Method of Madness
The act of necromancy is not evil. A good necromancer’s goal is improving the quality of life by exploring death. A necromancer becomes a villain when he exploits death. Meaning, he uses homicide. An evil necromancer will kill and use that stolen life to improve his personal quality of life. A necromancer villain will kill to enslave, detrimentally affecting the life he has taken.
For example, Voldemort of Harry Potter fame is a frightening villain. The creation of Horcrux is necromancy. Voldemort tore his soul apart to extend his life. Yet, Voldemort is more than a necromancer. He killed everyone he could to achieve his goal. He expresses joy in killing. More than that, he views people as objects or toys. He forces others to do his bidding, knowing it causes harm to the psyche. Voldemort destroys the quality of life in his victims. It is a game he plays for personal amusement. Thus, we hate him. The hate comes from Voldemort’s lack of respect for life in all of its forms. Voldemort is a true villain.
Conversely, Dr. Frankenstein is a necromancer, not a villain. He brought the dead back to life by use of medical science. His purpose is not evil, it is misguided. Dr. Frankenstein did not kill the living to create his monster. He used pieces of people already dead. Dr. Frankenstein wanted to unlock the secret of life, not world domination. Furthermore, Dr. Frankenstein will not murder people to further his career. He values life, as well as, preserving it. Dr. Frankenstein wants to improve the quality of life. Consequently, he is not a true villain, but he is a necromancer. As a result, we love him and want to see him succeed.
So, necromancy is a method. It doesn’t have to be evil or for evil purposes. The person using the method determines whether necromancy is evil or good. However, that doesn’t mean the method isn’t fraught with danger. Mythically speaking, the person doesn’t know if he is being guided by demons, people, or the divine. Also, the beginning intentions of the character do not matter. The necromancer can be influenced or tempted.
Quality and Respect for life
Ultimately, our fear boils down to the quality of life and how we define it. People do not want to be resurrected as a zombie or machine. After death, we assume that we ascend to a divine place where the quality of life is improved. It is normal to fear being ripped out of heaven by necromancy. Our fear stems from a loss of improved quality of life. The fear grows from lost quality of eternal life. Equally, the fear is unbearable if we come back and cause harm.
In addition, if consciousness can return intact, the fear increases. We fear the lack of control over our body and actions. We fear the loss of our individualism. We fear the accountability and responsibility of guilt. Consequently, people can’t bear the trauma of such a terrible thing. The trauma of the psyche remains with the soul forever. This is detrimental to the consciousness of an individual and, additionally, to the quality of eternal life in the beyond.
Applause for the Necromancer
Pop Culture and Myth will never see an end to the necromancer. Now that we know who and what it is, we can begin to appreciate why. Whenever he appears, we can feel the fear and understand it. In effect, we can enjoy the creepy, taboo factor. On the other hand, a good necromancer can excite us with new perspectives and possibles. We can identify with his desire for improving life, through science or magic. Whether he is good or evil, that is why the necromancer is in the story, to be the face of death and what might lay beyond.