Intro to Modern Necromancy
What every novitiate needs to know about the ethics of the (mal)practice
By MARTIN REZNY
As pretty much everyone is aware, the n-word has absolutely no positive connotation in the world of magic — it’s simply the number one forbidden dark art, you just don’t do it. What may surprise you, though, is that you may already believe in its core tenets and even perform it regularly without being aware that you do, since it’s called by many other names today, or none at all.
Definition of Necromancy
Let’s begin by deconstructing naive ideas of what necromancy looks like. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Corpses rising from graves? Draining of blood and other vital essences for dark rituals? Reanimating severed limbs and removing body parts? Well, those are certainly powerful visuals, but that’s about as accurate a description as believing that incantations move stuff.
All such imagery is symbolic, metaphoric. Real magic, as well as real necromancy, may superficially appear in practice to be about ritualistic nonsense, but only to a layman, and especially to a primitive. Like in the case of the so called “cargo cults”, if you see flying machines or devices used for communication over long distances, you may not realize that it is not the shape or appearance of the things that makes them work, but mechanisms you cannot see or understand.
So what is on the inside, what makes it tick? The issue is complicated by the fact that necromancy isn’t defined by any practical method. It doesn’t matter if you use organics or mechanics to achieve it, if its products are physical or incorporeal, its essence or effects material or spiritual. Necromancy is not a science, it’s a choice. It’s the intention, the goal, that defines a necromancer.
Necromancy is specifically any artificial suppression, subversion, or corruption of free agency of living beings, especially without consent, for the exclusive personal benefit of the perpetrator, or for its own sake.
This should make you relax, slightly, since you cannot really be considered a necromancer, an inherently evil person, if you happen to perform or advance necromancy by accident. But it is certainly not in any way preferable that you do so, for the sake of all living beings who are free agents in the cosmos, including yourself. Necromancers thrive on the work of the unwitting.
Necromancy by Any Other Name
With all of the above being said, however, it’s not enough to be exonnerated if someone claims, or even believes, that they’re (potentially) performing or advancing necromancy to help others. It’s not helpful to help rid people of their free agency, period. It’s also not helpful to try to convince people that they already have no free agency, especially by proclaiming it a scientific fact.
Take an example — lobotomy. It’s a relatively safe bet that people who stick sharp pointy objects into people’s brains to see what happens for a living are at least at some level of risk of being or becoming necromancers. The goal of this procedure is/was to “help” people by mentally reducing them. It was a Nobel Prize-worthy idea, apparently. Was that just science, or more ideology?
The basic ideas of healing are restoring one’s physical or mental health to normal and the idea of doing no harm. The inventor of lobotomy surely believed he’s doing both. The problem is that the definitions of “normal” and “harm” are not matters of science, the magia naturalis, but of philosophy. A necromancer would define “normal” based exclusively on how it behaves.
You see, to a necromancer, there’s nothing of value inside of the human mind, it’s only the body that matters, as a resource. Any kind of “medicine” or any procedure that aims to fix how humans behave, while ignoring any changes in their internal experience, their “qualia”, is necromantic medicine. It doesn’t have to be a spike through the head, it could be words, or a magic pill.
As for the harm, a necromancer sees no harm when a person is damaged or his freedom revoked, because the person inside does not matter and is in fact better off without their freedom, if they even have it in the first place. To a necromancer, life and death are indistinguishable, anyway. After all, aren’t all the atoms in your body inanimate matter? What is life, other than a machine?
The great danger and seductiveness of this whole line of thought lies in the difficulty of coming up with definitive answers and proofs to such questions. We may not be able to define what life actually is, how “qualia” in our consciousness and experience arise, or how freedom works in terms of material science, even though we know they exist and need them to do so.
And that’s what necromancers will exploit. What they do is dim other people’s inner light, they spread a form of dark, cold emptiness. The only real defense is embracing the inner light, but to many, that sounds very esoteric. It isn’t. The more you believe you’re capable of free action, the greater potential for it you will have. The more you start to doubt it, the less it will be.
The State of the Dark Arts
Let’s overview specific applications of necromancy that you may encounter. Unfortunately, we don’t have to look to the past for examples of (potentially) necromantic practices being developed with the intention to “help” people. With many of the latest advances in genetic engineering, cybernetics, and neuroscience, we may soon see a true global golden age of necromancy.
- Murderizing — In case you’re unfamiliar with the meaning of the term, it’s like murder, but somehow even worse. It could mean far grander in scope or overkill than normal, far more cruel than the tried and true traditional methods, or with lasting after-effects that somehow keep on killing the affected people or land long after the actual intended murder.
The advances in this category near and dear to the heart-substitutes of necromancers have been substantial throughout the whole modern era, but there are some exciting new options on the horizon. Whether it’s the death drones, custom-made soon 3D printable viruses that can target only selected groups of people, or augmented soldiers, the future really is now.
The most troubling aspect of it is not the sheer destructive power of these advances, it’s the progressing dehumanization of war that comes with it. Something that absolutely plays into the cards of the necromancers. As long as there are humans fighting humans, there’s a possibility of mercy, of minimizing death toll and suffering. Instead, torture is experiencing a resurgence in the west and collateral damage is reaching record levels.
Never let anyone confuse you about the seriousness of the application of deadly violence. War is not a videogame and killing innocent people is an absolutely horrific act. Hiding behind remote controls or statistical likelihoods that someone may become a threat hypothetically only makes the carnage more likely to happen more often and to a more awful degree.
- Mindcontrol — In many ways more terrifying than getting better at murder, as well as more dangerous to the continued human existence as we know it, are the recent innovations in this field. The intentions here may seem quite benevolent, treating degenerative brain diseases and returning or even increasing brain functionalities, but at a great risk.
The typical line you get from scientists is that technology is neutral, but that’s grossly misleading. Discoveries are neutral, technology is invented. Inventions are always purposeful to begin with, and they can usually be hijacked for an unintended purpose, predictably. By inventing devices that can stimulate the brain to puppeteer the body, we’re allowing new abuses.
One can make an argument about risk analysis being the deciding factor whether to realize a particular technology or not, but what if the potential of the invention for abuse is that of total apocalypse? We’ve already been through that with the nuclear weapons, and after we have miraculously survived having those, we’re trying to get rid of them anyway, just in case.
I challenge you to look at how this technology works on rats, imagine you were one of those rats, and stay calm about the prospect. The most unsettling aspect of it is not even the realness of the ability to do that by itself, it’s what famous countermage Slavoj Zizek worries about — we may not be able to tell that we’re being controlled, as the data so far suggests. Rest assured necromancers will abuse this as soon as it hits the shelves.
- Thralls and Zombification — In case you‘re wondering what the key differences are between a thrall and a zombie, a thrall is an otherwise free agent controlled by a dark outside force, while zombie is a previously free agent who had been permanently robbed of personality and its own agency, other than to consume, destroy, or otherwise ruin everything.
On the surface, these notions are of course ridiculous in any literal form, but the subtle ways in which they actually exist in reality are much more terrifying, as well as the fact that it’s so hard to recognize it when it’s happening. Firstly, it’s important to note that it is a matter of degree, and secondly, that there are many different mechanisms that can achieve it.
Whether through behavioral conditioning at schools or coming from media designed to instill the instinct to obey and the drive to consume, mass anaesthetization by prescription medication, or simply the threats, veiled or not, of retribution in the form of incarceration or death, zombification and enthrallment are now considered ordinary facts of life.
What’s perhaps the most surprising aspect of this is how easy it was to turn such an unnatural way of life into the new normal. Perhaps it’s because you don’t have to be aware of being a thrall or a zombie, and perhaps it’s simply because of how easy it is to surrender one’s own free agency to an external authority — a simple, but very powerful spell.
- Darkspawn and Ghosts — Never before in the history of man has there been a greater potential for the spawning and unleashing of unholy creations of all kinds. Thanks to the new cheap and easy techniques of genetic manipulation and the interest in, again, helping patients overcome certain diseases (this time congenital), we are on the verge of a revolution.
Normally when somebody writes stuff like that in articles introducing new technologies, they do so in an excited, even extatic manner. This is not the case here. The revolution at hand is that of engineering, or creating by comparison, new forms of humans, some superhuman, some subhuman. Making darkspawn is just a matter of what tweaks will be implemented.
Elimination of disease is of course largely ethically fine, assuming it becomes the standard for all humans, but it will not end there. Eventually, someone somewhere will weave vanity traits into the genetic code of the newborns, and others will breed supersoldiers. Darkspawn is precisely any creation that’s altered to be more predatory, or corrupted to be inferior, such as clones, or better slaves. This can also be done via memetics.
Ghosts are incorporeal creations of necromancers, and they’re already prowling through our machines. We’re constantly bombarded by carefully programmed information designed to manipulate us, and that includes also haunting by summoned twisted memories and ideas of long dead people, or those who were never real at all. Especially once the brain-machine barrier breaks, the ghosts will be free to invade our open minds.
- Undying — Finally, though without end, the ultimate goal of all necromancers, life eternal. In terms of biotechnology, big strides have been made recently in the fight against senescence (aging), and I’m quite sure that necromancers cannot wait for this one to be perfected. By itself, it seems harmless enough, until you stop to think about it for a moment.
Living substantially longer, especially if most other people do not, is a profoundly selfish act. Even if no one actually has to be killed in order to gain or maintain the immortality (the vampiric principle), and even if it doesn’t turn you into a source of death to others (the lich principle), you must still indirectly take more from the Earth and fellow men than others.
There’s one natural process that fits the description of wanting to live forever and not caring about the impact it has on others or your living environment — cancer. Necromancers operate precisely in that manner, and ultimately, more life for them tends to mean less life for others, however indirectly. Limited resources mean all can never live forever.
Blinded by the survival instinct and perhaps enticed by the promise of riches and fame, scientists working on this technology don’t seem to be concerned very much with the inevitable consequences of discovering the proverbial fountain of youth. Paradoxically, the ability to not age is bound to breed more conflict and death, as necromancers will vie for more life.
The Great Necromantic Delusion
Now an overiew and critique of the underlying philosophy of necromancy. However ill-advised and wrongheaded the efforts of the engineers of our future seem to be, necromancers are far from misguided. They’re wielding the freedom-stealing powers for their own benefit, not necessarily rejecting their own freedom. They likely aim precisely to maximize their own personal freedom to the detriment of the freedom of others. The delusion they wield is a form of attack. Because of their malice, however, they tend not to act openly or preach their worldview. Evangelism of the undead is a job that typically falls to the unwitting (and presumably well-intentioned) necromantists.
You may believe that people don’t have free agency or that they would be better without it, but you have to realize that that essentially makes you a necromancer. Or, if you don’t practice it, let’s say it makes you a necromantist, a believer in necromancy. It’s very important to stress that those ideas are not scientific facts. What is today known as “hard determinism” requires belief.
Firstly, for the obvious reason that all of us experience freedom and likely are unable to not-experience it, which is a rather hard empirical proof against hard determinism, but that’s not enough for many thinkers who just decided to dismiss experience. Fine, but if you just dismiss experience as an illusion off hand, it still doesn’t give you a proof of your belief. It’s a classic illusion spell.
Sofistry like defining things out of existence, or manufacturing misleading paradoxes, does work on many people to confound them into rejecting obvious reality they directly experience, but it proves nothing. This particular determinist illusion spell is even more intricate, however, because it also calls the thing it tries to define out of existence as what it is itself — an illusion.
One of the leading minds of the necromantic philosophy, Daniel Dennett, likens human consciousness to a bag of magic tricks, an optical illusion, which, by his definition, is the real magic, while “real magic” is the actual illusion. It’s very clever, but this argument is the actual magic trick. It distracts you from the obvious — the fact that our ability to perceive reality accurately has limits and fails sometimes does not prove that it’s incorrect about our freedom, as well as it does not show how consciousness mechanically arises.
Interestingly, Dennett is still something called a “compatibilist”, which is the less extreme position. While Dennett believes free will is an illusion, as a compatibilist he believes it is an illusion worth entertaining. There are more hardline necromantist thinkers, like Sam Harris, who reject even compatibilism. As one self-proclaimed necromancer paraphrases Harris, it’s all causes we don’t control or random chance, nature or nurture. According to this point of view, there’s no room or utility for free will in science altogether.
Except, this argument is also a magic trick. The distraction here is using the concept of “random chance” in an unscientific way. Random chance is any variation that cannot be explained causally, that seems to just happen, which absolutely includes the possibility of free agency. It’s only a different interpretation of the same real facts when you decide it’s “chaos”, or freedom. As Harris says, “you are the storm”, but why couldn’t weather make choices? Statistically, absolute free will and pure “randomness” are exactly identical.
To not get sidetracked too much, it will suffice to say against this freedom de-buff spell that for all practical purposes, “that which is you” (your personality, knowledge, experience, etc.) is the prime mover of your actions. You may choose to intepret this fact as there being no free choice (“that which is you” determining your “choices”), or as what it is, you making your choices freely.
Either way, you will do what you gotta do, and especially avoid what you prefer to avoid, unless your decision making ability becomes twisted or outright hijacked by another free actor, who is freely aiming to defeat your evasion. Freedom from necromancy is a freedom of one’s thought and action from coercion and outside interference. Read the complete counterspell here.
The Undead World Order
Ultimately, what you need to realize is that all this neutral-seeming and neutrality espousing science and philosophy is in fact a crucial part of an invisible battle over human hearts and minds. The side that’s winning, which currently are the necromancers, unfortunately, gets to conjure up a reality in which everyone will have to live. Or die, especially that under the necro-rule.
It’s true that the real necromancers are unlikely to be among the ranks of scientists and philosophers, who are probably almost exclusively identifying as the members of our order, wizards. The true necromancers can typically be located near the centers of power, in the realms of politics and economy, and the darkest and most powerful ones are surely hiding deep in the shadows.
But never forget that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The semantics of hell technically belonging to the demonspawn and not the necromancers set aside, the vision of Earth under full necromantic rule is no less bleak. In the mid-20th century, the necromancers made a grave mistake, no pun intended, of acting too openly as the Nazis, including black uniforms, skull insignia, dark mysticism, the works. If they’re smart, they won’t repeat it.
But even if they act indirectly, shrouded in secrecy, the end result will not be any different in principle, only worse. Instead of concentration camps, there will be concentration countries, prisons made all the more inescapable for having no visible walls. People won’t even have to be oppressed, they will learn to love slavery, and instead of false propaganda, real subhuman races will be born to serve and die. Peace will be redefined as war and truth as a lie.
I know what you may think, but that’s no exaggeration. More likely, it’s still a failure of imagination. Since I’m not a necromancer myself, I may not even be able to comprehend the full depth and scope of their darkest designs. We’re living in important times, for the battle is not yet over, it’s actually at the beginning. It’s normal for the dark forces to make the first move and gain head start, such is their nature. Now it’s time for us to awaken and strike back.
Don’t despair. Not only because that would make the necromancers win without a fight, but because the nature of existence is on our side, it must be. Magic can be twisted and abused, but in its most basic form, it’s simply the power of human heart. Heart is a resource that necromancers do not even comprehend, let alone possess. We have the power to truly create, we are the champions of life, and we are the expression of the universe’s will to live. Not only survive, but truly live to the fullest. Remember that, and you will endure.