In The Elder Scrolls series, Necromancy is legal in most places in Tamriel (the main exception being in the province of Morrowind, although they make it clear in The Elder Scrolls III that this is because of local taboos and that it is legal elsewhere). In fact, it was a big plot point in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion that the current head of the Mages Guild had outlawed Necromancy, overturning centuries of its legality (and this came back to bite him). The Elder Scrolls I: Arena and The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall even have local holidays where the descriptions say things like: "In celebration of the oldest magical science, necromancy, all magical items are half price today."

My question is, why is it legal? It's clear that the founder of the Mages Guild was strongly opposed to the practice (third paragraph of this book) and just about all the lorebooks on the topic show it as having negative consequences with few, if any, positive ones (e.g. one book talked about how a dead child was resurrected using Necromancy, but this greatly aged her). Moreover it's referred to multiple times as "The Black Arts" and there is definitely a stigma against it.

So why is Necromancy legal in Tamriel throughout the majority of the Elder Scrolls games?

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    I'd appreciate it if those who are downvoting would explain why. If there is a problem with this question, I'd like to know how it can be improved. Commented May 13, 2014 at 3:40
  • I voted to close because, in my opinion, this deals more with "Why was the game written this way". Unless someone has something game-related to contribute, narrative speculation isn't really within our scope. Other people might see it differently though :)
    – spugsley
    Commented May 13, 2014 at 4:00
  • If I'm reading your comment correctly, you're saying that this question is okay if there happens to be a game-related answer (e.g. in-game lore book that definitively states it), but not okay if it requires reading between the lines? Commented May 13, 2014 at 4:08
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    Yes, that's my take on it. Reading between the lines isn't really our thing here :) I played a lot of Skyrim and other Elder Scroll Games but I don't remember any explanation as to why Necromancy is allowed. I fear it may be one of those things that we'll never know save for speculation or a DEV specifically stating it. Though, I could have just missed the info while playing :)
    – spugsley
    Commented May 13, 2014 at 4:19
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    @spugsley I don't think the question should be closed. This has nothing to do with how the game was coded, this is about the elder scrolls lore.
    – Arperum
    Commented May 13, 2014 at 8:25

1 Answer 1


The best source on this is probably the book The Black Arts on Trial, which can be found in Oblivion and Skyrim, although some useful information can be found in other books on necromancy (a full list is at UESP:Lore:Necromancy). Unfortunately, while these contain information on the historic status of and attitudes towards necromancy, none of them explicitly explain why it is not banned by the state.

What we do know is that Necromancy, while not banned by force of law, has always been forbidden by the Mages' Guild (and its predecessor the Psijic Order) -- it is not taught and independent studies of it are discouraged at best. The degree to which this has been enforced, however -- and to what degree they have tried to impose this ban on independent mages not part of the Guild -- has varied depending on the personal attitudes of the Guild leadership over the years. Archmagister Traven's ban on it in Oblivion is not a new policy, but increased enforcement of an ages-old one that some of his predecessors turned a blind eye to violations of.

The same book notes that the dividing line between Necromancy and some other schools of magic like Conjuration and Mysticism is very thin and somewhat arbitrary (as the schools themselves are). It also mentions that while Necromancy is not well liked by the populace at large, few people have a good understanding of what it is or how it is distinguished from other schools of magic.

-- Everything below this point is speculation. --

My suspicion would be that the lack of an official ruling on this matter is down to two things. The first is that with the precise definition of necromancy so hard to pin down, drafting a law to forbid it is difficult; it is easier to ignore necromancers who aren't making a nuisance of themselves, and deal with necromancers who are under existing laws forbidding things like grave-robbing and murder. The second is that, with the ban against necromancy largely originating from (and enforced by) the Mages' Guild, there is little need for a legal ruling on it when the Mages are the only ones fully equipped to understand what is and is not necromancy, even given a regime hostile to necromantic practices. You don't want a healer getting arrested because some overzealous guards think that any magic involving blood is necromantic, nor Lich-King Souleater Skullfire walking free because he can plausibly argue that the army of skeletons is conjuration rather than necromancy; far better to just report such things to the Guild and let them investigate.

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