The erotic attraction to the dead is considered an utmost pathology, and most of the living feels only revulsion and horror to it. However, it may happen that this reaction of rejection is the consequence of cultural taboos, and the result of the unwillingness to perceive reality in all its manifestations that are sometimes monstrous. Some necrophiliac tendencies have been revealed surprisingly regularly in individual actions, and communities throughout the human history. Even this leads us to suggest that necrophilia is some constant or a stable element in the entire human nature, albeit chiefly latent. Only from time to time, its deathly pale flower of passion and crime blooms. This means that the necrophilia deserves study and comprehension, philosophical, scientific, and artistic. Of course, if we are interested in understanding the sphere of being-consciousness in its entire fullness of potentials, and realizations.
If we attempt studying these phenomena, it should be worthwhile to remember Goethe who said something about the nature overstepping the border it had set for itself, but through this, it reaches a different kind of perfection. “Thus, we shall do well if we refrain from negative expressions as long as we can.” It is also necessary because “there is no way to reach a complete conclusion without addressing the normal and the abnormal in their oscillation, and interreaction.”
The word “necrophilia” is made of Greek roots, and it means, “love to corpses.” This is not the same as attraction to death in the broad sense. Death or dying in Greek is thanatos, and necros is, literally, a corpse, a dead body. Necrophilia is thus defined as a sexual coupling with an object devoid of the motions of life, a perversion that forces a patient to seek erotic pleasure copulating with corpses, inspecting or touching them.
In the introduction to “Le Nécrophile,” it is stated the necrophilia problem arose from the wide specter of relations between man and death. After turning to ancient myths and rituals, we shall see that the love to the dead, including sexual copulation with the bodies, is just one of the answers to the insoluble question of all human beings when they meet face to face with their own inevitable end, and the brevity of all dear to them.
Honoring the dead has been characteristic of the entire humanity throughout its history. The archaeological data testify that the Neanderthal man had his burial rituals. Different types of interment embraced by different cultures in different times are similar in one respect. A dead human body is not “trash” to get rid of but an object worthy of respect, and love. An element of fear admixes, both of one’s own future death and of the possible involvement of the dead in the affairs of the living. Mythical and religious roots of the necrophilia are evident. On one hand, a necrophiliac follows those deeply rooted archetypical notions, and on the other hand, he conflicts with them. Ritually, he overcomes the finality of death, thus realizing the humanity’s hidden aspirations but at the same time, he desacralizes the fear of death, and breaks one of the strongest taboos inherited from our ancestors. We think this is the reason why the necrophilia is still a socially unacceptable phenomenon no matter what rational arguments are given for its legalization. One of its proponents, John Pirog, the publisher of "The NecroErotic,” suggests establishing “corpse brothels” as a healthy alternative for those people who cannot find sexual release with living partners due to their inherent shyness, social maladjustment or, simply, their bad looks.
However, copulating with corpses is not just a taboo meant to keep the border between the living and the dead intact, it is one of the mythologically legitimate methods to cross this border, and thus to provide unity and interaction of those two worlds.
Repeatedly, in different myths, we meet the figure of the Great Mother under a host of names, yet she always symbolizes the creation in toto. The Great Mother gives birth, feeds, and protects but she also destroys, and kills without mercy. Those two sides to her are united, and thanks to this link, life and death flow into each other all the time. Whatever we discuss, reincarnation or resurrection, death is only a particular moment in the chain of metamorphosis where love is a link. Just one example would be the Egyptian mythology deeply rooted in necrophiliac rituals.
In contemporary textbooks on sexology, necrophilia is usually interpreted as one of sexual deviations, as opposed to perversions. In deviations, sexual fantasies, role-playing games, and other types of symbolic substitutions are crucial. In perversions, the variations of sexual behavior become the norm, reality is replaced with fantasy, and a character fault becomes one’s destiny. The difference between the two is only in degrees, and sometimes it is hard to distinguish them. However, when we speak about the necrophilia with its accompanying fantasies about, and manipulation with corpses, the element of “loving a dead body” seems only optional or facultative.
Studying serial killers, we notice that the pleasure of killing a victim is often as significant for them as the subsequent necrophiliac act. In necrosadism, the primary impulse is maiming a dead body, with the sexual attraction to it being only secondary. In the famous case of Sergeant Bertrand described by Krafft-Ebing, the drive to destroy dead bodies was as strong as his erotic impulse.
At the same time, the culturally legitimate practices such as honoring the ancestors’ graves or holy relics are also tinted with necrophilia as a peripheral or symbolic element. The philosophical concept of necrophilia was developed by Erich Fromm; in his essay on Adolf Hitler, he defined this phenomenon, and opposed it, as the love to everything dead and decaying, to biophilia, as the love to everything living, creative, and developing.
In their study “Sexual Attraction to Corpses: A Psychiatric Review of Necrophilia” (1989), Rosman and Resnick described three types of “true” necrophilia, the necrophiliac murder, the common necrophilia, and necrophiliac fantasies. They analyzed 122 cases, and concluded that the most part of necrophiliacs belong to the second type as they use the corpses of already dead people for their sexual pleasure.
As opposed to the widespread opinion, necrophiliacs are mostly heterosexual, although about half of known necrophiliac murderers were homosexual. The gender of their objects does not usually matter. In only 60 per cent of cases, some personality disorder was diagnosed, and only 10 per cent of necrophiliacs were psychotic. Males prevail, although some women were also observed. Occupation-wise, they have to handle animal and human corpses in some way or another, and culturally or psychologically, it is understandable. Necrophiliac professions also include everything connected with conservation, classification, dissection, or analysis, including museum workers and philologists, or manipulating the living, like political consultants. Those latter ones are very similar to pathoanatomists or autopsists for they perceive the world as consisting solely of inanimate objects, and they are the only subjects in it. A narcissistic subject attracted to inanimate objects and enjoying manipulating them is the basic definition of the necrophiliac essence.
The psychoanalysis links the phenomenon with the emergence of children’s sexuality when there appears the fixation on unmoving bodies, as of one’s sleeping mother. The prevailing motive, as psychologists note, is the desire to obtain a passive partner that would not refuse you. The fear of rejection or abandonment naturally leads to the wish to hold the one you love. These too human feelings may lead to the belief that a dead body is more preferable to a living one. A corpse becomes an ideal object of attraction and love.
Extrapolating this situation to the realities of the modern world where a human being turns into a sort of cyborg more and more, an interface between nature, society, and technology, one can easily see that corpse’s advantages are similar to ones of the “virtual reality.” The latter is pliable, passive, and absolutely controllable. Both a corpse and a computer are a sort of “magic crystal” that transforms the nature into a series of the viewer’s reflections, without the necessity of needing the Other. And we know how easy it is to drown in those reflections.
This complex of motives, including attraction, fear of loneliness or ridicule, social maladjustment, and the desire of complete power over the partner, is found in the majority of ghouls. Many necrophiliacs are also fixated on their dead mothers or lovers. Sometimes, their sexual trysts with corpses are accompanied by acts of cannibalism that can be viewed as the wish to be closer to the beloved dead body—to the degree of incorporating it in your own. And, the necrophilia is not necessarily cruel, for in many cases, the principal motive for these acts is love, and inability to bear with the loss of the loved one.
The eternal love Gabrielle Wittkop writes about in her fictitious necrophiliac’s diary is a form of eternal love. It is tragic for it is inevitably temporary. The tragedy of human existence is that people, unlike other living beings, are cognizant of the fact of death, this awareness does not liberate them from its power. They seek eternal life and love but their search is in vain. The living beings we love come undone, just like corpses; they get old, rot, and die. The love will be over, the life will be over, and there is nothing eternal anywhere.
Necrophilia is the passion for non-being that is attributed with some qualities of being; it is an absurd revolt against the finality of human existence, a reflection of the state of ignorance of reality or ignoring it, that throws human beings into suffering, again and again. Sometimes destiny is stronger than we are. A chance confluence of events might bring a powerful chain of associations that defines the future being rooted in the past. Love, sex, and a dead body might form an integrated complex that sets the very structure of personality, and its fate. A necrophiliac finds himself only through his love of corpses. The conflict of personal will, and conscious aspirations with forces uncontrollable by a man may lead to sad or catastrophic results that incite our compassion or horror. This is the definition of tragedy.