In the game Skyrim, it’s possible to reanimate almost any dead body, including bodies that have been soul-trapped. From a lore perspective, this doesn’t make sense to me: if you trap a target’s soul, then what is animating the body once you reanimate it? I could imagine spending a black soul gem to ensoul a soul-trapped body, but this isn’t necessary in the game.

Other than gameplay, is there any indication that it’s possible to reanimate a soul-trapped body without giving it a soul from a soul gem? I suspect that the game simply doesn’t check to see if a particular body had been soul-trapped at death, but perhaps there is a lore explanation for it.

I am looking for an answer from a source such as books or dialog from NPCs.

Or am I correct in my suspicion that reanimated bodies must have died in possession of their soul, or be provided with one?

For what it’s worth, it looks like this mod makes the game require a black soul gem to reanimate a soul-trapped body, but I didn’t see any references on that page for where he got his ideas for that requirement.

  • The mod also looks out of date, but the changes seem lore-friendly. – Molag Bal May 17 '16 at 7:06
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    I'm not sure we're supposed to think that reanimated bodies have souls; I always assumed the soul left the body at death and Soul Trap kept it from escaping. – KutuluMike May 17 '16 at 14:39
  • @KutuluMike Except in Skyrim they do have souls. You can get souls from all pre-existing forms of undead: skeletons, draugr, shades, whatever those things in the Soul Cairn are, etc. There are some necromancers that auto-raise a few skeletons (even when you one-shot them), and those skeletons also give souls as I recall. Not so sure if freshly killed-then-rez'd mobs do, though. Usually that only happens when there are multiple mages and they rez one of their fallen comrades, and it's easy to be out of black soul gems to be sure. – zibadawa timmy Jun 20 '18 at 3:34

The necromancy lore page at UESP seems to indicate that a soul IS required to animate a corpse.

Typically, this soul manipulation is accomplished by binding a soul to a physical form which has been prepared by the necromancer.

Necromancers actually prefer that the original soul has fully departed the body. See this extract from On Necromancy:

As to freshness, be careful in this consideration as well. Have you ever wondered why there are so many skeletons among the reanimated undead, fewer zombies, and only a scant few revenants? The longer a body remains inanimate, the less hold its original owner has on the corpse. A spirit can stay tied to its remains for days, weeks, or even years—the shorter the time, the more likely the spiritual umbilicus exists. A wise necromancer does not wish to fight for control of his creation with an angry spirit seeking a way back into the world. Best to be certain all of a creature's soul has departed before reanimation begins. Even should the necromancer win the battle, it is a cruel victory, tormenting a spirit on its way to rest. Raising the dead so recent that the soul has not yet fled is ill-advised, as true resurrection is not the purview of the necromancer, but something best left to gods and priests.

Necromancy appears to be related to the other forms of conjuration, summoning Daedra and Daedric weapons. A ritual is typically performed to perform necromancy. From Worm Saga:

Thus found I new allies to study the death-rites, the sacrifice rituals, the summons of ghost-wights.

Some lore even explicitly mentions the benefits using bound Daedra as the source of the reanimation. From On Summoning Skeletons:

Plus, if you use minor Daedric spirits to animate them, corporeal undead have no sense of self or memory of past lives.

So I guess in conclusion... Since it requires a soul to reanimate a corpse, it makes sense for the reanimation to performed with the help of a soul gem. Since it is preferable to reanimate a corpse with a different soul than the original, it makes sense for it to be performed on a corpse regardless of whether its soul was trapped. However, these conditions are already satisfied in-universe with the idea that the reanimating soul is a bound, summoned soul (possibly Daedric).

If you prefer to think of the reanimation provided in this mod is a new type of ritual that doesn't require dabbling in the dangerous and corrupting area of black soul magic, since you only use the white souls of lesser beings, then it could be a fun roleplay thing!

  • I have some fun roleplay ideas for this: rebinding the soul of the original owner to their body as a failed attempt at resurrection or proof of your mastery, binding the soul of a racist nord to the body of a dark elf for evil irony, or filling the corpse of a hated enemy with that of a rat or mudcrab in order to humiliate them even in the afterlife. – Paul May 17 '16 at 16:25
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    It hadn't occurred to me that a necromancer could summon a soul and bind it to the body. That could explain how you can reanimate a soulless body without spending a soul gem. I'll check the sources you linked to after work. And your idea of binding a Nord's soul into an Elf is hilarious. – Molag Bal May 17 '16 at 16:35
  • I finally got a chance to look at your references. I also found this quote from On Necromancy helpful: “The soul is necessary, of course...” So I was right that a soul is needed to reanimate the dead. As for gameplay in Skyrim, perhaps the necromancy spells work by summoning a soul to animate the body. This would explain why there are time limits on how long you can keep the reanimated body, other than for Dead Thrall: the time limits are the same as if you had conjured a daedra. – Molag Bal May 19 '16 at 2:19
  • But I suspect that you’re really conjuring the spirit of a human or elf, maybe from the Soul Cairn: the reanimated corpses sometimes make comments on their second death, like “thank you,” as if they don’t enjoy being reanimated. I wouldn’t expect a daedra to say this, but who knows. Anyway, good answer. – Molag Bal May 19 '16 at 2:20

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