At one time, the Necropolis attached to the Gallow's Hill Cemetery supported three full-time necromancers and up to half a dozen interns and apprentices; nowadays it makes do with just two part-time masters of the dark arts.
"It's not what I expected when I left the Black College," Gerrard Montelier admitted. As a student Montelier had excelled at practical reanimation and exorcism, serving three internships overseas in the catacombs of Paris, the barrow-mounds of Caermaen, and in a modern coven in Boston, and was editor of the school paper. Looking forward to a full-time position once he finished his studies, he found no openings, and after a year of work had been forced into taking a secular job in human resources to make ends meet.
"The market is shrinking," Montelier said, "as more and more people choose cremation or forgo traditional post-funerary rites of supplication. Antibiotics, of course, are rather more effective than amulets warding against spirits of disease, and most of the mom-and-pop funeral homes are being replaced by larger, more efficient corporate facilities designed to channel spiritual energies away from gravesites and so limit manifestations and with more strenuous disposal practices that reduce much of the human error that can unquiet spirits."
Most corporate mortuaries don't even keep a full-time necromancer on staff, or else have one that cover multiple facilities in nearby districts, filling the pointy hat of three or four black magicians under the old scheme. These changes come at the worst of time for university graduates like Montelier, where ballooning tuition costs mean that they enter a very tight job market with few prospects - and those of limited value.
"Necromancy hasn't been really lucrative for generations, of course, but it used to be a respectable middle-class occupation." Montelier told me, "We were standard for many treasure-seekers, to exorcise guardian spirits, and for those who wanted to place guardian spirits properly, for example. There was a good sideline in bones, babyfat candles, ashes, hands of glory and other things, though now the enchanters and health guidelines have taken the bottom out of that. A few Doctors of the Art can still call up a demon for wealth and influence, but most of those have moved into supplying student loans - the terms aren't much different, and my own spirit is mortgaged considerably just to pay for my education."
Spiritual and financial debt among necromancers is spiraling ever upwards, in a trend that doesn't look to reverse itself anytime soon, and isn't the only problem facing the field. The United Association of Necromancers & Nigromancers reports that members are retiring at twice the rate as new dabblers in the Dark Arts are entering the field, and "bivocational necromancy" is on the rise as more and more necropolises, funeral homes, cemeteries, and shrines cut back on the pay and hours for their resident necromancer positions.
"It's increasingly becoming very rare to see a sole practitioner," Montelier told us, "Co-ops are the norm, sharing facilities - not easy when there are different traditions involved." Some places are beginning to realize the difficulties of student debt and are offering to help share the burden in exchange for binding promises to assume the grey mantle for a particular place of death, but those are still relatively few, and difficult to make with the shrinking pool of congregants. Still, Montelier remains hopeful.
"While I wish I could support myself solely through my Art, I thank the Dark Gods that I have the position that I do have."