Voldemort had his supporters, a faithful group of followers, an army of sorts, just like Dumbledore had his Order of the Phoenix, and Grindelwald before that had his army.
Some of Voldemort’s followers had the privilege to participate in meetings, scheming, and planning. This group of close-knit followers was called the Death Eaters.
Who Are Death Eaters?
Death Eaters are Lord Voldemort’s followers. They are a radical group of wizard supremacists who believe in pure-blood wizards’ superiority over Muggle-born wizards and Muggles. Their recognizable outfit consisted of masks and black, hooded robes.
Death Eaters formed most of Voldemort’s army, apart from Dementors, giants, werewolves, Inferi, and Acromantulas, performing different tasks.
There were foot soldiers, Outer Circle, and Inner Circle. Each Death Eater from the Inner Circle was branded with the Dark Mark on their left forearm.
Death Eaters can be called a terrorist group by Muggle standards. They were responsible for kidnapping and mass killings of many Muggles, witches, and wizards during both Wizarding Wars.
Dumbledore had also explained to Harry what kind of people joined the ranks of Death Eaters when he commented on the group surrounding Tom Riddle at school.
“They were a motley collection; a mixture of the weak seeking protection, the ambitious seeking some shared glory, and the thuggish gravitating toward a leader who could show them more refined forms of cruelty.”
Why is Voldemort’s Group Called Death Eaters?
In the beginning, when Voldemort was still at Hogwarts, his followers were called the Knights of Walpurgis.
Legends refer to the Walpurgis Night (30th of April) when witches and magical creatures meet on the Brocken mountain. Muggle recognize this date as the Night of St Walpurga and ward themselves from witchcraft and misfortune.
Later on, the Knights dispersed, more than likely to form known to us Death Eaters, what Dumbledore mentions as well:
“In other words, they were the forerunners of the Death Eaters, and indeed some of them became the first Death Eaters after leaving Hogwarts.”
There is no information about the origin of the name Death Eaters. Still, we can speculate that Voldemort, even as a young student at Hogwarts, wanted to become immortal. For a while, he despised his mother because “she had succumbed to the shameful human weakness of death.”
Voldemort might have suggested the name for his followers as people who “eat death” instead of joining it. A theory behind it involves the Dark Mark – a skull with a snake protruding from its mouth and the meaning of the Ouroboros snake.
The Ouroboros biting his tail means eternal life and a cycle between life and death. Some fans believe that the skull biting the snake’s tail represents eating the death (end of the snake) and therefore being immortal, which Voldemort was longing for.
When Did Voldemort Create Death Eaters?
Voldemort created Death Eaters in the 1950s, after graduating from Hogwarts, but in the books, they are mentioned as early as Severus Snape and Lili Evan’s years at Hogwarts.
Voldemort finished his education by then, but we know that some of them joined Voldemort when he was still in school (joining the Knights of Walpurgis).
More than likely, their offspring followed in their parents’ footsteps (Avery from Slughorn’s memory would be too old to be Snape’s friend in school).
How Did Voldemort summon Death Eaters?
Voldemort summoned his Death Eaters by touching the Dark Mark of one of his followers.
Death Eaters that were (mis)fortunate enough to be branded would feel the pain and then Apparate to the place where Voldemort resided at the moment. The Dark Mark was located on the left forearm.
We don’t know how Death Eaters knew where to Apparate if Voldemort chose a new location (i.e., Voldemort’s rebirth in Little Hangleton’s graveyard), but we assume they only had to focus on their master to reach him.
Did Death Eaters Eat People?
No, Death Eaters didn’t eat people.
One of the fan theories states that to create a Horcrux, there needs to be a death and human flesh consumption. The theory claims that Death Eaters need to eat part the dead person for Voldemort to create a Horcrux.
Once the “horrible act” theory of cannibalism is gruesome but somewhat possible to explain, the part with Death Eaters actually eating people, in our opinion, is not likely.
Voldemort was paranoid and never intended for anybody to know about Horcruxes, and having his followers eating people on demand would raise a lot of questions.
Death Eaters can be compared to terrorists of the Muggle World, or in extreme cases, even Nazis of the Wizarding World. They are a very unpleasant lot, with no care for any laws, decency, or remorse.
The acts of violence they presented throughout books are all the evidence we need.
J.K. Rowling never explained why Voldemort’s followers are called Death Eaters. Still, many fans have their theories, which we can stand behind, and an ancient snake suggesting eternal life would be right in Voldemort’s alley.