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What is a Zombie? The Original Voodoo Undead


Zombies, ever since the original "Night of the Living Dead," have become legion in the entertainment industry. Books like "World War Z," TV series like "The Walking Dead," and the "Resident Evil" video games and movies all portray zombies in relatively the same way though. Mindless, shambling dead bodies who must prey on the flesh of the living. However, if you visit the original source material found in the Haitian religion of Voodoo, you'll find a very different monster than what you're expecting.
Voodoo zombies are in fact risen corpses, but only in the spiritual idea. The word zombi is actually the name of a spirit or deity who would, in theory at least, be induced to enter a corpse and to reanimate it with a new life force. A person is poisoned, without their knowledge, through a combination of nefarious means which may include the skins of certain species of toad along with puffer fish poison. This poison can induce a death like paralysis, at which point the person might actually be buried. Timed correctly a vodun could pull a "re-animated" zombie out of the grave and then ply that person with datura, a plant that has pain killing effects several thousand times higher than cocaine and which induces memory loss and a break with reality. Once all of this had been completed, the zombie master had someone who was psychologically bound to him that would follow commands without question and who would work until he dropped if that was the case. Voodoo zombies had no expression, no thoughts and their glassy complexion made them appear like the walking dead. Usually these zombies were sold off to plantations, or to other places where their newfound tireless work ethics would bring a high price.

These real life events were first sensationalized by anthropologists, and then the hype caught fire in Hollywood. Movies like the original "White Zombie," with Bela Lugosi (the actor famous for playing Dracula) were good examples of the feel of voodoo zombies, but as time went by that flavor changed. The misunderstanding of what voodoo is, which is to say that it was portrayed as black magic, witchcraft or outright devil worship. Many of the rituals that take place in voodoo were sensationalized, turning them into orgies of sex and bloodshed that often times involved cannibalism, which might be where the human-eating tendencies of modern zombies come from.

If you think about the origin of zombies, they might be even more terrifying than the monsters of fiction we all have to currently deal with in our nightmares. They were still impervious to fear and in large part to pain, and unstoppable wave of obediant force. But voodoo zombies were real people, who were broken and bent to the will of a left-handed vodun using nefarious means to create an army of unquestioning servants. Fact is stranger than fiction, and all that.