Are Zombies Real?
Are Zombies Real?
The term zombie has been around a long time, and it means different things to different people.
To simplify things we are going to identify three basic types of zombie as follows:
Although the word Zombie has become common within modern popular culture, what many people may not know is that the concept of a creature rising from the grave to walk the earth as the undead actually has its origins deeply rooted within Haitian Folklore.
Asking an Haitian “are Zombies real?” can often prompt some interesting anecdotes. This will include tales of relatives rising from the grave after burial and others claiming they themselves have been imprisoned as Zombies for years until their release.
Bokors, Voodoo and Haitian Folklore
In Haitian Folklore, local legend states a zombie is a person physically revived from the dead by a “bokor” who is a sorcerer. The undead zombie slavishly carries out the biddings of the bokor who is in total control of them.
These deeds can be simply labour but can also harbour more sinister connotations depending upon the bokor. Haitian Voodoo disciples do not fear the zombies directly. Primarily, their fear derives from the possibility of being rendered a zombie themselves and hence forever, enslaved by a bokor.
In order to understand why Voodoo disciples believe they could become “zombified” it is necessary to understand the teachings of the Voodoo religion. Although the majority of Haitians are Christian, the ancient Voodoo religion is still present on the island and the Voodoo traditions overlap with those of other religions.
Dividing the soul
Voodoo preaches that the soul is made of two parts; the “gros bon ange” (big guardian angel) and the “ti bon ange” (little guardian angel). While the “gros bon ange” represents the life force of a person, the “ti bon ange” holds the persons character, i.e. their individuality. Disciples of Voodoo believe that at times the “ti bon ange” floats free of the body, such as in sleep, in order to experience dreams.
Capturing the soul
Haitians who embrace zombie folklore believe the “ti bon ange” can be captured when it is in this state by the bokor using sorcery; thereby enslaving the personality of the individual. Consequently the resulting zombie is a shell, with no personality, and is controlled by the bokor. This Zombie does not feed on human flesh, cannot infect others to become Zombies, and poses no threat to others unless directed by his master, the bokor.
Is it true?
This folklore has received much scrutiny. Scientific research has revealed that many cases of “Zombification” can be refuted. Some were a case of mistaken identity. Others were down to the misdiagnosis of the mental well-being of the individual claiming to have been turned into a zombie.
The science of zombification
In fact, this zombie culture also attracted the attention of Wade Davis, an anthropologist, ethnobotanist, author, and photographer. Davis studied the practices of the bokor and analysed the chemical compound of the “zombie powder” reputed to aid the bokor in the process of enslaving a zombie. Davis suggests that a powerful chemical is used to induce a physical state in the victim that can be mistaken for death.
Tetrodotoxin (TTX) blocks the sodium channels on the neural membrane which renders the victim numb and incapable of coherent speech. In extreme cases complete paralysis or respiratory failure can lead to actual death. The relatives bury the seemingly lifeless victim. In secret the bokor removes the body from the grave. As the initial drugs wear off, the bokor replaces them with other medication that render the victim docile, confused and easy to control. This medication, referred to as “Zombie cucumber” (Datura Stramonium), induces amnesia, delirium and suggestibility. Regular doses would keep the victim in this state indefinitely; thereby effectively transforming them into a zombie slave.
Dispelling the Myths
Driven by these scientific findings, Wade Davis went on to write The Serpent and the Rainbow and Passage of Darkness in an attempt to dispel the mystery surrounding the zombie folklore which has caused much misunderstanding about the Voodoo religion and Haitian culture.
Conclusion of Haitian Zombies
In answer to the question “are Zombies real?” when considering the Haitian Zombie, we can determine that there are witnesses who have seen family or friends in what they genuinely believe to be a zombie state. However, whilst many believe the Haitian Zombie to be real, there is no documented evidence that the victim has died and has been re-animated to become a zombie. Furthermore Haitian zombies can be ‘cured’, that is, released from their zombie state.
The second and most popular type of zombie is undoubtedly the “Hollywood Zombie”. This is the theatrical versions of the living undead that we all recognize from TV and movies. A Hollywood zombie is created as the result of being bitten by an existing zombie. Death quickly follows. Not long after, the corpse becomes re-animated but in no way resembles the former human being.
With rotting flesh, a blank expression and incoherent speech, the Hollywood Zombie moves slowly, is unable to recognise friends or family and has a pre-occupation with eating other humans. Anyone bitten by a Hollywood Zombie will die and then turn into a Zombie himself.
Origin of the Hollywood Zombie
The concept of the zombie is believed to have been introduced into western culture by a book entitled The Magic Island by W.B. Seabrook in 1929. Hotly following Seabrook’s success, cam the very first zombie movie in 1932 entitled White Zombie directed by Victor Halperin and starring the legendary Bela Lugosi.
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In the following decades the Hollywood Zombies lingered shyly in the shadows making occasional appearances in supporting roles until finally stepping into the limelight to take their rightful place as stars in their own right.
The Hollywood Zombie has undergone various stages of evolution before emerging as the modern day versions seen in TV shows such as The Walking Dead and iZombie, films such as World War Z and Shaun of the Dead, and video games such as House of the Dead and Resident Evil.
Not content to rest on its laurels as a screen star, the Hollywood Zombie has been known to make appearances at Comic Conventions, Halloween parties, and regularly takes centre stage during Zombie Experience days where fans get to role play within their very own Zombie Apocalypse reality.
True, in recent times the Hollywood Zombie has definitely acquired a more blood thirsty, gory image than the slow rambling zombies of early horror movies, but with movies such as Warm Bodies and Shaun of the Dead we have also been able to witness how Hollywood Zombies are capable of James Dean moodiness and have even turned their undead hands to comedic exploits!
Conclusion of Hollywood Zombies
So in answer to the question “are Zombies real?” we would conclude that the Hollywood Zombies are definitely real. They are here, they walk among us and we love them!
Virus Infected Zombies
Last but by no means least, the third type of Zombie brings the most cause for concern.
We refer of course to the theory of a “Zombie virus”. That is, a virus that could infect a person and induce zombie-like behaviour:
- uncontrollable aggression
- loss of all moral principles
- insatiable hunger
- the inabililty to recognise people formerly known to them.
For a virus to induce this behaviour, it would have to enter the body, travel to the brain, destroy specific areas of the brain that control these functions, but leave all other areas intact so the human could still function.
So the big questions is, could this happen?
Alarmingly, in theory, it is possible.
The areas of the brain that control these functions are: the frontal cortex which controls morality, the ventromedial hypothalamus which registers when you have had enough to eat and the amygdala which controls emotion and memory. As it happens, the olfactory nerve behind the nose leads directly to these specific areas of the brain that control these functions.
Is a virus infected zombie dead?
If a virus were to enter the body via the nose, the olfactory nerve would provide a direct route to the areas of the brain which if destroyed, would cause behaviour akin to that of the Hollywood Zombie.
Technically the infected subject would not be undead as they would have a pulse, but would you really want to get close enough to find out?
But wait! Before you go racing off to build your own Zombie Apocalypse shelter, there are a few details you should remember about this theory:
- It is just a theory. There is no known natural virus that can attack the brain in this manner.
- There is currently no known way of artificially generating a virus that can destroy these areas of the brain and leave the others intact.
- There is no reason that anyone would ever attempt to research such a virus. After all, how many times in a lifetime does an evil genius come along with the motivation, the means and the money to develop a virus that could destroy civilisation as we know it?
Ultimately, in answer to the question “are zombies real?” we would have to say that at this point in time there is no evidence to suggest there are any zombies in existence with the exception of the Hollywood Zombie. However, it never hurts to be prepared! Fortunately, as matters stand, there is a wealth of information out there on how to guard against a Zombie Apocalypse should one occur.
Given that the best time to prepare for a disaster is before it happens, at Zombie Pit we recommend that as an initial precautionary measure you get your hands on a copy of the Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks or The Haynes Zombie Survival Manual by Sean T Page, and then maybe start planning your exit routes, just in case…
If you know of any incidents of “Real” Zombies, either from history, word of mouth or even first-hand experiences, we’d love to hear from you! You can either fill in the Contact form or leave a comment below.
Remember, at Zombie Pit we remain ever vigilant of any sign of an impending Zombie Attack.
If the Apocalypse comes, we’ll beep you!