In Haitian voudou superstition, a zombie is a dead body revived
by magic to act as a soulless robot. In recent years stories
of zombies have spread throughout Western countries in Hollywood
horror films about the walking dead. According to the
folk tradition, the houngans, or voudou priests, are said to dig
up corpses and reanimate them by magic rituals. Another way
of creating a zombie is to feed the victim a preparation that stupefies
the soul, leaving the body a living corpse.
To cure a zombie, it is said one should give it saltwater to
drink. Special burial techniques are sometimes used to prevent
corpses from being used as zombies. The corpse may be buried
face down and its mouth filled with earth; sometimes the lips
are sewn together, presumably to prevent the soul from leaving
by the mouth. A somewhat naive custom is to strew handfuls of
sesame seed on the grave (a common practice in eastern Europe
to entertain vampires), so that the spirit of the deceased
will always be occupied in counting the seeds.
Firsthand accounts of zombies have continued into the late
twentieth century. Author Alfred Métraux stated that six
months after the death of a friend he saw that friend as a zombie
at the house of a houngan. Harvard ethnobiologist Wade
Davis, who visited Haiti in 1982, succeeded in penetrating the
secret societies and understanding and documenting the voudoo
culture. He has suggested that certain powerful drugs
might be capable of influencing centers in the brain concerned
with conscious control. A person given such drugs would appear
dead, would be buried alive, and revived several days
later. They would then be given hallucinogens and forced into
a new life as an unpaid laborer.
Davis’ theories were recently validated by an expedition to
Haiti that was the subject of a remarkable BBC television program
presented by John Tusa in 1984. In interviews with houngans,
the secret of creating zombies was disclosed. A poisonous
substance from the puffer fish (Diodon hystrix) is carefully prepared
by the houngan and administered to the victim, who
thereafter appears dead and is buried. He is exhumed by the
houngan and used as a zombie. The poison stupefies certain
brain centers
The poison was analyzed by Leon Roizy, professor of neurobiology
at Columbia University, and identified as tetrodotoxin,
found in the puffer fish, the exquisitely dangerous gourmet
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Zombies
dish of Japanese Fugu, requiring skillful preparation by experienced
chefs in order to avoid poisoning the diner.
When eaten sliced raw (sashimi), the flesh is relatively safe,
but among eaters of the partly cooked dish known as chiri,
which includes toxic cooked livers, there are over a hundred
deaths annually.
Davis, Wade. The Serpent and the Rainbow. New York: Simon
& Schuster, 1985.

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