The following is an excellent article by Lee Speigel that describes the zombie and voodoo culture of Haiti. I have also added a previous post referencing a voodoo doll that caused problems at a university.
AOL - by Lee Speigel - The undead are all around us, and have been for decades.
Zombies are in our mass consciousness, invading art, literature, entertainment and even education. But at the heart of this fear-mongering revolution is a single question: Is it all pure fiction, or are there in fact real zombies?
For filmmakers in Hollywood, zombies are half-dead figures that lumber toward you with arms outstretched, stinking of rotting flesh. But in Haiti, could zombies be unfortunate victims who have been forced into slavery while under the influence of highly potent drugs?
While movies depict zombies as flesh eaters who spread their affliction like an illness, the voodoo culture and religion of Haiti has its own recipes for making a zombie -- a term derived from the word "Nzambi," meaning "spirit of a dead person" to the Bacongo people of Angola.
A leading theory holds that a voodoo priest, or bokor, is able to concoct a poison that can render a victim weak and appear dead.
"It's not what we see in Hollywood, of course. Strictly speaking, a zombie is a reanimated corpse that's been brought back to life to serve as a slave for a voodoo priest or priestess," said Brad Steiger, one of the most prolific authors of books dealing with unexplained phenomena.
In his recent book, "Real Zombies, the Living Dead and Creatures of the Apocalypse" (Visible Ink Press), Steiger explores the history of reported zombies in the real world.
"I have an account of a man from Miami who went to Haiti and was dancing with a very lovely Haitian lady, and he felt a little prick on his arm and didn't think anything of it. Next thing he knew, he woke up, was still in his suit and tie, but he was soiled and dirty and was holding a hoe in somebody's field.
"But he regained consciousness and managed to make it back to Miami. But this sort of thing still goes on with unscrupulous priests and priestesses. Generally, we're talking about a religion that is followed by 80 million people worldwide."
One man who took a "hands on" approach to the zombie culture is anthropologist Wade Davis. In 1982, Davis infiltrated the secret societies of Haitian voodoo, resulting in his 1985 eye-opening, international best-selling book (and subsequent movie) "The Serpent and the Rainbow" (Random House).
Davis investigated the most famous documented case of a reported real-world zombie, Clairvius Narcisse, who, in 1962, was pronounced dead in a Haitian hospital and later buried.
After 18 years, Narcisse showed up alive and told his story of having been drugged, buried, removed from a grave and put into slavery on a plantation with other men who allegedly shared the same fate.
"We have this case of Narcisse. From all scientific evidence, he was dead, and he came back into the realm of the living," Davis told AOL News. "Precisely because the scientists involved didn't believe in magic, there had to be a material explanation."
Davis explains that the Narcisse incident drew the attention of researchers back to "a series of reports found throughout the popular and academic literature of the reputed existence of a folk poison said to bring on a state of apparent death so profound that it could fool a physician."
Haitian bokors eventually gave Davis samples of the "zombie poison," which led him to zero in on a drug called tetrodotoxin -- the often deadly poison of a puffer fish.
"Tetrodotoxin turns out to be a very big molecule that blocks sodium channels in the nerves, bringing on peripheral paralysis, dramatically low metabolic rates and yet consciousness is retained until the moment of death," said Davis.
After a bokor has placed the tetrodotoxin into someone's body, and that person is pronounced dead and subsequently buried, the bokor reportedly unearths the body and applies a chemical paste to keep the unfortunate victim in a zombified, trancelike state.
Presumably, this "undead" person is then used as the bokor's slave labor.
Davis suggests it makes sense that some unscrupulous priests in Haiti would take advantage of such a poison.
"They identified in their environment a natural product -- in this case, a fish -- that had the capability of bringing on a state of apparent death.
"When I collected samples of the poison at several locations and found that these fish were the one consistent ingredient, it struck me that there was really something going on here."
That said, Davis doesn't believe there's an assembly line creating zombies in Haiti.
"What I always suggested in my work was that zombies, as an idea, by definition, exist in Haiti.
"All religion is defined by how people deal with the finality of death and the mystery of what lies beyond," said Davis. "Any phenomenon that walks that line and dances along that edge between life and death is fascinating to us."
Kim Paffenroth, a professor of religious studies at Iona College in Rochester, N.Y., has a slightly different perspective on the religious significance of zombies.
"I was 12 years old when the first 'Dawn of the Dead' film came out, so I had that adolescent male fascination with these things," said Paffenroth, the author of several books on the Bible and theology, including "Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero's Visions of Hell on Earth" (Baylor University Press).
"And when, as an adult, I became interested in religious studies, I started looking at how the darker Christian themes of sin and evil are expressed in literature, art, film and television, and then the zombie stuff sort of made sense to me in a new way."
Paffenroth has an interesting take on why many people believe that zombies (among other ghouls, like vampires) signal a coming Armageddon to our world.
"It's a pretty perennial fear of the fragile nature of civilization. Every time there's an oil spill or a stock market crash, people get anxious, and, if anything, I think these more supernatural ways of dealing with it are a little safer outlet."
Paffenroth sees zombie films as a kind of heavy-handed critique of American society.
"I now realize, as I look at some of the fans out there, they look at zombie movies and they see the message as: 'Well, I need to own more guns, because then I'll be safe.' I can see where, on the surface, that's what the movies are saying, but it's kind of a really literal way to read it."
In his investigations, Steiger has come up with a theory about why zombies are generally depicted in end-of-the-world scenarios.
"A lot of people think the Apocalypse is just around the corner and many of us have been brought up to believe that the dead will raise from their graves on Judgment Day, which is why I think the zombie has reached this incredible surge."
Agree or disagree, it's undeniable that zombies are in the midst of a resurgence, the likes of which hasn't been seen since they emerged from the ground in George Romero's classic 1968 black-and-white thriller "Night of the Living Dead."
Whether they're starring in the popular 3-D "Resident Evil: Afterlife" film, playing the lead roles in AMC's upcoming series "The Walking Dead" or even fighting for the right of free speech, zombies are definitely in vogue.
And while there are some who speculate that a real zombie outbreak on Earth would be doomed to failure, there's at least marginal evidence that some form of zombie-ism exists and is taken seriously in Haiti (not to mention the creative minds of filmmakers).
So, the next time you find yourself alone in a field or a dark alley, it would probably be prudent to look over your shoulder -- you never know when you'll be menaced by something that's fairly easy to outrun.
Lee Speigel - Writer, reporter, and paranormal expert Lee Speigel is the former host of NBC Radio's "The Edge of Reality." He's hosted nearly 1,500 programs on unexplained phenomena, and previously worked at Westwood One Radio and ABCNews.com. He is the only person to produce a presentation at the United Nations on the subject of UFOs.
NOTE: here is a link to another great article - Into the Zombie Underworld. Lon
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How to 'Take Out' a Voodoo Doll
religiondispatches.org - A scholar of the religion known as Vodou (or Voodoo, if you’re Anglo) tells how she saved a small cloth ritual object from desecration by a gang of spooked professors.
I am now the guardian of a Vodou doll that has wreaked havoc at my university. I first learned of him last week, when a colleague in the art history department sent me a mysterious message. Could she bring him by so I could take a look at him? She did not disclose where he came from or how he ended up over at art history instead of my own department, religious studies.
Both my research and personal interest were piqued, and I invited them over for Friday—but on that morning I ran into some difficulty. My husband’s car would not start; the doll would have to wait. I called my colleague and suggested a Monday meeting. She took the news a bit ominously, mentioning that other faculty had been having “bad luck” since his arrival in their lives.
Monday morning I waited with eager anticipation for my colleague’s arrival. I must confess that I was ready to wow her with my expertise of Afro-Caribbean religion. I must also admit I was expecting an elaborate doll, one worthy of inspection by professors of the fine arts. Instead, I was handed a Kodak slide tray box containing a medium-sized cloth doll, along with a bag of candy corns. His eyes are two slits of white thread, his pants, hat, and scarf are red, his shirt a light purple. He looks like something you would buy at a tourist stand. In fact, as I gazed at him, that is where I assumed he came from.
But no. He was discovered by workmen. The computer in one of the university’s classrooms had been crashing, and no one could fix it. Finally a tech person came and took the computer out of its cabinet. There he was, wedged behind it. The computer was fixed.
My colleague did not want to leave him to perform any more mischief so he was brought to her department. Faculty were not pleased; a modernist in the department said to “get rid of him.” Others joined in to demand his exit. As a way of appeasing him, someone gave him an offering of candy corn. And then he came to me. He had nowhere else to go. It was either I take him, or the plan was to dig a hole, pour some rum and gunpowder on him, and bury him. The idea of PhDs sitting around plotting the burial and destruction of a doll makes me smile even now. I thought that sort of irrational superstition only happened in religious studies—apparently, we are not alone.
Vodou dolls and zombies are associated with the Hollywood popularization and vilification of Vodou, a rich African Diaspora religion that is too often reduced to witchcraft and sorcery. As a scholar that works on Afro-Caribbean religion, I cannot tell you how many times I get calls from journalists wanting me to denounce Vodou, describe it as satanic, list it as a possible explanation for a case of torture or ritual death.
When I teach students about Vodou they are intrigued and often fearful; field trips to Vodou house temples evoke an excitement that no visit to a church ever provokes. When I teach Catholicism, I do not get inundated with emails from undergrads asking to meet a priest. When I teach about Vodou (and consequently Santería), I get flooded with desperate emails asking me to reveal the name of a “good” Vodou priest that can give them a spiritual consultation or help them with a “spell.” I do not associate Vodou with superstition, but too often I find it reduced to superstition or “black” magic.
I have searched long and hard for the origins of Vodou doll mythology. La Regla de Palo Monte, whose origins are Bantú (sub-Saharan African), is an Afro-Cuban religion. The name Palo comes from practitioners’ use of branches and trees. While the various religions described as Reglas de Congo have their origins in the Congo region, in Cuba they have been decidedly influenced by Yoruba religion. Palo Monte ritual centers around the Nganga. In Bantú religion nganga refers to priests or ritual leaders; however, in Cuba it came to refer to the cauldron used in Palo Monte ritual practices. This cauldron carries relics, most often a skull, of a deceased person with whom a priest has entered a ritual contract. Also, some paleros were known to make figures to attack enemies, such as their slave masters. This is perhaps the origin of the contemporary mythology behind the pop-culture Vodou doll. The collapse of two African religious traditions—one Cuban, one Haitian—does not surprise me.
The doll who sits in my office is not the type of doll you stick needles in. I am not even sure he is a Vodou doll. And yet, his black cloth skin and his scarf evoked feelings of fear and mistrust among a group of university professors. The mythology of evil surrounding Vodou, surrounding black religion, remains. I have nestled him between an image of the Mayan god Maximon and an image of the Yoruban orisha Bablú Ayé. I decided he would feel at home with other marginalized and often misinterpreted religious figures.
He has been with me now for twenty-four hours. I am happy to say, as a type this reflection, that my computer is working fine.
How to Make a Zombie / Pacify a Voodoo Doll
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