Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Real Zombie Mythos

The Zombie Mythos has changed over generations. Beginning in the Middle Ages, people started to believe that the souls of the departed could return to this realm in different forms. Many accounts of revenants, or someone raised from the grave, were documented by noted European writers of the period, describing terrifying encounters with these emancipated corpses of the underworld. These encounters were not limited to Europe, tales of the undead can be found across the globe from China to South America

Today, modern zombies are portrayed in both books and film quite differently then their true place in legend and lore. The transition of the undead into these supernatural, flesh eating remnants of life can easily be traced back to classic Night of the Living Dead, a film that resonates today as loudly as it did when it was released in 1968. Prior to this conversion into re-animated carnivores, legends of walking corpses and mind control could be summed up in one word, Voodoo; the ancient often misunderstood religion that in many locations still conjures thoughts of fear and terror in the collective. the idea of real zombies is unique to voodoo, with the Creole word zombi derived from Nzambi, a West African Snake God named Damballah Wedo of Niger-Congo origin. 

Before going further in-depth on these infamous creatures and their real life existence, I want to lead you through a brief stroll through the history and foundation of this path. This religion is based soundly in Ha├»tian beliefs and supersitions. In fact, the word Voodoo, is derived from the word vodu in the Fon language of Dahomey, meaning spirit or god. In research, it is easy to trace this way of life back to the seventeenth century, brought to the West Indies slaves captured primarily from the kingdom of Dahomey, an empire that encompassed parts of what is known today as West Africa. This word also describes the multifaceted spiritual belief system practiced by these unwilling tenants of the New World. Recent studies have indicated that nearly 60 million people claim to practice voodoo or similar religions worldwide.  Voodoo, like many other religions, involves the belief in one supreme god, Bon Dieu, and a hierarchy of spirits called Loa. These spirits are closely related to African Gods and often represent nature and the dead. They consist or two primary groups, the Rada (helpful or good) and the Petro (dangerous and evil). The ideals of good and evil, lie at the heart of everything practiced in this religion, even their priests. In traditional lore, the Houngan or Mambo practice White Magic (good) and the Bokor or Caplata practice Black Magic (Evil).

In practicing Voodoo, a once normal person can be transformed via zombification through a spell or potion by a Bokor, dying and eventually returning to life as a mindless robot, incapable free thought or will, destined to suffer through eternity controlled entirely by the zombie master. There are many examples of zombies in modern day Haiti to back up these claims. One of the more famous occurrences is that of Dictator Papa Doc Duvallier (1957 to 1971), who controlled a private army called Tonton Macoutes. Eyewitnesses to the strange behavior exhibited of this elite guard described them as being in a trance-like state, following every command of the dictator. Ironically, Duvallier led a Voodoo church, often claiming he would rise from the ashes and rule again. While there have been cases where these creations have regained some mental capacity, these incidents are extremely rare. One such case is of a man named Caesar who returned 18-years after his death, to marry, have three children and die again, 30- years later.

To me, one cannot disregard the historic importance of these beliefs and the possibility of the undead walking amongst us. However, it is extremely unfortunate that the mass appeal of the Zombie in popular literature and film reduces this religion to something it is not. Voodoo is not just a form of sorcery or a form of black witchcraft, and it is far from the cannibalistic practices portrayed on the silver screen that soils the reputation of not only the practice but of the Haitian culture as well. Voodoo, like Catholicism, Lutheranism, or Paganism is a valuable and viable religious practice for those that choose that path and should be treated with the same respect.

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1 comment:

  1. Wow! That's a great and informative post!
    thanks! It's so interesting...