A Voodoo Practice: Mysteries of Zombification

Categories
Horror Mystery and Lore

Digging Up the Origin of Zombies

Hand reaching into the darkness
Photography by Lalesh Aldarwish

While zombies have been on the pop culture radar pretty heavily for several decades now, the history of this undead phenomenon has a history deeply rooted in the Haitian Voodoo religion—in fact, the belief in zombies is still a relevant aspect of New Orleans Voodoo. In our western society, we rely heavily upon our knowledge of what is presented to us in movies and television, but the zombie culture we know and love evolved from a very real magical tradition. Original zombification didn’t involve leaks from biological factories, like what happened in Train to Busan (2016), or an airborne virus as was the case in AMC’s The Walking Dead (2010)—it involved a spiritual, magical, and chemical process that arose through voodoo ritual which required the calling of several voodoo spirits (Loa).

Where we see zombies being portrayed as people who have died then coming back to life, the voodoo tradition it is actually a person who is under the powerful influence of psychoactive drugs. These drugs are usually administered to the unfortunate person by a bokor, the voodoo equivalent to a sorcerer or witch doctor. After being dosed with these psychoactive drugs, the victim essentially goes into drug-induced paralysis which mimics death so profoundly that it is rumored that people have been buried alive after being zombified. This is the case in one of the original, classic zombie films The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), where the main antagonist, is buried alive while fully cognizant—which, needless to say would be incredibly terrifying.

The Process of Zombification

Skulls piled on the ground
Photography Renato Danyi

There is a lot of disagreement about whether or not the person who is to become a zombie is actually deceased or not—some believe that the process revives the recently dead into mindless, soulless automatons, while others insist it’s just the effect of psychoactive drugs that leaves the victim in a state of deep, chemical-induced paralysis, which mimics death to the point that even vital signs are not measurable. Within the Voodoo religion, only bokors have the power to create and control zombies, while the methods and ingredient amounts changes from each individual bokor, the process follows the same pattern. Some processes use voodoo dolls, blood and hair from the intended victim, and others use a “zombie” powder—this powder is a concoction of varies herbs and animal parts, most of which are poisonous, as well as human remains.

This powder can then be administered through ingestion or injection and begins to take effect immediately. Immobility, slowed vitals, and reduced oxygen intake occur within minutes which results in the death-like paralysis where the victim is still fully conscious of their surroundings. Once officially declared dead, the victim is buried alive and within eight hours, the bokor digs up the body to keep the victim from actually dying from asphyxiation. Other procedures follow, which result in a mindless and easily controlled zombie which does the bidding of the bokor who created it. The person remains a zombie until the bokor passes away and is no longer capable of administering the drug that maintains the victim’s zombie-like state.

Clairvius Narcisse the Real Haitian Zombie

Creepy old, overgrown cemetary

Photography by NeONBRAND

Zombification is often referred to as either a solely magical or physical experience, but in truth it is a mixture of both, it’s essential for a person to have a belief in voodoo and the ability to be turned into a zombie in order for the process to work in its entirety. This was the case for Clairvius Narcisse, the man who claimed to be a zombie, but returned home after eighteen years and his story was finally told.

In 1962, Narcisse was admitted to the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles, Haiti. He complained of fever, body aches, and ‘general malaise,’ but after being admitted he began to spit up blood. His condition declined rapidly, until two days later when he was officially pronounced dead by two separate physicians. Narcisse’s sister, Angelina, was present when he was declared dead and then notified the rest of the family, a day thereafter his body was buried, and ten days after that a concrete memorial slab was placed atop the grave by his family.

What most the family didn’t know is that Clairvius had actually been pulled out of the grave and resuscitated. He was given the zombie concoction and kept in a zombie-like state for two years, working as slave labor in a region of the country that was much farther north. This was all done at the behest of his brother, after refusing to sell his portion of the family estate to him. After two years of being a zombie, his master had been killed, then he and all of the other zombie-slaves were released from their chemical induced state of submission. Clairvius stayed away from his home for the next sixteen years, knowing that his return would make his brother aware that he was no longer being controlled by another. Once his brother passed, he finally returned home, where he approached his sister Angelina in a local marketplace and introduced himself by his childhood nickname which she and a few other intimate family members alone were aware of.

Investigating the Haitian Zombie with Hamilton Morris

The following six-part Vice production follows the investigation of The Haitian Zombie, with Hamilton’s Phramacopeia, in order to find the truth behind the folk magic and legends of this walking dead phenomenon; Hamilton follows the scientific trail to the origin of the poisons that are said to cause Zombification in order to bring them back for formal chemical analysis.


Please watch the following footage with discretion–there are scenes and images that some viewers may find disturbing.

These videos are meant to be educational in nature.


Part One

This first episode goes into the initial introduction, including the nature of what Zombification entails.

Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia Season 01 Episode 05

Part Two

The following video contains graphic footage included in a voodoo ritual, in which an animal sacrifice is made for the Loa, please be advised it may be considered disturbing to some viewers.

Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia Season 01 Episode 06

Part Three

In this third episode, Hamilton goes to find a Bokor in order to witness the process of Zombification, but results in angering the Bokor and being told the deal is off.

Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia Season 01 Episode 07

Part Four

Hamilton goes to find the main ingredient of Zombie powder, in this fourth episodes, which is a species of puffer fish.

Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia Season 01 Episode 08

Part Five

In the fifth part of Investigating the Haitian Zombie, Hamilton meets up with another Bokor who possesses the Zombie powder that they have been searching for and witnesses a real zombie.

Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia Season 01 Episode 09

Part Six

The final installment of the investigation into Haitian zombies, they travel back to the Bokor who showed them what they had been searching for to come through with the final product they paid for.

Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia Season 01 Episode 10

Knowing what we have learned from different sources, about the process of Zombification, can it truly be said that it is a purely chemical process? These videos in particular have all but debunked the rationale that it can all be chalked up to a chemical reaction, so some aspects of this spiritual process is often contributed to the powerful belief in their magical practices. What do you think about the phenomenon of Zombification? Let us know in the comments below.

Baron Samedi

Date of Discovery

It is speculated that Baron Samedi came into being when African tribes were forced into slavery and were relocated to Haiti during the 1700s.

Name

Most famously known as Baron Samedi, where Samedi is French for “Saturday.” He is also known as Baron Saturday, Baron Samdi, Bawon Samedi, Sameid, and Bawon Sanmdi. Among his numerous other incarnations, he is known as Baron Cimetière, Baron La Croix, and Baron Kriminel.

Physical Description

Baron Samedi appears as an African man with a skull in place of his face and he speaks with a deep nasal tone. His attire is identical to what a Haitian male would traditionally be dressed in upon being buried–this means he dons a black top hat and tuxedo, wears dark glasses and even has cotton nose plugs.

Origin

Baron Samedi originated as a part of the Voodoo religion that originated in the West Indies country of Haiti, during the French Colonial Period. The people from the tribal religions of West Africa were forced into slavery and brought to Haiti in the seventeenth century, and the loa of the voodoo religion is considered a huge part of the practice to this day.

Mythology and Lore

One of the main loa within the voodoo religion, Baron Samedi is considered the “Master of the dead,” one who guards the cemeteries and the veil between the living and the dead. Baron Samedi is the spirit who controls the gates to the underworld within the voodoo religion, he has complete control over who passes into or out of the afterlife. As the head of the Guede family of loa, he has the strongest links to magic, ancestor worship, as well as death–the rest of the Guede family consists mostly of lesser loa, who dress similarly to Baron Samedi. Like Baron Samedi, they tend to have rude or cruel attitudes but lack the charm that he possesses.

Even though his appearance is so iconic both within the voodoo community and without, he spends most of his time in the invisible realm, lingering at the crossroads of life and death. When he is on the earthly plane, he is famous for being a rum-drinking, cigar-smoking, outrageous and uncouth personality. Despite his marriage to Maman Brigitte, he is said to be a suave womanizer of mortal women, which is aided by his unnaturally suave demeanor. When a person dies, he is said to meet them at their grave, when their soul departs, then usher them to the underworld; he is the only loa wit the ability to allow a person to pass to the afterlife. Baron Samedi is an entrepreneur of sorts since he is the only loa that can ensure a deceased person remains in their grave, he demands payment in order to keep a person from coming back as a zombie.

In his less morbid capacities, he is also considered a giver of life as he possesses the ability to cure any mortal of diseases or life-threatening injuries but only does so if he believes it will benefit himself. At the same time, he will also keep a person from dying from a curse or hex at the behest of another individual, if he does not agree to dig their grave.

What mythology and lore are associated with this demon/deity? Are there any mythological horror-related tales or articles about this demon/deity? Provide a general description of any tales that are told about this creature, if able, use this section to interlink back to associated articles or original stories on PBH.

Modern Pop-Culture References

Books & Literature

Movies

Television Series



Is there anything we missed about Baron Samedi? Let us know in the comments section below!

Buyer Beware: Perils of Owning Haunted Artifacts

Categories
Lifestyle
Ghost silhouette through the door
Photography by Nathan Wright

It’s interesting the types of things that are available to buy online, a quick search on eBay will reveal a number of haunted and possessed objects just waiting for the right buyer. Whether you’re an amateur paranormal investigator, or you collect these kinds of things for a living, there are always a plethora of haunted items up for sale. While it’s entirely possible these things aren’t actually haunted, it’s just as likely that they’re being sold because the current owner didn’t realize what they were getting into. The most dangerous aspect of objects that are possessed by spirits is the idea of coming into ownership without knowing about the spirit that the object hosts. There are many instances of new homeowners finding hidden rooms in old homes that contain creepy dolls that were locked away and walled off in an attempt to keep an unhappy spirit at bay.

5 Reasons to Avoid Owning Haunted Artifacts

blank
“The Hands Resist Him” by Bill Stoneham (1972)

Dolls, paintings, boxes, and really anything else you can imagine has the ability to become a vessel for the dead. Spirits are in death as they were in life, their personality is translated into their afterlife–were they innocent and pure, or were they full of grief, anger, or hatred? These are the kinds of things that must be taken into account when you contemplate becoming the new owner of a spirit vessel. It doesn’t truly matter if you believe in the paranormal or not, tempting fate and pursuing ownership of haunted artifacts probably isn’t the best idea—and here’s why:

1.    They aren’t toys

It may seem like a fun thing to acquire, especially around times like Halloween, but in all sincerity, they are not toys. These artifacts are vessels for people who have died and they may not be happy about the circumstances under which they died.

2.    It could result in an unhappy spirit

If you don’t really know what you’re doing when taking ownership of a haunted artifact, then you’re already in over your head. Understanding spirits and how to appease them is imperative to peacefully coexist with them. Living with spirits is difficult, even for mediums and psychics that deal with them on a regular basis—it’s exhausting and will interfere with the way you live your life, so unless you want a permanent house guest that you can’t explain to company, don’t invite it into your life.

3.    Spirits can cause behavioral changes

This is kind of a huge one, having a resident spirit in your home can cause major behavioral changes. This includes, but is not limited to depression, anxiety, mood swings, strange thoughts, anger, as well as violent and self-destructive behavior.

4.    It could already be an angry spirit

If you can’t handle an unhappy spirit, you don’t even want to know what you would be getting into with an angry spirit—let’s just say that people bury, sell, or otherwise rid themselves of these objects any way they can for a reason. If you would really like to know the type of activity an angry spirit can bring, just watch a horror movie based around malevolent ghosts and you’ll get a fairly vivid image.

5.    They might be cursed

Bear with me here—you may not believe in ghosts let alone curses, but even those who don’t believe are likely to feel quite unsettled or disturbed after handling a purportedly cursed object. Whether the angry or otherwise malevolent spirit was cursed to be confined within, or it was used during a ritualistic curse, there is a lot of negative energy attached to cursed objects. Typically speaking, objects that are used during ritualistic cursing or, “black magic,” are disposed of, so while it’s not likely, it’s still best not to tempt fate.

An open dybbuk box
Photography by Marika Martinelli

It’s important to understand that most of these kinds of auction listings begin with the phrase, “buyer beware.” While there may be a few fake listings, this phrase isn’t just a catchy way to draw attention to the listing—it really means it, that’s why there are usually strict no-return policies on them—they do not want these artifacts to find their way back to them.

Much like the dybbuk box that starred as the main terror of The Possession (2012), they aren’t objects of fascination, they are to be avoided by those who would rather live a peaceful existence.

Ghost Stories Thrive in a World of Skepticism

Categories
Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle

Within the paranormal community, there are always going to be skeptics, but some of those skeptics actually err on the side of disbelievers—this is a good thing, it’s always better to have a healthy level of doubt in order to pursue evidence without any bias. There have been numerous theories to explain the paranormal phenomena that affect certain people, including but not limited to the natural phenomenon of sleep paralysis, sleep deprivation, drug use, temporal lobe epilepsy, and a psychotic state. This explanation states that ghosts are simply the result of hallucinations or illusions that are produced by the brain when it’s not in a fully alert state. So, what does this mean for the whopping 45% of Americans who believe in ghosts and other supernatural beings?

Evidence Collection in Paranormal Investigation

Something that is considered part of a range of scientific data collection and regularly used among those who are seeking to find evidence of the existence of ghosts, is the EVP, or electronic voice phenomena. EVPs utilize audio recordings to capture ambient sounds during an investigation, then are later reviewed for messages from the beyond. The general consensus is that these audio recordings can register sounds that are inaudible to the human ear, with the understanding that any voices or brief sounds being captured would be ghostly in nature. To believers, EVP recordings seem like incontrovertible evidence of communications from beyond. The problem with this is that, given the opportunity for bias, the content of a recording can be highly suggestive. Without any suggestion from peers, research shows that people cannot agree to what they hear in “conclusive” EVP recordings. This brings down the ability to rely upon recordings as evidence since there can be no clear consensus upon what it is really evidence of aside from pareidolia—the tendency to perceive human characteristics in meaningless perceptual patterns. Combining the illusory quality of EVPs, as well as the misuse of other scientific equipment to investigate ghosts, it’s not difficult to see how scientists can easily debunk any evidence that has been provided by amateur and professional paranormal investigators alike.

Hunting ghosts in the dark
Photography by LuckyLouie

Considering all of the scientific data to back the assertion that ghosts don’t exist, there are substantial numbers of people who still believe in them worldwide. The beginning of televised paranormal investigations has broadened that number significantly and opened up the ability to talk about paranormal subjects without too much blowback from skeptics. There are, however, tendencies to overdramatize events and investigations by some televised paranormal investigative teams—such people seem to be more oriented in the publicity and making events more fantastical than they truly are, which ends up leading to more skepticism instead of belief in the tangible evidence. What does this mean for the believability factor of investigative teams that are supposedly attempting to gather evidence while staying unbiased in the end result? It really means that any factual evidence that may be provided to give any credibility to the existence of ghosts or spirits. Unfortunately, some shows that continue to air are clearly for entertainment purposes only, such as Ghost Adventures, where any evidence being collected is presented with positive bias in favor of those who collected it. The problem with these shows is that they present themselves as true investigative paranormal teams but go to lengths to overdramatize everything they do. This is not to say that they don’t have their own basic value as entertainment alone, they just don’t possess merit as a source of proof when their evidence is bias-skewed EVP recordings.

Telling ghost stories around the bonfire
Photography by Kevin Wolf

So, if ghosts aren’t real, then why do ghost stories seem so common? Well—there are justifiable explanations for ghost stories, whether or not you believe in ghosts it’s pretty much the same answer. Ghost stories exist because people have always needed the ability to relate their real-life experiences. Whether the reports of ghosts have been a result of scientifically explained phenomena, or they’re actual occurrences, these experiences can be incredibly emotional. Were the original tellers of the tale communicating their experiences due to an incredibly heart-warming reunion with their beloved late spouse, or was it a frightening confrontation with a ghostly predator? These are stories that people ache to tell others as if to get a weight off of their chest, or to stop feeling so alone in their experiences. Human connection drives ghost stories and it doesn’t hurt that they’re an amazing source of entertainment.

Ghost Tales of the Arctic: The Frozen Spectre

Categories
Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore
Haunted Boardwalk
Haunted Boardwalk

One Halloween night, as the sun slipped beneath the horizon, the young children were coming back from their rounds through the little Yup’ik village on the tundra in Southwest Alaska. The teenagers had waited their turn and eagerly squeezed out of their home, as their mother told them they were allowed to leave. They raced through to each of the small houses that dotted the dark, decrepit, and narrow boardwalks that snaked through the village. Not all of them donned costumes and there was still not yet a flake of snow on the ground, a rare occurrence for such a chilly autumnal night. The tall grass line the boardwalk like two moving walls that whispered with the winds that rushed through the spaces between the houses. They grabbed candy within the first house, then came back out and started back off; at each of the doors, they held their plastic grocery sacks aloft, and they became more heavily laden with candies and treats.

After coming out of the fourth house they spotted something strange emerging from the tall grasses onto the boardwalk behind them—it was a traditional Yup’ik parka, the hood was up and the ruff obscured the view of the face within. It wouldn’t have been strange except for the fact that it had no visible feet or hands. The teenagers sprinted to the next house, scared to death and unsure of what the seemingly floating parka had really been, but they were unwilling to say anything about what they had seen to the adults that were now handing them candy.

Ghost Parka
Photography by Joe Leahy

Between each and every stop for candy, the teens stepped outside and the floating parka had appeared again, as if it was just waiting to scare them. They had all grown up hearing the traditional stories of ghosts and ghouls—all meant to teach them to be cautious in one way or another, as a way to keep them safe in their unforgiving lands. They had a sense that they were being pranked—as if to test their knowledge and preparedness, but not a single one of them could muster up the courage to approach the floating apparition or to try to figure out who was toying with them.

The far north side of the village is where the last batch of houses resided—the travel between where the teenagers were and where their last glimpse of the prized sweets laid was a lengthy weaving, dismally unlit sprawling boardwalk. This path took them directly past the hauntingly abandoned teacher’s quarters that the entire village regularly avoided being near and even speaking about in passing. They made their way down the boardwalk towards this last remaining treasure trove of candy, when the little parka appeared behind them once again. One of the teens looked behind them as they crawled into the artic entry of one of the houses and saw its silhouette looming alone between the spirit-infested teacher’s quarters and the house they entered, blocking their dark and dreadful passage home.

The teenagers reappeared cautiously from the house, but the little parka was nowhere to be seen–each house they exited they huddled together in fear that the ghostly figure would leap out of the shadows and attack them from the front or back, but it didn’t. Then one of the teens gasped and pointed, there it was in the darkness beneath a building, huddled behind one of the steel posts that propped it up from the permafrost–it sat upright, waiting for them. All at once, it sprang up toward them with a hideous scream and chased the teenagers down the boardwalk, growls emanated from the unending abyss of the hood. As the spirit overcame them, they recognized the dead black eyes that sat deep in his sunken frostbitten features; it was the village boy whose snow machine had broken through the ice on the river. The boy had then managed to climb out from what would have been a certain death only to succumb to the elements before anyone could find him, only a year prior.

Broken Ice
Photography by Eberhard Gross-Gasteiger