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Zombies Are Real!
(Beware of Baron Samedi on Halloween!)

By Brad Steiger


Excerpted from Real Zombies, The Living Dead, and Creatures of the Apocalypse

On Halloween night, Baron Samedi stands at the Crossroads, where the souls of dead humans pass on their way to the gate to Guinee, the astral counterpart of the ancient homeland in Africa. Samedi is a sexual loa, frequently represented by phallic symbols, and he is also noted for disruption, obscenity, debauchery, and having a particular fondness for tobacco and rum. As he is the loa of sex and resurrection, he is often called upon for healing by those near or approaching death. It is only the Baron who can accept an individual into the realm of the dead. Samedi is considered a wise judge and a powerful magician.

      Baron Samedi’s powers are especially great when it comes to Voodoo curses and black magic. Even if somebody has been inflicted by a hex which brings them to the verge of death, they will not die if the Baron refuses to dig their grave. So long as this mighty spirit keeps them out of the ground they are safe. On some occasions, the Baron will ask for a Voodoo ceremony in his honor.  If he is in a bad mood, he may dig the grave of his supplicant bury him alive or bring him back as a mindless zombie.                                                                    

Who could have predicted the enormous popularity of the zombie in today’s culture when George Romero brought the monster into contemporary consciousness with his motion picture The Night of the Living Dead (1968)?   Large numbers of our current population has gone “Zombie Nuts,” which has extended far beyond films and lead to mass numbers of men and women role-playing and gathering in large groups to dress, dance, and act like the zombies do.  You can never predict when you may encounter large numbers of  pseudo-zombies dancing at your local mall--even on days other than Halloween.
 Is it possible that millions of people could become “zombified” after a great apocalyptic event?  In the great majority of current motion pictures, books, games, and other media expressions, the zombies are themselves initially the victims of a great biological warfare, a mysterious virus, or some kind of mass pandemic that first kills them, then resurrects them with the uncontrollable desire to chomp on all humans who remain uninfected.

     A real zombie is not the victim of biological warfare, a blast of radiation from a space vehicle, or a unknown virus that escaped a secret laboratory.  A real zombie is a reanimated corpse who has been brought back to life to serve as slave labor.  

    As Lisa Lee Harp Waugh, a noted Necromancer, writer, and student of Voodoo put it, “A  Zombie is a soulless human corpse, still dead, but taken from the grave and endowed by sorcery with a mechanical semblance of life.  It is a dead body, which is made to walk and act and move as if it were alive."

 For those who embrace the teachings of Voodoo, the zombie, the living dead, are to be feared as very real instruments of  a Priestess or Priest  who has yielded to the seduction of evil and allowed themselves to be possessed by negative forces and become practitioners of  Dark Side sorcery.
    Lisa Lee said that some Southern zombie-making-rituals consist of digging up a fresh corpse from its tomb or deep grave.

    “The body is then fed strange potions and whispered to in strange chants,” she explained. “Many individuals who have witnessed the evil, dark deed say that it is disturbing to view. You stand frozen in the shadows as a voyeur to some devil dark secret spell. You see a recently deceased man being made into a zombie before your eyes.

      “Picture the image of a beautiful Voodoo Queen riding a rotting corpse like a wild banshee, having dark magical sex in a graveyard, “Lisa Lee continued. “Certainly this would be a sight that you will never forget. Imagine the strange image as candles flair, and mosquitoes bite hard into your skin. Then the spell comes to a conclusion as the zombie corpse comes to life. At that moment the Voodoo Queen takes him into what seems to be a deep kiss--and bites off his tongue to make him her eternal slave.”

    According to many authorities, it is in Benin City in southwestern Nigeria that Vodun began 350 years ago.  In 1996, Vodun, Voodoo, won state recognition.  January 10th was inaugurated as National Voodoo Day, and the religion that is practiced by 65% of the 5.4 million Beninese took its place alongside Christianity and Islam.

Voodoo (Vodou, Vodoun, Vudu, or Vudun) in Benin, Togo, southeastern Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Senegal--also Vodou in Haiti-- is a name attributed to a traditionally unwritten West African spiritual system of faith and ritual practices. Like most faith systems, the core functions of Voodoo are to explain the forces of the universe, influence those forces, and influence human behavior. Voodoo's oral tradition of faith stories carries geneology, history, and fables to succeeding generations. Adherents honor deities and venerate ancient and recent ancestors. This faith system is widespread across groups in West Africa. Diaspora spread Voodoo to North and South America and the Caribbean.

At the center of more traditional African tribal religions is the concept of a universal force of life that finds its expression in all things--humans, animals, vegetable, and mineral.  The conviction that there is a oneness of all life forms, that both humans and everything else in the environment draw spiritual nourishment from the same sacred source is now known to be a common expression of  shamanism and the teaching of tribal spirit “doctors.”

     Some historians of Voodoo suggest that the origin of the word “zombie” may have come from jumbie, the West Indian term for a ghost.  Others scholars favor the Kongo word nzambi, “the spirit that has resided in the body and is now freed” as filtering down through the ages as “zombie.”

      Although the practice of Voodoo and the creation of zombies was familiar to the residents of Louisiana before 1871, a number of etymologists believe that year is about the time that the word “zombi” entered the English language.  The word that was originally used by the Haitian Creole people, these scholars maintain, was zonbi, a Bantu term for a corpse returned to life without speech or free will. There are others who argue quite convincingly that Zombi is another name for Damballah Wedo, the snake god so important to Voodoo.  In other words, a zombie would be a servant of Damballah Wedo, the python god, who created the world.
Damballah Wedo stretched out his 7,000 coils to form the stars in the heavens and to mold the hills and valleys of Earth.  His mighty lightning bolts cooled to fashion metals, rocks, and stones.  When he perceived that water was necessary for life, he shed his skin and allowed it to melt into all the oceans, rivers, lakes, and waters on the planet. As the foam was settling from the life-giving deluge of water, the sun shining through the mist and a lovely rainbow was born.  This rainbow was Ayida Wedo.  Damballah fell instantly in love with her beauty, and the serpent and the rainbow became one: Damballah Wedo.  Damballah Wedo speaks only to humans by possessing a follower of Voodoo, Santeria, Macumba or one of the other African religions.  This possession most often takes place during the dancing that follows other ritual observances.

    Numerous practitioners of Voodoo insist that the practice developed a more sinister side only after the advent of the slave trade shipped millions of West Africans to Haiti, Cuba, and the Americas.  The Old Gods followed their captive people to help them survive and to cast evil spells upon those who would enslave them.  At the same time, the people who were carried far from their home villages cleverly began to use the names of Catholic saints to  disguise the ancient ones in their pantheon of gods under the names of those whom their captors deemed holy.  

    Vodun or Voudou means “spirit” in the language of the West African Yoruba people, and the religion observes elements from an African tribal cosmology that may go back as many as ten thousand years--and then it disguises these ancient beliefs with the teachings, saints, and rituals of Roman Catholicism. Early slaves--who were abducted from their homes and families on Africa's West Coast--brought their gods and religious practices with them to Haiti and other West Indian islands. Plantation owners were compelled by order of the French colonial authorities to baptize their slaves in the Catholic religion. The slaves suffered no conflict of theology. They accepted the white man's “water” and quickly adopted Catholic saints into the older African family of nature gods and goddesses.  

Santeria originated in Cuba around 1517 among the slaves who were mostly from West Africa and who were followers of the Yoruba and Bantu religions.  The African slaves were at first greatly distressed when they were told by their masters that they could no longer pay homage to their worship of the Orishas, their spiritual guardians, and that they would be severely punished if they did.  But their resourceful and attentive priests quickly noticed a number of parallels between Yoruba religion and Catholicism.  While appearing to pay obeisance and homage to various Christian saints, the Africans found that they could simply envision that they were praying to one of their own spirit beings.  A secret religion was born--Regla de Ocha, “The Rule of the Orisha,” or the common and most popular name, Santeria, “the way of the saints.”

Macumba was born in Brazil in the 1550’s when the West African tribal priests who sought to serve their people with their old religion were forced to give token obeisance to an array of Christian saints and the God of their masters.  As in the cases of Santeria, Voodoo, and other adaptations of their original religious expression,  the native priests soon realized how complementary the two faiths could be.  The African god, Exu, became St. Anthony; Iemanja became Our Lady of the Glory; Oba became St. Joan of Arc; Oxala became Jesus Christ; Oxum became Our Lady of the Conception, and so on. The Africans summoned their Orishas with the sound of their drums and the rhythm of their dancing. In that regard, the West Africans were more fortunate than those slaves in the States, whose masters forbade them to keep their drums.
 From the melding of the two religious faiths and the Africans’ passion for drumming and dancing, the Samba, the rhythm of the saints, was created.  The Samba became a popular dance, and even today is recognized in Brazil as a symbol of national identity.  The dance, synonymous to many as a symbol of Brazil and Carnival, has also become widely accepted throughout the world.  One of the Samba’s derivations is the Bossa Nova.

 This sort of religious substitution was also practiced by followers of the Old Religion, the Witches, in Europe when the Pope and his clerical minions began to punish Witches who claimed to interact with their animal “familiars.” In those regions where the country folk and rural residents persisted in calling upon their familiars, the church decreed the spirit beings to be demons sent by Satan to undermine the work of the clergy. All those accused of possessing a familiar or relying on it for guidance or assistance were forced to recant such a devilish partnership or be in danger of the torture chamber and the stake.  

    The connotations of evil, fear, and the supernatural that are associated with Vodun (also "Voudou" and, popularly, "Voodoo") originated primarily from white plantation owners’ fear of slave revolts. The white masters and their overseers were often outnumbered sixteen to one by the slaves they worked unmercifully in the broiling Haitian sun, and the sounds of Voudou drums pounding in the night made them very nervous.

    When Voudun came to the city of New Orleans in the United States, it became suffused with a whole new energy--and a most remarkable new hierarchy of priests and priestesses, including the eternally mysterious Marie Laveau.
    Most contemporary experts on New Orleans Voodoo and Zombies agree that the legendary Dr. John, the ultimate “simplifier,” created the perfect zombie juices and powders to make a living, breathing zombie that will not die, age, and become truly immortal.  Marie Laveau, the most famous of all Voodoo Queens, fed her zombies a fine gumbo made with fish heads and  scales and bones.
    A common ritual that creates a zombie requires a sorcerer to unearth a chosen corpse and waft under its nose a bottle containing the deceased's soul.  Then, as if he were fanning a tiny spark of fire in dry tinder, the sorcerer nurtures the spark of life in the corpse until he has fashioned a zombie.

In Haiti the deceased are often buried face downward by considerate relatives so the corpse cannot hear the summons of the sorcerer. Some even take the precaution of providing their dearly departed with a weapon, such as a machete, with which to ward off the evil sorcerer.

There are many terrible tales of the zombie.  There are accounts from those who have discovered friends or relatives, supposedly long-dead, laboring in the fields of some sorcerer.
     Some Voodoo traditions maintain that the only way that people can protect themselves from a zombie is to feed it some salt.

Lisa Lee Harp Waugh said that the story of not feeding salt to a zombie is actually over-rated.  “Yes, it can destroy a zombie,” she said, “but if given to them in moderation, it tends to keep a zombie frozen for a few years until its services are once again needed. A full dose of pure white salt--and that's about a full teaspoon today-- would put an end to an animated corpse in a minute or less. They usually fall to the ground with violent convulsions and all the fluid drains from their bodies.”

Excerpted from Real Zombies, The Living Dead, and Creatures of the Apocalypse 



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