Cecil’s discourse on zombies completely ignores what most of us define as a zombie: A reanimated dead person. Granted, the old “Juliet” formula is probably the basis for real-life accounts of zombies, but what about actual attempts to bring a corpse back to life? Don’t tell me that a subject that has been grist for Mary Shelly, HP Lovecraft, George Romero, and even Ed Wood, hasn’t also inspired a few real-life mad scientists. Are there any documented cases of anybody trying to do this? I don’t mean someone like Dahlmer, but perhaps someone like Dr. Mengale or some other researcher with a lot of money, subjects and no moral impediments.

Interesting question. It seems to me that we would first have to accurately define what it is that makes us “alive” (aside from a heartbeat and brain waves). Finding or measuring or quantifying the spirit (or whatever you want to call it) would probably answer a WHOLE lot of other questions too!

Carpe Diem! or at least seize something!

Who was it that defined voodoo as, quote " a non-Californian cult producing trances and zombies, without the use of television" ?

Cecil had it almost right…
The tetrodotoxin that Wade Davis saw used was actually extracted from a toad - specifically bufo marinus. The frog is placed in a jar, and then somehow agitated. As its defense mechanism, the bufo marinus excretes the tetrodotoxin from the skin on its back. The toxin is then removed and used in the creation of the “zombie” poison.
And the actual “zombie” characteristics of these people (dementia, walking around as if in a coma, etc.) is caused by the lack of oxygen to the brain, a direct result of being buried alive, and then being exhumed before actually dying. Some vodouns believe that the bokors then use these zombified people as slaves, because their families certainly wouldn’t want them anymore. Kind of like third-world foster care.

I happened to talk to Wade Davis a couple of weeks ago as part of my job (I’m the series researcher for the Discover Magazine TV show. My boss thinks zombies are cool so I called around to see if there is anything new.) and got his side of the story. I didn’t ask about his ideas being controversial, by the way, he just came out with all this.

His theory, that he says everybody misses, is that zombies are this whole big psychosocial thing. Some are mentally retarded folks, some have been drugged, some have other problems. But they all act kind of like zombies are supposed to act so Hatian society calls them zombies.

He pointed out that inconsistant results from the drug tests are only to be expected. Half the pufferfish aren’t toxic so half of the drugs concocted from them aren’t too. It only has to work occasionally. If it doesn’t work the bokor says “Some other bokor’s spell must have interfered. Give me some more money and I’ll try again.”

As an ethnographic study, it all held together. It’s only when you try to bring zombie-making into the lab that the messy details cause problems. That was my impression, anyway.

Bill Jacobs