Zombies are probably the most common monster we encounter in modern media. Modern depiction of zombies show them in various ways. They may be created by viruses, biological warfare, radiation, or magic. And their attributes are just as varied, sometimes they’re slow and stupid, and other times they’re fast, and possibly even intelligent. But the key trait is always that they desire to consume human flesh, or at least brains.
Zombies play on some of the most basic human fears. Realistic fears that have existed since the dawn of humans; illness, war, terrorists, mobs/hordes, psychopaths, cannibals, and death.
Even ancient texts play on these fears in the form of zombies. Ishtar, in The Epic of Gilgamesh, declares that he, “will raise up the dead and they will eat the living. And the Dead will outnumber the living.”
Many precautions were taken throughout history to prevent the dead from returning. Some cultures took measures to confuse the dead, such as taking the body out feet first so it can’t look at the house, as well as changing the location of the door, so it can’t find it’s way back inside. While other cultures attempted to disable the bodies by removing organs, or at least their teeth. The ancient Greeks even had a word for mutilating a body to keep it from coming back to life, Maschalismos. Still others cultures bound the bodies to prevent them from getting up, or stuffed brick wedges in their mouths to prevent them from biting. Even now, in the United States, we STILL bolted the coffin lids shut, an act intend to keep the dead in.
Zombie Myths Worldwide:
(Zombie types are labeled by location, culture, and/or religion)
Draugr (Norse, Scandinavia) - Viking warriors who return from the dead as killing machines, and can only be stopped by being convinced to return to the ground. To avoid draugr attacks, bodies would be removed from the house feet first, and the door would be moved to prevent the corpse from finding it’s way back into the house it came from. When Europeans colonized the Americas, the practice of carrying corpses out feet first, was still in use and came with them.
Revenant (Europe) - William of Newburg, a 12th century cleric, is considered to be the world’s first zombie hunter. He supposedly pursued spirits/corpses that rose from the graves to feed on living humans, which the Christian community called revenants. He believed there was sufficient evidence of revenants, “One would not easily believe that corpses come out of their graves unless there were many cases supported by ample testimony.”
Ghouls (Arabic) - People, usually demon, who are punished after death by being transformed into female demons. Ghouls are siren-like, and will lure desert travelers to them before revealing their true form and eating them.
Jiang Shi, Jiangshi (Chinese) - Also know as Hopping Corpses, these are people which return from the dead to punish the living for an improper burial. Bound by funeral clothes, they hop from place to place, thus the name Hopping Corpses. Unlike modern zombies they don’t have to bite you to change you, they only have to touch you. Many Chinese ritualistically bind bodies to prevent them from leaving their coffins as Hopping Corpses, and some remove their teeth.
(Creatures are labeled by location, culture, and/or religion)
Wendigo (Native American) - A possessing spirit which causes humans to have the continued desire to engage in cannibalism after consuming human flesh, usually that of a fallen enemy in order to gain their power.
Strigoi, Nosferatu, and other Early Vampires (Romania, Europe) - In the long history of vampires, some creatures resemble zombies more than others. In fact, vampire originally meant anyone you have a reason to be afraid of. Early blood sucking vampires, Strigoi and Nosferatu, were not the sophisticated social vampires of today’s fiction, these creatures had no conscious, but were simply corpses that rose from the dead to feed on the blood of the living. They were usually sinners cursed for their immoral lives, or innocents buried outside the churchyard who want revenge for improper burial. Some stories even tell that witches and werewolves would become vampires when they died.
Golem (Jewish) - The golem clay creature brought to life by an amulet or a magic word written on it’s forehead. Originally intended to protect people, it started to kill indiscriminately, so the Golem’s creator was forced to kill the creature, either by removing the amulet or changing the word on it’s forehead.
Yuurei (Japan) - Yuurei are hungry ghosts, which rise from their graves to punish humans for mistreatment they endured during their lives. One famous Yuurei is Okiku, a maid murdered and dropped down an old well by her samurai master, for either breaking a priceless dish, or refusing to sleep with him.
Tek Tek, Teke Teke, Bata Bata (Japan) - Tek Tek is a legless ghoul first formed when a beaten girl was run over by a train and lost her legs (Tek Tek, Teke Teke, or Bata Bata, is the sound of crawling on ones elbows). If a person runs or can’t answer Tek Tek’s questions, she’ll cut off their legs, making them a elbow walker too. BTW, you might want to go look up the answers to her questions now, because they say she’ll appear to you within a month of first hearing about her.
Click Clack (USA) - Two dead children and a woman’s legs are found in the wreckage of a car hit by a train, the woman’s upper body is never found. She comes out after 6 pm, her long fingernails clicking and clacking on the pavement as she drags herself along. Like Tek Tek, she tears people in half if she catches them, but the only way to escape her is to run.
(It’s useful to note here that there are many other ghoul legends similar to Teke Teke and Click Clack, but to avoid this becoming an article about them instead of zombies, I’ve decided to stop at two.)
Vetala (Hindu) - A ghost-like spirit capable of inhabiting the bodies of the dead, as well as haunting charnel grounds (places where bodies are intentionally left to rot above ground). Vetala may come and go freely from such bodies, and are generally carnivorous like modern zombies or vampires. They are sometimes depicted with tattered wings.
(Zombie types are labeled by location, culture, and/or religion)
Cotard delusion, Cotard's Syndrome, Walking Corpse Syndrome, Negation Delirium (Global) - Contard’s Syndrome is a mental disorder in which the sufferer believes they are dead, decaying, missing organs/blood, immortal, or simply do not exist. Sufferers often neglect their hygiene and may refuse to eat, the first described patient starved to death. Today, it is a chronic, but often treatable condition.
Parasitic Zombies (Global) - Several parasites are known to cause zombie-like symptoms in animals. Ants infected with certain fungal infections will abandon the nest and climb trees, where the fungus can spread it’s spores over a large area, or cause them to be eaten by birds. Bees infected with caterpillars, and caterpillars infected with wasp larvae, will lie motionless while they are eaten alive from the inside.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) Deficiency - Salmon and Alligators have both been known to act zombie-like as a result of brain anomalies caused by lowered levels of B1, or the introduction of chemicals that inhibit the absorption of B1.
Voodoo Zombies, Vodou Zombies, Zombi, Zonbi (Africa, Haiti) - Haitian bokors (or witch doctors), have been known to make a poison that limits bodily function to give the appearance of death. After their victim proclaimed dead and buried, they retrieve and revive them, using the person (who now has brain damage from lack of oxygen in the tomb), as a slave. Fear of loved ones becoming such zombies has led many Haitians to stake their dead. Since voodoo and tales of zombies came to Haiti from Africa, it’s possible some version of the zombie potion recipe is known there as well.
Resources and Further Reading/Viewing:
Newsburgler, On Zombie Alligators, Global Warming and Occam’s Razor
Date Uncertain, sometime prior to June 22, 2008.
Rosen, Brenda. The Mythical Creatures Bible. New York: Sterling, 2008.
Scary For Kids, Click Clack
Date Uncertain, sometime prior to 13 July 2013.
Scary For Kids, Tek Tek
Date Uncertain, sometime prior to 8 June 2009.
The Demon Hunter’s Compendium, Click Clack
Posted on 15 May 2013 at 12:16.
(Respecting the warning on his site, I have chosen not to include any information that I’ve not previously found on other sites, but I still feel it’s a resource that may interest you given the level of detail of his posts.)
Wikipedia, Contard delusion
This page was last modified on 30 November 2013 at 00:43.
This page was last modified on 28 November 2013 at 13:07.
Wikipedia, Teke Teke
This page was last modified on 29 July 2013 at 12:48.
This page was last modified on 28 September 2013 at 21:40.
This page was last modified on 4 December 2013 at 19:44.
Zombies: A Living History
TV Special, History Channel 2, 2011/10/25