Another Tale for Halloween


Wade Davis is a Canadian anthropologist and ethnobotanist. He has written extensively about culture, botany, the environment and he has become a noted photographer. He has done hundreds of interviews, inspired many documentaries, and even was the source for three X-files shows. And Wade Davis has met a zombie. Not the made-up kind delighting so many Americans nowadays, but the very real kind. A poor, unschooled man who was victimized by his family.

Back in the 80s Wade Davis wrote about his experience investigating the zombification process in Haiti. His book The Serpent & the Rainbow propelled him to worldwide fame and a Hollywood movie followed in 1988.

Drawn to Haiti by legends concerning the existence of zombies, Davis wanted to investigate the botanical or chemical aspects of the phenomena. Soon he was drawn into the vodoun culture of the Haitian witchdoctor (bokor). Escape the cities of Haiti for the countryside and fear and magic play a very real role in the society. Wade Davis knew the story of Clairvius Narcisse and before long the two would meet.

In 1980, Clairvius Narcisse approached a woman in a marketplace and identified himself as her long gone, well- dead actually, brother. She was shocked to say the least but then so is his story. Shocking. Clairvius told a tale of being drugged, buried, resurrected, and made a slave on a sugar plantation. Apparently a brother wanting Clairvius’ land sold him to a bokor. Having “died” in 1962, Clairvius escaped the plantation a couple of years later only to wander aimlessly for the next sixteen. Now having learned of his brother’s recent death, he felt safe enough to make himself known to the sister. A local doctor developed a questionnaire to establish once and for all, if the man was who he claimed to be. Clairvius answered everything correctly and the doctor along with his village accepted him as the true Clairvius. Had the curious tale of Clairvius Narcisse been isolated, maybe it could have been dismissed easily. But there are many tales of zombies in Haiti long before Clairvius and after.

Davis’ investigation into the world of vodoun and the zombie led him to advance the hypothesis that tetrodotoxin (TTX) was the chemical agent used by the bokor to induce a death-like state. A mixture of toad skin and puffer fish, either rubbed on the skin or ingested through food, seems to accomplish this. Breathing slows, the heartbeat weakens, and victim appears dead even to medical personnel. In the tropical climate of Haiti, bodies are buried quickly and the bokor likes it that way. A zombie in the ground for more than eight hours risks asphyxiation. The zombie is dug up and restored to life possibly with an antidote. Delivered to a plantation, the zombie is kept in a semi-permanent induced psychotic state by force feeding a datura paste. Datura destroys memory and wreaks havoc with gaining any sense of reality. It is also known to produce powerful hallucinations.

All of the chemicals used or potentially used are powerful enough to cause real death so the bokor has to be knowledgeable and proficient in their use to be successful. Davis also credited the culture of fear and belief that underlies the creation of the zombie. There are powerful cultural influences that must be in place to create and maintain a zombie.

Are zombies scary? Maybe not, they’re victims, but the idea that you or I could be made into one makes me uncomfortable. That’s why I try to make sure my siblings are happy with me and I’m not more valuable “dead” than alive. Happy Halloween!



Filed under Books, Spiritual/Mysticism

34 responses to “HOW TO MAKE A ZOMBIE

  1. Ellis, I have reblogged your post in my “Norrland and Seven Lands” blog.

  2. Pingback: HOW TO MAKE A ZOMBIE | Norrland and the Seven Lands

  3. Fantastic clue for a fantasy novel I’m writing. I was looking for something horrific with a rational background, not the “usual” fantasy magic. Thanks.

  4. This is fascinating! And very intriguing for the holiday. 🙂 Makes me glad I too know where my siblings are, my kids too!

  5. I’d heard about this process long ago. Terrible what people do to each other. As I’ve said on my website, humans are the only real monsters in the world.

  6. I believe I’ve seen a few television specials on this subject (I enjoy educational programming), but its a fascinating topic. Good article. Thanks for posting.

  7. Reblogged this on My Writing Life and commented:
    Blog post about zombies. I saw the movie “The Serpent & the Rainbow” as a kid. It both intrigued and terrified me.

  8. Pingback: Deviant Magazine Zombies Sacramento | Deviant Magazine

  9. Hi Ellis, thanks for stopping by my blog & ‘liking’ my Spooky Cupcakes xx

  10. I’ve read this book and you did a fabulous job of writing a synopsis of it. Sadly, fear and superstition can allow the transfer of much power.

  11. Fascinating. I’ve always had an interest in the actual culture of voudoun and the zombification process.

  12. I had known about the method of transforming someone into a zombie, but never understood how they then stayed zombified. Very interesting (though not so much for the zombied!)

  13. Even if you’re not afraid of being turned into a zombie, it’s still a good thing to make sure your siblings are happy with you and you’re more valuable alive than dead!
    Great post.
    Happy Halloween–may your ancestors also be happy with you.

  14. mllamoreux

    Good one,

    Lynn Lamoreux


  15. Pingback: HOW TO MAKE A ZOMBIE | ellisnelson « The Grinning Skull

  16. Even though I have heard about this before, I still lap up all things zombie. As a significant proportion of my blog is devoted to zombies (both imaginary and real) I will have to reblog this over on the grinning skull!
    Another great article as ever!!

  17. What an excellent post. I’ve always wondered how zombies are “made”. We have a lot of this in South Africa, and in local The Sun newspaper (Johannesburg) articles regularly appear about zombies, or zombie marriages. How terrible to become a victim. Two days ago I saw a poster pasted on a pole. It read: “Prophet Sithole, see your enemy in a mirror.” The point of “seeing your enemy in a mirror” is to then cast a spell on him or send a demon to attack the person, either to injure kill him.” Terrible to live in a world filled with vengeance.

  18. Fascinating read. Makes me curious to know more..

  19. EXCELLENT post!~ As Keith said, there are so many wild things in this world, usually in the backwoods of “unsophisticated” places, that really makes you stop and step back a bit.

  20. Fascinating post, Ellis. It makes you wonder how the first bokor discovered the exact quantities of chemicals to achieve “death” without achieving the other. Vodoun culture is really interesting.

  21. Art and Picture Framing

    Great story! Thanks for preparing me for Halloween, I’m feeling a little spooked 🙂 –

  22. Another good reason to stay on good terms with your siblings! Thanks for this timely article; maybe we should stockpile some of that antidote for when the zombie apocalypse comes. ;-D

    • As if 2012 and the prophesies aren’t enough. Actually, the end of the world is supposed to be on my birthday at 11:11AM (according to some). Now I have to worry about a zombie apocalypse…

  23. I’d heard of this book, but forgotten it….My first book was a children’s book on monsters and creatures of the night, so I looked up this stuff. I actually got a letter from a child asking for a photo of a REAL zombie, but I suspect he would have been disappointed with a pic of the gentleman you mention here. 😉 Hr had to settle for a few nice bookmarks and a letter from me saying I didn’t have a zombie photo on me.
    – Sue Bursztynski

    • You can see photos of Clairvius on Google Images but they’re all copyrighted as far as I can tell. The graveyard he’s photographed in is kind of creepy but really he just looks like a sad, old man. Not the stuff of the current zombie craze. Just last weekend I saw that Ft. Collins had a zombie crawl and many dressed up to partake in the activities. Much fake blood was used!

  24. Very interesting. I think I’ll avoid Haiti before Hallowe’en.

  25. jackiehames

    Reblogged this on The Spidereen Frigate and commented:
    Guys. I fucking told you so. (

  26. Wild stuff in this world. Thanks for the reminder. Boo!

  27. Excellent way to bring back interest in a fascinating book!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s