Zombies & Religion: Necromancy

When one hears the word Necromancer you tend to envision a guy in his mid 40’s sporting a cape and tux combo that would make Dracula drool in his coffin. We’re talking someone like Doctor Orpheus from The Venture Brothers, here. The stereotype of a necromancer is outlandish, so ridiculous that we have a hard time believing anyone would call themselves one at any point in history. Which is probably a good idea. Playing with the dead isn’t the smartest thing to do. Something always goes wrong.

Necromancy is a form of magic. Dark magic steeped in rituals used to call upon the dead. These rituals are long, exhausting, and involve sacrifices of blood. The amount of blood varies on the magic being conducted. Early necromancers believed that more was better. Accounts tell of practitioners standing before blood-drenched altars to work their magic. Some necromancers use the spirits of the dead to predict the future. Others recover the corpse and “push” their magic into it, creating an animated corpse to control and communicate with.

During the early Middle Ages, necromancy was both fodder of myths and reality. The Norse told tales of heroes contacting spirits of dead relatives and asking the dead to cast spells against their enemies. Another Norse saga depicted Skuld, a princess so skilled in magic and communicating with the dead that in the midst of battle she could force dead warriors to rise and continue their attacks. Skuld wielded and army of the undead, the likes of which we consider a big sign that the Zombiepocalypse is upon us. This undead army made her nearly invincible on the battlefield. A feat most men would be envious of and all feared.

Medieval necromancers believed that in order to raise the dead the Christian god had to be invoked during rituals. Because of this the vast majority of medieval necromancers were highly educated clergy members. There were few seminaries at the time and made knowledge of Holy Scripture rare unless one was taught under an apprenticeship. The common man would not have access to the Bible. Nor would he be able to read the Latin it was written in. This was long before the printing press and the idea that every household should have a copy of the Bible in order to be closer to God.

At this time necromancers began to believe that they were not calling forth the souls of the dead to reanimate bodies, but demons instead. The Roman Catholic Church forbade members from practicing the dark magic for this reason. However enforcing the ruling was near impossible given the amount of time it took to deliver missives to other countries.

Despite the Church’s declaration, necromancy was still widely practiced. Through time, necromancers used the stigma towards magic by Christian faithful to fuel their rituals. Necromancers were hunted as witches, driven further underground to conduct their rituals and raise their dead. They twisted Holy Scripture, uttered names of demons never meant to be spoken by good, God-fearing people.

Modern necromancy has returned to the idea that they are communicating with the souls of the dead. While some of the demonic still exists, it is more as a warning. Great care is taken to “protect” the area of ritual, usually with a circle of some sort, to keep “evil spirits” (demonic forces) at bay. Necromancers nowadays typically aren’t attempting to raise an army of undead from their graves. But you should never disregard the idea.

Armies of undead under the control of a necromancer will move together. Unlike a typical hoard of zombies, these won’t fight with each other while reaching for their goal. Think of them as decaying marionettes. The necromancer will use their power over the dead to manipulate zombies to do their will. It could be anything from petty theft to a string of murders. Because necromancy is a type of magic, there are repercussions to using the power. Sustaining the undead will drain them, leave them vulnerable to attack. If you can break the tie between zombie and necromancer, the zombie will return to the grave or attack the person that disturbed their rest. We suggest trying salt or salt water. If that fails, use fire. Zombie flambé, anyone?

Zombies & Religion: Voodoo

You’re walking down the street on your way to work, same as you do every day. A stranger steps out of a shop and walks towards you. Even though you try to move out of the way, they crash into you. After a few muttered apologies, they leave. Only then do you notice that your forearm is bleeding from a small cut and going numb. Within minutes that entire side of your body loses sensation. A little while later you are unable to control any of your movements.

You’ve been made into a zombie.

How can it be that easy, you ask? If you lived in Haiti, where Voodoo reigns supreme, there would be no question about the existence of zombies. However, unlike other “breeds” of zombie we have explored here at ZSC, zombies created by Voodoo are living, breathing humans.

Victims are dosed with a neurotoxin. There has been extensive debate about which neurotoxin is actually used during the zombie making process. In The Serpent and the Rainbow, victims were given a dose of tetrodotoxin powder. Tetrodotoxin is found in puffer fish and its history of being extremely lethal puts the legitimacy of these claims into question. But for the sake of simplicity, we’ll use it here.

The tetrodotoxin works into the nervous system and shuts it down. The victim’s breathing will become shallow. Their body is unresponsive to stimulation. While they cannot feel, move, or breathe properly, most victims remain fully aware of what is happening to them in this state of living death.

Treatment of tetrodotoxin involves maintaining the body until it processes the chemical. Most villages don’t have the means to put someone on life support, let alone the manpower and supplies to do so when that person may pass away anyway. Tetrodotoxin has no known antidote. Once the physician sees no visible signs of life, they declare the patient deceased. The victim then ends up buried alive.

In the cover of darkness the Bokor, or sorcerer, will venture to the graveyard to dig up the victim. At this time the newly made zombie is given a powerful hallucinogenic. Most believe the substance to be derived from the datura plant. Datura causes violent hallucinations and photophobia (extreme sensitivity to light). One dose will affect the victim for approximately 48 hours.

The heavy influence of the Voodoo religion in the region is the key element to the zombie creation process. If the victim survives exposure to the various chemical compounds at play, they should recover themselves and become normal within days. Believers that go through the process convince themselves, with influence from the Bokor, that they are actually a zombie. These zombies will continue to work under the bokor for years. It is only when family members see them that legitimacy of their “undead” condition comes into question.

Bokors are believed to be able to manipulate the zombi astral, the spirit of a person. What we call the soul. Those that practice dark arts (making zombies, curses, etc…) are said to capture souls inside jars. Some will sell the jars as charms. Others gather them. The more captured souls in their control, the more powerful the bokor. To go against a powerful bokor is begging to be “cursed”. That is why so many of these living zombies strive to believe their conditions and remain in service to the bokor.

If the family recovers their loved one, they won’t find much of that person left. Years of believing yourself dead and exposure to powerful hallucinogenic drugs warps the brain. Zombies without a bokor riding herd on them often end up in asylums. Those who aren’t discovered tend to haunt graveyards, as they feel closer to the dead than the living.

We here at the Zombie Survival Crew consider these zombies to be victims. That is unless they attempt to harm a crewmember. Unfortunately it is difficult to tell them apart from the other breeds. Keep in mind that newly claimed zombies of this type would appear sweaty. Their eye movements will be erratic, and though it will be difficult to tell, they are breathing. If you think they are the victim of a Voodoo spell, report the zombie but do not dispatch them.