Greetings everyone and welcome to a brand new segment I’ll be doing for this month only called Shocktoberfest! Before I get started, I’m going to let you all know what these articles will be about and why I’m doing them. Since it’s October, Halloween is waiting for us at the end of the month, and throughout the years, our culture has come to associate it with the macabre, monstrous and frightening–blame it on the weather, I suppose. In honor on the spirit of the season, every day of October up until Halloween, I will be giving you all a brief informative about some specific kind of monster from our folklore, in which I’ll discuss the origin, history and cultural significance of each one. I’ve only just begun, and already I’ve found a few tidbits of information about certain creatures that I didn’t know, so hopefully it’ll be as informative and entertaining for you as it will be for me. And, if nothing else, this might be useful for those of you still trying to decide what to be for Halloween. So without any further ado, let’s dive in and take a look at one type of monster that no Halloween season is complete without: zombies!
It can be difficult to pinpoint precisely when and where the zombie lore began. Many ancient religions (including the Abrahamic ones) tell stories of dead people becoming reanimated by means of necromantic witchcraft or the will of god, but the culture that features zombies most frequently in its folklore is Haiti. (While it has been popularly associated with it, the practice of necromancy actually plays no part in formal Haitian voodoo.) The word is recorded as first being used by English poet Robert Southey in 1819 while writing a history of Brazil, and the meaning of the word is derived from two words in Kongo: nzambi (god) and zumbi (fetish).
In Haitian lore, the zombie tradition is strongly tied to slavery by way of the experiences of Haitian slaves after being deported to the New World. According to legend, the zombie is corpse risen by a bokor to fulfill his or her bidding as a personal slave without a will of its own.
As generations progressed, the legend of the zombie found its way into American culture, but not the way we remember it. The most famous example of a movie with zombies being a big hit was George A. Romero’s 1968 horror film, Night of the Living Dead.
This was not, however, the first American zombie film. It might surprise you, but Night of the Living Dead never even refers to the creatures as zombies. That label was attached by fans; fans who very well might have seen similar films a whole generation prior.
The zombies in Romero’s film were different though, and by and large, it’s this interpretation that has persisted to this day. Rather than being undead slaves risen by voodoo sorcery, Romero’s zombies were walking, rotting bodies with no other lust than feasting upon human flesh. Why? They never really figure it out. They simply are, and the cast of survivors are on a mission of outlasting their would-be predators. With Night of the Living Dead becoming a huge hit, it inspired many other filmmakers and writers to create their own zombie lore. In some versions, the zombies are a sign of the biblical apocalypse.
Sometimes their state is the result of a disease.
And there are even some versions in which the zombie condition can be reversed.
Regardless of what the zombies’ cause might be, why is that we’re so fascinated by them? They aren’t charming, powerful, and they don’t require much more than a shotgun to put one of them down for good…but maybe that’s the appeal. Anyone can become a zombie, and unless you’re able to keep them at a distance, you could become one of them as well. It’s not like being a vampire or werewolf, which is more like being given a curse that comes with its own membership to an exclusive club. You’re also not hindered by obstacles like the sun’s light or lunar cycle, so you’re eternally in monster mode. Television shows like The Walking Dead have taken that notion and expanded upon it. The show follows the lives of survivors of the zombie apocalypse trying to retain their humanity in a world in which it could be stolen away at any time.
But many fans have taken the feral nature of the zombie and turned it on its head. For the past several years, zombie fans have organized zombie walks to raise money and/or awareness for causes such as hunger and disease. You might have even seen one in your town.
With its ability to spread itself like a virus, both with its curse and popularity, it’s no surprise that the zombie truly is the monster of the masses.
Love zombies? Check out our full reviews of The Walking Dead!