The living dead, sometimes called the ‘undead.’
The idea apparently originates from Haitian voodoo legends.
While zombies are found in B-movies, rock videos, the horror genre, folklore and urban legend, their definition seems to closely relate to belief.
Turrell Wylie notes, for instance, that some believe “a zombie is a corpse which has been brought into a state of animation through supernatural power by a necromancer” (Turrell Wylie, “Ro-Langs: The Tibetan Zombie” in History of Religions, Vol. 4, No. 1, (Summer, 1964: 69-80), The University of Chicago Press, p. 69).
Another understanding is that a person’s soul is magically stolen by a master of the dark arts, making the victim seem dead. The buried body is later exhumed by the soul-thief, becoming a spiritual slave to the evil master.
According to folklorist Alison Jones, the fact that Haitian law prohibits burying and exhuming live persons has lead some to believe that evil voodoo priests use poison to induce a coma in their victims (Alison Jones Larousse Dictionary of World Folklore, New York: Larousse, 1996, p. 468). Thus a variant of the previous magical belief combines the occult and the pharmacological, suggesting that, after exhuming a poisoned comatose victim, a wicked voodoo priest further subdues his victim with psychedelic drugs, who is then used for slavery.
An even more grisly variant of the zombie legend alleges that a victim’s flesh is sold by a sorcerer for human consumption, this being easily discernible because human flesh decomposes faster than animal meat. In such cases the victim’s soul may wander the lands in the hope of witnessing or bringing about retribution.
Stuart Gordon says the term zombie originates from the African Congo word zumbi, which means ‘enslaved spirit.’ Gordon adds that souls bound by a wicked master cannot discern good from evil (Stuart Gordon, The Encyclopedia of Myths and Legends, London: Headline, 1993, pp. 760-761).
Philosophers are interested in the idea of zombies from a purely hypothetical standpoint. E. J. Lowe asks what a being would be like who looks and acts like a human while lacking “the light of consciousness” and, moreover, whether such a being could exist at all (Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 2nd Edition, ed. Ted Honderich, Oxford: 2005, p. 970).
As Lowe puts it:
It may be difficult to determine whether zombies really are possible, but the issue undoubtedly has far-reaching implications for the metaphysics of mind (ibid.).
On the Web:
- Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video epitomizes the zombie myth as expressed in popular culture » http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtyJbIOZjS8
» Borg, Jackson (Michael)
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