30 Apr Zombies – A Brief History
Zombies have become an increasing popular topic for video games, movies and Halloween during the past couple of decades. Why is this and what really started the craze? Are Zombies real and does history support these creatures?
Why we are so fascinated with Zombies? One of our greatest fears is death, but the thought of potentially turning into a Zombie after death is even worse. When you think about Zombies, you never think about just one. For some reason, we always think about a mob of Zombies that are out on the prowl for human flesh and whose appetite is insatiable. What’s even worse is that Zombies may look human but, in reality, they’re not.
First Major Zombie Movie
Probably, one of the first movies about Zombies that had a major impact on the public was the “Night of the Living Dead” which premiered in 1968. This cult film was directed by George Romero and played on our fears that the world might be coming to an end. That may sound funny now, but there were several major worldwide conflicts that were happening during that time period. In order to understand this, you need to understand what was going on in the world and why people were edgy.
Worldwide Political Conflicts and Tensions of War
The Cold War basically spanned a period from 1946 to 1991 and fears were based on both political conflicts and tensions of wars. World War II had just ended and many countries were in political upheaval which led to the fear of the United States getting involved in another war. So, what was happening back then?
The following is a list of just some of the more prominent political tensions that caused people’s fears about the potential for the end of the world:
- Berlin Blockade – 1948 to 1949
- Korean War – 1950 to 1953
- Berlin Crisis – 1961
- Vietnam War – 1959 to 1975
- Cuban Missile Crisis – 1962
These conflicts added to people’s fears about Communism spreading and the threat of a nuclear war. We all knew that a nuclear war was very possible and that the results would be devastating. We knew this because we saw what happened during World War II. With all of this going on, it shouldn’t really be that surprising that many people, during that time, thought that we were approaching the Apocalypse.
September 11, 2001
When the “Night of the Living Dead” was made, it played off people’s fears that existed during the time period. Here’s an interesting fact about Zombie movies. Did you know that more than half of these movies were made after September 11, 2001?
I’m sure you remember what happened on that date. For those that don’t, this was the day that suicide terrorists, an al-Qaeda militant group, hijacked and crashed several U.S. airline passenger planes into both the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon building in Washington, DC. As a result of these terrorist actions, approximately 3,000 people died and many more were injured.
This was the first major catastrophe caused by terrorists in the United States. Many Americans realized that even though we were an ocean away from these types of terrorist groups, we were not exempt from their attacks. That realization had a devastating impact on everyone.
People began to wonder. When would we be attacked again? Was the world coming to an end? Was the Apocalypse just around the corner? Playing on these fears of the world ending, the release of Zombie related products increased considerably. These products include movies, video games and books.
Zombies in the Past
The first known appearance of Zombies in written form was from a poem titled “Epic of Gilgamesh” which is dated around 2100 BC, but the actual story is thought to be from a Sumerian legend much earlier. The following is a quote from this poem – “I will raise up the dead and they will eat the living. And the dead will outnumber the living.”
Zombie basically means “animated corpse” and appears to originate from the Haitian Voodoo religion which has its roots in western Africa. A Zombie was considered as a person whose mind was actually controlled by someone else, so they were basically a slave. It is interesting that this belief originated in Africa and ended up as a very strong belief in Haiti.
Now, let’s move forward to the 2nd Century BCE in China. During that time, the Chinese called Zombies “Jiang Shi“. These were hungry ghosts that came back to life to eat the living, but they weren’t interested in just any eating any person. They came back after their own family members. Why would they do this?
Every culture around the world has its own burial ritual. It has always been believed that if the dead were not buried according to these rituals, their spirit would not be able to move on to the next “world” and they would be stuck in limbo. As a result, the dead would return and seek retribution from its family members for the improper burial.
Let’s take a look at Arabia during the 7th Century. The term used by Arabians for Zombies is “Ghoul“. They believed that any dead person that came back as a Ghoul was being punished for living an amoral life. It is interesting that these Ghouls were primarily female. At any rate, the Ghouls would act as sirens in the desert and would call out to any travelers that they might encounter. After luring these unsuspecting travelers closer, the Ghouls would then proceed to attack and devour them.
Moving on to the 8th Century in Scandinavia, we find that any undead Vikings are generally called “Draugar” (plural form of Draugr). Depending on the Scandinavian country, you will see various spellings for “Draugr”. For example, in Iceland, it is “Draugur”, while in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, the term is “Draugen”.
Draugar are very well-known in Norse mythology and they are considered as unstoppable beings. According to this mythology, the Draugar know what they are and they really like being the undead. It was believed that every dead Viking became a Draugr when buried. These creatures were extremely strong, could increase their size when they wanted and they really smelled due to the rotting flesh. Supposedly, the only way to stop a Draugr was to lure it back into the ground where it belonged.
As folklore goes, the Draugr appears to be the most savage type of Zombie. These creatures enjoy wreaking havoc on both people and animals. Not only do the Draugar have super strength, they also had magical powers. With these attributes, the Draugr could intrude upon a person’s dream, drive both people and animals mad and kill its victims in torturous ways. After having its fun with victims, the Draugr would then devour them.
Finally, we’re going to take a look at Zombies in Great Britain during the 12th Century. In Western Europe, but primarily in Great Britain, Zombies were called “Revenants“. These were ghosts that could be seen and whose purpose was to terrorize those still alive.
It was believed that anyone that became a Revenant was a person who was evil, vain or an unbeliever when they were alive. It is interesting to note that there are several folklores that also state that Revenants liked to suck the blood from their victims.
Another interesting fact about the Revenants is that William of Newburgh, an English cleric, appears to be one of the first to document why certain dead people became Revenants and what they really were. In one of his many documentations, he wrote “One would not easily believe that corpses come out of their graves unless there were so many cases supported by ample testimony.” Hence, he decided to pursue these beliefs and document his findings.
Although every culture will maintain its beliefs, it is probably safe to assume that the majority of people do not believe that any creature like a Zombie truly exists. With the popularity of Zombie video games, these are creatures that are fun to kill while playing the game.
Zombie movies and books are entertaining and they might even get a little chill to run up your spine. It shouldn’t be any surprise that during the Halloween season, Zombies are one of the most favorite characters to imitate.