How To Make A Zombie — Lois Gresh


by Lois H. Gresh (author of BLOOD AND ICE, a futuristic vampire thriller — January 2011)


Our traditional notion of zombies originated with Haitian Voodoo culture.  In fact, the word, zombie, comes from the Haitian word, zombi, which means spirit of the dead.  As the story goes, Voodoo priests called bokors studied enough black magic to figure out how to resurrect the dead using a powder called coup padre.

The primary ingredient of coup padre is deadly tetrodotoxin from the porcupine fish, the fou-fou.  The tetrodotoxin disrupts communication in the brain and is 500 times more deadly than cyanide.  A tiny drop of tetrodotoxin can kill a man.

This weird poison, coup padre, was made by first burying a bouga toad (called a bufo marinus) and a sea snake in a jar.  After the toad and snake died from the rage of being confined in the jar, the bokor extracted their venom.  The toad’s glands held bufogenin and bufotoxin, each being from 50 to 100 times more deadly than digitalis.  The bufogenin and bufotoxin increased the victim’s heart beat.  In addition, the glands held bufotenine, a powerful hallucinogenic drug.

To these drugs, the bokor added millipedes and tarantulas to tcha-tcha seeds that caused pulmonary edema, nontoxic consigne seeds, pomme cajou (cashew) leaves, and bresillet tree leaves.  Both of these types of leaves were related to poison ivy.  Having ground everything into a powder, the bokor buried the concoction for two days, after which he added ground tremblador and desmember plants; two plants from the stinging nettle family, which injected formic acidlike chemicals beneath the victim’s skin; and dieffenbachia with its glasslike needles, which made the victim’s throat swell, causing great difficulty in breathing and talking. He then added the sharp needles of the bwa pine.

But we’re not done yet…

The bokor next added poisonous animals to the deadly powder.  Two species of tarantulas were ground up and added to the skins of white tree frogs.  Another bouga toad went into the mixture, followed by four types of puffer fish, the fou-fou carrying the coup padre.  The final ingredient was dead, human flesh.

If a family or community despised someone sufficiently, they called upon the bokor to turn that person into a zombie.

After ingesting the coup padre, the despised villager or family member immediately became numb.  His lips and tongue went numb first, followed by his fingers, arms, toes, and legs; then his entire body went numb.  He was sick with feelings of weakness, floating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and headaches.  Quickly, the victim’s pulse picked up, he had trouble walking and talking; and finally, paralysis set in: his breathing became shallow, his heart nearly ceased to beat, and his body temperature plummeted.  The victim’s body was blue, his eyes were glassy.  In essence, the victim was in a coma.

While still alive, the poor, despised victim was buried as if already dead.  Because he wasn’t really dead, the victim often heard his own funeral and was horrified to suffer through his own burial.

Later, the bokor dug up the body and brought the person back to life.  Physically, the person appeared as he did before ingesting the coup padre, but mentally, his mind was gone and his soul was dead.  Being traumatized, the victim believed he had been reanimated, brought back to life.  As a mindless drone, this new zombie remained under the Bokor’s power and did the Bokor’s bidding.  The bokor gave his new zombie an hallucinogenic mixture of Datura stramonium, cane sugar, and sweet potato.  There is absolutely no antidote for tetrodotoxin, so once a zombie, always a zombie.

–Excerpted from Exploring Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials by Lois H. Gresh  (St. Martin’s Press, 2006)

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