A zombie is a mythical creature that appears in folklore and popular culture typically as a reanimated corpse or a mindless human being. Stories of zombies originated in the Afro-Caribbean spiritual belief system of Vodou, which told of the people being controlled as laborers by a powerful sorcerer. Zombies became a popular device in modern horror fiction, largely because of the success of George A. Romero's 1968 film Night of the Living Dead.
There are several possible etymologies of the word zombie. One possible origin is jumbie, the West Indian term for "ghost". Another is nzambi, the Kongo word meaning "spirit of a dead person." According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word entered English circa 1871; it's derived from the Louisiana Creole or Haitian Creole zonbi, which in turn is of Bantu origin. A zonbi is a person who is believed to have died and been brought back to life without speech or free will. It is akin to the Kimbundu nzúmbe ghost.
According to the tenets of Vodou, a dead person can be revived by a bokor or Voodoo sorcerer. Zombies remain under the control of the bokor since they have no will of their own. "Zombi" is also another name of the Vodou snake god Damballah Wedo, of Niger-Congo origin; it is akin to the Kongo word nzambi, which means "god". There also exists within the voudon tradition the zombi astral which is a human soul that is captured by a bokor and used to enhance the bokor's power.
In 1937, while researching folklore in Haiti, Zora Neale Hurston encountered the case of a woman that appeared in a village, and a family claimed she was Felicia Felix-Mentor, a relative who had died and been buried in 1907 at the age of 29. Hurston pursued rumors that the affected persons were given powerful drugs, but she was unable to locate individuals willing to offer much information. She wrote:
" What is more, if science ever gets to the bottom of Voodoo in Haiti and Africa, it will be found that some important medical secrets, still unknown to medical science, give it its power, rather than gestures of ceremony. "
Several decades later, Wade Davis, a Harvard ethnobotanist, presented a pharmacological case for zombies in two books, The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985) and Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie (1988). Davis traveled to Haiti in 1982 and, as a result of his investigations, claimed that a living person can be turned into a zombie by two special powders being entered into the blood stream (usually via a wound). The first, coup de poudre (French: 'powder strike'), includes tetrodotoxin (TTX), the poison found in the pufferfish. The second powder is composed of dissociatives such as datura. Together, these powders were said to induce a death-like state in which the victim's will would be entirely subject to that of the bokor. Davis also popularized the story of Clairvius Narcisse, who was claimed to have succumbed to this practice.
Symptoms of TTX poisoning range from numbness and nausea to paralysis, unconsciousness, and death, but do not include a stiffened gait or a deathlike trance. According to neurologist Terence Hines, the scientific community dismisses tetrodotoxin as the cause of this state, and Davis' assessment of the nature of the reports of Haitian zombies is overly credulous. Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing further highlighted the link between social and cultural expectations and compulsion, in the context of schizophrenia and other mental illness, suggesting that schizogenesis may account for some of the psychological aspects of zombification.