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Here’s a fascinating article over at ScienceBlogs on “The Ethnobiology of Voodoo Zombification“:

Haitian clergy attribute the creation of zombies to sorcery. The Vodun religion makes a distinction between the corps cadavre (the physical body), the gwo-bon anj (the animating principle) and the ti-bon anj (agency, awareness and memory). When zombifying someone, the Vodun sorcerer (or bokur) extracts the ti-bon anj of the victim, and retains it in an earthenware jar (where it is then referred to as zombie astral).

Haitian doctors, on the other hand, consider zombification to be a result of poisoning, and there are reports that sorcerers use a white powder called coupe poudre to zombify their victims. In the early 1980s, Wade Davis, an anthropologist and ethnobotanist who was then working at Harvard University, travelled to Haiti in order to determine the ingredients of the coupe poudre. He interviewed a number of sorcerers and collected 8 samples of the zombie powder from 4 different regions of the country.

Upon analysis of the powders, Davis found that 7 of them shared a number of ingredients, including toxins produced by cane toad (Bufo marinus, left) and an irritant produced by a hyla tree frog (Osteopilus dominicensis). One of the samples also contained trace amounts of tetrodotoxin, a potent neurotoxin produced by various marine organisms, most notably the pufferfish.

The article goes on to discuss possible flaws in Wade Davis’s tetrodoxin theory and alternative hypotheses, though concludes that it’s likely “there is no single explanation for zombification.”

Previously on TDG: