In the spirit of scream season, we offer you the following excerpt from Raymond Buckland’s terrifying tome The Weiser Field Guide to Ghosts:
The zombie of Vodoun is a living corpse, a human ghost. It is a person who has apparently died and then been brought back to life. There have been documented cases of Haitians who have had a family member die unexpectedly and have buried him or her only to hear that someone has seen the “deceased” many months or even years later. The “ghost” is usually mute and in a greatly debilitated state, barely skin and bone and dressed in rags. The word zombie comes from the Congolese nvumbi meaning a “person deprived of its soul.”
In Haiti, where most zombies are found, the dead are not embalmed but put into a wooden coffin and buried as quickly as possible. A boko is a magician or sorcerer who deals in magic and charms. Most bokos are unscrupulous and will place a curse on anyone for a fee. (They will then remove the curse if the person affected pays a higher fee.) It is the bokos who are responsible for zombies, creating them as a means of cheap labor.
An alkaloid drug is introduced into the victim. This is a drug that produces a cataleptic state easily mistaken for death. Often there is no death certificate asked for or issued and, with the heat and humidity, the body is put into the ground as quickly as possible. By the nighttime the main effects of the drug have worn off, and the boko can dig up the “corpse” and administer an antidote, then lead away the victim into a life of servitude.
What drugs would be used for this? The most obvious would be Atropa belladonna, Hyoscyamus niger, and various species of Datura. There are other locally available narcotics such as Terminalia catappa, Hippomane mancinella and Spondias dulcis; all deadly poisons if used incautiously.
from The Weiser Field Guide to Ghosts by Raymond Buckland.