Zombie Origins and Mythology

Do you ever wonder where the idea of the zombie came from? Cultures across the world, dating back thousands of years, have legends and lore about the dead coming back to haunt, terrorize and occasionally eat the living.

Romero may be the king, but he was not the first person to animate the dead, he was just the first to put them in a mall.

Perhaps the most famous of ancient texts related to zombies comes from the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh proclaims that he will break down the gates of the Netherworld and will release the dead to eat the living. “And the dead shall outnumber the living.”

This has been a sentiment that has become popular in many zombie movies and may have actually been the origin of the concept that zombies need to eat human flesh. In Africa and Haiti, the notion of zombies has reached the level of fact more than myth. Thanks to some potent drugs that make people appear to be dead and later revived to serve the will of their masters, “zombies” have become part of the culture. The creation or attempted creation of a zombie is an actual offense carrying a charge of attempted murder and murder if the “zombiefied” person is actually buried.

In Europe, tales of people coming back from the dead for revenge or a good meal are not uncommon. Legends include the rotting corpses terrorizing the countryside seeking those that murdered or disturbed them or just taking a trip to see the grandkids. There are actual reports of people getting “visits” from dead relatives.

Europe has been the source of many of our most prolific mythologies including vampires and werewolves. Zombies are often associated as the caretakers of vampires and their ilk as they can survive in the daylight.

In modern times, the psychologists have taken to using the term “zombie” to mean someone who does not experience life or achieve experiences. Instead, he simply goes through the motions like an automaton. Oh, how very deep these psychologists can be. Sadly, these psychological zombies don’t eat people. I think that may be a completely different psychological syndrome.

Last but not least, we can’t forget our modern day mythos of zombies. The undead are more popular than ever beginning with the master, George Romero, and leading all the way to the megahit “Zombieland.”

Do you think a thousand years from now, some amazing author will be quoting the laws of Zombieland like we quote from Gilgamesh? Will Max Brooks become the next Homer with World War Z being read in future high schools and college campuses like “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey?”

Let’s face it, when it comes to a modern mythology, we don’t have one. There are no new tales of gods and monsters to pass down from generation to generation. Why not let the zombie apocalypse be our Trojan War, and our Scylla and Charybdis be flesh eating members of the undead?

It’s up to us in the zombie community to keep our undead alive in the hearts and minds of society like the minstrels and bards did in the old days.

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  1. eric m says:

    i just wanted to add a couple things. i know the irish tradition and what i believe to be the source of the common image of zombies is this. every year at the end of the fall solstice i think” basically halloween” and “the day of the dead” the dead relatives would come back to life to eat. it was the responsibilty of the family of the deceased to feed them. if they didnt have enough food the relative would eat them untill he was full then go back to “sleep” for the next year.
    second thing i wanted to mention. not to start a spark into religious debate but in 1000 years or whatever time it would be our christianity and other religions that would become myth. if any new religion can overcome the christian influence. it was only when a new stronger invading force came that the religion of the natives became myths.

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