Colleen Houck

“I took hold of that scourge -filled ship and crushed it between my limbs, hurtling it into the second sun, the red one that gave me strength. But I was too late." Terraformer

Colleen's blog

  • “Brains”, a Closer Look at Zombies

    October 29, 2014


    girl zombie behind book close up

    Have you ever wondered why zombies? Who came up with that idea? Today and Thursday I will be featuring gruesome Halloween creatures and sharing their dark history with you! So, grab some popcorn and red vines, sit back and just try to relax while I take you on a little stroll down zombie lane.

    Let’s take a closer look at Zombies


    What is a zombie?

    A zombie is raised by a disease and it has a single biological imperative, which is to spread the virus by biting human beings. The Zombie is spread just like a plague. History has shown us the apocalyptic effects of plagues before. In the fourteenth century, there was a bacterium which spread from Asia to Europe killing almost a third of its population. They called it the Black Death, known later as the Bubonic Plague.



    The human flea responsible for the plague (infected from the rat flea). Did you just get the heebie-jeebies?


    Without a scientific explanation, these people had no understanding of why so many were dying. If you want to look at what a zombie apocalypse would look like, a great starting point would be to look at the Black Plague. One of the most disturbing elements to this plague was not only that this virus would kill you but that it unhinged everything human about you. Later, in 1918 an even more devastating event occurred, the Spanish Flu, killing nearly fifteen million people. This was the first time the H1N1 virus was the recorded on this magnitude. It was the number one source of death for the soldiers during World War 1, more so than the fighting itself. This virus devastated the populations as it attacked many young children as well. They were frightened at the thought of extinction.

    spanish flue pandemic


    Where did the idea of zombies come from?

    The origin of zombies stems from Haitian Voodoo practices. The word “zombi” in Haitian means “spirit of the dead”. In Voodoo folklore, the Voodoo priests were said to practice the arts of black magic. It was believed these priests possessed the power to resurrect the dead by administering a powder orally called coup padre-coup padre. The main ingredient in this powder was tetrodoxin, a deadly substance found in the poisonous “porcupine fish”. According to legend, an individual who no longer wished another person to live would hire a Bokur, or Voodoo priest, to turn the desired person into a “zombi”.

    The coup padre-coup padre powder would then be given to the individual, producing dead like symptoms as it would slow their heart rate to a near stop, change their breathing pattern and their body temperature would drop. The living would believe the person to be dead and would be buried, essentially alive. The Bokur would later exhume the body, still alive, with their memories erased and would be transformed into mindless drones. The Bokur would use them as his personal slave.

    haiti zombi

    Haitian “Zombi”

    voodoo priest1

    Bokur, Voodoo Priest



    Who was the first zombie we know of?

    In the year 1816, Mary Chelly wrote her own cautionary tale about the destructive potential of technology. She created the most famous zombie in history, the monster of Dr. Frankenstein. A story about what happens when humans try to play God.

    frankenstein book better



    What fears helped create the zombie?

    At the time Mary wrote her story, there were a lot of scientific discoveries. She felt that these scientific studies would do more harm than good. In 1968, the movie The Night of the Living Dead fed on these same fears that terrible things could happen when humans tamper with nature.

    night of the living dead poster

    Today, biological weapons have become our Frankenstein. In 2001, there was the Anthrax scare where this deadly biological weapon was delivered to targeted Americans. There has been a lot of discussion whether it’s possible to have a real zombie apocalypse. The answer is, in some ways, yes. There are a lot of different pathogens and parasites that can infect the humans with a zombie like plague, minus the desire for eating brains of course (at least for now that is).

    rabies-virus-structure-f32lezbfrabies virus spread via biting description

    There are some existing neurotropic viruses that are the stuff nightmares are made of. For example, the rabies virus. This virus is typically transferred through biting from an animal. This virus travels straight to the brain and literally makes you go crazy to the point of biting other people. According to National Geographic there are about 55,000 deaths from the rabies virus each year, mostly in Africa and Asia.


    Rabies patient

    Then there’s the Ebola virus which causes high fever, intense migraines, nausea, organ damage, and widespread hemorrhaging.

    ebola virus

    Here’s a diagram of what happens on the cellular level. Every time I see this image the hairs on my scalp stand on end!! For sake of nastiness, I have omitted any real pictures of individuals with this disease. And yes, you’re welcome.

    ebola-virus-close up scientific diagram

    hemorrhaging rash from ebola virus

    If these two viruses were to combine and form a hybrid virus, we could be looking at a zombie type disease (though they are not the living dead of course). There is a book, later turned movie that played with these ideas. Inspired by the 2006 novel titled World War Z, the new World War Z movie starring Brad Pitt explored the very notion of a zombie apocalypse transmitted by a virus.

    world war z book cover

    Of course, another way this could happen would be if a virus were to mutate. Let’s hope that never happens right!

    But, don’t panic because most viruses aren’t interested in humans. They attack single celled microbes. Another reason not to panic is that many viruses actually help us but I won’t go into that right now.
    What are we doing about these fears?

    Did you know that the CDC (Center for Disease Control) has a section of their emergency preparedness site dedicated to preparing for a zombie like disaster and lists several suggestions for how to prepare for such an apocalypse? Now, we will probably never see the day when the dead rise from their graves only to feast on flesh, but it doesn’t hurt to take precautions right? The CDC urges each home to keep an emergency kit with a map and evacuation plan. Really it’s meant for any viral outbreak but if the shoe fits right?

    How did we create the modern day zombie?

    The modern zombie we know today stems from the ideas of William Seabrook in his novel, ‘The Magic Island’. The book details Seabrook’s visit to Haiti, studying the native culture’s voodoo traditions. This led to the discovery of the resurrecting of the dead, a term he coined as “zombie”. This novel then gave inspiration for the film “White Zombie” that came out in 1932.

    the magic island book

    Since that time, several novels and films have come and gone with scarier faces and better special effects. We’ve seen zombies that talk (“Brains”), zombies that rise from the grave (Michael Jackson’s Thriller), zombies that can think, some that can’t, zombies that are slow, some that are fast (what?), some that can be cured, others not, and even some that fall in love (I’ve even just learned of some New Adult books that feature love interests with zombies. Um….can I say vomit!!!!)


    I’m a sucker for the Walking Dead and the film Warm Bodies (hilarious right?). What are some of your favorite zombie books or shows? What would your zombie be like if you could create your own version? Leave a comment and share your thoughts! We’d love to hear!


    warm-bodies-movie poster

    zombie couple

    Till next time~



    This entry was posted in Mythology.

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    Author Bio

    I’m Linda Louise, one of the bloggers on this website and Colleen’s little sister. I’m just a girl in her mid-thirties who feels thirteen when I play outside with my boys, fifteen when I sing my heart out listening to tunes while driving by myself, and sixty five when I go out past ten at night. I have a thing for junior mints, Mt. Dew, shrimp and kale (though not all at once) and I have a crush on Superman. I still get girlish butterflies when I read Twilight, cry when I read These is My Words, and smile from ear to ear when I read Anne of Green Gables. I have nightmares about aliens on a regular basis and I have a bad habit of midnight snacking. I love everything sports, except golf (although can that honestly be considered a sport??), and I hate anything that slithers, hisses, or stings. I have a problem with giggling at inappropriate moments and I sometimes wish life was a musical. I love science, hate math, love Dr. Seuss, and hate olives. My family is my world and my joys come from their happiness. I’ve learned I don’t know much about anything and I live for a good adventure, naps, cuddles, stories, exceptional food and The Shire.