Related on MNN: Teens risk playing pretend vampire

With zombies about to overtake vampires as the pop-culture monster of choice in Hollywood films, the obvious question that teens asked parents everywhere in the wake of the "Twilight" films is about to come full circle: "Do they really exist?" 

Unlike the fanged, blood-suckers so easily dismissed as myth, some might be surprised to hear that zombie lore carries with it a certain element of truth. 

In his new book "Real Zombies, the Living Dead and Creatures of the Apocalypse", author Brad Steiger explores the phenomenon, particularly as it occurs in Haiti's voodoo culture. "It's not what we see in Hollywood, of course," he tells AOL. "Strictly speaking, a zombie is a reanimated corpse that's been brought back to life to serve as a slave for a voodoo priest or priestess."

So serious are these beliefs in zombies, or "Nzambi" as the Haitians call them, that it's actually illegal in the country to raise people from the dead. 

OK, but how is it done? According to the article, an anthropologist named Wade Davis went behind the voodoo curtain in the 1980s and traced zombification back to a poison derived from the deadly puffer fish called tetrodotoxin. But that's only part of the puzzle. From what I could find, this is how real-life zombies are made: 

1. A chemical that is part puffer-poison (tetrodotoxin), part toxic marine toad (Bufo marinus), and part toxic-toad (Osteopilus dominicensis) is mixed. 

2. The resulting dried-out powder is then applied somehow to the skin. Davis theorized that the irritation properties of the chemical breaks in the victim's skin, allowing the puffer fish poison to easily pass through.

3. The victim becomes paralyzed, heart rate slows, and an appearance of death settles over. Victim is then buried. 

4. The priestess returns, digs up the victim, and applies a paste consisting of "zombie cucumber" or jimson weed — which causes the "zombie" to fever, develop amnesia and hallucinate. 

5. Through the power of suggestion — and the paste's effects — the victim believes that a transformation has taken place and that they really are a zombie, meant to serve the priest or priestess. 

It's definitely nothing as dramatic as a decomposing person looking for brains — but the fact that there are well-documented cases of this happening in Haiti is frightening enough. 

To learn more about the role of zombies in Haiti's voodoo culture, check out Brad Steiger's new book here — or visit the AOL article for some great videos and discussion

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