Zombie myths from around the world

Everyone knows about zombies: flesh-eating undead humans that, when they rise, are impossible to destroy completely. Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, World War Z … all these movies have been ubiquitous in the 2000s as zombie mania has taken hold.

But the modern version of the zombie is not one that has always existed. In fact, cultures around the world have their own version of a revenant – something that comes back from the dead.

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Perhaps the most awesome of these revenants are the draugr – essentially, a Viking zombie. Yeah, I know. It’s a creature from Norse mythology that has a whole host of powers, including superhuman strength, the ability to increase their size at will, shapeshifting, controlling the weather, and seeing the future. The draugr are created if the person was mean and greedy in life. Like zombies, draugr can also manifest through infection from another draugr. Its only purpose in life is guarding treasure and terrorizing humans. They kill people by crushing them, eating them, drinking their blood, or driving them to suicide. They have also been known to drive animals insane and chasing or riding livestock so much that they die.

The draugr will jealously guard its home by killing grave robbers and its propensity for killing humans also stems from jealousy – jealousy of life and things it used to have. How do you kill a super strong, psychic, angry monster? A true hero has to wrestle it back to its grave. Also effective: iron (it will injure it only) and cutting off the head, burning the body, and dumping the ashes in the sea to make sure it won’t come back. The Norse don’t believe in going halfway.

There are two revenants in Indonesian folklore that are related: the lang suir and the pontianak. Lang suir are the ghosts of women who died during childbirth, while the pontianak is the ghost of a woman who died while pregnant. Lang suir is a horrible-looking creature with red eyes and claws. Their victim of choice: pregnant women who they then kill or cause to have a miscarriage. The pontianak doesn’t have a grudge against other women: in fact, they hate men, and this manifests by ripping their stomachs open and eating their organs or ripping off…other parts.

They find their victims by catching the scent from clothes left out to dry. To this day, some Malay people won’t leave their clothes out overnight. Lang suir are said to live near bodies of water, while the pontianak likes to live in banana trees. So if you’re male or pregnant, maybe avoid those things. If you are threatened by a lang suir, you can turn it back into a human by putting its hair in a hole in the back of its neck (which is how it eats) or cutting off its claws. For the pontianak, poking a nail through the hole in the back of its neck is the way to go.

The jiangshi is a revenant with origins in China. It is said to be very stiff and moves around by hopping with its arms outstretched in front of it. During the day, it kills the living to absorb their life force, while at night it hides. The jiangshi legend is so widespread that it has spawned its own movie genre. Jiangshi are formed by possession of a dead body, a body absorbing enough life force to become the undead, when a soul doesn’t leave a body due to suicide (among other causes), when a person is buried alive, or if a body is reanimated using the dark arts. A living person can also be infected by a jiangshi through injury and will become a jiangshi in time.

While jiangshis originally appeared more zombie-like, Western influences have turned it into more of a vampire-like creature. While they seem scary, fear not! There are many ways to deal with a jiangshi. The creatures are terrified of their reflection (much like I am in the morning), so carrying a mirror is a good idea. They are also repelled by items made of peach tree wood, vinegar, the I Ching, azuki beans, handbells, rice chaff, an awl, axes, brooms, a thread stained with black ink, fire, and more. They could benefit from going on those Maury Povich episodes that deal with phobias.

So don’t be daunted by stories of fearsome creatures coming back to life. As you’ve learned here, there is always a way to defeat them – whether it’s by carrying around a broom at all times or bulking up so you can wrestle a super-strong Viking monster.

© Copyright Humboldt Journal

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