The Rose Files
True Scary Stories from Life
                              The Strange Case of Clairvius Narcisse
                                 … Or, Yes, There Are Real Zombies!

                                                                         ~ Rose Titus ~

      Once again, as I’ve stated before, while investigating ideas for the “Rose Files,” I often come across
tales that are strange, bizarre, scary, and yes…  true!  And this is how I came across the sad, tragic,
strange, but true tale of one Mr. Clairvius Narcisse, deceased citizen of Haiti, and zombie!  And yes, there
are real zombies in this world, but they are not what you see on television.  These zombies are in fact
definitely not shuffling down your street moaning that they want your “brains!” and they don’t have rotting
flesh falling off, either.  They are, however, under the influence…  

      Please read on, and you shall find out about “real zombies!”

      In Haiti during the early 1960’s, a man named Clairvius Narcisse checked himself into Albert
Schweitzer Hospital due to experiencing strange symptoms.  While in the hospital, his condition rapidly
worsened, and he was pronounced dead.  He was soon buried.  Almost twenty years later, his sister was
walking down the street and ran into Clairvius, who seemed quite alive, and who had a terrible story to tell.

      After being pronounced dead, Narcisse heard his sister crying and felt the sheet being pulled over
him.  He could not move or communicate in any way.  After some time, he was aware of the coffin being
nailed shut.  He even reported that he felt himself hovering somehow above his grave, as if watching things
from above.  This went on for some time until his coffin was opened by a Voodoo practitioner and his
associates.  At that point, Narcisse was awakened, but unfortunately the men beat him up.  They bound
and gagged him and took him away to a farm where he was forced to work for a few years.  While there,
he witnessed other such “zombies” like himself being forced to work in the fields all day under the hot
oppressive sun.  They seemed to exist in a dream like state, going about in slow motion.  They were made
to consume a mind altering substance (most likely datura) to keep them submissive and made to eat low
quality food as well, probably to keep them in a weakened state.  

      Finally, one of the zombies rebelled while being beaten by the cruel master.  The zombie hit back with
a hoe and managed to kill the one who had kept them in thrall.  The zombies, including Narcisse, all
escaped.  They wandered the countryside for a while and the zombies then apparently went their separate
ways.  Narcisse continued to drift alone throughout the Haitian landscape, confused and afraid.  But he
was no longer being forced to take mind-altering substances, so gradually his mind cleared.  He was
especially afraid that a family member, most likely his brother, had plotted the whole thing against him and
“sold him off” to the sorcerer (called a “bokor”) in order to “get rid of him” after having a dispute over some
land.  Finally he got up the courage to make his way home and contact his sister.  By this time, it was the
early 1980’s.

      His strange tale got the attention of researchers and scientists who were interested in how
“zombification” actually comes about.   They suspected that some type of drug, or drugs were being used
to make people appear to be dead, and then keep them in an altered state so they would have almost no
free will.  These researchers contacted Wade Davis, who was at that time a graduate student at Harvard
University, and dispatched him to Haiti to find out exactly what was going on with all these zombies that
were allegedly wandering around down in Haiti.  Davis was not just to find facts, but also to discover the
formula of this potion, and bring it back for possible future medical and scientific use.

      Wade Davis seemed to enjoy his time in Haiti.  He met with Voodoo practitioners in pubs to discuss
“business,” but he also enjoyed the drinks, the music, and he danced with all the girls.  He even went
horseback riding while in Haiti.  He not only learned about the magical potion, he learned a lot about the
history and culture of Haiti.

      Voodoo is a religion that originated in Africa.  It was brought over to Haiti when people were forcibly
taken from Africa and brought to Haiti against their will to work on plantations.  The African people held on
to their beliefs, their traditions, and possibly their knowledge of herbs and other natural substances that
can heal, kill, or induce an altered state of mind.  Voodoo (more properly called “Vodoun”) is not just
sorcery but a complex tradition and set of spiritual beliefs that many people in Haiti still follow to this day.   
In fact, during a slave rebellion in Haiti’s violent past, a potion was used to terrify and kill off many
plantation owners.  “Papa Doc” Duvalier was believed by the people to practice Voodoo himself, and he
did not use this magic for good, either.

      Finally Wade Davis was informed of the ingredients for the potion that induces a near death state.  
These include but are not limited to certain types of toads, sea snakes, parts of tarantulas, puffer fish,
broken up bone fragments (taken from graves), and other. (I must advise readers to please not attempt to
mix up this potion themselves; it is seriously and extremely dangerous.  Some victims given this substance
do not wake up. People given these ingredients may die for real.  In addition some of the ingredients are
unsafe to handle, period.  You have been warned.  Okay?)

      The victim is given the potion without his or her knowledge.  Soon after “death” – for they are actually
not dead but drugged – they are dragged out of their grave and force fed other plant based drugs that take
away their willpower and keep them in a dreamlike state.  These zombies are said to become obedient,
lack free will, and exist in a weakened state of mind.  A zombie can recover and go back to normal if no
longer being drugged, however this is not always the case.

      Some of them never return to normal.

      When Wade Davis met with Clairvius Narcisse, he was able to speak clearly, but slowly.  He told the
incredible things that had happened to him after “death.”  There was another zombie that Davis met with
while in Haiti, a woman who never quite recovered.  She was kept in a hospital, and simply shuffled
around, a blank expression in her eyes.

      While learning about Voodoo and Haitian culture, Davis came to believe that being turned into a
zombie was often a punishment of some kind, or something that was done to a person in revenge for his
or her wrongdoing.  Clairvius Narcisse unfortunately had an entire list of sins against society.  He went
against his brother.  He would not help out his family when they were in need.  It was said he had many
children outside of marriage that he did not provide for.  And so finally he was made a zombie.  But
fortunately for him and for the zombie work crew he was assigned to, there was rebellion and escape,
leading to his eventual recovery from his miserable state and his return home.

      Zora Neale Hurston was aware of zombies in the 1930’s and wrote about them in her book Tell My
Horse.  She guessed that these people had never really died, but that they were drugged somehow by a
potion known only to a very few people.  When she reported this, no one believed her, however, possibly
because she was a woman, or because she was African American – or more likely both.  She told many
tales of zombies that she heard while visiting Haiti.   In one such story, she writes of how a widow in Haiti
wanted to be “rid of” all the zombies her husband collected while alive.  She also tells of how zombies are
sometimes brainwashed by masters to steal from people and bring back the money.  

      Another zombie was once a spoiled son of a wealthy family, but after becoming a zombie, he was
forced to work and do heavy labor and had no memory of who he had once been before.  In her travels,
Zora Neale Hurston came upon a female zombie that was being kept somewhere and cared for, because
this individual was no longer right in the head and unable to care for herself.  The zombie would simply
stand around, stare off at nothing, and would not communicate, a tragic shadow of a person apparently
unable to do things for herself or have any free will.

      Voodoo and the belief in zombies have always been a part of the culture in Haiti.  In fact there is a law
going back to the 1800’s which outlaws the creation of zombies (Article 246 of he Haitian Criminal Code)
and it is written in a way that acknowledges the use of potions against the victim.  If there was a law
against creating zombies, then the people even back then must have taken the problem quite seriously.

      Not much is heard about zombies since Wade Davis went to Haiti to research this strange
phenomenon.  It may be possible that since he raised awareness of this horrible crime, that zombies are
no longer being created as often as they used to, and also since it is illegal to create zombies in the first
place.  Or it may be possible that there are still zombies shuffling sadly around the countryside in Haiti, lost
souls wandering around in ragged clothes, alone and confused, and no one knows of their sad existence.

      Clairvius Narcisse passed away in the 1990’s, finally dying for real, and he can finally rest in peace
now.  But his strange story will live forever and be a reminder to us that some things that we assume to be
mere superstition may have a terrifying basis in reality.

      So…  there it is – there is a real life basis for the zombie legend, and if you don’t believe me, then look
it up:

      1. Davis, Wade, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Simon and Schuster, 1985. (A truly fascinating book
which was made into a movie; the book is better than the movie.  I recommend it to anyone who wants to
truly know about zombies or the culture of Haiti – Everything you always wanted to know about zombies but
were too undead to ask).

       2. Davis, Wade, Passage of Darkness:  The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie, University of North
Carolina Press, 1988 (with more detail on the ingredients of the dangerous potion used to create
zombies).

      3. Hurston, Zora Neale, Tell My Horse:  Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica, Harper & Row, 1938.  
(She knew where zombies came from before Wade Davis did; unfortunately, she was ahead of her time.)

      4. Hahn, Patrick D, “Dead Man Walking,” Biology Online, September 4, 2007.

      5. Kruszelnicki, Karl S., “Zombie,” ABC Science, News in Science, December 9, 2004 (available
online).

      6. Blog post from The Haiti Observer:  Zomby, A Pharmacological Phenomenon, February 27, 2007
(Author’s name not found; possibly the person doesn’t want his or her name made public?).

      7. Blog post from The Library of Congress: Does the Haitian Criminal Code Outlaw Making Zombies?
October 31, 2014, by Barbara Bavis, Guest Post from Anne Guha, and consulting with Nicolas Boring, for
a translation of the French Haitian Criminal Code of 1883, Article 246, a law which actually forbids the
creation of zombies in Haiti.  (Note:  it is illegal to make a person into a zombie, so don’t do it!)