Historically, like werewolves and vampires, zombies are creatures of folklore; said to be corpses reanimated by supernatural forces they trace their roots back to the island of Haiti and certain west and southern African countries. Also a metaphor, the term is often used to describe a hypnotized person who although in a state of reduced awareness is ambulatory and can respond to surrounding stimuli.

According to the tenets of vodou (voodoo), a person can be raised from the dead by a bokor or sorcerer the undead’s lack of free will allowing the animated corpse to remain under the control of the animator. Also existent within the Vodun (Vudun) traditions of costal West Africa (Togo to Nigeria) is the zombie astral or life essence which when captured by the bokor can be used to (temporarily) enhance his or her powers. The astral is generally kept inside a bottle and can be sold to believers to imbue good fortune or healing.

Feeding a zombie salt is said to return it to the grave.

A pharmacological case for zombies (the folkloric/mythological kind) has been put forward by Wade Davis, a Harvard ethnobotanist and researcher in two books: The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985) and Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie (1988) in which the author claims that a living person can be turned into a zombie using two unique powders. The first which includes tetrodotoxin, a potent (often fatal) neurotoxin [1] with no known antidote is found in the flesh of pufferfish. The second consists of a dissociative drug [2] such as datura, a plant that along with deadly nightshade/belladonna, mandrake and henbane belongs to the classic grouping known as “witches‘ weeds.” All are highly toxic and dangerous.

In the Modern West a new twist, the term “zombie” being applied to an undead person (usually flesh eating) whose roots can be traced back to George A. Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead [3] which was in turn partially inspired by Richard Matheson’s novel “I am legend.“

Entirely a work of fiction modern zombies have appeared as plot devices in numerous books, television shows, video games and films. Besides the original 1968 movie and its sequels, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, are other works many gory, many comedic, many both. House of the Dead, Hell of the Living Dead, The Return of the Living Dead (which introduced the concept of zombies eating brains), Dead Alive (directed by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame), Zombieland and Warm Bodies are a few of the best. Books include Cell, The Enemy and Feed, television the highly rated The Walking Dead, and video games Dead Frontier and Left 4 Dead.

Modern zombie culture has spread to music; Michael Jackson’s "Thriller," to merchandise; Zombie Mints (which apparently taste like “rotting brains“) and to zombie walks; organized gatherings, where people dressed as undead act in a manner consistent with modern zombie behavior (a combination of groaning, grunting and plaintive calls for “brains” preferably human).

On the 11th of February 2013, computer hackers broke into the EAS (Emergency Alert System) networks in Great Falls, Montana, and Marquette, Michigan, to broadcast an emergency alert that zombies had risen from their graves. Stations KRTV in Great Falls and WBUP(TV) and WNMU(TV) in Marquette broke into regular programming to broadcast the false alert “Civil authorities in your area have reported that the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living. Follow the messages onscreen that will be updated as information become available. Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous.”

KRTV the first station to be affected, quickly announced the message was a hoax and that their was no apocalyptic emergency the statement confirmed by the local police allegedly with a smile.

Two days later on February 13, disk jockeys joking around at WIZM(FM) in La Crosse, Wisconsin, inadvertently triggered the EAS on WKBT(TV) by playing a recording of the fake alert during their morning show.

Previous hackings include a Portland, Main, digital road sign where pranksters changed the standard caution to “Warning Zombies Ahead!” Portland authorities, not amused, stated the signs are deployed as a safety precaution and tampering could be dangerous.

[1] A neurotoxin is a substance which inhibits the function of unique cells (neurons) which found throughout the brain and nervous system are necessary for the properly carrying out of a variety of tasks both autonomic (swallowing, sneezing, coughing) and higher-level (memory, reasoning, decision-making).

Contact with neurotoxins can cause vertigo, queasiness, loss of motor control, paralysis, vision troubles, seizures and strokes, and eventually with nervous system shut down loss of consciousness and death.

[2] Dissociatives are a class of hallucinogen which alter ones perceptions of sight and sound and produce feelings of detachment (dissociation) by reducing or blocking signals to the conscious mind from other parts of the brain.

[3] Though the word "zombie" was never used, the film did change our perception of the undead by portraying them not as creatures of folklore but as corpses, reanimated, mindless and flesh-eating.

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