Zombie, AKA Zombie, Y'm-bhi, Zuvembie, Lurker
Origin: The term zombies originally come from the Haitian "zombis" created by paralyzing a victim with poison sending them into a death like trance. Once laid out for dead for a certain period, the "spell caster" could revive his drugged victim and force him to follow simple commands, working as a slave for the spell-caster.
In modern fantasy, a zombie is more often assumed to be more literally dead and revived through dark magic, and in pulp literature "super-science" might serve in place of black magic as the animating force.
- 1 Description
- 2 Lovecraftian Zombies
- 3 The Evil Dead
- 4 Evil Spirits and Incorporeal Undead
- 5 Keeper Notes
- 6 Heresies and Controversies
- 7 Associated Mythos Elements
- 8 References
Death in the mythos is not always the barrier it seems. Often a strong willed person can keep their consciousness in their dead body or possess other's bodies.
Zombies are an undead creature, usually humans who have risen from the grave, though sometimes can be magically controlled people or animals.
The term zombies originally come from the Haitian "zombis" created by paralyzing a victim with poison sending them into a death like trance. Once layer out for a certain period the spell caster could make the person come back and do simple commands.
Later zombies came to mean undead people, who literally came back from the dead, rotting and eating human flesh. Typically they are slow, but unnaturally strong. It is variable if they are intelligent or not. In H.P. Lovecraft's story Herbert West, Reanimator the main character Herbert West attempts to bring back humans with a special serum. This leads to zombie like creatures who eventually kill him. In popular media recently stronger faster zombies have been more present, while slower zombies are more comedic. Some zombies are also portrayed with special powers, extreme strength, acidic spit, etc.
Zombies take many strange forms in the Mythos, but feature in mythos stories in a more traditional form as well. Robert Bloch imagines a sorcerer who's body parts crawl around to murder it's killer. Robert E. Howard's voodoo related story Pigeons from Hell where a woman has become a zuvembie (a far worse version of the voodoo zombi). Howard also features zombie like vampires in his Solomon Kane story The Hills of the Dead.
Cannibal Zombies (Ghouls)
Cannibal zombies (such as those found in the Living Dead films) might more properly be thought of as Ghouls.
A Barrow Wight or just Wight - literally "tomb-dweller", might originally have been conceived as a person or other living humanoid creature that has made its home in tombs, though it has come to be understood through modern fantasy fiction as an undead creature that makes its home in tombs, where it jealously guards the grave-goods it was buried with from the living.
Wights might also be considered another word for Machen's "Little People" or Robert E. Howard's "Worms of the Earth", in the sense of being malignant, perhaps undead "dwarf"/"elf"/"faerie"/"goblin" creatures that dwell in prehuman tombs, emerging by night to torment the living.
Generally presumed to be a form of Lich, though a Draugr might alternatively be considered to be a corpse reanimated by a "worm", and in that sense "draugr" might be considered another word for "Dark One"
Can be thought of as essentially the same creature as the Wight, above.
A bloated, bruised, mottled wandering corpse infested with maggots. If found wandering the countryside, it is considered a death-scucca. If it haunts barrows and graveyards, it is a beorg-scucca.
Can be thought of as essentially the same creature as the Wight, above.
See Lich, below.
A Zuvembie is a far worse version of the voodoo zombi, equivalent to a Lich in that its intellect and ability to cast spells are intact.
See Lich, below.
Animated Mummies (dried and preserved corpses) that are brought back to life with their intellects intact, especially those capable of using magic, may also be thought of as a variant of Lich (see below), or as a zombie variant.
The term "Lich" (variously pronounced "leek", "lick", or "litch"; a gutteral "lickh" is probably most accurate) originally referred to a lifeless corpse. An undead form of a sorcerer, essentially a zombie version of the sorcerer's own body containing the sorcerer's slightly degraded (in terms of memory, personality, and sanity) intellect. A sorcerer might thus resurrect himself as a lich for the purpose of obtaining a sort of immortality, often with the intent of inhabiting the decaying corpse for only a limited time before a fresh, living body can be stolen.
Mummies may be thought of as a sort of lich, animated from corpses preserved by various sorts of desiccation or drying, most famously including Egyptian mummies preserved by a complicated process culminating in being wrapped in linen, though mummies created through various means may be found throughout the world.
A "zombie" or "deadite" in the form of a bare skeleton, or perhaps a skeleton covered in only the barest minimum of flesh. "Realistically", a re-animated skeleton would require at least some equivalent of tendons, muscles, cartilage, and nerves to allow it to stand and move without the intervention of magic, perhaps making the traditional reanimated skeleton the equivalent of an extremely emaciated or deteriorated zombie. Weird science might also use some technological or biomechanical replacement for the minimal amount of flesh needed to animate the skeleton (robotics, protoplasmic slime, parasitic plant or insect or other living matter, webbing or other organic products, etc. A skeleton would otherwise be explicitly animated by the supernatural: poltergeist activity, necromantic magic, etc.
Lovecraft's version of zombie-like undead tends to follow the pulp "super-science" model in the tradition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, with Wizards using e.g. ancient, alien technologies or forbidden scientific techniques - such as perverse and blasphemous alchemical or surgical techniques or bombardment of strange rays - to reanimate the corpses, often imperfectly and with disastrous results.
In other stories, Lovecraft helped pioneer the "Evil Dead" model of "zombie" in which the zombies are re-animated by a malignant intellect foreign to the host body as described further below (see e.g. The Thing on the Doorstep and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, or in the form of vampire-like creatures (see "The Shunned House").
Herbert West created zombie-like monsters - "Reanimated" (sometimes "Reanimate" or plural "Reanimates") - with failed medical experiments with chemicals and other means (see "Herbert West: Reanimator"). The Reanimated are presumed to be debased versions of their living forms with their original intellects destroyed by the process of death and imperfect reanimation. Reanimated that have "come back wrong" and are assumed instead to contain a non-human (perhaps alien or demonic) spirit serving as their intellect would more properly be considered "Deadites" instead. Or, see Child of the Sphinx, which is similar in spirit, but produced through ancient Egyptian alchemy (West apparently created very similar half-human hybrid abominations in his later experiments!)
Children of the Sphinx
See Child of the Sphinx for these Ancient Egyptian mummies which have been stitched together with parts of animals and reanimated through lost alchemical arts to walk the catacombs of hidden cities beneath Egypt.
"[the Gyaa-yothn race] was supplemented by a second slave-class of reanimated corpses. The Old Ones knew how to make a corpse into an automaton which would last almost indefinitely and perform any sort of work when directed by streams of thought...."
"Zamacona... observed the more manlike shapes that toiled along the furrows, and felt a curious fright and disgust toward certain of them whose motions were more mechanical than those of the rest. These, Gll'-Hthaa-Ynn explained, were what men called the y'm-bhi - organisms which had died, but which had been mechanically reanimated for industrial purposes by means of atomic energy and thought-power. The slave-class did not share the immortality of the freemen of Tsath, so that with time the number of y'm-bhi had become very large. They were dog-like and faithful, but not so readily amenable to thought-commands as were living slaves. Those which most repelled Zamacona were those whose mutilations were greatest; for some were wholly headless, while others had suffered singular and seemingly capricious subtractions, distortions, transpositions, and graftings in various places. The Spaniard could not account for this condition, but Gll'-Hthaa-Ynn made it clear that these were slaves who had been used for the amusement of the people in some of the vast arenas; for the men of Tsath were connoisseurs of delicate sensation, and required a constant supply of fresh and novel stimuli for their jaded impulses...."
— H.P. Lovecraft and Zelia Bishop, "The Mound (fiction)"
Y'm-bhi are a specific form of zombie raised up by the super-science of K'n-yan, using a combination of atomic energy, hypnotism, medical/chemical/biological science, biomechanics, and perhaps even a little sorcery. The People of K'n-yan are skilled at raising such creatures for various purposes, particularly slave labor, to which the Y'm-bhi are driven via telepathic commands issued daily; there is seemingly no condition, deterioration, mutilation, or modification of the body so extreme that it would prevent the corpse from being raised to some shocking and mind-shattering semblance of reanimation, perhaps supplemented by an ethereal/ghostly component replacing the mind and head of the thing that has been reanimated; in one particularly extreme and perhaps unreliable report, a Y'm-bhi was thus raised in a condition in which the organic head, arms, and lower legs had been amputated to satisfy the monstrous amusement and revenge of the citizenry of Tsath, leaving only an animated, mutilated, trunk to somehow serve as a sentry or guard, while walking upon bloody stumps and observing with ghostly eyes....
Reanimation through Hypnotism
Edgar Allan Poe's famous horror story "Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" makes use of the "super-science" of mesmerism or hypnosis as the mechanism of tying the spirit of a bed-ridden man to his body long past the point of death, with horrifying results. A similar process seems to have been employed by Lovecraft in "Cool Air", combined with the then new technology of refrigeration to help preserve the undead corpse against decay.
Zombies from Essential Salts
Joseph Curwen resurrects bodies - sometimes imperfectly - with the "essential salts" of the dead. These are essentially "zombies", though the dead more skillfully resurrected in this way may retain their human intellects, and in some cases may even resemble their living forms closely enough to be mistaken for living things.
Servant of Glaaki
These beings are, effectively, zombies - reanimated by a sting of a spine of a mythos creature.
See: Servant of Glaaki
Origin: First appeared in the Phantasm (1979 franchise)
A "Lurker" (sometimes also called a "dwarf" or "dwarf zombie") is a kind of zombie created through some strange alchemical process that involves crushing a (typically human) victim's body down to less than half its original size, using a mix of chemicals, and the high gravity and dense atmosphere of a specific, red, alien planet to which the body is delivered in a special drum-like container of chemical solution that softens the flesh and bones and renders them suitable for crushing. Other preparations to the body involve extensive surgery to remove most of the brain, destroying the original personality, creativity, and intellect of the victim, resulting in a short, stocky, shriveled, dwarven, powerful, feral, but easily controlled slave labor force suitable for work in factories, mines, and graveyards under the supervision of Mythos entities (such as the Tall Man), cultists, etc. The wretched creatures are typically clothed and shrouded in heavy hooded robes sized to fit their dwarfish frame, which are mass-produced for the creatures in an unknown factory operated by cultists using Lurker slave labor for this and similar purposes.
In spite of the transformation, Lurkers often retain just enough recognizable features that people who knew the victims in life may, to their horror, recognize the shriveled, crushed face and form of friends, family, and loved ones in the diminutive, twisted, form of a Lurker. In spite of the physical resemblance, however, no part of the victim's original personality remains in the Lurker's brain or body. Instead, the cerebrums of the victims of this process, removed from the bodies in the process of the Lurker's conversion from a human body, is put to another use entirely: preserved, compressed, reprogrammed, and altered into an organic operating system that is then embedded into animated constructs such as the floating, metallic Sentinel Spheres and other machinery, which may sometimes still retain enough personality and memory to recognize and contact or communicate with loved ones separately from the Lurker's body (See Sentinel Sphere for more information.)
The Evil Dead
Unlike the zombies and liches described above, these "Evil Dead" are, strictly speaking, actually "demonic" or "alien" spirits which have possessed and animated a body that did not belong to them in life; in most cases these undead beings have "come back wrong", their bodies possessed by malignant, demonic, or alien intellects empowered through black magic or some other unspeakable art to enter our world from another plane:
See "Deadite" for a type of corpse animated via possession of an alien or demonic spirit, typically possessing many strange and eldritch powers, and accompanied by monstrous distortions of the human form (such as the addition of fangs, claws, glowing eyes, etc.)
See Vampire for a type of corpse reanimated via possession by an alien or demonic spirit, which derives sustenance from drinking the blood, "life force", or similar equivalent of its victims.
See Crawling One for a mass of carrion-eating worms clinging to the shape of a wizard's corpse (or alternatively, a single, ancient, wicked worm grown to enormous size disguised after a fashion as a human), animated through the possession of the Wizard's spirit.
See Dark One for undead "dwarves", animated by alien worms.
A malicious spirit possessing a recently deceased body. According to some traditional mythology, a dybbuk, believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person (not necessarily the same dead person), leaves the host body once it has accomplished its goal, sometimes after being helped; in other traditions, a dybbuk might be a non-human (demonic) walk-in spirit which has been permitted to enter a body to wreak havoc upon the natural world, perhaps by the sinful life lived by the deceased or some failure of the proper blessing or funeral rite to purify the host body before burial, and such demonic spirits may also demand the assistance of living helpers to accomplish its unnatural missions in this world. In Lovecraftian terms, the dybbuk is effectively the disembodied mind of a human or alien wizard which has found a new home in the body of a dead human, which it now uses to work mischief on Earth at the expense of the deceased host's loved ones....
Evil Spirits and Incorporeal Undead
Zombies also appear in many, many Call of Cthulhu scenarios. Too many to list.
Many spells exist in the Mythos to create zombies.
- Black Binding: Controllable grave born zombie. Costs 16mp and 1D6 San to cast. The caster pours a ritual liquid over a corpse or into a grave. After a week the caster returns to the body or grave and intones the Black Binding. After a half hour the zombie claws its way out. The caster can control it and it continues to rots as normal.
- Bind Soul: A soul is trapped and the body can be turned into a simple zombie.
- Create Zombi: Turns a living human into a zombi. Costs 10mp and 4 San.
- The magician or bokor paralyzes their victim by making them inhale the powder (POT 25 poison) made from blowfish innards and alkaloids. The target falls into a trance that is indistinguishable from death. They are still conscious but cannot move.
- The bokor then buries the person alive in a coffin a tube is inserted so they can breath. For every hour the person must make a San roll or lose 1D6 San. If they go insane they accept the will of the bokor to dispel the terror.
- Thee nights later the bokor comes back and casts the spell. They must make a Pow v. Pow if the victim hasn't already been broken. If the spell succeeds the target is stripped down to 1 Pow and they can be controlled as a zombi by the bokor. If the spell fails the sorcerer can just cover the breathing tube and leave the victim to suffocate.
- Create Zombie: Creates a zombie from a corpse. Cost 1D10 San and 1 Pow. The caster puts an ounce of their blood into the mouth of the corpse, kisses the lips of the corpse and "breathes part of the self" into the body. This is when the Pow is lost. If the spell succeeds the caster may give the zombie simple commands. If the caster dies the zombie become inactive and rots. Part of the invocation refers to the Outer Gods.
- Create Heart Seeker or Seek Heart: Quickens and makes a corpse seek out a fresh heart to replace it's own. Costs 6 San and 8 mp. They must be within a 100 yards and see the corpse to cast it. The corpse has to be drained of blood and the heart removed. This preparation takes 1D3 hours. The corpse jumps up and runs to find the closest human target and tries to rip the victim's heart out and place it in it's own chest. It stands in ecstasy before collapsing and rotting away. The spell lasts the corpses Str+Con+Pow in minutes. If it fails the corpse laments and decays.
Once a zombie is created a magician might use the spell Eyes of the Zombie to personally control the zombie. Each cast costs 3 mp and 15 San, and is effective for 1D3 months. The eyes of the zombie are removed and put in a chemical bath, the casters eyes are also removed and stored for safety. Then the zombie's eyes are placed in the caster's sockets. They murmur a phrase and they can directly control the zombie body. Replacing the eyes takes a reversal spell.
(Spells from 5.5 Call of Cthulhu rulebook)