According to most schools of philosophy and religious traditions, human beings are said to be made of two main components: a soul and a physical body. According to this archetype, the soul is the divine energy that animates the body and provides it with conscious life beyond its bodily functions and basic instincts.
As a logical follow-up question to this basic archetype, people have always wondered whether it is possible for the soul and the body to live separately. On the one hand, all of the world’s religions have always focused on trying to explain what happens to the soul after the body dies. On the other hand, some cultures throughout human history have been interested in finding out whether it is possible for a physical body to live without a soul. These inquiries have given rise to several myths about the undead, soulless human bodies roaming the countryside and wandering into cities while behaving strangely, walking stiffly, and feeding on the living. The undead, commonly known as zombies, in addition to being a popular premise for novels and movies, actually reveal a very insightful side of the human psyche.
Etymology of the Word Zombie
The word zombie is believed to have come from the terms nzambi (meaning ‘a god’) and zumbi (meaning ‘fetish’) in the Kikongo language, spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The story of how these terms came together to signify the undead is very interesting.
As a result of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (16th-19th Centuries), approximately 12.5 million Africans were taken to the Americas to work on plantations in the different European colonies. As they were transported to the New World, the captive brought their religious beliefs with them, which, in fact, gave them the spiritual strength and psychological resilience necessary to endure such an unspeakable and horrifying experience.
Upon their arrival to the New World, the enslaved workers realized that the local laws governing slavery were much harsher than in Africa. Additionally, they were forcefully Christianized and the practice of their native religions was declared illegal. As a result, they started to perform their native rituals clandestinely.
In Haiti, the original West African Vodun religion gradually evolved into what is known today as Haitian Vodou. The new local religion, while maintaining its African roots, provided different outlets for the captive to express how they experienced life as enslaved workers on the island. One of such outlets was the mythical figure of the zombie, a corpse brought back to life under the complete control of a witch master. The word zombie may have been inspired by the belief that creating and controlling such an oddity was a fetish (zumbi) that only those with god-like powers (nzambi) could indulge. Zombies were described as soulless bodies used by their masters to perform manual labor and do chores. They had no free will and, in a very Freudian way, can be considered a heartbreaking metaphor of life as a slave.
In the modern world, we can talk about the existence of Corporate Vodou. That is, corporate environments which, while vocally promoting leadership, excellence, innovation, and other principles, actually force their employees to walk down a path of closed-mindedness and conformism. In this regard, it must be urgently recognized that conformism is a silent illness that fosters mediocrity and, sooner or later, causes organizational failure. Likewise, Corporate Vodou teaches people that political maneuvering is more valuable than talent and hard work, thus crushing the enthusiasm and commitment of the organization’s highest performers and hurting the bottom line. In summary, organizations under the spell of Corporate Vodou claim to strive for greatness but actually drive their people to behave like zombies.
In general, when people start to accept the unacceptable, do what they know should not be done, and endorse what they know should not be endorsed, they have indeed lost their souls—they have become zombie-minded. They may not walk stiffly, be in urgent need of a bath, or speak unintelligibly, but they have forsaken their consciousness for the fear of losing their jobs or for the ambition of moving up the corporate ladder.
The Zombie Antidote
As you take your kids trick or treating this Halloween, remember that while zombie costumes are frighteningly cool, the possibility of being turned into a zombie-minded person chases us daily. That’s what I call scary. Therefore, it is our responsibility to remain true to ourselves and not let our surroundings take away our dreams and weaken our will to make the world a better place.
What Do You Think?
Have you ever felt like a “zombie”? Have you ever felt like someone is trying to make you behave like a zombie-minded creature? Have you ever met someone who reminded you of a “zombie”? In your opinion, what’s the best antidote to “zombification”?