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To be honest, I've never understood the fear factor induced by Hollywood’s shambling hordes of zombies through the decades. From Night of the Living Dead to Dawn of the Dead and Shaun of the Dead their outstretched arms and stumbling gait just leave me bemused. Yes, I know, I'm probably in the minority, but really? Resurrected bodies.
Zombies appear to be everywhere right now, they even infest Easter Road stadium’s Famous Five Stand where the Edinburgh Zombie Experience has been giving thrill-seekers a chance to pit their wits against the waking dead in an interactive attraction that will have you running for your life, squeezing through crawl spaces and generally escaping the zombie’s rampage. Check out their website at https://edinburghzombieexperience.com/ if that takes your fancy.
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The folklore that inspires the appeal of the modern day zombie boasts origins as dark as the fiction it has spawned.
Haiti lies at the heart of most zombie mythology. The walking dead first appeared there during the 17th and 18th centuries with tales of Haitian slaves who believed dying would release them back to their homeland and an 'afterlife' in which they would be free. Many, however, were driven to suicide, even though such an act debarred them from returning 'home'. Instead, such an act was believed to condemn their spirit to wander the plantation on which they worked for eternity as 'undead slaves denied their own bodies through suicide yet trapped inside them'. The soulless zombie was born.
Other origin stories, are equally troubling, telling of villagers who were transformed by 'witch doctors' or others in the employ of plantation owners by the administration of substances that rendered them paralysed and seemingly dead. After burial, slave masters would dig up the individual, revive them and force them into a life of slavery.
Of course, October 31 is the perfect time for such tales. Whether you call it Samhain, All Hallows' Eve or Hallowe'en, it has long been the night preceding religious feasts commemorating the dead and departed - far removed from the commercial scarefest it has become today.
Indeed, Hallowe'en, never Halloween unless it's the title of my favourite horror franchise, has changed immeasurably since I was a kid. Then it was all about dooking for monkey nuts and apples, guisin', where you had to earn your sweet or penny as opposed to Trick or Treat where an implied threat is ever present.
Fond memories of guisin' include carrying my scooped out turnip with a candle in it, never a pumpkin, as we tapped doors of neighbours in the Leith tenement where we lived.
Although I have to confess back then, with bonfire night just around the corner, I assumed guisin' was derived from the old cry, 'Penny for the guy', but no, the wearing of costumes, or disguising, dates back to the 16th century.
What are your memories of Hallowe’ens past? I’d love to hear them.
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