until someone in the villages of yore decided they had done something
wrong. "They then would go to a trial by ordeal," says James D. Adams,
PhD, associate professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences at the
University of Southern California School of Pharmacy, Los Angeles, and an
expert in zombie history.
Townspeople would rub a preparation of Datura stramonium on their
bellies, Adams says. "The Datura stramonium contains scopolamine,
the motion sickness drug," Adams says. The belief was that if people were
innocent they wouldn't have any symptoms from the preparation being rubbed into
But people absorb it at different rates, he says. "The people who react
quickly absorb scopolamine within a couple of hours," Adams says. "In
some, scopolamine can take 13 hours to be absorbed."
Those who absorb the preparation quickly can begin to hallucinate, with
visual and auditory changes, and their breathing becomes depressed, he says.
Those are the ones who turn into "zombies" -- someone who can barely
walk, barley see, and walks very clumsily. They walk around with arms
outstretched, stiff arms and legs, as if they are bumping into things, he
Those who absorbed it slowly, he says, went home and slept it off. And they
were presumed innocent.
Another expert, Daniel Lapin, PhD, a clinical psychologist with a private
practice in San Francisco, sees the medical mystery of zombies differently. In
Haiti in the 1700 and 1800s, the bokor, or priest, selected a victim and laced
his drink with curare, a preparation of plant poisons that knocks out the motor
nerves but keeps the sensory system untouched.
"As total paralysis sets in, the bokor pretends to be magically inducing
the paralysis," Lapin says. "The bokor next officiates at the victim's
burial. The victim thinks he or she is being buried alive." And the victim
Two or three days later, the bokor digs up the victim. "The victim bonds
subserviently and forever with the person who digs them up, usually the person
who drugged them," Lapin says.
Sometimes, however, Lapin says the victim would "go crazy during the
ordeal," and the bokor then has no use for them and drives them away. The
victim would then be likely to wander from village to village, Lapin tells
WebMD, earning the reputation as the village idiot.
Halloween Character Case File No. 3: Ghouls
Ghouls, traced back to ancient Arabic folklore, have a complicated,
troubling psychological profile. They like to hang around burial grounds. And
they have an obsessive-compulsive desire to consume corpses, says Lapin.
"Unlike a psychotic, they know what they are doing, know the consequences,
know it is wrong, and could turn themselves in," he says.
"Some just obsess about this in their head," he says, but some
actually do the dastardly deed. In 19th-century India, for instance, Lapin says
there are reports of women with this condition, sitting around a grave and
Halloween Character Case File No. 4: Vampires
Probably the best-known vampire is Dracula, the centuries-old vampire who
stars in the 1897 Gothic horror novel by Bram Stoker.
While some say vampires have no heart, that's not true, says Lapin, who
self-published a book, The Vampire, Dracula, and Incest. "A vampire
has a heart, but it is imploded [psychologically]," he says. That's the
origin, he says, of a vampire's need to suck blood.
Developmentally, he says, the vampire has a "glitch" in the oral
sucking stage of development. "It's not accurate to say they are
fixated," he says, "because if they are really fixated that would be
the roots of narcissism."
"Dracula was a narcissist, but not all [vampires] are," says
"Vampires may have a psychological need to control others," says
Barbara Almond, MD, a Palo Alto, Calif., psychiatrist and psychoanalyst at the
San Franisco Center for Psychoanalysis. She has published on the topic of Bram
Stoker's Dracula and its psychoanalytic explanation.
Vampirism, she says, could represent a fantasy. "The fantasy would be
taking over and controlling others by bleeding them."
The victim and vampire, she tells WebMD, can become pathologically dependent
on each other. The victim may also become a vampire, and then they will never
leave each other.
Krippner sees yet another possibility for a vampire's behavior.
"Vampires may be anemic," he says. Going after another's blood, he
says, "might be a form of self-medication."
If he had to pick a psychiatric diagnosis for vampires, he says, "I
would say they were suffering from delusional schizophrenia." Vampires
might have believed they could live a long time if they drank human blood,
Halloween Character Case File No. 5: Werewolves
Werewolves, talked about and reported on since ancient Greek times, may have
a rare psychiatric disorder called lycanthropy, in which one has the delusion
he or she is being transformed into a wolf.
The lycanthropy can be due to a psychosis or hysteria, what most of us call
madness, Lapin says. It's not linked with depression, he says.
Werewolves, Lapin says, also "get a sexual thrill, conscious or
unconscious, from murdering. They want to dominate and control through terror
that evokes submission, and they want to humiliate and degrade."
Believing he is turning into a wolf by imagining the hair growth is the
werewolf's way to disassociate, Lapin says. "It's simply a way to stay
unconscious of what they are doing."
The Joy of Being Creeped Out on Halloween
If your motto is the scarier the costume, the better, chances are you like
the creepiness of it all.
And some say that's just fine -- at least for while. "Halloween,"
Krippner says, "is one of the few occasions where it is OK to flirt with
the dark side of life."
By Kathleen Doheny
Reviewed by Louise Chang
©2005-2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved
© 2007 WebMD, LLC.. All Rights Reserved.