Clairvius Narcisse, The Man Who Was A Zombie

On April 30, 1962, Clairvius Narcisse, age 40, arrived at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Haiti. He had a fever, and felt something like bugs crawling on his skin. Doctors noted a general physical deterioration, and immediately gave Narcisse a room.

On May 2, 1962, he was pronounced dead. This is verified by his official death certificate, as well as the full 24 hours he spent in the morgue.

The family of Clairvius Narcisse laid his body to rest in a cemetery near his village, l’Estere.

Placed in a coffin, nailed shut, and set within the earth.

This was not the end of his story.

The Hands of the Bokor

After the funeral, presumably late at night, Clairvius Narcisse’s grave was disturbed.

His body was dug up by the man who had cursed him — a powerful bokor, or Haitian vodou sorcerer. These bokors “serve the loa with both hands,” and act as practitioners of light and dark vodou magic.

The sorcerer drew Narcisse from his grave.

He then beat Narcisse, bound him, and gave him a strange potion. He took Narcisse to a sugar plantation where other zombie slaves awaited. There, he put Narcisse to work, continuously injecting him with doses of the potion to maintain his zombie-like state.

Narcisse had become a lifeless husk bound to a new owner.

When the bokor died two years later, Narcisse escaped and began to roam free, and spent sixteen years away from his home. In 1980, he finally returned and told his strange story to the world.

What Really Happened To Clairvius Narcisse?

The case of Clairvius Narcisse, as well as his death, is well documented, though the story has come under some scrutiny.

Researchers believe the strange concoction that caused Narcisse to enter into a death-like coma was a powder, a combination of tetrodotoxin and bufotoxin — puffer fish and toad — administered through abraded skin. He was then kept in a state of seeming hypnosis with datura.

Here’s a breakdown of the “potion’s” likely ingredients:

  • Bufotoxin, a toxin from toads of the Bufo genus, has anesthetic properties.
  • Tetrodotoxin, from puffer fish, is a potent neurotoxin that, when ingested, causes paralysis and can mimic the appearance of death.
  • Datura stramonium, the final step in this macabre dance, is a mind-controlling hallucinogenic which may also cause memory loss. It is also known as Jimson weed.

Some suggest his fate was the result of a placebo effect, amplified by cultural beliefs and the neurotoxins described above, leading Narcisse to believe he had been hypnotized and his soul removed.

Could this have been the power of suggestion, made all the more powerful by hallucinogenic drugs? He had, after all, “died” and returned, effectively becoming a zombie.

His cultural beliefs would have left him no other answer.

Was this Haitian vodou magic? Or natural materials such as tetrodotoxin and bufotoxin? I ask you this: what difference does it make, if the effects are the same?


Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.