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The witch doctor who 'proved' that zombies are REAL

The spine-tingling story of the Haitian Voodoo leader who revealed the secrets of 'zombie powder'... and given the West nightmares ever since

At 1.15am On May 2, 1962, a Haitian man called Clairvius Narcisse was pronounced dead by two doctors after weeks of an excruciating, mystery fever. His corpse was identified by his two sisters, Marie-Clare and Angelina.

Narcisse's family buried him in a small cemetery near the dusty town of l'Estere the next day in what should have been the end of his story.

Eighteen years later, in 1980, a heavy-footed, vacant-eyed man approached Angelina at the village market and introduced himself as her brother, the man she buried in 1962.

Narcisse explained to her that he had been resurrected by a witch doctor who had enslaved him on a sugar plantation.

Resurrected: Clairvius Narcisse (pictured in 1980) was pronounced dead by two doctors and buried in 1962. But came back from the dead 18 years later and said a witchdoctor resurrected him

'Pope of Voodoo': Max Beauvoir (pictured), the Haitian king of the witchdoctors, has died at the age of 79

Cult sensation: Wade Davis' book, The Serpent and the Rainbow (left), about the search for a magical voodoo powder was adapted into a blockbuster movie (right)

Mystical: The story of Narcisse being brought back from the dead was accepted by many of the villagers as Haitians (pictured bathing in a sacred pool in Souvenance village) believe in the magical power of voodoo

Local villagers, like most Haitians who believe in the magical power of Voodoo, accepted the story - but Western scientists were obviously sceptical of his apparent resurrection.

Narcisse's outlandish tale prompted Harvard professor Wade Davis to trek deep into the Haitian jungle where he met Max Beauvoir, who would later become the king of witch doctors - known as the 'Pope of Voodoo'.

Beauvoir introduced the Professor to a 'bokor', or sorcerer, who gave him a magical ‘zombie powder’ recipe with the power to resurrect the dead.

Davis was so convinced by the wonder powder that he wrote the cult book 'the Serpent and the Rainbow', which was turned into a a movie blockbuster directed by Wes Craven, starring Bill Pullman – and sparked a new genre of zombie movies, myths and horror stories.

The ‘Godfather of Voodoo’, Beauvoir, who passed away on Saturday, was the head of Haiti’s 6,000 'houngans', or witchdoctors.

As their spiritual leader he was credited with the weird and the wonderful from halting a US invasion to saving thousands of voodoo priests from an angry lynch mob, who blamed them for a cholera outbreak.

The charismatic voodoo king was even said to have bewitched former US President Bill Clinton, who fell under his spell at a chance meeting in 1975 and wrote about their encounter in his memoirs.

But to millions of horror fans, Beauvoir’s legacy is the day he andhis daughter Rachel led Davis to the witchdoctor and magical voodoo powder, which spawned 'The Serpent and the Rainbow' and inspired a generation of zombie movie obsessives.

Donald Cosentino, Professor of World Arts & Cultures at UCLA and Beauvoir’s friend, told MailOnline how that fateful meeting led to a global fascination with the living dead.

'The Serpent and the Rainbow had a huge influence on the rest of the world. It reignited a lot of discussion about zombies.

'It made real waves in Euro-American society and it began the re-emergence of other zombie movies.'

He added: 'Without Max, Wade could never have written this book. And it wouldn't have been written and there never would been the craze about zombies that ensued.'

The other side: Canadian ethnobotanist Wade Davis travelled to Haiti in search for the 'zombie powder' which resurrected Clairvius Narcisse (pictured)

Walking dead: Narcisse (pictured) claimed that he had been through 'zombification' and more than 200 members of his family and village said they would 'swear' on his resurrection

Superstitious: A group of men dressed as zombies perform a symbolic ritual in Haiti, where the majority of people that zombies are simply the deceased brought back to life as 'slaves'

Davis’ book all began as one man’s quest to solve the mystery of the resurrected man, Clairvius Narcisse.

He had theories about the chemicals which could have caused Narcisse to feel disorientated. He could also explain why back from the dead Narcisse had the sensation of feeling like he was floating outside of his the body, and why his temperature plummeted and he couldn’t speak.

But Davis, an ethnobotanist who specialises in the 'relationship between people and plants', was as baffled as anyone at how Narcisse was pronounced deceased by not one, but two US doctors.

To find the truth behind Narcisse’s astonishing story, Davis needed to watch a voodoo priest prepare a concoction, which locals called 'zombie powder', which was said to turn people into 'mindless slaves'.

He approached Beauvoir, who introduced him to a black magic-practising witchdoctor named Marcel Pierre.

Pierre gave Davis the recipe to the mystical potion which occupied the grey no man’s land between magic and science.

He discovered the potion was made from the crushed skull of a deceased baby, freshly-killed blue lizards, a dead toad wrapped in a dried sea worm and an 'itching pea' - an exotic type of vine.

But the powder’s most noxious ingredient came from a poisonous puffer fish whose liver and reproductive organs contain tetrodotoxin, a powerful nerve poison thousands of times more toxic than deadly cyanide.

Davis sent a sample of the 'zombie powder' to Professor Leon Roizin at the Columbia Presbyterian College, New York, who carried out some quick tests.

Blind belief: Haitian voodoo followers splattered with the blood of sacrificed goats take part in a ceremony during the annual festival in Souvenance, Haiti

Voodoo faith: Haitian black magic followers bathe in a sacred pool during the annual voodoo festival in Souvenance, 100 miles from the capital Port-au-Prince

He applied the powder to the shaved backs of laboratory rats who soon became completely comatose and only moved when they were 'strongly stimulated'.

Six hours later, they were motionless and appeared to be dead but they had a faint heartbeat and lab equipment showed the presence of brainwaves.

Davis was convinced that the powder caused the death and resurrection of victims and turned them into zombies.

He went on to say that those under the spell such as Narcisse were turned into ‘mental slaves’ because their zombie-like state made them easily manipulated.

He said they could be kept in their dreamy state with regular doses of a poisonous plant called datura stramonium, which causes 'amnesia, delirium and suggestibility'.

Davis' book and his zombie powder theory was controversial and has never been independently proven to work.

Professor Cosentino, who described voodoo chief Beauvoir as 'gracious, well-spoken and skilled in many languages', also told of his many sensational claims where he said he found antidotes to incurable diseases.

'I used to speak to him on the phone a lot. One of his grandest claims was that he had an antidote to the HIV virus,’ the professor.

'He told me personally that he performed a religious ceremony for Indira Gandhi [India's first female prime minister] by sacrificing a bull.'

Quest: The book was turned into a blockbuster movie starring Bill Pullman (centred) as an anthropologist who goes to Haiti in search of drug that turns people into zombies

Trend setter: Davis' book and Wes Craven's movie kick-started the zombie horror genre which has spawned hundreds of movies since

'Part of the secret knowledge he associated with was the resurrection of the dead. He wouldn't have related this to the zombie medicine, but he would have to the AIDS medicine.

'Max would say that voodoo can be used to capture a person's soul and also to reanimate a dead person.'

Voodoo, called Vodou by Haitians, evolved in the 17th century when colonists brought slaves to Haiti from West Africa.

The majority of Haiti's 10 million citizens practise a blend of voodoo mixed with west-African beliefs and elements of Christianity, today.

Followers see no contradiction in burying a person with the full rites of the Catholic Church while believing that the person can be raised from death by the magic of a ‘bokor’.

Haitians believe zombies are mindless slaves brought back to life by bokors, according to a Webster University report.

They see 'zombification' as a form of social sanction which is imposed by witch doctors as a means of 'maintaining order' and control in local communities.

Webster University claimed Beauvoir said criminals and people who misbehave are turned into zombies as it removes their desire to commit 'bad deeds'.

A government statement confirmed Beauvoir died on Saturday in Haiti capital Port-au-Prince after an illness, although the cause is unknown.

President Michel Martelly described his death as a 'great loss for the country'.

Hugely popular among the Haitian middle class and Westerners alike, Beauvoir calmed tension when witchdoctors were being lynched for 'causing the cholera outbreak', which killed more than 2,000 people in 2010.

He also played a crucial role in stopping the planned US invasion of Haiti in 1994, it is claimed.

Then President Bill Clinton, who had met Beauvoir in 1975, threatened to attack Haiti if deposed president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was not reinstated following a military coup.

Haiti's generals were reluctant to surrender power, but with less than an hour before the attack, acting President Emile Jonassaint rang Beauvoir for his advice.

The voodoo leader told him: 'Peace is better than war.'

On his words, Jonassaint surrendered to the US, the generals stood down and the invasion was called off at the eleventh hour.

As the global face of the ancient African religion and keeper of its dark secrets, Beauvoir believed voodoo was sensationalised and misunderstood.

Magical figure: Haiti's President Michel Martelly described Beauvoir's (right) death as a 'great loss for the country'

Mystical theories: Voodoo followers dive into a massive vat of mud in Plaine du Nord, Haiti, during a traditional ceremony

Ritual: A young vooodoo follower, caked in dried mud, holds the head of a slain bull during a ceremony in Plaine du Nord, Haiti

Kosanba, a California-based association dedicated to studying Haitian voodoo, affectionately called him ‘Papa Max’.

The group said he was a visionary who recognised that there is no divide between science and religion.

'He understood the spiritual dimension as it intersects religion and rituals, and mastered all. He was called upon to serve, and he did it well,' a statement said.


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